What goes into developing a camera lineup that keeps users coming back time and time again?
It’s all about balance: taking advantage of innovations in camera technology to provide new shooting experiences
but at the same time delivering solid, dependable usability and design qualities that find a special place in users’ hearts.
For its latest endeavours, Sony focused on harnessing its technical prowess and design capabilities to create camera lineups
that would take on new layers of value with every new model.
Determined to make it easy for anyone to take gorgeous photographs, Sony has made it its mission to pack everything that goes into capturing high-quality images with a photographic tool into smaller devices. In our uncompromising pursuit of compact functionality, we’ve gone back to the basics to distil the essence of each core camera component—from the lens to the viewfinder and the grip—in hopes of reimagining the ideal interchangeable-lens camera for the digital age and redefining the value of a compact camera as smartphones continue to surge in popularity. We’ve condensed the highest possible camera performance into the smallest possible body configurations, tailoring our designs to our users’ shooting styles. The α7 Series of interchangeable-lens digital cameras and the RX Series of compact digital cameras, which revolutionise the shooting experience with incredible image quality in amazingly small packages, have been thrilling and delighting users ever since they hit the scene.
Individual users tend to stick with their camera brands, rarely switching manufacturers. That’s why camera developers have to balance advances in performance and functionality with stable operability and an unchanging design identity when they’re getting ready to roll out a new model. Adding new features, however, affects the internal structure of the camera, too—and inevitably leads to a bigger camera size. If we focus too much on loading the camera with new features, we might end up making the body bigger and changing the overall shape of the camera. Imagine being a loyal user of cameras in that series. You’re familiar with the operations and comfortable with the design that has characterised the lineup. Now, though, you’ve got a camera with totally a different feel—in terms of both the user experience and the aesthetic identity. Sony wanted to give users a new shooting experience without undermining the connection that users have built with the Series. Using the technical resources and design capabilities that we had at our disposal, we set out to create a model that would offer new functionality in a camera with the same size, the same look, and the same operability as the very first model in the whole Series. We were after a design that would give the camera a reputation as a classic, a device capable of delivering deeper and fuller value as new models came out over the years.
Back when film was the standard format,
most 35mm interchangeable-lens cameras were compact enough to fit in the palm of the user’s hand.
As digital cameras took over, however, 35mm full-frame cameras became comparatively bulky, heavy, hard-to-use devices.
The α7 is an attempt to reverse those assumptions:
a compact, lightweight, interchangeable-lens camera that makes it possible for anyone to shoot great pictures.
Our goal was to redefine the 35mm full-frame interchangeable-lens camera format for the digital age.
The follow-up to the α7 was the α7 II, which we designed with a 5-axis image stabilization mechanism to meet the needs of users looking to see how using E-mount lenses and incorporating adapters for a wide variety of A-mount lenses could open up new dimensions of expression. Incorporating a built-in image stabilization mechanism unit created new challenges, however: not only did we have to find a way to keep the new component from making the camera body too thick, but we also needed to make the grip strong enough to handle large mountable lenses. Another issue was ensuring operability—for interchangeable-lens camera users, a split-second can be what separates a great shot from a missed opportunity. If we’d decided to give the α7 II a different set of operating techniques, people who’d developed a familiarity with the first model would’ve had to take time to think through the different operations—and thus watch golden photo opportunities slip by. Whatever we did to keep the body as thin as possible and reconfigure the grip, we always needed to make sure that we kept the usability consistent with the original model.
The original α7, which aimed to set new benchmarks in compact, lightweight design, featured a completely ergonomic layout that placed every button and every dial in the optimal position. While the α7 II might look identical to its-1st generation at first glance, we overhauled the internal structure and performed countless tests to make sure that the overall operability levels met our criteria. Just as we’d done for the original model, we tweaked the placement of every last button and dial down to the tenth of a millimetre to create a layout that would give interchangeable-lens camera users a natural, intuitive interface. For the viewfinder unit, situated on the optical axis of the lens, we drew on the simple, efficient design of the original model but reworked the overall pitch and balance to maximise structural compatibility with lens mounts and deliver a more solid feel when the user mounts a lens. Put it all together, and the α7 II makes big strides in detailed design without ever compromising the trademark aesthetic of an interchangeable-lens camera.
Don’t let the compact size of the RX1 deceive you: built around the concept of
“putting amazing image quality in the palm of your hand,” the RX1 packs a large-aperture lens and a 35mm full-frame image sensor
—something you’d never normally see in a compact camera—into a small, unassuming body.
To give that amazing visual quality an aesthetic identity to match, we decided to go with a no-frills,
streamlined design and an authentic configuration that foregrounded the universal components of a camera.
Using vertical and horizontal lines as our basic thematic elements, we concentrated on building a refined,
“photography tool” look to serve our users.
When you’ve got a camera with the power to deliver astounding image quality, you’re bound to want to take advantage of all the fine-tuned framing possibilities at your fingertips. That need was the reason why we decided to equip the RX1R II, the follow-up to the RX1, with a built-in electronic viewfinder and work the new feature into a configuration that was already dense to begin with. The first prototypes were about 20% bigger than the RX1, which made it seem like it might be impossible to keep the new model from feeling bulkier than the original—but we knew we had to take on the challenge. We went back to square one with the internal structure, moving the lens barrel closer to the centre to open up some space for the viewfinder. To make sure that the viewfinder would fit inside the camera, we also developed a new mechanism that allowed the viewfinder eyepiece to retract into the camera. With the viewfinder compatible with the compact dimensions of the body, we came through with a camera design that stayed true to the original model.
The RX1 had a meticulous dial layout, an arrangement that packed the dials in so tight that there was hardly any room for modifications. When the RX1R II concept came along and brought a built-in viewfinder into the mix, however, we naturally had to make adjustments—but we also had to be careful not to make the changes too drastic. To make sure that we didn’t interfere with the operability that users of the first model had grown familiar with, we could only make minuscule, micron-level tweaks to the layout. Another thing we had to adjust was the lens position, which has an impact on the overall impression of the camera. As we made countless modifications to the location of the Sony logo and the balance of the grip width, we eventually managed to recapture that refined “photography tool” look. Behind all those details and minor modifications was the dogged determination of Sony engineers and designers, who knew that they had to deliver a camera that would only grow on users over time.
For many people, smartphone cameras just aren’t good enough. To help those users experience the real joys of photography,
Sony came out with the RX100: a redefinition of the compact camera.
Despite boasting a large 1.0-type image sensor and a large-aperture lens that produces beautiful bokeh effects and stellar resolution,
the camera still manages to deliver big results in a tiny frame. By focusing on getting every last detail just right,
the RX100 development team created a camera that delivers “pocket-sized professional performance”
—a fusion of the timeless, familiar ambience that cameras exude and the advanced functionality that technology unlocks.
For all the models in the RX100 Series, the core concept was “eyes uncompromised.” That meant always pushing the envelope in terms of specifications but never letting the end result get too big for a user’s pocket. We introduced a tiltable LCD display with the RX100 II, for example, and followed that innovation up with a built-in electronic viewfinder for the RX100 III. The RX100 IV, which supports 4K video and super slow motion recording, is just the latest in a lineup that consistently provides users with new shooting experiences.
When we first started developing the RX100 III, there simply wasn’t any room to fit an electronic viewfinder in the body—which was already as small as it could be. With no easy fixes available, we had to start from the very beginning and rethink everything from the internal structure to the core technologies themselves. We fine-tuned the existing parts down to the micron and minimised the size of the viewfinder without ever sacrificing even the slightest amount of optical performance. Two other key points were the shape and texture of the viewfinder, which we designed with a smooth curve to follow the contour of the camera unit and finished off with a texture that matched the feel of the body. What we had was the kind of sleek, refined aesthetic character that the RX Series deserved. The single line on the front of the body—a symbol of high performance and innovation—has been a feature of every model since the lineup launched. As the RX100 Series keeps soaring to new heights in performance, we’re committed to pursuing the epitome of what a compact camera can be.
For the user interface (UI), we’ve standardised the basic operating system to ensure
that users would get the same operability regardless of model or series.
In addition to designing the UI for consistent operability, we’re also working to build the UI into a future-focused platform
that provides enough flexibility to avoid confusing users when new features roll out.
Creating a consistent UI design makes it possible to offer the same operability to all users. If the basic UI design delivers an interface with a minimal number of button operations, it doesn’t matter how many buttons the camera has—the user is going to be able to access the main functions without any problems. A user who’s just gotten started taking photos with a compact camera, for example, can move up to an interchangeable-lens camera and start shooting without having to learn any new operations. More advanced users, on the other hand, might want to switch between a camera from the α Series and a camera from the RX Series depending on the situation—and that’s no problem with the simple, standardised UI, which allows users to stick to the same familiar operations no matter which camera they’ve got out.
Beginner photographers and experienced photographers also rely on different types of information when they’re shooting. That’s why the UI lets users select multiple display modes, including the Quick Navi Pro interface, which gives the user a quick, intuitive look at shutter speed and aperture values, and simple modes, which just show the essential image data. Not only does the UI provide information according to user skills and preferences, but it also makes adjustments when the user looks through the viewfinder: the display goes into a simplified format to eliminate any possible distractions and let the user configure settings without having to take the camera down from the shooting position. By developing a UI with a wide range of users in mind, we’re aiming for a design that camera users will be able to use for the long haul.
Displays shooting information
Displays an indicator showing
whether the camera is level
Turn the front/rear dials
to select an aperture value
Use the control ring
to select an aperture value
The Sony α7 Series and RX Series keep on moving forward,
delivering new user experiences with each step of the evolutionary process.
The secret to sustaining the success of the lineups is consistency:
by maintaining stable usability and familiar design qualities,
these cameras give users a wealth of cross-model value.