Why Sony Has the Hot Hand in Imaging Right Now

I had the opportunity to sit down with executives from Sony’s Professional Services group this week in their new offices in New York. It was eye-opening. And no, I’m not shilling for them. It’s just that I recognize a high performance team when I see one.

  Members of Sony's Professional Services team, on the roof of Sony's new offices overlooking Madison Square Park in New York. Sony a6000   [ B&H | Amazon ]  with Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8   [ B&H | Amazon ]  by Hugh Brownstone

Members of Sony's Professional Services team, on the roof of Sony's new offices overlooking Madison Square Park in New York. Sony a6000  [B&H|Amazonwith Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8  [B&H|Amazonby Hugh Brownstone

This is of necessity a brief post, as there were a number of things they shared under embargo.

But that’s OK, because what I want to share with you is quite distinct from individual product announcements and it’s pretty succinct.

It’s clearer now why Sony has the hot hand in the imaging business.

It reduces to just three things:

1)    Leveraging competencies

2)    Listening to the customer

3)    Executing on its ambitions

Leveraging Competencies

Many of you may already know that Sony dominates the digital imaging sensor market, with a global market share exceeding 40%.  Their sensors appear not only in their own cameras, but –to name just a few -- those of Nikon, DJI and Apple.  This is a tremendous base across which to receive feedback and solve problems that can then be applied to other segments of the marketplace.

What was less obvious to me until yesterday is how Sony could decide to take on the big boys – Canon and Nikon – with their own new lens line, the G-Master series. Heck, how could Sony decide to take on Zeiss and Sigma, too, for that matter?

It turns out that when you make imaging sensors, you’re also making micro lenses for each individual photosite.  This means extraordinarily precise manufacturing tolerances.

And it is this competency – precision optics -- which they are now leveraging in the manufacture of the uber-sharp and crispy Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM  [B&H|Amazon] and Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM  [B&H|Amazon]  I tested earlier this month in Miami.

Based on my early experience with the G-Master lenses, Sony absolutely can compete with the best of them – but I have more testing to do!

Listening to the Customer

There was one phrase that I heard more than any other during my two and a half hours with the Sony team: “voice of the customer.”

They’re serious about this in the professional space, going so far as to create a new structure where they have one marketing person dedicated to each of three verticals: broadcast, sports and production (there are others, but not all were present). They mentioned specific networks – both traditional and web-based – along with highly respected Hollywood and indie directors and DPs with whom they’re working to solve problems.

Impressive.

This is consistent with what I’m seeing from Sony’s consumer digital imaging team, who have actively sought feedback whenever I’ve seen them.

One big difference between the two: the professional side of the house is keenly aware of and acting upon the investment the big boys have made in their gear. Sony has been working on product upgrades as opposed to new model proliferation to enhance their offerings. Thus, the CineAlta F65 is five years old, but there was no mention of replacing it – only extending its capabilities.

On the consumer side, Sony is coming out with new models every year. I understand why (it’s cheaper and easier to do this than engineering installable upgrades for core electronics), but I hope and expect that at some point they – and the market – will be happy enough with the basic form factor and controls that they can take a more modular approach at price points that make sense for buyer and seller alike.

  Roof of new Sony offices overlooking Madison Square Park. Sony a6000 with Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8, run through DxO Viewpoint 2 for perspective correction by Hugh Brownstone.

Roof of new Sony offices overlooking Madison Square Park. Sony a6000 with Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8, run through DxO Viewpoint 2 for perspective correction by Hugh Brownstone.

Executing on its Ambition

Of course, this isn’t all happening in a vacuum.

It’s very clear that Sony’s ambition is conquest sales from Canon and Nikon, and this is happening. It’s called the “attacker’s advantage,” a term popularized first popularized by Richard Foster of McKinsey in the 1980’s and later by Clayton M. Christensen and Ram Charan of Harvard. Simply put: Sony has everything to gain and little to lose by dominating new technologies and throwing it all into the competitive soup.

Warning Signs

But with all of this written, the waters may get trickier for Sony in the near future.  For just as Sony is the attacker at the moment, new technologies are roiling just below or barely breaking the surface that could be every bit as disruptive to them as smartphones and mirrorless cameras have been to the traditional camera manufacturers.

As technology proliferates, other factors – like extraordinary user experiences – may well weigh heavier than they do now.

Finally, Sony may fall prey to its own success, and either get unwieldy or blasé. It wouldn't be the first company to have that happen.

To be continued…

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