Sony promises higher-end SLT camera

The electronics giant is pleased with its translucent-mirror camera designs, and it promises to sell a higher-end sibling to the a33 and a55 within a year.

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Stephen Shankland
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Sony's prototype model of an advanced translucent-mirror camera shown at Photokina.
Sony's prototype model of an advanced translucent-mirror camera shown at Photokina. Stephen Shankland/CNET

COLOGNE, Germany--Sony's two translucent-mirror cameras are going to get a big brother, an advanced model geared for enthusiasts, the electronics giant said Tuesday.

The Sony Alpha 33 and 55 arrived earlier this year sporting an SLR look but lacking a mirror that flips out of the way when it's time for the photo to be taken and the light to go to the sensor rather than the viewfinder. Instead, these models use a translucent mirror that sends most of the light to the sensor but shares some with an autofocus subsystem. Sony's SLT (single-lens translucent) cameras use an electronic viewfinder; there's no optical viewfinder.

One result of the SLT designs is a camera that can shoot 10 frames per second with autofocus continuously engaged and that can use autofocus even when shooting video. Another result is demand for a55 and a33 that pushed back until 2011 availability of Sony's A560, which uses the same image sensor.

So it's probably no surprise that Sony is pushing ahead with further models.

Turo Katsumoto, head of Sony's Alpha business, speaking at Photokina
Turo Katsumoto, head of Sony's Alpha business, speaks at Photokina. Stephen Shankland/CNET

"Based on initial feedback and our own study, we have decided to utilize this unique technology for an advanced model of the amount camera," Turo Katsumoto, head of Sony's Alpha business, said at a press conference at the Photokina show here. "We are confident this camera will satisfy the needs of serious photographers."

In an interview, Katsumoto said the model should arrive "within one year."

How much higher up the line will Sony take the translucent mirror approach, also called a pellicle mirror? Katsumoto wouldn't say, but it's possible to use it on full-frame models whose sensors are as large as a frame of 35mm film for better light-gathering abilities than mainstream cameras with smaller sensors.

"It can be used for full-frame as well," he said, but what Sony will do depends on customer needs. "Many people like the optical viewfinder, but from a technological point of view we think [translucent mirror designs] are better."

The new advanced camera will use a newly developed image sensor, he said at the press conference. It will also be available with a new vertical grip.

Sony showed a prototype of the new camera along with models of a forthcoming 500mm F4 supertelephoto lens under development and a new swiveling flash.

Along with the Alpha line with its A-mount lenses, Sony now has the compact NEX family of cameras with E-mount lenses and no internal mirror at all. But it's tough building a new lens-mount ecosystem, since interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) are only interesting if there are actually lenses to interchange.

Thus far, the NEX line of ICL cameras has only three lenses. Katsumoto promised more, though--specifically, four lenses in 2011 and three in 2012.

Also coming are new fisheye lens and wide-angle adapters to change existing lens behavior and firmware upgrades to NEX cameras that will let them use A-mount lenses with autofocus. In addition, Sony is showing off a new flash prototype geared for NEX cameras.

Katsumoto also pointed to adapters from companies such as Novoflex that let people attach any number of other lenses to the NEX line. On display at the show were models with Canon, Nikon, and Leitz lenses.

Sony's up-market camera push (photos)

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