Sony says clearly: “APS-C Forever!”
posted Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 12:15 PM EDT
With the seemingly never-ending procession of Sony full-frame body and lens releases lately, many of us have been wondering whether Sony was moving away from APS-C entirely. In an extended Q&A session just today, Sony's top executive for interchangeable-lens camera development said emphatically that Sony will never leave the APS-C market, and that we can expect continued development of that part of their product line going forward.
I'm writing this from a hotel in Tokyo, having just spent essentially the entire day with Sony executives and engineers at Sony headquarters in the Minato-ku ward of Tokyo, Japan.
You'll be hearing (a lot) more about this from both myself and the three other photo press organizations who were there (DPReview, Digital PhotoPro and SLR Lounge), but I wanted to share what I felt was the most dramatic and impactful news from the meeting with our readers immediately.
"We'll never quit APS-C"
In a panel discussion between the four press members and an all-star executive and engineering panel from Sony, we were all a little surprised by how shocked they seemed to be when we said that there was a widespread perception in the US that Sony was backing away from APS-C. While we felt we saw a lot of evidence of this, and in fact had heard Sony themselves talking about how they felt full-frame was the future and a major focus of theirs, the execs seemed genuinely shocked that anyone might have been thinking this.
After some back and forth in the conversation, we received a very direct statement from Kenji Tanaka, Senior General Manager, Business Unit 1, Digital Imaging Group. (That's a typical Japanese business title, but the bottom line is that Tanaka-san is the person in charge of all of Sony's interchangeable-lens camera development.)
Tanaka-san was very emphatic. Paraphrasing slightly, he said "APS-C is an important category for us. We'll never quit APS-C!"
The slightly longer story, boiled down from several minutes of discussion is that Sony views APS-C as an absolutely essential part of their overall market strategy. While full-frame is where they're making the big bucks these days, they recognize that not everyone needs full-frame, some people will prefer APS-C models for compactness or tele reach, and some will buy them as an entry into the Sony ecosystem, perhaps moving up to full-frame models at some point in the future.
They also see a fair number of pros using their APS-C cameras as second (or third bodies), often to get more reach from their full-frame lenses, without resorting to teleconverters. Plus, even pros sometimes like having a more compact system to work with. (Although Sony's full-frame mirrorless models are pretty compact in their own right.)
"Please look at our vision, not our profits"
We were all struck by another point that Tanaka-san emphasized several times during the discussion. We (the press) were talking about how it made sense for Sony to invest heavily in full-frame, even at the expense of APS-C, since it was clear that they made a lot more profit margin on the full-frame products.
To this, Tanaka-san said several times (and with great emphasis), "Please look at our vision, not where our profits come from." (Again, paraphrased loosely.)
A point made by several of the executives -- and underscored by no less than Mr. Hiroshi Sakamoto -- was that, as one of the true leaders* in the camera market, Sony has to grow by growing the overall market, not just by poaching market share from other players. Mr. Sakamoto is Senior General Manager, Marketing Division, Digital Imaging Group; the person responsible for communicating Sony's digital-imaging direction to the world, and a key voice in developing it in the first place -- so his words carry some weight.
We found this an interesting and encouraging position. As a member of the press, you always tend be a little suspect of lofty goals-statements, but I had a strong sense that this was more than just marketing-speak that we were hearing. Besides the obvious passion that came through in the face-to-face meetings, it makes sense from a business standpoint for Sony as well. In a kickoff briefing earlier in the week, Neal Manowitz, VP of Sales and Marketing for Digital Imaging at Sony Electronics in the US, made the observation that it was easy for Sony to double their annual sales when they were going from 1% to 2% of market share. A bit more difficult, but still eminently do-able when going from 5% to 10%. But what do they do when they hit 50%? (Which they were very obviously confident will happen.) What do you do for growth from that point forward? Ultimately, they need to expand the market as a whole, and feel that they'll be able to do that by making it possible to capture photos people simply couldn't previously. Whether that means 20fps full-resolution images with continuous AF tracking, or the see-in-the-dark abilities of the A7S II, their goal is to use their ability to innovate to open up new possibilities for photographers.
To accomplish this, they appear to be taking a very long view, aiming for a vision, rather than profit numbers this year or next (although those surely don't hurt).
All in all, it's been a very interesting visit here, and as mentioned, I'll have a lot more to share in the days and weeks to come. But it will surely come as good news to many people considering in investing in a Sony APS-C-format camera that Sony has so emphatically stated that they're in the APS-C market for the long haul.
*In terms of being a true leader in the market, we were shown market data indicating that Sony now is in fact solidly in the #2 spot, year-to-date, for full-frame camera sales both globally and in several major markets, including the US -- and not just for a single month, here or there. We were only allowed to share some very limited quotes from the market-research firm producing the numbers (because the other companies Sony is competing against are the research firm's customers as well), but the trends and monthly sales volume numbers were very clear.
Correction, 5:36PM: The note above originally claimed Sony was #2 in overall ILC sales, when in fact they are only planning to claim they are #2 in full-frame cameras YTD. Sony clarified the statement on their position in the market and the article has been updated as such.