Could my next camera be a Sony?

I’ve never had a lot of love for Sony. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’ve had a persistent dislike of Sony for the most part. Their “Memory Sticks” drive me crazy and Blu-ray should never have won the high-def disc wars. Among many other things, these drive me crazy. Therefore, I was a little disappointed when Sony bought Minolta a few years back. I say “a little” because I am no longer invested in Minolta products, but I once was.

Pre-college, I used the Minolta Maxxum 7000. It was one of the first mainstream autofocus cameras on the market and, being a gadget freak, I loved it. The glass wasn’t great, but it was passable, and I stayed with Minolta. I had a few of the bodies over the years, mostly ones with techie gimmicks like cards that added new features, like an intervalometer. Whatever. I was having fun with photography.

I forget when I first shot with a Nikon, but man did I love the glass so much more than the Minolta stuff I had. The results from the Nikon were wonderful. I was also officially starting to study photography in college, and decided to start investing in some better lenses. But I also decided, somewhat impetuously, that I wasn’t going to stay with Minolta. I decided I was a Nikon man. I spent money I couldn’t truly afford on one body and one lens, the Nikon N90s and the Nikkor 28mm f/2.8. No, it still wasn’t truly great glass, but it started me on a journey, and I loved the Nikon.

I never really thought about going back to Minolta from Nikon, but I always looked back fondly on the bodies I owned. The Nikons I’ve owned over the years were great workhorses that felt great in the hands, but they never had the enthusiastic experimental feel of the Maxxums. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but sometimes it’s nice to be surprised with something unexpected and delightful from a camera. So when Sony, a company I have no love for, bought Minolta, I felt a little twinge. The feisty Maxxum lineup I remember fondly would be gone.

Today, I’m being surprised by Sony in some of the same ways Minolta did back in the day. Some of the things Sony is doing are exactly the kind of bold moves I’ve been hoping Nikon would make. The NEX line of small cameras, like the NEX-7 and, most recently, the NEX-6, have shown that Sony is willing to take chances. Moreover, the RX1 is truly close to what I’ve been asking for in a compact camera. (The only complaints I have, assuming its image quality and shooting feel are up to snuff of course, are the lack of an integrated viewfinder and the price.)

But the biggest surprise in the recent spate of Sony announcements slid right past me initially; I disregarded it before even really giving it more than a passing glance: the A99.

I’m shooting with a Nikon D700 these days, and am not in the market to replace it. In contrast with my college days, I now have great glass–better than any non-pro deserves, really. I have two-thirds of the Nikon “Holy Trinity”: the Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 and the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VRII. I have fast primes like the 50mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss 35mm f/2. I’m truly spoiled. What could Sony possibly do to lure me into even considering one of its cameras?

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Well, there are things I’ve wished for, because the grass is always greener. In a brief dalliance with Canon, I became enamored of image stabilization. VR had not yet made it to many Nikons, and my main walkaround lens on the Canon, the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, was a revelation. Common wisdom was that image stabilization wasn’t necessary on wide-angle lenses, especially not any but the slowest ones. But even with a reasonably fast, constant f/2.8, I frequently found myself appreciating the IS on the Canon. The picture above was taken at 1/6 in near darkness. This was only possible because of the IS on that lens making me capable of hand-holding the camera 3-4 stops slower than normal.

When my fling was over and I went back to my One True Brand, I bought the 24-70. I winced at the price and size and the lack of VR (Nikon-speak for image stabilization), but the lens’ reputation spoke to me. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a marvelous lens, and deserves the praise people heap upon it. But I wish the body had VR built-in. Other makers have done it successfully, and I have always hoped that Nikon would see the light and add VR to bodies ideally or failing that, at least add it to the members of the Trinity.

Another tech-nerd wish of mine has been integrated GPS. Even point-and-shoots have it built-in now, and I was gobsmacked when the D800 was unveiled without it built-in. Who, in this day and age doesn’t want the option for location to be tagged effortlessly in their photos? Apparently Nikon thinks owners of its cameras don’t.

So I spent a few minutes reading about the Sony A99. Image stabilization built-in to the body. GPS, built-in. A funky non-reflex mirror and two focusing systems working in tandem. The A99 has the stuff I want and a dash of that delightful element of surprise that I remember from the Minolta days.

The glass has gotten a bit better than I remember too; some of the Zeiss offerings on the Sony look great, particularly since they autofocus there and don’t on my Nikon. Wait, am I really looking at Sony lenses? Am I intrigued enough that I’d give up my Nikon and its great glass?

Right now, no. But now the A99 has made its way into my thoughts, and I’ve found myself daydreaming about it since the announcements from earlier this week. Compound that with a bit of disappointment with Nikon over their lack of keeping up the momentum of the Nikon 1 launch, and I now can no longer say that I’ll be dismissing Sony when the time does come to start looking at my next camera, and I really didn’t think I’d ever be saying that.