A-mount α (alpha) cameras have caused quite a stir about how future DSLRs should work, and even what they should look like. Listening to the designers who recast this series, we can hear what's in store for the brand.
Takahashi: The α77 and α65 will prove how capable the new breed of fully electronic SLRs is. They're the first cameras to combine translucent mirror technology and a range of other Sony innovations. All at once, longstanding mechanical and optical limitations of SLRs have been overcome. Never before have cameras been developed from these engineering concepts.
The cameras demonstrate Sony technical expertise and originality, showing our strong determination. And because of this, they introduce a new playing field in product design. There was no other way to approach it, in fact. Under Takuya's direction, those of us on the design team turned to the task of imagining the shape a new generation of Alpha cameras would take.
Niitsu: Other than their lens, SLRs essentially consist of a body, grip, and pentaprism section. Break it down to the most basic shapes, and you're left with three rectangular building blocks of various shapes and sizes. Molding these together to form an organic, coherent whole has been the traditional approach in SLR design.
This is much harder than it might seem, though. There are several elements to combine, so their required functions and internal structure vary. No matter how you might try to meld them together with curved surfaces, chinks in your design may reveal how artificial and arbitrary the approach is.
Unless we changed our basic approach to design, we wouldn't be able to imagine new design parameters and the shape of emerging Alpha models. What approach should we take? I realized that we should try a styling technique our designers had called "Tensile Skin."
Niitsu: "Tensile Skin" calls to mind taut surfaces. Imagine a tarp tent, for example. Look at a tent, and you'll notice that areas around the poles are pulled tight, creating sharp lines. The lines form between concave surfaces, and the curvature of these surfaces depends on the pressure applied, not on styling by a designer. It gives the appearance a nice, natural sense of tension.
Ridge lines seem to pull outward as curved surfaces are drawn inward. Although the forces act in different directions, the shapes created by this opposition look coherent and seem mechanically balanced. To me, it looks beautiful. If we could extend this appearance to SLRs, we might be able to break free from the traditional playing field of SLR design. Instead of wondering how to yoke the array of building blocks together, we would be taking the new approach of seeking a unified whole encompassing these diverse elements.
What helped me explore this idea was an ordinary sock. As soon as I stretched the sock over our structural mock-up, it transformed the jumble of blocks into a coherent, sculptural unit. It looked fresh, and the jutting edges resonated nicely with the gentle contours. Although this unified whole could be called "monoform," it was hardly monotonous, and there was a pleasant sense of tension. I knew that following this approach would lead us to the new shape for Alpha SLRs.