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What is Sony's Most Innovative Camera So Far? My Answer Might Surprise You


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What is Sony’s most innovative camera body so far?  Which one advanced what was possible for photographers the most? Would it be the amazing A7S cameras that can literally see in the dark?  Was it the original A9 that broke the full-frame speed barrier with its double sided stacked sensor and 20 fps? Or maybe the Alpha 1 that checked every specification box… for every shooter?  Or would it be the A9III with its global shutter that sports photographers never would have dreamed to ask for?  Which camera that Sony has made so far pushed the needle even past Marty McFly’s 11?

None of the cameras I just mentioned would have been possible without the APS-C camera that set the entire photography industry on its #$%*,… though no one really knew it was happening at the time.  Like the bullet that found France Ferdinand’s jugular vein a hundred years before, the Sony A6000 wasn’t really found to be responsible for upsetting the apple cart until, well, now… and at least in my mind.

Ten years ago this Spring, Sony launched the now classic A6000 camera body.  It weighed in at just 3/4 of a pound, had fantastic and accurate auto focus with face detection, eye AF, and the motor drive speed topped out at 11 fps, besting the big two’s flagship sports cameras who were stuck at 10 fps.  But deep inside the beating heart of that camera was a sensor that could manage low light images really well and offer shocking dynamic range allowing for detail in both shadows and highlights at the same time.  Without a lens attached, it would fit in the back pocket of your favorite pair of jeans.

With an adaptor for Canon lenses, I was able to wake up and empower Canon AF lenses with Sony’s next generation autofocus technology, which did the unthinkable… follow a subject through traffic at sporting events and out the other side without losing focus on the subject.  The AF system was even better with Sony glass, but there were few choices there back in 2014.  For portrait work, the Eye AF was so accurate that I could shoot the Canon 85mm f/1.2L lens wide open and find the pupil sharp on the close eye nearly every time.  It took the guesswork out of perfect eye focus with fast lenses for the first time and made everyone able to shoot portraits with ultra fast lenses.

With all the talk about AI these days, the A6000 had it in spades in virtually all of its AF areas, but most especially in “lock on expand flexible spot. ”

I can still vividly remember shooting at a college football game, shooting the A6000 with the older 70-200mm f/4G lens.  I was tracking a long pass which turned into a run to the end zone.  The wide receiver then ran behind a host of defenders and emerged on the other side for the TD.  Later, editing my take at home, I saw that the camera had somehow pulled off the unthinkable… Every single frame was sharp of the receiver, even the ones where he ran behind 5 or six other players.

Could contain: Helmet, People, Person, American Football, Football, Playing American Football, Rugby Ball, Glove, Shoe, Shorts

Could contain: Helmet, People, Person, American Football, Football, Playing American Football, Sport, Basketball (Ball), Shorts, Glove

Could contain: Helmet, People, Person, Adult, Male, Man, Glove, Football, Playing American Football, Shoe

In this moment, I knew that Sony was the future.  I knew that DSLR’s were truly dead and I committed myself to learning as much as I could about each new model that Sony released over the next few years.

On April 23, 2014, after receiving my new A6000, I wrote on my blog:

“This is the Best $650 I've ever spent; much better than paying a chiropractor… I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Sony is on the ball, they are way out ahead and pushing hard, they are innovating mirrorless cameras with each new model that comes out... which is about every six months!!!  I am one happy camper.”

A short time later, am manager at Nikon said that “no professional will ever use a mirrorless camera.”  He was not long employed after that…

Fast forward to January of 2017 three years later, and I was in the basement of the Kahala Hotel during the Sony Open in Hawaii.  I was on a secret mission to test out two copies of a yet-un-named camera body that had been hand carried from Tokyo by five engineers.  Through hours of conversation talking about this new camera, I asked them what did you call it during the development?  Once the translation was complete, they all smiled and looked at the floor.  Then the man in charge explained, “we called it K2.”  The significance was lost on me so they further explained, “K2 was the asteroid that hit Earth and killed the dinosaurs.”  Then I got it.  The dinosaurs were Canon and Nikon.  Now That is motivation!  But even still, as awesome as the A9 was at the time, I think the A6000 still moved us forward more, and did it first.  While wildly popular among amateur photographers, the A6000 never really caught on with pros, likely because it was APS-C rather than full-frame.  It was also just too small and weird, too light, and on the back of a 400mm f/2.8, it seemed childish… but it worked…

And so, just like Franz Ferdinand’s assassin, the A6000 remained largely unknown.  The slow grind of history eventually will tell this tale with the perspective gained by the passing of time.  But I think the case can be made for the A6000 to be Sony’s greatest achievement so far, even in light of the A7S, A9 series, and A1.  We’ll have to wait a while for some more time to pass when a future history of cameras book comes out to see if I’m right.  The updated A6100 is a stellar little camera that is the same size and weight of the original A6000 but so much better with it's newer sensor and "Real Time Tracking" Autofocus.  So even though the A6000 is no longer made, you can still enjoy it's nostalgia by shooting the most recent updated version of the venerable classic.

In the meantime, let me know what you think.  Which camera do you think deserves the moniker, most innovative.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is an interesting topic. Innovation is where the path forward takes a radical course change and progress makes a giant leap ahead. I don't disagree with you about the A6000 being a massive leap forward. It's a little like the Bell X-1, the plane that Chuck Yeager flew to break the sound barrier in 1947. The supersonic planes that have come after the X-1 have long since outpaced its capabilities, but the X-1 was the plane that opened the door to all of the massive advancements that followed. 

One thing I think Sony continues to do extremely well is to look to the future rather than cling to the past. I've been in this industry long enough to remember when reps from other companies publicly and privately dismissed mirrorless. As Schopenhauer said (yes, I am brining a 19th century philosopher into a discussion about cameras), "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."

I don't have my A6000 anymore, but I I recently got an Alpha 7CR. It's a very different camera starting with being full-frame, but like an F-16 shares DNA with the Bell X-1, the A7CR's lineage can be traced back to the A6000.   

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Many have discussed this topic and I note that (except for the fanatics) everyone agrees here in Italy too that Sony has literally made a revolution in the sector and that it all started with the A6000 (which I still own and was my first camera ).

Obviously maximum respect for all brands but, as they say here: "class is not water" and Sony has demonstrated that it has quality and continues to be at the top of the podium for innovation.

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