Camera Makers Listen Up: Pricier High-End Cameras Revive Sony Brand Image

While CaNikon — the still dominant players in the standalone camera market — keep on copying each other and incrementally improve their technologies, competitors Fujifilm and Sony are thinking outside the box. While Fujifilm is betting on the retro form factor supported by its outstanding experience in imaging technology, Sony pushes the limits — what was not long ago considered impossible becomes consumer reality: especially high-end cameras are helping to return brand image to the Japanese powerhouse, reports The Asahi Shimbun. And when you produce unique quality, you can even ask for higher prices than the competition:

Sony Corp. is restoring its bruised brand image with products that were initially derided by its rivals. The home appliance manufacturer’s compact cameras are winning over customers in the high-end market that has been long dominated by traditional camera makers.

Sony’s renewed confidence has led it to forecast a big jump in sales for the current year.

The turning point came in May, when Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, the top model of its compact camera series, won the Camera of the Year award from Camera GP Japan. It was the first time for an electric appliance maker to win the most prestigious camera prize in Japan.

“I shivered when I heard that we received the award" -- Kimio Maki, a division director of Sony, on the RX1 getting the Camera of the Year award from Camera GP Japan. | The Asahi Shimbun
“I shivered when I heard that we received the award” — Kimio Maki, a division director of Sony, on the RX1 getting the Camera of the Year award from Camera GP Japan. | The Asahi Shimbun
“I shivered when I heard that we received the award,” said Kimio Maki, Sony’s division director responsible for the development of the camera, . “Our items have been scoffed at by people involved in the camera industry. They used to call our products the ‘cameras of a home electronics maker.’

“But we have finally obtained strong brand power,” Maki said.

Sony had previously been known for its innovation and hit products. But in recent years, the company has posted huge losses, particularly in its TV production business, and been forced to lay off workers and sell assets. Analysts said chronic structural problems at Sony have prevented it from keeping pace with its overseas rivals.

Even the RX1 came under criticism before its release in November last year. Industry analysts questioned whether anyone would buy a camera with a lens that is not interchangeable and with no zoom function, especially at a price of (currently) $2,798.

But it was the high-performance lens that largely contributed to the winning of the award. “The lens itself is worth more than 150,000 yen ($1,500),” said a person in the camera industry.

With a resolution of 24.3 million pixels, the RX1 features a large image sensor — the same size as that of single lens reflex cameras.

The RX1 can adjust the image sensor and the lens by a thousandth of a millimeter to set them perfectly parallel and eliminate distortion. Such precision is unavailable in single lens reflex cameras because their sensors and lenses are produced separately, according to Sony.

For example, an RX1 photo of the world-famous rock garden in Ryoanji temple in Kyoto clearly shows the outlines of gravel on the surface.

Sony has been producing the RX1 at full capacity, targeting amateur photographers with advanced skills. Although sales of the RX1 are under 10,000 units a month, its solid reputation has helped to spread the popularity of other Sony models. The company’s upscale items, including the RX100, have recently been selling well.

In May, the average price of Sony’s compact digital cameras rose up 15% from the same month last year. The prices of products from other camera makers fell slightly over the same period. Sony camera prices were, on average, 6,000 yen ($60) more than those of other companies in May.

Sony on July 5 released new products, including the RX1R model, which can take more detailed photos than the RX1.

The electronics maker estimates that sales of high-end compact digital cameras equipped with large image sensors will rise 1.5 times in 2013 compared with the previous year.

Sony in 2006 acquired the business of the “α” single lens reflex camera series from Konica Minolta Inc., and has positioned the brand as one of the two main pillars of its camera business. The other pillar is the Cyber-shot compact camera series.

Addendum: Now just imagine Sony’s future prospects with a mirrorless full-frame system camera looming…

(via The Asahi Shimbun)

13 Responses to "Camera Makers Listen Up: Pricier High-End Cameras Revive Sony Brand Image"

  1. Perceptivelight   July 10, 2013 at 8:49 am

    USD$1500 for an f2 35mm Sonnar seems a bit on the high side when one considers the M mount ƒ1.5 Sonnar can be had for< $1100. I almost bought an RX1 but decided to wait till the M difficulties settle down. After saying that the only electrical goods that have failed prematurely are Sony about four of them… But the image quality can't be denied its good very good.
    Then there is the Sigma DP's who's IQ compares very favourably to the Sony discounting the high ISO limitations but at less than half the price.., Again horses for courses!

  2. DanTHEME   July 10, 2013 at 9:17 am

    That’s the age-old question, to wait or not to…

    Certainly there are very exciting times ahead. It’s no longer about megapixels but the quality and size of these pixels. If you know the fixed 35mm is what you need, then you can’t really go wrong with the Sony. But it’s a lot of money if you have some lingering doubts about this and that… just don’t forget: the grass is always greener on the other side.

    Sigma’s DPs? From what I hear they are some very moody cameras. If you can live with the speed of molasses and are mainly into landscapes, then a DP might just be it.

  3. perceptivelight   July 10, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Ah! I agree with all you say. However I have all these M mount lenses that are crying out for a new body, much like… Moody Sigma eh! sounds like a good song title! Seriously though the Sigma DP’s have remarkable image quality as good as anything that has come from a 120 film – that may just upset a few people. The ISO limitations are the only real negative issues and I can live with that for what I use it for.

  4. Bengt Nyman   July 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

    The break through that will finally retire the DSLR is fast and reliable image sensor phase detect auto focus coupled with a high resolution EVF.

    What Sony could and should do right now is to introduce the RX1RM. In other words a monochrome RX1 for street photography and wannabe journalists.
    Consider this my pre-order.
    24 MP would be OK, but an RX1RM based on the Sony 36 MP FF sensor would be spectacular.

    A 36 MP B&W sensor looking at the world through a fixed 35 mm Zeiss lens can be cropped to a 300 mm equivalent B&W printable image.

    Just do it Sony !!

  5. DanTHEME   July 10, 2013 at 11:06 am

    No need for a monochromatic only. Color to black and white processing options are too good to say no to the world of color.

    Anyways, by 2015 Sony will not only excel the rest with its sensors.

  6. Bengt Nyman   July 10, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I agree that in most cases I prefer color.
    But you are missing the point Dan. The Bayer filter absorbs about 50% of available light and robs us of 65% of the resolution available. If you want the final result to be B&W, shooting Bayer filter RGB color and processing back to B&W is the worst possible way to get there.

    For reporting in low light and subsequent B&W print I predict that you will see a Renaissance in form of high resolution B&W digital photography.

  7. sean lancaster   July 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    I had the RX1 for 2 months and it’s not that great for street photography because it cannot acquire AF quickly enough, particularly as the light starts to get lower (and not even bad). I’d rather they release an RX1FAF (fast AF) to bring me back. ;~)

  8. Bengt Nyman   July 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Exactly !

    If you allow me to quote myself: “The break through that will finally retire the DSLR is fast and reliable image sensor phase detect auto focus coupled with a high resolution EVF.”

    The mirrorless problem right now is slow auto focus. Before that is resolved RX1(anything) is academic and uninteresting.

    When that is resolved mirrorless will eat its way into pro equipment.

  9. keru   July 11, 2013 at 3:08 am

    Ha, you probably mean that :

    phase detection AF on the whole sensor :)

  10. kshapero   July 11, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    With the new firmware, I will take the Canon EOS M with the 22mm f2 lens for $299 for both anyday over the Sony and pocket the $2400 difference.

  11. Bengt Nyman   July 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Yes !

  12. john   July 13, 2013 at 2:48 am

    I am very disappointing how long I have to wait for fast e mount zoom ?