Finally, the number of lenses is starting to catch up. The FE 16-35 f4 OSS came to the rescue of those needing a native lens wider than 35mm, we have a very respectable 70-200 f4 OSS and we have a number of new lenses just around the corner. I am, however, a little worried. I am worried that Sony is in danger of chasing numbers and failing to realise the original vision for the system. I am worried that the people at the top haven’t a clue what they are doing. These are not DVD players, or TVs. We need a system, which requires a systematic approach!
As I understand it, the original concept was to produce a Full-Frame mirrorless system that could compete on size and weight with APS-C cameras, like the Fuji X series and even some of the larger M43 options, such as the Olympus E-M1, while providing Full Frame sensor output. With the FE 35mm f2.8 Sonnar (110g) attached, an A7R plus lens is lighter than a Leica M 240 body alone and it has phenomenal image quality. With the longer and heavier 55mm f1.8 Sonnar attached, it is a little heavier and certainly bulkier, but still a remarkably small kit for the images it punches out (and still significantly lighter than a M240 with 50mm f2 lens attached). But this seems to have been where it stopped. Sure, multi body kits with, say, two bodies, the 35mm f2.8 and 55mm FE primes and a couple of zooms is still comfortably lighter than, say, a D610/D750/D810 combo, but with zoom lenses that are only a little lighter than their DSLR brethren, the gap is not as large as I had hoped for. What’s more, one has no choice but to buy zooms, because the compact primes are still conspicuously absent. To me, this is plain silly, when Sony launched the range with a 36mp sensor camera and are already admitting that 46-50mp is in the pipeline!
Recent releases/announcements have left me a little disappointed. The Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f1.4 looks like a super lens and I am sure there are people looking for a fast 35mm, but to me it looks out of place in the system at the moment. There isn’t a 85/90mm f1.4-f2 portrait lens. There are no AF Sony Zeiss prime lenses wider than 35mm…. so why are they introducing their second 35mm lens (third, including the Loxia 35mm f2) before they have given us a portrait lens? The Sony FE 90mm f2.8 sounds like it is an amazing performer and with OSS to boot, but is the demand for such a lens really higher that it is for a superb prime wider than 35mm? Does Sony seriously think the 28mm f2, sandwiched right up against the 35mm f2.8 is what we needed rather than an optically stunning 24mm?
To me, it looks like they are making a pig’s ear out of their releases. They are not announcing and releasing lines. They are releasing models from different lines in a seemingly random order, but without actually allowing a person to finish off their basic kit bag. The 35mm f1.4 looks amazing, but IMHO it should be coming later, along with other faster lenses….
The original concept was small, light, stunning image quality. They gave us a 35mm f2.8 and a 55mm f1.8. IMHO these should have been followed by these primes: 24/25mm f2.8/3.5, 85mm f1.8/f2, 18mm f3.5/f4 in conjunction with the 24-70, 16-35 and 70-200 zoom (reviewed). The prime lenses would be slow enough to be compact, light and optically superb and so really make the most out of the 36mp sensor we remain in awe of. They would have allowed the landscape and travel photographers to have finished off their lightweight travel kits.
I hope Sony starts to think. People who bought the original A7 and A7R did not do so with the hope of massive stabilised 90mm macro lenses the size of surface to air missiles, or 28mm f2 lenses (discussion on GetDpi) with stick on Christmas cracker converters for their 16mm and 21mm options, did they? They bought in with the expectation that the 35mm f2.8 Sonnar and the 55mm FE concepts, at a minimum, would be extended up and down the focal lengths. This would have bored some people to tears (too slow), but they would have at least respected the concept follow through.
Sure, we all knew and hoped zooms would come, along with faster glass, but the FE 24-70 was a let down and that lens should have been right at the core of the system. It should have been spectacular and there are no excuses at the price of this lens.
Here is what I think Sony should have done and hopefully could still work towards:
- A7, A7R and A7S bodies followed by core zooms and medium speed light and compact primes, covering at least 18mm to 85mm.
- Larger and heavier more DSLR orientated line of mirrorless bodies (A7II being the first) introduced and with faster and heavier lenses to accompany them. Would include more pro orientated bodies like the rumored high end body.
- Sony continues to support #2 and roll out more ‘ultimate fast glass’, along the lines of the 35mm f1.4. I’d like to see a 50mm f1.2 and perhaps an 85mm f1.4. If a top quality 24mm f2 came along, so much the better. Sony then introduces a few super compact lenses for line #1, such as a compact 50mm f2 or a few pancake f2.8 lenses as ‘walk-around lenses’ that really play to the compactness of the bodies.
The above would have ensured that people who bought into the ‘light and compact’ concept actually got a system to shoot with. Introducing a 35mm f1.4 does not exactly give those who seek ultimate image quality and speed a system either, does it Sony? Its. One. Lens. These huge lenses don’t balance well on the little A7/R/S, do they, Sony? They should have been released once Sony had their heavier, pro spec mirrorless DSLR-alikes ready. High frame rates, amazing new generation of EVFs, perhaps a 50mp sensor… nice solid anchors at 700g for these new lenses. Sony is in effect now releasing lenses for bodies they don’t yet have, despite having four bodies (if we include the A7II) for which they don’t yet have the basic lenses in place!
So please, Sony, stop doing things in halves and quarters, introduce a sensible methodology and work a concept through to some sort of meaningful conclusion. Canon sensors are not remotely competitive in DR and low ISO noise compared to Sony sensors, but I have not left Canon and the reason why not is something that Sony is missing entirely! It is because they have a system and commitment, Sony. It is because they have an amazing stable of lenses that are being sensibly built up in layers. Sony, you are taking the popcorn approach: ‘pop’ here, ‘pop’ there… ‘pop’ goodness knows where next. You may have been surprised by the success of the FE line. You may have thought it a gimmick, but we evidently took it very seriously. We just need you to take it as seriously as we do. You should perhaps also speak to real photographers, because iPhone teenagers and Instagram fans won’t be buying your new $1600 35mm f1.4 and Mig 29 destroying 90mm f2.8 Macro. Whoever is doing your market research, fire them. Whoever is in charge of FE strategy, check to see if they can tie their shoelaces without adult help.
Sony has the products, expertise and the FE system would appear to be at the heart of their camera making future. now they just need a sensible plan. The new releases look great on their own, but I’d like them to finish the jobs they start. This, more than amazing one off releases, will convince the buying public that they are serious and in it for the long haul.