Sony introduced the α (pronounced alpha) digital SLR camera system in 2006 with the α100. Now the α700 is here, signaling the next phase in development. In appearance, it is bold and free of ornamentation. Hold the camera in your hand, and the regard for usability is clear. Camera aficionados will notice unmistakable Sony inspiration in the details. Like a gem created by intense heat and energy, the α700 is a crystallization of the designers' enduring passion for cameras and photography.
Kawagoi: Sony is rounding out and refining the α brand by preparing a range of offerings, from entry-level to flagship cameras. The α700 is a digital SLR positioned as a midrange model. Here, we went back to basics in camera manufacturing and reviewed each feature. We applied Sony technology for better image quality, autofocus response, usability, and other qualities. You might say that now, Sony is writing the second chapter in the development of α.
It was our task to decide how to convey this to users through design. At the same time, we had to know what not to change. The entry-level α100 introduced a basic design concept of α, the cinnabar-colored ring around the mount. This is a facet of the brand identity, an element we want to keep.
Hayashi: In our product design team, we got rid of all other embellishments on the camera for a classic, rather spartan style. It reflects our enthusiasm and the stance we take, Sony's full commitment to D-SLR camera development. Then we decided on the flowing lines from the pentaprism (by the viewfinder) to the mount, which in SLR design is a part of the camera that can convey a sense of character. I think when we have a complete line to show people, they'll recognize the distinctive front profile of Sony cameras.
Hayashi: However authentic it may be, creating the design certainly wasn't just an exercise in imitation or an homage to classic cameras. What you see now—design from a photographer's perspective—is the result of extensive discussion by people in many departments in charge of user interface, product planning, and engineering. Look at the grip, for example. Now, Sony's Atsugi Technology Center has built up a storehouse of expertise over the years as they supply equipment for professional broadcasting. We applied this insight to develop the ideal grip, considering not only what size is easiest to hold but also less obvious issues. What grip angle and depth helps users operate the camera fairly effortlessly even in cold weather, when your hands are numb? How hard should the textured surface be? What's the best friction coefficient? And so on. Those of us on the design team actually went out with professional photographers into snow storms to test the buttons ourselves. That's design based on firsthand experience.
Some people might say the buttons on top of the α700 seem sparse and spaced pretty far apart. I admit, grouping the buttons more closely might make them feel more integrated or reinforce the fact that it's a precision instrument. But this is exactly the right pitch for the fingers of photographers trying to focus on a subject in a harsh environment. And because the α700 is a mid-level camera, we had to take these kinds of shooting conditions into account. We don't let factors of engineering or appearance dominate the design. We start by letting usability guide us in deciding the best shape, and then we arrange the internal parts to match it. That's our basic design philosophy.
Digital SLRs hold a special place in people's hearts, and I think our careful development helps these cameras fulfill their true roles. We turn to cameras as a means to capture and express our creative imagination. They're tools, but tools we rely on and feel affection for. So although they're tools, we sought a form that people can invest these feelings in.