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Sony Unleashes New Interchangeable-Lens Camera Lineup

Sony is betting big on interchangeable-lens cameras for the 2011 holiday season.

In a big day for new camera announcements, Sony was one of the busiest companies of all.

Today Sony announced two fast-shooting 24-megapixel translucent-mirror cameras, two cameras in the company's compact interchangeable-lens NEX line, a revamped successor to last year's NEX-VG10 swappable-lens camcorder, several new lenses, and an innovative lens-mount adapter that will bring phase-detection autofocus features to the NEX series. All of the products will be available in time for the holiday shopping season.

Sony Alpha A77 and A65: Lightning-Fast Translucent-Mirror Cameras

At the high end is the 24.3-megapixel Sony Alpha SLT-A77, a translucent-mirror camera that replaces the Sony Alpha A700 DSLR and brings significant hardware and performance enhancements over last year's first-generation translucent-mirror cameras.

According to Sony, it's the first camera that can take more than five shots per second at a resolution higher than 20 megapixels: The A77's burst mode fires off a remarkable 12 shots per second at full 24.3-megapixel resolution, all while employing continuous phase-detection autofocus. The camera's video-capture capabilities are also eyebrow-raising, as the A77 records full 1080p video at a snappy 60 frames per second, as well as 24 fps, with phase-detection autofocus enabled. Sony claims that the A77 is the first camera in its class to support the AVCHD Progressive format, which allows HD video capture at a higher bitrate and higher frame rate than the normal AVCHD standard.

Instead of the optical viewfinder found on traditional DSLRs, the A77 offers a sharp, 2.5-million-dot, eye-level OLED viewfinder; the camera also sports a newly designed "three-way tilt" LCD that remains on the same vertical plane as the lens while allowing many of the same versatile adjustments you'd find in a traditional tilt-and-swivel viewfinder. In addition, the camera provides GPS, body-based image stabilization, 3D image capture through a single lens, and a range of creative in-camera modes usually available in Sony's Cyber-shot line of point-and-shoot cameras.

The A77 is easily one of the most exciting camera announcements of the year; for more, read our in-depth breakdown of the Alpha A77's features. The Alpha SLT-A77 is due in October, priced at $2000 as a kit with a 16-50mm zoom lens with a fixed F2.8 aperture, or at $1400 for the body only.

Accompanying the A77 is another new translucent-mirror model, the Sony Alpha SLT-A65, which resides at the top of the entry-level class in Sony's interchangeable-lens lineup. The A65 offers many of the same features as the A77 does, minus a few options that keep it around the $1000 mark.

Like the A77, the A65 boasts a 24.3-megapixel sensor, continous phase-detection autofocus in burst and video mode, an eye-level OLED viewfinder, many of the same in-camera creative modes, in-camera GPS, and AVCHD Progressive 1080p video capture at 60 fps and 24 fps.

Key differences between the A65 and A77 include a slightly slower continuous shooting mode in the A65 (10 fps at full 24.3-megapixel resolution instead of 12 fps), a 15-point autofocus system instead of the 19-point system on the A77, and a more-traditional adjustable LCD viewfinder rather than the A77's radically redesigned three-way-tilt screen.

The Alpha SLT-A65 is due in October, priced at $1000 as a kit with a 18-55mm/F3.5-F5.6 zoom lens, or at $900 for the body only.

Sony NEX-7 and Sony NEX-5N: Next-Gen Interchangeable-Lens Compacts

Sony also added two new cameras at the top end of its NEX series of interchangeable-lens compact cameras, both of which offer APS-C sensors and AVCHD Progressive video recording at 60 fps.

The top-of-the-line Sony Alpha NEX-7 is the first NEX camera with a built-in eye-level OLED viewfinder and a pop-up flash. It carries a new 23.4-megapixel APS-C and Bionz image processor, which can capture 10 full-resolution images per second in continuous shooting mode. Sony has dramatically redesigned the manual-controls interface in the NEX-7, employing a new system called "Tri-Navi." Using two unmarked physical dials on the top of the camera, along with the camera's back-mounted scrollwheel, you can adjust settings depending on the context; the NEX-7's on-screen menus explain what each dial will adjust depending on the camera's mode settings.

Alongside its 1080p HD movie capture at 60 fps and 24 fps, the NEX-7 offers full manual exposure controls and creative effects in video mode. Other notable new features include the option to use an electronic first curtain for the shutter (which purportedly increases image-capture speeds), as well as ISO equivalency settings reaching up to ISO 16,000.

According to Sony, the NEX-7 is "about the size of [last year's Sony Alpha] NEX-5," albeit a bit taller. In my brief hands-on time with the NEX-7, the raised, redesigned grip felt a lot more secure in the hand than the grips on last year's NEX models did. In addition to the pop-up flash, the NEX-7 has an accessory shoe for external flashes. Due in November, the NEX-7 is priced at $1350 as a kit with a 18-55mm/F3.5-F5.6 zoom lens, or at $1200 for the body only.

The other new NEX camera is the NEX-5N, which replaces last year's groundbreaking NEX-5. The NEX-5N also sports a bit of an interface overhaul, adding touch-focus controls that complement (rather than replace) the camera's standard keys and buttons. It has an adjustable LCD screen, much like the one on the NEX-5, but the touchscreen controls are a new addition.

The NEX-5N offers a new 16.1-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, as well as the option of using an electronic first curtain to speed up capture times. The NEX-5N captures AVCHD Progressive video at 1080p and 60 fps with manual controls and video effects modes, and ISO sensitivity ranges up to ISO 25,600.

Reviewer Theano Nikitas has been using a Sony Alpha NEX-5N, and she has written about her first impressions of the camera, including her take on how it compares to the NEX-5.

Available in September, the Sony Alpha NEX-5N is priced at $700 as a kit with the 18-55mm zoom lens, or at $600 for the body only.

LA-EA2 Translucent-Mirror Mount Adapter

In addition to the two new NEX models, Sony announced an adapter that lets photographers attach A-mount DSLR lenses to the NEX-7 and NEX-5N's smaller E-mount. The innovative spin to the mount adapter is that it contains a translucent mirror and an autofocus sensor, bringing phase-detection autofocus to the new NEX cameras.

Priced at $400 starting in November, the LA-EA2 adapter works with the newly announced NEX-7 and NEX-5N, as well as with the Sony Handycam NEX-VG20 interchangeable-lens camcorder.

Handycam NEX-VG20: Sony's Second Interchangeable-Lens HD Camcorder

The new Handycam NEX-VG20 replaces last year's interchangeable-lens VG10 camcorder, which used the same E-mount lenses found in the NEX line of swappable-lens still cameras.

The NEX-VG20 provides significant enhancements over last year's model, including AVCHD Progressive 1080p video shot at 60 fps and 24 fps, RAW-mode stills, a faster autofocus system, a more-comfortable hand grip, and a higher-resolution 16.1-megapixel APS-C-size CMOS sensor.

Other upgrades on the spec sheet include 5.1-channel surround sound, a secondary record button, a remote control supplied in the box, and compatibility with the new translucent-mirror LA-EA2 lens mount adapter. That separately sold accessory not only makes the NEX-VG20 usable with A-mount DSLR lenses, but also makes it the only camcorder in its class to support phase-detection autofocus in video mode, Sony claims.

The Handycam NEX-VG20 will be available as a kit with an 18-200mm E-mount lens for $2200, as well as a body-only version for $1600, starting in November.

Three New NEX E-Mount Lenses

Last in today's mega-announcement are three new E-mount lenses for NEX cameras. The NEX system has a focal length multiplier of 1.5X for all lenses.

Two fast prime lenses--a 50mm/F1.8 portrait lens for $300, and a wide-angle Carl Zeiss SonnarT 24mm/F1.8 lens for $1000--will be available by the end of the year. A new 55-210mm/F4.5-6.3 E-mount telephoto lens will also be available for $350.


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