Meet the NEX-FS100, an E-mount pro camcorder with a generous image sensor. Those familiar with traditional Handycam styling will find it strikingly original. What was the true motive for this departure in design? Insightful user feedback during development helped the designers think inside and outside the box.
Miyashita: Sony satisfies a range of creative needs with a full line of pro camcorders. Recent years have seen a new trend in video production, though, as digital SLRs play a more prominent role in filming. It's no longer so unusual when music videos or fashion pieces are shot by photographers using their own DSLRs. This is just one example of how new fields and markets are steadily emerging outside of existing user segments and product categories in video production.
What can Sony offer creative professionals in these new fields? One answer we found involved expanding our E-mount system to pro camcorders. Camcorders with an E-mount, which has a short, 18-mm flange-back distance from the mount surface to the imaging surface, could be fitted with a mount adapter to support huge lenses. A lower initial equipment investment is another advantage.
Development would be a foray into unknown territory, though. Our main target was creative video professionals and those in the movie industry, people who would be unimpressed if we simply added an interchangeable-lens system to products styled like traditional Handycams. To cultivate this market, we needed to sort out what was needed and what wasn't, and then find and introduce a fitting solution for this new shooting style.
Niitsu: Our product planners and engineers started by researching how creative video professionals are using their equipment (including DSLRs) today, and what features they consider convenient. We focused on creative professionals and digital cinematography equipment users in the video and movie industry, which we considered to be our primary market.
When presented with a familiar pro camcorder, they shared some enlightening feedback about the handle-a part normally viewed as indispensable. Some respondents wondered why the handle was needed. Others wished it were removable, because they rarely used it. We also observed quite a different perspective on equipment mobility, when we asked respondents how they used DSLRs in video production. They noted that the mobility of a DSLR, as a handheld device, was not necessarily an advantage. Respondents said they mounted DSLRs on sturdy tripods, stands, holders, or stabilizers to avoid camera shake, besides using third-party attachments for focusing. It seems that DSLRs aren't the ideal format of camera for video production, yet people are still using them for this purpose.
What kind of product would be better? We continued discussing these issues with respondents as we showed them a series of mock-ups, starting with models that illustrated the basic structural design of the controls and LCD screen.
Meanwhile, my own contribution toward deciding the general format was limited to coordinating our "hybrid design" efforts-combining a variety of contrasting materials, textures, and finishes, including hard and soft elements, to create products that break the mold and give new impressions.
In other E-mount products, for example, a (alpha) NEX-5 cameras combine the diverse elements of a round cylinder and a rectangular panel, seen in the lens and camera body, respectively. The basic theme is unchanged in the NEX-VG10, an interchangeable-lens Handycam with a "panel" (the LCD screen) that intersects the cylindrical body. In the new NEX-FS100, though, the LCD screen is not a dominant part, so instead, we imagined the basic forms of a cylinder and a box. Shin's interpretation of how we should present these shapes served as our starting point in camera design.