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News & Insight

Sony’s Sensors Are So Good They Are Getting A Company Of Their Own

By Kishore Sawh on October 6th 2015

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In Tokyo this morning, Sony let loose a press release that’s about as indicative of the way photography has been treating them over the past few years – that Sony sensors are so damn good, they warrant a corporation all to themselves.

Sony has had a habit of doing this, and with some success, as they’ve done something similar previously with other divisions (like television). While Sony, a name derived from the Latin ‘sonus’, meaning ‘sound’, isn’t the first name that comes to mind when we think about photography, in this day and age perhaps it very well should be.

Consider the fact over 40% of camera sensors last year were manufactured by Sony, and this becomes more and more sensible. Of course, that in large part was due to the fact that the lion’s share of iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 phones have not one but two Sony sensors tucked neatly inside. And of course, we know Nikon uses Sony sensors, and as the cherry-on-top it is a Sony sensor found in the a7RII that’s currently holding pole position as the finest and best-performing camera sensor DxO Mark has ever tested. So with that in mind, it makes good sense then that Sony would split off its semiconductors operations

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That was rhetorical, in case you missed it. The semiconductor R&D, business control, sales and other operations related to the semiconductor business, currently overseen by business groups and R&D units within Sony Corporation, will be transferred to Sony Semiconductor Solutions. And when will this take place? April next year.

Why is Sony splitting this sector of the business, given in the past they’ve done it mainly to branches that are struggling? Simply, to more rapidly adapt to their respective changing market environments, and to generate sustained growth.

In the storage media business, business functions currently located within Sony Corporation will be transferred to Sony Storage Media and Devices Corporation (President: Mitsunobu Saito), which currently engages in manufacturing. By integrating these business functions and manufacturing operations, the Company aims to ensure continued, stable profit generation.

[REWIND: SONY A7R II CROWNED KING OF DXOMARK | IS THE TESLA P85D OF CAMERAS]

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The idea of adaptability in this area makes so much sense if you consider how the camera markets are going. I’ve said it before, that you could’ve purchased a Nikon F2 when it was released, and it would’ve been relevant 15 years later, before digital, but now your camera body is left at the heels by the next quarter, almost. What makes a camera now, to be frank, is the sensor. Sony could literally do away with its camera devices and just push out sensors.

What I’m excited about is that Sony has, in its history with Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka as its founders, have been able to generate truly impressive and often revolutionary technology, and clearly that continues today with their sensors. What I hope this means is that the new company will be afforded the kind of budget and autonomy from the rest of a company that’s suffered, to produce absolutely stellar sensors for us all to enjoy. How many of you have a Sony sensor in your bag?

Full Press Release

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Bob McCormac

    To be clear, Sony is splitting off the sensor division into a separate company for financials reasons.

    While their sensors are no doubt good, it seems that they usually tend to make some critical compromise that hobbles the overall effectiveness. That’s in addition to the extra cost of being a “Sony owner”.

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  2. Stephen Jennings

    I was always under the impression Sony sensors were made by an internal company anyways. Only now it will be under an umbrella of their own within the massive corporate structure of Sony. Basically all this news is saying is that the sensors make enough money to warrant more autonomous control. I view Sony’s massive corporate structure as one if it’s main downsides.. it’s camera lines and lens lines seem fractured and confused, like too many people were calling too many shots. Hopefully this is good new for the semiconductor, we all love Sony sensors. I just have little faith in companies this massive with interests spread over so many areas as compared to true Optics companies like Nikon and Zeiss that make imaging systems for consumers, medical and industry.

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    • adam sanford

      Depends on how you look at it. This is great news if you like sensor innovation because now that business unit has to drive its own bottom line.

      But this is potentially bad news if you are a Sony fanboy — getting sensors pried out of the imaging division might mean *everyone* will get that sony sensor goodness at the same time as Sony’s cameras. That’s a potentially huge competitive advantage lost for the A7 line, which is the only show in town for the FF mirrorless market (disregarding Leica’s niche unit sales).

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  3. adam sanford

    An interesting development. They’ll get consolidation and scale upsides from this as a business, but it may not all be good to split out the sensor biz like this.

    Just a thought exercise: what happens when the sensor business sales are down someday and they need to up their numbers?

    1) If that happened to Sony *after* today: the sensor business might strike more licensing deals to get the numbers up, as the sensor business unit must hit its goals by itself. That might water down the competitive advantage they have in certain portions of the camera market.

    2) If that happened to Sony *prior* to today: Sony would eat the sensor sales loss and fight proliferation of their tech where it gives them a competitive advantage for camera sales. For instance: many believe there is no Nikon variant of the A7 mirrorless rigs because Sony won’t license their sensors for mirrorless applications — this allows Sony to run largely unchecked in the FF mirrorless market. Would such strategic vision be maintained and executed if cameras and sensors had a different corporate bottom line?

    I don’t want to poke holes in this news for Sony folks. But the A7 brand has been a phenomenon for a host of reasons, but we’d be foolish to think the quality of the sensors wasn’t a major driver of that.

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  4. Unknown Unknown

    DXO Mark… If I hear DXO I always roll my eyes a little.
    Their “extensive analysations” are based on little to no described tests with no visual proof or whatsoever. They could as well have taken a photo of a hen and rate the quality by how many eggs that hen layed the week after…

    Then, they rate their little DXO 1″-type camera better than most of the APS-C DSLRs out there, which is more than ridiculous. With the DXO One’s SuperRAW mode they even go batshit crazy and place it better than most medium format cameras and right on the side of a Canon 5DS-R. IMO this alone should show they are the biggest scam on the internet and every site should avoid taking their numbers too serious!

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  5. robert garfinkle

    Sony = Sound? That makes sense… They had a professional Walkman many years ago (WMD-6C) that just was the bomb. And I liked their TV’s too..

    However, I stick with Nikon and I know it has a Sony sensor in it, cool… I will not move to a Sony Camera / Equipment. Yes, Nikon is expensive, very expensive, but I really believe the cost of owning a Sony is way more. Plus, up until recently, Nikon has held the top spot in ratings and most of their mid-to-high end equipment are nicely clustered at the top of the charts. I think Nikon will regain “the spot”

    Plus, reliability wise I think Nikon is better, my uneducated opinion, and Nikon is more practical, not just lens choices, fine lens choices and I can keep my lenses from body to body…

    From what I hear, from 64 ISO to 640 ISO the D810 still rivals the A7Rii yet from 640 ISO and above the a7Rii holds it’s dynamic range better – and that is way important for sure. Just wont give up what I have… and I like the fact that the D810 is weather sealed… :)

    as for how other camera’s rank, I can’t say…

    Sensor technology will advance, and so will other parts of the camera, if others want to compete / take the tops spot I’m sure they will… it’s always changing…

    not worried…

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    • adam sanford

      Nikon certainly makes a better camera with the same sensors as Sony, but where is that Nikon D820 or D900 or whatever its called? It’s been some time since that a7R II announcement…

      Sony can really stall that Nikon pipeline with the way they stagger availability of their latest sensor hotness.

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    • robert garfinkle

      personally Adam, I think Nikon is scrambling a bit, gut feeling. Not because of a7rii, but because of the entire industry. where it hits my gut is, watching the technology pour out of other camera makers, industry trends, and reading responses in forums like this – getting a pulse of where Nikon is at.

      you guys are better tuned in historically about these things than I am, but I would imagine something aught to be released soon.

      remember, their rollouts of cameras like the D810, D4 ( D5 ) seem to be in two year cycles ( or something to that effect ), yet recently they seem to be popping off incremental upgrades yearly, and / or in response to mfr goofs.

      here is where I’m at:

      there is no doubt that Sony came out with a fine piece of gear, better technology in quite a few respects compared to the D810, yes? and from a DXO perspective de-throned the D810, ok.

      But, at the end of the day, that did not change what I have in my hands, a dang fine camera, still does the same job I expected it to do since the day I started taking pictures with it, yes? nothing changed.

      I still look at the images coming off that puppy and still stunned :) And a bonus, little by slowly I become a better photographer, and that punctuates things quite nicely.

      I can even see Nikon taking their time too, maybe they have something up their sleaves planning to drop a really cool bombshell and retaking the top seat. top dog.

      and I close with this… I suppose if the camera you have in your hand isn’t doing the job it’s reason to change, right? I can tell you the jump from a D800 to D810, for me, was a better choice, and not because it got top dog at DXO… that was a “nice to know…” but really looked forward to the feature set with a side of incremental improvements.

      Yes, I’m all over picture quality in a heartbeat, more than any other feature – picture quality is it. And if I were motivated to buy the best of the best we’d be sharing tales of what the a7rii is like in our hands and how cool it is…

      but, I like Nikon, I’m hangin’ tight, thinkin’ it’s the right thing to do.

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    • Dave Lyons

      “Sensor technology will advance”
      You better let canon know that ;-)~

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