Digital SLR cameras are hot. Entry-level SLRs should be small and straightforward, yet many people still find them big and complicated. Just who are these cameras for, and what should they be like? The new "α" gives us some answers, from designers who faced the issues in photography.
Takahashi: With the release of the "α900" last year, the Sony "α" ("alpha") product line launched in 2006 was finally complete. Now we're building on this tradition in the second generation to offer new, desirable qualities you won't find anywhere else. Toward this end, we asked ourselves what we could do through design. You can find some answers in the accessible "α380", "α330", and "α230".
Trying to rewrite the book on SLR cameras is both bold and difficult, even if these are entry-level models. SLRs have evolved over the years to meet the tough demands of professionals in reporting and journalism, among other fields. This has influenced many of the unwritten rules of design. Look at the grip, for example. Its size and shape makes the camera easy to handle even with large, heavy lenses mounted. Important dials and buttons are within reach, when you're looking through the viewfinder, and conveniently shaped. Even SLRs for novices share this professional heritage.
We can admire past chapters in the history of camera manufacturing, and this design seems fitting for an age when SLRs were exclusively for people determined to produce professional shots and master the traditions of photography. But as cameras became more common in general, attitudes in the market have changed. Browse popular camera magazines or photography blogs and you'll find perfectly composed shots next to ordinary snapshots. Rather than honing their skills for specific kinds of photography, more people are discovering how enjoyable cameras can be as they learn how to frame everyday scenes or retouch images. Their shots reveal that new users' reasons for picking up an SLR are changing.
Cameras better suited to this market, the emerging generation of photographers, was our goal in development. Some of you interested in SLRs have been put off by bulky cameras or complicated controls. Through design, we wanted to give you a gentle push. We were determined to offer current novices the purest form of what they've been looking for, after repeated surveys and discussions took us past the unwritten rules of design. Indeed, responding to user needs must be a starting point in camera design, and we believe entry-level SLRs should have been like this all along.
Sumii: Simpler and more compact. New digital SLR users value these qualities, and that's what we sought to deliver. We also knew that more young women appreciate how fashionable classic cameras can be. With these trends in mind, we rejected the modern SLR shape, with flowing surfaces forming a solid, organic whole. Instead, new "α" cameras are modeled after classic film cameras. After all, the iconic look everyone recognizes, combined with clean, clear controls, epitomizes camera design.
You'll notice the classic shape when you see the new models from above. The basic shape is straightforward, with the lens housing intersecting an oval body. Even the mode dial is carefully designed to fit neatly into this shape. This approach defies the notion in SLR cameras that the bigger the mode dial, the easier it is to use. Beginners tend to watch the LCD monitor as they operate camera controls. It's easier to keep holding the camera in both hands and use only your thumb to turn the dial, without using your fingers. So there's no need to have the mode dial stand out. In fact, we were also motivated to do this because the understated appearance is more user-friendly. A camera that looks invitingly easy to pick up is more compelling.