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Does Sony’s FX30 mean better a6000 models are on the way?

This image shows five different a6X00 models from two generations, aimed at a wide variety of different users. What might Sony do to replace them?

The Sony FX30 is explicitly a video camera, aimed at small and single-person production teams, but it could also tell us something about what’s in store for Sony’s more photography-focused APS-C E-mount line.

Mixed messages

Sony’s APS-C E-mount strategy has always been a little confusing, with three or more models with different levels of sophistication all given similar names and similar bodies (seemingly regardless of the expected behavior of the intended user). This becomes even less clear when some models are replaced, while others continue in production at lower prices. But what is clear is that the lineup is due for a refresh. The recent release of three new APS-C lenses (albeit in the rather video-focused form of the 10-20mm PZ, 11mm and 15mm) at least suggest that Sony thinks there’s still life in the format.

Looking a little long in the tooth

We often see the latest generation of the APS-C models (a6100, a6400 and a6600) discussed as if they were minor refreshes of their predecessors, and it’s true that they persisted with a 24MP sensor and bodies that looked essentially identical to the ones launched between 2014 and ’16. It doesn’t help that Sony has taken to using the ‘Bionz X’ branding for multiple generations of processors, meaning that the 2019 cameras, with their then (and still?) class-leading autofocus systems looked like mere firmware-upgraded versions of the older models.

Sony’s APS-C strategy has always been confusing, and parts shortages following lockdown have seen some current (?) models drop out of production, making the picture even less clear than usual.

It also doesn’t help that Sony has been selling E-mount cameras with 24MP sensors since 2011’s NEX-7. There’s been at least one refresh of the sensor during the time since, but you can see why some people believe Sony is just letting the series wither, focusing instead on its ever-expanding range of full-frame cameras and lenses.

More than just 2 more megapixels

The FX30 suggests that could be about to change. Most notable is its new 26MP sensor, which would help draw a clearer distinction between a new series of a6x00 models and the existing ones. The move to BSI isn’t likely to bring much improvement to image quality (it generally doesn’t in large sensors, except in terms of improving the acceptance angle from which pixels at the corner of the sensor can receive light), but this latest chip does seem to have appreciably faster readout than the old 24MP sensor, which exhibited a lot of rolling shutter.

The faster readout, combined with Sony’s latest AF algorithms, would give a future a6x00 camera an appreciable performance boost for stills shooting, as well as video.

More than just a new sensor

While the new sensor could boost performance and draw a line between new and old models, there’s plenty more that Sony could bring to an APS-C alpha refresh.

The latest ‘Bionz XR’ processors have brought 10-bit video capture and 10-bit true HDR stills modes to all the cameras they’ve featured in so far. Just as importantly, they also tend to be accompanied with a move to the company’s greatly improved menu system.

Beyond that, we’ll keep our hopes modest. It’s probably wishful thinking to expect the long hoped for ‘a7000’ or, at least, to hope that a model called a7000 would show NEX-7 levels of build and enthusiast ambition. It might be over-optimistic to expect that Sony will tailor its camera designs to match their audiences a little better. At this point we doubt we’ll even get twin dials that you can operate with different digits.

But the FX30 at least suggests that Sony has one eye on its APS-C customer base, and has laid enough of the groundwork to allow an interesting update for its photography-focused APS-C E-mount users.