Sony Risks Alienating Their Fans With A6500


Just a few days ago I wrote about how the next generation flagship models from Olympus and Panasonic are rumoured to be released quite ambitiously at around US$2,000 – significantly higher than previous releases from both companies have ever been priced.

That article also noted how the Pentax K-1 was recently given a price bump to sit around a similar price point, where it will compete against the APS-C sized Nikon D500. So now in 2016 we have full-frame, APS-C, and M4/3 cameras all requiring the same investment from consumers, although the question of value has never been so complicated.

It goes without saying that every camera has their own benefit – that mirrorless has the size advantage; full-frame has superior quality; and APS-C is a compromise between the two. But as each sensor has evolved, the price difference between formats has rapidly evaporated. Arguably this started with the full-frame mirrorless Sony a7R series, which has always been specced against DSLRs, but now we are even seeing prosumer mirrorless models like the new A6500 get a massive price increase.

Just how big is that increase? Well, right now there are three models in the series: the A6000 for US$550, the A6300 for US$1,000, and A6500 for US$1,400. All three cameras are phenomenal, and can take superb video and stills – but is the A6500 worth US$900 more than the A6000 and US$400 more than the A6300, or is Sony just pricing it so high simply because it can, and because other brands such as Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic are pricing their cameras more aggressively?

Obviously if Sony’s competitors are going to price their cameras higher due to overall lower volumes in sales, then it makes sense for Sony to follow suit. But US$1,400 does seem a little gratuitous for a camera that frankly isn’t that much of an improvement on the A6300.

Sure it has In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) – a first for Sony mirrorless bodies – and yes, it possesses the welcome addition of a touchscreen; but it kind of seems like the main point of the A6500 was to fix the rolling shutter issue that the A6300 was plagued with.

This is a depressingly short-sighted approach from Sony (might I add, even for Sony standards), since the A6300 was only announced in February and shipped in March. Instead of launching an A6300/A6500 hybrid as a more complete product at Photokina for example, Sony released a good, but not perfect A6300 in February.

After all the news of the rolling shitter came out, as Lok and Warren documented, I presume Sony started planning the improved A6500 with a few new features just to appease the crowd. What happens now is that any A6000 users who weren’t convinced with the A6300 might be tempted to move to the A6500, for US$500 more than the A6300. But then A6300 users are left feeling a little shafted – why should they get punished for essentially buying a beta product? Why didn’t Sony wait a few more months to present a longer-lasting camera that has actually been properly tested?

Right now, the final result isn’t terrible for the end consumer because photographers do essentially have a choice between the three models. But it’s horribly cynical of Sony to offer a replacement model (let’s be real, the A6500 is not supposed to exist side-by-side with the A6300 as Sony claim, it’s meant to replace it as the top choice for consumers who want the best), and encourage photographers to keep upgrading.

Cameras don’t need to be changed every year, especially not ones as powerful as the A6300. That already had 24.2MP, 4K video with S-Log3 Gamma, 11fps, and 425 Phase Detection AF points – just like the A6500. But now what do consumers do? If they want to save money, they can get the A6300 at the cost of knowing that there is a better alternative out there. On the other hand, if they want the “best” of APS-C Sony E, then they suddenly have to pay US$400 more.

We’ve criticised Sony before for releasing more bodies than lenses, but this move in particular seems to really alienate its existing A6300 user base. And while Sony is on top right now in terms of the hype train, it should look carefully across the aisle at Canon to see that it’s very easy for industry leaders to fall rapidly from grace.