Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

Started Dec 17, 2009 | Discussions
winedarksea Senior Member • Posts: 1,654
Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

The interview I am posting below has been partly posted at the end of a previous string on this site. It represents a translation of a recent interview with Mr. Toru Katsumoto, General Director of the Alpha Division of Sony. The translation, for which we owe many thanls, was done by revdocjim and posted originally in several installments on Dyxum. Because of the limitations on post size and frequency of postings on this site, I plan to post it in several sections now and then again a few hours from now. Many are of the opinion that it is an extremely important statement by the Alpha head man, and contains a great deal of information and many hints as to Sony's direction.

The original article is really quite interesting so I started working on a translation this evening. I got about a third of the way thru it but now I'm running out of steam so I just post what I have done so far and post the rest when I get to it.

In round 2 of our camera manufacturer interview series we spoke with Mr. Katsumoto of Sony, now that it’s been a year since they completed their first full lineup of cameras and are expected to be taking on new challenges.

Last year Sony released the A900, completing their first full lineup from entry models to a high end model. This year they’ve refreshed their entry models and added the A550, which sits a step above the other entry models.

A year ago Mr. Katsumoto stated that Sony had now produced a lineup worthy of earning them recognition as a full fledged camera manufacturer. So what’s next for Sony?

Q. A year ago you said that Sony intended to shift from merely producing for the purpose of continuing a camera legacy to taking on the challenge of creating products of completely new value.

A. Beginning with the A100, our release of the A900 last fall marked the end of the first round for us. It was a very significant period for us, as we designed, produced and marketed products that spanned the entire price range.

This year we started out the second round with the release of the A330 and A380. Our goal is to create a product that makes it ever easier for an absolute beginner to learn how to take photos.

Q. Specifically, what’s the scenario you are envisioning with regard to your users?

A. The mechanics haven’t really changed very much from the A300 and A350. But we’ve created a graphical user interface that is designed to easily assist the beginner who wants to try using the various controls. For instance, “How do I adjust for nice bokeh?” We designed the camera to enable the user to learn some of the most basic techniques and concepts rather easily. So far our feedback from first time users has been positive, stating that the system is easy to understand.

But that’s not enough to satisfy our more experienced users. So we introduced the A550 with advanced functions like higher speed continuous shooting, high ISO capabilities, quick live view and micro focusing for the more advanced user.

Q. When you first started the alpha business you placed a great deal of emphasis on meeting the needs of Minolta users. But now haven’t we reached a point where your users are increasingly Sony users? How do you plan to meet the needs of those who have purchased Sony products as their first Alpha product?

A. You’re right. We are seeing an increasing number of native Sony users. Especially this spring we saw a lot of new users who know nothing about Minolta join the ranks. On the other hand, among those using our middle class and higher models we estimate that it is about half and half between those who bought Sony because of their Minolta lenses and those who are first time Alpha users.

Our intentions are very straight forward. We want to offer a product that is easy to carry around and fun to take photos with. We want people to enjoy the kind of photography that used to require high levels of knowledge and experience. Personally I am using the A550 right now for my own hobby photography.
--
Dulaney
A700; SAL 50 f1.4; SAL 18-250; CZ 85 f1.4

OP winedarksea Senior Member • Posts: 1,654
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

A second installment:

Q. We hear that sales have been pretty good overseas but from our vantage point here in the Japanese market it’s hard to see how the bigger picture is going. Can you fill it in for us a bit.

A. Worldwide we are presently over the 10% mark in sales of exchangeable lens cameras. Our most successful market is Europe. In England, France, Holland, Switzerland and Austria we are closer to 20% in most cases and as high as 30% in some. And while the total sales volume is rather small, our market share in Latin America is particularly high. In Mexico we are the top selling brand. We are also doing well in Asia with about 20% of the market share in China and strong sales in Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.

Q. You haven’t mentioned the U.S. Are you having the same troubles there as you’re having here in Japan?

A. Yes, we are still in the single digits in both Japan and the U.S. and see that as a priority issue. Our main reason for success in Europe is strong marketing channels. During the past 3 years we’ve been able to forge strong ties with retailers, received increasing display space and been able to effectively inform retailers of the unique qualities of the Sony product line.

Of course we’ve attempted to do the same thing in Japan and the U.S. but in both cases the large volume retailers hold a large share of the retail market. We are given very few opportunities to teach the retailers about our product, our marketing strategies, future plans for lens releases etc.

Q. Well maybe, but it seems like there are some pretty significant other reasons for the lack of success here in Japan.

A. When we ask consumers what they expect from Sony cameras what we hear is, “We want something on the leading edge of technology that will hit the market with a boom.” We believe that we need something that really stands out and says, “This is a Sony!” Last year it was the A900. And this year we’ve put our everything into the A550, but I think the market is really looking for something of a higher class than that. Actually what they really want is a camera that has radically new and breathtaking features.

Another important factor is that while we have really tried to make something that is small and light, we still haven’t broken past the boundaries of traditional SLR cameras. Micro four thirds cameras have entered the market and we probably need to offer something radically new as well. Unless we have a product that really stretches, or even breaks the SLR boundaries it will probably be difficult to compete with our rivals in this incredibly tough Japanese market.

Q. At last year’s Photokina you said that with the A900 your company was ending the period of following in others’ footsteps and taking one some new themes. Can we expect to see major changes to the Alpha image in the future?

A. Rather than fight over existing shares in the market we hope to expand the very market itself with new uses and new functions for our products. But of course, we have no intention of marketing products that fail to please our installed user base, but rather ones that will allow them to happily take on new challenges.
--
Dulaney
A700; SAL 50 f1.4; SAL 18-250; CZ 85 f1.4

OP winedarksea Senior Member • Posts: 1,654
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

A third installment:

Q. We’ve repeatedly heard rumors about a mirrorless SLR. Is Sony actually working on one?

A. Small body size is surely one of the big merits of the mirrorless design. But you also end being forced to rely on contrast AF. We’ve been using contrast AF in our video cameras for a very long time, but feel that contrast AF is suitable for video. But whether it’s possible to get contrast AF to work for the kind of quick, almost instantaneous AF required by an SLR remains to be seen.

This is not Alpha strategy but rather just my personal opinion, but I believe there are a variety of viable applications for mirrorless SLRs depending on how the consumers want to use them.

Q. So if you do develop a mirrorless design it’ll mean designing a new mount as well won’t it?

A. I think both options (using the present mount or developing a new one) are real possibilities. But the alpha mount is our default and we will stay with it no matter what. Our first priority is to keep developing that line. But at the same time we will not rule out the possibility of developing a secondary line of mirrorless cameras. But we also won’t make any promises at this point. We simply haven’t made a final decision.

More importantly we want to keep improving on our optical view finders. And while the A500 is an entry model that sells for less than 100,000 yen it’s got HDR, good high ISO, high FPS etc.; pretty much everything you could want in a mid-level camera. Never the less we feel there is still room for improvement. And even with regard to IQ we want to raise the standard, even if only in small increments. Our goal is to be able to offer functions and IQ normally associated with professional models even at this level.

Q. Isn’t it true that Sony’s current live view system won’t really work for video? How do you plan to solve that issue?

A. We feel we did a pretty good job of covering still photography cameras over the past 3 years and feel that it’s about time to address the video issue. We already have a lot of video technology and know how so we hope to make significant contributions by applying what we have to this new market. I can’t really discuss specific technical matters but our goal is to develop a product that is just as easy to use as a normal camcorder while securely maintaining good still photography capabilities and taking full advantage of all the lens options for video as well.

Q. While it’s widely accepted that video functions have drawn attention because of all the lens options and superior IQ in comparison to camcorders. At the same time it really isn’t all that easy to truly master video photography on a DSLR. Are you hoping to address that issue as well?

A. I agree that the real appeal of DSLR video is the excellent S/N and the lens options. Those who have really mastered this application are in fact creating much more than records. They are in fact, creating art. So naturally those users will demand the functions needed for their work. But at the same time I believe there is still a need for basic, simple and user friendly video applications. That’s where our handycam knowledge comes into play, enabling us to develop a camera that is a DSLR but can also work like a camcorder.

I’m going to hold off on answering your question about the compatibility of our present live view technology and video, not because it’s a secret or anything, but because we are still considering all options and don’t want to prematurely narrow down the field. We will be the last ones to implement video into our DSLRs but our goal is to develop a product such that when a user goes out and buys a “normal” entry level model they can effortlessly begin shooting video footage from the very first day.

-- hide signature --

Dulaney
A700; SAL 50 f1.4; SAL 18-250; CZ 85 f1.4

OP winedarksea Senior Member • Posts: 1,654
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

A final installment:

Q. The Alpha lens line up for digital ready full frame lenses is really quite solid but here in Japan Sony has chosen to not even release the A850. Can you tell us a bit more about your plans for full frame bodies.

A. We can’t really comment about the A850 and domestic sales because it’s the opinions of the sales division that gets prioritized in making those decisions. As for the A900, it has been widely accepted mostly by landscape photographers. The 24MP sensor and the CZ and G lenses make for a very appealing product for landscape photographers. On the other hand it probably isn’t nearly as appealing for sports photographers. So it’s not perfect, but it is a very good product for the type of photographer that likes to really pour himself into each frame. We intend to continue to broaden the appeal and value of our full frame line up in the future.

Q. Well then, what about a high spec high amateur level body.

A. I’m not going to promise a release during the coming year but that is what we are planning on. It’s hard to make promises about bodies because things change with regard to the various devices we put in those bodies. But one thing is for sure; there definitely will be a replacement for the A700. Without a solid top-level model to dream about our users will eventually cease to dream themselves. We definitely intend to have a high amature high spec camera that invites people to dream dreams.

Q. In closing, can you give us a brief summary of what kind of camera Alpha is envisioning in the coming year.

A. We intend to release products that break new ground technologically. It will look like an orthodox camera on the outside but the contents will be very new and exciting. In terms of functions and quality it will be a very competitive product so stay tuned!

ADMIN NOTE;
the post has been edited with all translation merged (added).

-- hide signature --

Dulaney
A700; SAL 50 f1.4; SAL 18-250; CZ 85 f1.4

KEITH-C Forum Pro • Posts: 14,131
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

That appears to be a good translation & it is an interesting read.

It does bare the hallmarks of a setup interview however - the thorny question of the stripping down of features in the entry level & the A500 series is not even mentioned. I can't believe that the interviewer was not aware of this issue at the time of the interview
--
Keith-C

Ronni H
Ronni H Senior Member • Posts: 1,099
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

Thanks for posting this - I missed it in the other thread.
--
Never bite the Apple...

Ronni

http://www.pbase.com/ronnihansen

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alljoy Junior Member • Posts: 29
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

Thank you for your efforts in posting this translated interview, it certainly gives indicated answers to the questions I have had on my mind for some time.

I will continue to wait until Sony release the advanced amateur camera as mentioned above as I appreciate the level of technology that will be available when this happens.

I have had the same DSLR for the past 5 years and still take great pictures almost the same way as my film years. Taking these pictures is what photography is about and to make it more delightful I will enjoy a lot of technical advances that I think might be forthcoming if I am patient enough to wait for it. Sony are obviously doing their utmost to bring a speedy release of their product, and any mumbling on my part will not speed this event up. In fact it might prompt the release of something with short comings.

So I am enthusiastically waiting on the sidelines for my new camera and in the meantime taking photos of the things I love.

Allan.

Phixel Veteran Member • Posts: 3,777
Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

This translation has a much better tone than the earlier crude translation versions. However, I have serious doubts about a true a700 replacement next year though, so I think this part of the translation is not right. I just don't see it happening. Instead I see a 950 to replace the a900 and a small mirror-less camera with interchangeable lenses and maybe a plastic bodied a600 with a pentaprism viewfinder and better on sensor live view and HDR implementation than that of the a550. I also think the interesting news will be with the new lenses being introduced as well. Who knows, it could be that an OIS lens will be in the future Sony line!
--Phil

Mark K
Mark K Veteran Member • Posts: 6,485
Re: Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

Thanks for the translation. The information here are very encouraging
--
Mark K

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keith Bennett Contributing Member • Posts: 540
Re: Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

yes ta very much for the smooth translation and this post -

just one more question please -

dear Mr. Katsumoto - lenses? - new cz lenses? - to expand the range just a tiny tad for your beautiful cameras
--
keith

Barry Fitzgerald Forum Pro • Posts: 29,888
Re: Recent Interview with Toru Katsumoto, Gen. Dir. of Alpha Division

KEITH-C wrote:

That appears to be a good translation & it is an interesting read.

It does bare the hallmarks of a setup interview however - the thorny question of the stripping down of features in the entry level & the A500 series is not even mentioned. I can't believe that the interviewer was not aware of this issue at the time of the interview

It's like this, Toru Katsumoto is the guy who is responsible for dumbing down, he said they wanted to make cameras more "Sony like" in other words simple.

And thus the (hilarious in many ways) A2xx-3xx series was born..

Thus they kept the A5xx simple features wise (translated means entry spec with pumped up fps)

I don't find that terribly impressive myself..

fjbyrne
fjbyrne Veteran Member • Posts: 8,404
Thanks for posting this...not convinced

Thanks for posting this here and all in 1 thread.

I have to say that this interview doesn't make me feel any better. OK so there will apparently be an A700 replacement some time in the future. But it could be a relatively distant future. It also bothers me that he considers a camera without MLU, program shift, etc "pretty much everything you could want in a mid-level camera".

I wonder what he considers everything I would want in a "top-level model".

-- hide signature --

Rick

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Barry Fitzgerald Forum Pro • Posts: 29,888
Re: Thanks for posting this...not convinced

fjbyrne wrote:

Thanks for posting this here and all in 1 thread.

I have to say that this interview doesn't make me feel any better. OK so there will apparently be an A700 replacement some time in the future. But it could be a relatively distant future. It also bothers me that he considers a camera without MLU, program shift, etc "pretty much everything you could want in a mid-level camera".

I wonder what he considers everything I would want in a "top-level model".

I agree.

Clearly he does not understand what users require, he is probably not a photographer either..thus I see no reason he should hold this position.

The A5xx models are far short of "everything you could want" And they are not mid range bodies, merely entry level ones with a faster FPS.

foot Veteran Member • Posts: 4,117
Re: Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

Thanks for the translation ! it was a very interesting read

now i comment on sony's plans for A7xx:

"A. I’m not going to promise a release during the coming year but that is what we are planning on. It’s hard to make promises about bodies because things change with regard to the various devices we put in those bodies. But one thing is for sure; there definitely will be a replacement for the A700. Without a solid top-level model to dream about our users will eventually cease to dream themselves. We definitely intend to have a high amature high spec camera that invites people to dream dreams. "

This sounds 2011-ish to me! And it's odd that he is positioning it as a "dream camera" and not a natural upgrade path camera...WTF does that mean?

Phixel wrote:

This translation has a much better tone than the earlier crude translation versions. However, I have serious doubts about a true a700 replacement next year though, so I think this part of the translation is not right. I just don't see it happening. Instead I see a 950 to replace the a900 and a small mirror-less camera with interchangeable lenses and maybe a plastic bodied a600 with a pentaprism viewfinder and better on sensor live view and HDR implementation than that of the a550. I also think the interesting news will be with the new lenses being introduced as well. Who knows, it could be that an OIS lens will be in the future Sony line!
--Phil

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liquid stereo
liquid stereo Veteran Member • Posts: 7,286
Oh, you don't feel better?

What's wrong?

fjbyrne wrote:

Thanks for posting this here and all in 1 thread.

I have to say that this interview doesn't make me feel any better. OK so there will apparently be an A700 replacement some time in the future. But it could be a relatively distant future. It also bothers me that he considers a camera without MLU, program shift, etc "pretty much everything you could want in a mid-level camera".

I wonder what he considers everything I would want in a "top-level model".

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Dan Vincent
Dan Vincent Contributing Member • Posts: 927
Re: Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

foot wrote:

Thanks for the translation ! it was a very interesting read

now i comment on sony's plans for A7xx:

"A. I’m not going to promise a release during the coming year but that is what we are planning on. It’s hard to make promises about bodies because things change with regard to the various devices we put in those bodies. But one thing is for sure; there definitely will be a replacement for the A700. Without a solid top-level model to dream about our users will eventually cease to dream themselves. We definitely intend to have a high amature high spec camera that invites people to dream dreams. "

This sounds 2011-ish to me! And it's odd that he is positioning it as a "dream camera" and not a natural upgrade path camera...WTF does that mean?

Getting people to talk about unannounced products is suicide in business. I don't give timeframes when our new software is coming out, for instance, though I might talk about a feature we are working on. It's clear they want the a700 replacement to be a step above the a700 in terms of features and price, so it may cost in the range of the 7D or the D300. The entry level users need to see there's something on top that they can upgrade to, even if they might not buy it for a few years.

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Geir Eivind Mork Senior Member • Posts: 1,680
Re: Thanks for posting this...not convinced

fjbyrne wrote:

Thanks for posting this here and all in 1 thread.

I second that, much appriciated! Great work!

I have to say that this interview doesn't make me feel any better. OK so there will

I have the total opposite reaction.

apparently be an A700 replacement some time in the future. But it could be a
relatively distant future.

I don't think they want to introduce anything before the a5x0 have had enough traction.

It also bothers me that he considers a camera without MLU, program shift, etc
"pretty much everything you could want in a mid-level camera".

I'm sure he get the reactions in the marked.

I wonder what he considers everything I would want in a "top-level model".

By looking at the a850 I'm fairly sure they know what they are doing.
--
Still rocking the old Sony Alpha α100.

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pheanix Regular Member • Posts: 211
I'm OK with it.

Although I've used MLU a couple times and see the benefit in it, I'm not going for the A550 or below, so it's absence in those cams doesn't bother me personally. I'm absolutely thrilled that there will be an A700 replacement (officially now). Hopefully, traditional adjustments will be preserved on the new camera. I just hope my A700 lasts a year
--
'Shoot first (pictures that is); ask questions later'
Keith

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Geir Eivind Mork Senior Member • Posts: 1,680
Re: Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

This sounds 2011-ish to me! And it's odd that he is positioning it as a "dream camera" and not a natural upgrade path camera...WTF does that mean?

They are japanese, not americans. They way they use words might not be the chosen way for an American.

I'm quite sure an american wouldn't buy a Canon Kiss just because of the name

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Marco Cinnirella
Marco Cinnirella Veteran Member • Posts: 7,842
Re: Interesting Interview with Toru Katsumoto

Interesting read. Sounds like Sony feel under intense pressure to have the 'wow factor' with their next major release just hope they don't go for gimmics over useful functionality...

My a700 is not suddenly going to start taking rubbish images just because this guy is not promising an a700 replacement any time soon, so I for one am not going to jump ship on the basis of this rather vague interview.

It is amusing how some forum posters position the a700 as in need of urgent replacement - I'm consistently astonished by the quality of images it produces in good hands, and while it would be nice to have a little better ISO 1600+, Adobe with their latest beta of Lightroom are at least showing that we can still look forward to increases in high ISO raw performance in the future via improvements to raw processors.

Neither Canon nor Nikon offer the 'killer' rival camera that would make me abandon the A mount and all my glass - at least, not at an attractive price point here in the UK.

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