New technologies and designs highlight Sony's advanced cameras and accessories for fall 2011.
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
We joke about the worst-kept product secrets on the Web, but Sony's late-summer camera and camcorder announcements have to be some sort of record. Finally made public today, specs and photos of its higher-end updates to the Alpha line have been floating around for a while--the semi-pro SLT-A77V was even prematurely nominated for an award. So while chances are you're already familiar with the new models--the SLT-A77V, SLT-A65V, NEX-7, NEX-5N, and NEX-VG20 camcorder--read on for my take and more details.
To be fair, there really is a boatload of interesting, potentially game-changing, stuff here, with lenses and accessories in addition to the cameras.
Starting at the top, the SLT-A77V is the long-awaited successor to the DSLR-A700, though the former uses Sony's fixed translucent-mirror technology and the latter is a conventional dSLR. The A77V incorporates Sony's newest sensor, a 24-megapixel version of its Exmor HD series, along with a new 19-point autofocus system, OLED electronic viewfinder, and 1080/60p video recording in a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body. Priced at $1,400 for the body only or $2,000 with the new 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Zeiss lens, the A77V comes in a at an odd price relative to potential competitors from Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic. Sony will offer a new vertical grip for it, the VG-C77AM (October, $299.99).
Into the unenviable slot that competes directly against the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, Nikon D5100, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, Sony launches the SLT-A65V. The A65V sits in the SLT product line between the older A55V and the A77V, and incorporates aspects of both: the newer 24-megapixel sensor, EVF, drive mode, and video codec from the higher-end model with the older 15-point AF system, and similar body design from the A55V. Both of the new models have built-in GPS for geotagging as well.
The two SLT models have very aggressive continuous-shooting specs for their respective classes, and as long as Sony doesn't run into heat problems with video shooting on the new sensor, they sound quite nice (although, as far as I understand, there's no official way to crop into a 1080 window on the sensor while shooting video). But I'm not thrilled about the jump to 24 megapixels, though I'm sure we'll see a Nikon using some variant of that sensor next year.
While there's been lots of buzz about the new models, I think the Alpha NEX-7 has been one of the most eagerly anticipated cameras of the year, thanks to its compact body but advanced design and feature set. It's got a lot of the same components as the A77V--sensor and image processor, viewfinder, hot shoe--but with better button and dial direct-access than in previous NEX models. And unlike the earlier, lower-end models, the NEX-7 has a built-in EVF and flash. At $1,200, though, this isn't your mainstream ILC; it really seems to be taking on the Fujifilm X100 instead.
The most mainstream model of the group, the NEX-5N replaces the NEX-5 in the spot between the recently released NEX-C3 and NEX-7. It's essentially a higher-resolution version of the NEX-5 with some updates that address issues with its predecessor--it has a connector for an optional EVF and updated movie capture to support AVCHD 2.0 frame and bit rates.
Just as interesting are a couple of new NEX accessories. A new adapter, the LA-EA2 ($399.99) , not only lets you use A-mount lenses on the E-mount NEX line, but it incorporates Sony's translucent mirror technology and 15-point phase-detection autofocus system and motor. That means you get autofocus with A-mount lenses. And it's compatible with older NEX models, as long as you update the firmware. The new FDA-EV1S ($349.99) add-on viewfinder only works with the NEX-5N, but it's a tilting 2.4-million-dot OLED display.
Sony also took the opportunity to roll out the replacement for the NEX-VG10 E-mount camcorder, essentially updating it to address a lot of complaints about the first-generation model. In the VG20 it's been bumped up to the 16-megapixel Exmor HD sensor, supports 60p and 24p recording, and offers raw format for still photo capture. Though the body design remains essentially the same, operation is now less LCD-driven and there are controls near the handle so you can finally...shoot while you're using the handle. The built-in mic now supports 5.1-channel capture, and you can now record directly to hard disc. A body-only version will be available for $1,599.99; the kit with the 18-200mm lens is now designated VG20H and runs $2,199.99. It's slated to ship in November.
Finally, a few new lenses join the team. Playing on the A-mount, the DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM ($699.99) looks like a nice midrange option to complement the A77; it's also dust and weather sealed. For the E mount, there's a new inexpensive (but narrow aperture) 55-210mm f4.5-6.3 OSS ($349.99) that fills a hole in the mainstream lineup, along with a mainstream $299.99 50mm f1.8 portrait lens (with optical stabilization, which is nice) and a Zeiss T* 24mm f1.8--pricier at $999.99. The telephoto zoom will ship in October; the other two in December.