The Associated Press switches to Sony cameras:

I read with interest the announcement of Sony becoming the new provider of cameras to the AP, having overseen a change of camera provider during my time as Director of Photography.

When I took the helm of AP photos in late 2003, roughly 70% of our gear was Nikon and 30% Canon. All of it digital. At that time, Canon had the superior equipment and were busy gobbling up Nikon’s market share. As part of. the much larger Canon corporation their camera division was well-resourced and their investment into digital imaging and cutting edge autofocus really differentiated them from Nikon, the traditional workhorse cameras of the news media — Canon’s longer lenses were white in color (Nikon’s were black) and over time any image of. groups of photographers working at major sporting or political events showed a steady increase in white lenses.

So, we decided to make the swap to Canon with the full support of then-CEO Tom Curley, himself a keen photographer. He approved a multimillion dollar investment into the new equipment and thus began a long and fruitful partnership with Canon.

Once a year, Canon engineers from their Japan headquarters would come to our HQ at 450 West 33rd street and we’d tell them the new features we desired. A couple of years later many of those features would be incorporated into their new models. It was exciting to be able to influence camera design!

Canon also were very generous in loaning us equipment for major events as well as making sure our equipment was serviced quickly and affordably. With some 300 staff photographers around the world our camera needs were costly and large.

The pace of innovation was fast, with new models appearing every 18 months to two years and so we eventually shifted to a system of leasing equipment to ultimately buy. Older equipment was recycled through the organization and a lot of it was ultimately sold to the B + H and Adorama camera stores in NY for about 30 cents on the dollar. Reps from those stores would take turns inspecting and bidding on our old gear and the proceeds would help lease new equipment.

In 2007 the iPhone was introduced by Apple and with it came the gradual but very noticeable decline in the purpose-built camera market. This seemed to strengthen Canon’s commitment to us — we were their largest single global customer — and the relationship grew stronger. Nikon would approach us periodically to see about recouping their position as our supplier, but by this stage we had millions of dollars of Canon equipment in the field and a swap to Nikon was prohibitively expensive for them to bankroll.

In 2006 Sony introduced a professional grade camera to the market and began a quest to take market share from Canon and Nikon. Their initial value propositions were size, weight and silence. Their cameras were small, light and very quiet since they had figured out a way to eliminate the mirror inside each camera which reflected the light from the lens into the viewfinder. Each time a Canon or Nikon photographer pressed the button, that mirror would have to move up and out of the way to allow the light to hit the digital sensor. That’s a noisy process and one which invariably drew attention to the photographer, especially since the motors were capable of firing 12 or 13 frames per second! The weight of the Sony gear was also attractive. Sony were able to reduce the weight by innovation in the sensitivity of the sensors, allowing photographers to work in very low light without requiring the large and very heavy long lenses of old. Many veteran photojournalists suffer from back and neck issues after years of schlepping heavy equipment around, so light gear is very desirable.

Nobody paid much attention to Sony at first; brand allegiance among photographers is strong, with people firmly divided into Nikon or Canon camps.

But gradually and steadily Sony grew their market share by adding an amazingly fast and programmable autofocus system, which when combined with the silence and weight made the cameras very appealing to professionals.

They then started to influence those professionals by loaning their gear to top notch photographers on major stories and the word began to spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted to try the new “toys” and the Sony gear started to really take off. I got my paws on one last year and use it to photograph my son’s soccer games. It’s amazing!

Given Sony’s longstanding reputation for quality video cameras, it’s not surprising that the AP saw an opportunity to combine their photo and video providers into one and were able to make a deal.

Congratulations to all involved — and if you want some used Canon gear try B+H or Adorama in the coming months!

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Santiago Lyon is a longtime photojournalist and media executive with more than three decades of experience in journalism. He also enjoys writing.

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