Full-Frame Sony NEX in 2013?

Back in September, just after major Sony announcements, we predicted an upcoming full-frame Sony NEX mirrorless camera. We are not usually ones to speculate and spread rumors, but this time evidence was rather convincing. First of all, NEX-VG900 35mm sensor camcorder, the first of its kind, was launched. As it packs NEX E mount we now know it’s compatible with full-frame image circle. This cleared out any technical reasons why a large sensor NEX would be out of question. Secondly, with the launch of latest NEX-6 camera, Sony decided to specifically write “APS-C” on the front of the camera, something they have never done before. And the only reason for such an indication we can think of is the existence of a larger or smaller sensor. Now, a smaller than APS-C size sensor doesn’t make all that much sense, of course, and recently many other photography websites have been reporting rumors of the upcoming full-frame Sony NEX camera.

Sony NEX Sensor Comparison

The Specs

Of course, it’s hard to say for sure. We can only guess it will be a sort of a merge between Sony NEX-7 and RX1 full-frame compact camera. Expect 1080p/60 video, 24 or more megapixels, great screen and small size despite the large sensor. Hopefully it will have a hybrid AF combining both contrast- and phase-detect systems. And please, please let it have a good EVF! RX1 would have been it for many photographers if it wasn’t for the silly and irrational omission of a viewfinder, be it an optical one or an EVF.

Sony’s had a difficult start when they first tried with Alpha DSLR lineup. Cameras weren’t all that popular compared to the established Canon and Nikon offerings, and they lacked many modern lenses, too. Not to say they haven’t been learning. They’ve started playing bold with the launch of cheap-ish full-frame DSLRs, the A900 and A850. Now, we have innovative SLT cameras and popular NEX series, the great RX100 and RX1 compacts. Sony’s betting on technology. After all, it’s what they are best at and, given the relatively weak brand name in camera industry, it’s their best chance at attracting customers. Expect some solid specs.

The Cost

One would think putting fewer parts into a smaller and cheaper to make body would make it less costly to buy. Given the $2800 price of a brand new Sony SLT A99, it would be quite reasonable to hope the price of a full-frame NEX camera to be a few hundred dollars less. But is it realistic? There’s a chance that, if such a camera does eventually show up, it will be the first one. And, as proven by Fujifilm X100 and the RX1, exclusivity comes with a price. Unless Sony decides to put the new NEX up against recently announced budget full-frame DSLRs, Nikon D600 and Canon 6D, expect its price to be up there with the rest of high-end 35mm sensor offerings.

In theory, such a camera could be cheaper than existing DSLR alternatives. Unfortunately, price is not only determined by manufacturing costs – it’s part of marketing strategy. Sony has a lot of technologies up its sleeve, but only has to bring out enough to tempt you from your current system. Saving the rest of advancements, among which is the lower price, for a later product when more competition is brought to the market pays off. It took a while for “budget” full-frame DSLRs to appear, it may be the exact same situation with full-frame mirrorless.

The Problem

One word – lenses. From the very start, Sony has barely managed to produce any serious lenses in terms of specifications even though they now offer the very capable NEX-7 camera. But specifications – focal length and aperture – are one thing, making sure optics deliver expected results is entirely different. On the whole, Sony offerings for their E mount are average at best and in many cases simply dismal, well below the expected for such a manufacturer. Average is not good enough for 24 megapixel APS-C sensor. Designing full-frame lenses is an even more difficult task.

Sony produces a small number of lenses, ranging for standard kit zooms, to ultra-zoom lenses, to a pancake wide-angle and fast-ish 50mm lens. The 16mm pancake, while a very desirable lens (Nikon hasn’t got one for their DX cameras!), suffers from terrible vignetting at basically any aperture. Most lenses perform very poorly at the corners of the image, too. I have a strong suspicion this may be due to the very short flange focal distance (distance between lens mount and sensor) of just 18mm. On the other hand, Fujifilm’s X-mount cameras have a FFD of 17.7mm – even less, and Fuji’s managed to produce some very impressive lenses. I’ve heard complaints that even Sony’s E-mount 35mm macro lens is very poor at the corners, which is unacceptable.

Having all that in mind, the lenses are actually rather big, and even more so when you consider them to be fit for APS-C sensors only. How big would full-frame compatible lenses be? Already it is hard to see Sony NEX as a compact solution unless you go for the 16mm f/2.8 lens. All would be well if they were fast aperture-wise. But the widest Sony managed is their 50mm f/1.8! Smaller sensors and shorter flange focal distance should mean smaller and/or faster lenses. Neither is really found in the NEX system.

Sony Zeiss Sonnar 24mm f/2.8

That is not to say there’s no hope. Quite the contrary. Sigma, having produced some stunning full-frame DSLR lenses lately, namely the 35mm and 85mm f/1.4′s, is taking a close look at E mount. Also, Carl Zeiss is said to produce some lenses for the mount, too. Those with autofocus no less, which is very welcome. One such lens is already available for purchase, and it’s the 24mm f/1.8 Sonnar. We haven’t yet reviewed it, but users seem to praise it – no surprise there. After all, CZ has been one of the best optics manufacturer from the very start and worked closely with Sony before producing likely the best available lenses for A-mount cameras.

Apart from this, however, things aren’t looking too good. Poor lenses is one of the reasons why I’d not consider a Sony NEX camera for my needs, even if it had a 35mm sensor. If Sony is in fact preparing a full-frame mirrorless camera, they have a lot of work to do where it matters.

UPDATE: Sony now has several promising lenses for its E mount. This includes the 10-18mm f/4 OSS, 35mm f/1.8 OSS and 16-50m f/3.5-5.6 OSS lenses. All of them are stabilized. The last one offers standard zoom range in a much more compact body than the older 18-55mm lens. We are yet to review these optics. Hopefully they are much better than earlier E-mount lenses from Sony.


Avatar of Romanas Naryškin About Romanas Naryškin

A student and a wedding photographer with a passion for cinematography and writing. You'll see me buying film even when there's no food in the fridge. Follow me on Google+, Facebook or visit my wedding photography website to see some of my work.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) David B

    In my opinion, unless Sony comes up with drastic way to make things smaller, it will be a failure. The lenses are already big, and for full frame they probably will be even larger, and full frame DSLRS are getting smaller.

  2. 2
    ) Julie

    Happy New Year, Roman. (^^,)

    • Avatar of Romanas Naryškin
      3
      ) Romanas Naryškin

      You too, hon!

  3. 4
    ) Hoeras

    My money would be on Sony doing it first. The mere fact that there would be an incentive to be the first to make one (prestige and LOTS media attention) would seem that it will happen sooner or later, and maybe sooner? Somebody will do it and Sony would seem capable.

    But the lenses will be a problem, so they won’t be fast or just too big, but a 24-70 F4 will still be SHORTER than inequivalent DSLR because of NO MIRROR, so not all bad.

    A fast 50mm F2 and 35mm F2 or F2.8 – again they will have a much flatter profile. Possibly a nice wide F2.8 and even a fisheye or fisheye adaptor as they do for current NEX?

    Long telelenses limited to existing Sony lenses with adaptors – and will require a tripod – not so attractive a proposition, but doable. Also great to fit to a telecope for pointing at the stars?

    Prices please?

  4. 5
    ) Ahmad

    I don’t think the NEX lenses are compatible with full frame sensor. The VG900 uses alpha lenses with adaptors to shoot full frame, when NEX lenses are mounted the camera switches to APS-C mode.

    • Avatar of Romanas Naryškin
      6
      ) Romanas Naryškin

      You are completely right, Ahmad. I never said they were :) Though I do have doubts about the 50mm f/1.8

  5. 7
    ) Michael

    Well, full-frame mirrorless camera is only a question of time. I think Sony did realize that SLT was a big mistake and waste of time. And probably SLT will die even quicker than DSLR…

    If it would happen Sony could focus on NEX family with APS-C and FF sensors. If not – they would have to “fight” on 3 “frontlines”: NEX APS-C, NEX FF and SLT. And as you mentioned the most serious problem is a one word – lenses.

    Greetings from UK!

  6. 8
    ) Zach

    It would be really great if Sony continued their relationship with Carl Zeiss to make some really nice, professional-quality lenses. CZ already makes a-mount lenses (and excellent ones, as you pointed out), so what’s the big stretch to make e-mount lenses (aside from the obvious)?

    That said, it’d be nice for Sony to make their own lenses for beginners/non-professionals. Zeiss lenses tend to be in the 1000+ range, and one or two $150, and 8-10 $500-700 lenses would be very welcome.

  7. 9
    ) Vladimir Naumoff

    Hi everyone and thanks for the article.
    Well this is a very easy prediction. All the steps are completed for NEX to be re-born in FF format but I would imagine that Sony will release a FF full size mirrorless camera body first. That would be logical step for them to do. On another hand I don’t see why Sony is bothering with NEX at all.
    You cannot really call NEX exactly compact camera. It’s not chip and it’s using different (from Alpha) lenses. If I would have a choice between Full Frame mirrorless Alpha and NEX for the small price difference I would go with Alpha, especially I am upgrading my gear. If you have noticed that all the Sony lenses are already exist in Alpha format now they are just being copied to NEX mount and they are not exactly chip either. If we assume that Sony will release Full Frame mirrorless Alpha first than what would be the advantages of the FF Sony NEX? Little smaller, little chipper, little less?

  8. 10
    ) jason

    As far as lenses go, could this e-mount full frame camera accept any 35mm lens ever made? Leica, Nikon, etc?

    On the lens front, I wonder if the Sony investment in Olympus will result in any new E lenses. Olympus has built a very good reputation for making quality compact lenses. Sony’s purchase of Minolta resulted in some very nice camera bodies. Sony has all the pieces to build a very strong system.

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