A former Sony camera developer says that part of the company’s strategy in the early days of mirrorless was to lull brands like Canon and Nikon into a false sense of security that the new technology wouldn’t be as good as DSLRs — until it was too late.
In an interview with Nikkei Business, former Sony digital camera developer Shigeki Ishizuka says that part of Sony’s mirrorless strategy was to catch DSLR manufacturers off guard by getting them to think that mirrorless development was “not a big deal.”
Since Canon and Nikon were so dominant, it was very difficult for Sony to make waves in the business after it acquired the camera-making segment of Konica Minolta in 2006. While the NEX series showed promise, it wasn’t enough to pull in professionals who were looking for a certain level of overall quality and performance. So, Sony devised a strategy to sneak up on the market leaders.
The Alpha 7 camera, the first full-frame Sony mirrorless to be released, could capture beautiful photos, but it just wasn’t very good at autofocus.
“Sony still lacked brand power in interchangeable-lens cameras, and first of all, the performance of the product was not good enough. The image quality is fine, but the focusing speed is slow. I can take pictures of landscapes and flowers, but I can’t take good pictures of moving subjects. And the fact that there were still very few types of interchangeable lenses had a big impact,” Ishizuka says.
Ishizuka admits the company knew the first full-frame mirrorless wouldn’t compete well against the market leaders. Additionally, the lack of a good lens lineup made the system overall undesirable and underwhelming compared to the DSLRs of the time. This was, supposedly, part of the plan.
“I was calculating that I would let the top manufacturers of DSLRs say, ‘even full-frame mirrorless cameras are no big deal.’ Externally, I dared not say once that I was going to be number one,” Ishizuka says.
“In short, it’s better to make people think that Sony has a low market share in interchangeable-lens cameras and that it’s an electronics manufacturer that doesn’t know much about cameras.”
He goes on to say that he wanted DSLR makers like Canon and Nikon to continue to believe that mirrorless was not a threat to their business until it was too late to react.
“I wanted them to think, ‘Sony still has a long way to go,'” he adds.
Basically, if Canon and Nikon knew early on that mirrorless was the future and chose to get serious about developing the technology, Sony would face a tough fight because it would have to combat stronger brands with its, admittedly, weaker one.
“I hoped that the common sentiment in the world of professionals and advanced amateurs, mirrorless cameras are no match for digital single-lens reflex cameras would be maintained until we were ready for our reversal,” he adds. “Before you know it, you’re going there, and you’re going to win the battle.”
If what Ishizuka says is true, Sony’s years-long position at the top of the mirrorless market wasn’t an accident, but the result of an elaborate strategy to catch its greatest competitors off guard. It’s easy to believe, since that is basically what happened.
Sony spent a long time sitting as the only “serious” option in mirrorless and released multiple features that were simply not possible on a DSLR in rapid succession, leaving competitors in the dust. It would be years before Nikon and Canon caught up, and some argue even today the two brands are still lagging behind Sony.
Image credits: Header photo by Jan Kopřiva