I have been to a good number of photo-related events, both as a journalist and as an educator. And while the really good events usually strive to maintain, Sony Kando simply gets better and better. But what does that mean? Who attends? What is it like, and why is it important? Essentially, what exactly is Sony Kando, and why does it matter?
“Kando” is a Japanese word that roughly translates to "the sense of awe and the emotion you feel when experiencing something beautiful and amazing for the first time." I have now been to three different Sony Kando events, and they have stayed true to the meaning of the name. But it’s evolved now; it’s not what it was. It’s all at once grown and been refined at the edges to reveal the real core and expand on it, continuing to bring attendees new experiences, people, technology, and empowerment in order to help them grow and flourish as creators.
What started out as an event solely for imaging and remains primarily so, Sony has now brought in Sony Music, Audio, and Sony Pictures, reflecting the ever-changing dimensions and ranges of the modern, fully-rounded creator.
One of the biggest things you will find at an event such as this is the sense of community. If you are a return guest, you are remembered and met with smiles or even hugs. If you are new, you are brought in with open arms. You are introduced to people and invited into circles. No group of people is off-limits or uninviting. This is a big thing to say when you have people in attendance like Neal Manowitz, Ira Block, David Burnett, Monaris, and so many more.
Where things get better is that this event has expanded year after year. Not only in attendance but as well as the branches of Sony that are getting involved. So, what started as an event centered around Sony Alpha, has now become an event where Xperia, Audio, Gaming, Motion Pictures, and even more have become involved. This leads to events such as getting a screening of the new Gran Turismo movie, followed by an open Q&A with the Director of Photography. Or an entire Airstream Trailer setup for attendees to reserve in order to record high-quality podcasts. And last but not least, a full booth of racing simulators, so you can play Grand Turismo on the Sony PlayStation.
But it's not all about the experiences these new branches of Sony bring, but about the people and education they can offer in order to grow the Alpha community. Things like classes on TikTok or the chance to chat with the people at YouTube. There were even panel discussions about the creativity in music photography led by people like Josh Cheuse, Bryan Younce, and Niki Roberton.
The idea here is that Sony gave all attendees an amazing opportunity to not only meet and mingle with fellow photographers and videographers but also with other branches of Sony and industry-leading professionals. They offered the chance to learn and grow as a creative while simultaneously offering new fields of work we could try and break into. All while giving us access to the people that could help get you there.
Arguably, the greatest and mostly under-the-radar element of Sony Kando is empowerment. It's so easy to get caught up in the shock and awe of being around the who's who of the industry. And attendees are literally having drinks on the peak of a mountain surrounded by models, helicopters, gear, and skateboarders jumping down flights of stairs. But everywhere you turn, if you simply look close enough, you can find people who are doing amazing and life-changing work.
There are people like Andy Mann, who is one of the co-founders of Sea Legacy. Andy gave an empowering talk that explained how he went from a “rock climber chugging beers with his buddies” to an award-winning storyteller that is making real change for the ocean.
There was also Jake Viramontez, who was involved with the Sony Create Action Initiative as well as his own non-profit organization, Sown. These groups' primary focus is to lift up and support non-profit organizations with things like professional films that help spread the word on what the nonprofit organizations do while also telling the story of the people they help.
Another amazing storyteller in attendance was Taylor Rees, who helped tell the story of Lolita, the killer whale held in captivity in Miami, Florida. Taylor told us about the journey to getting Lolita released, only for the whale to pass away mere days before her freedom.
While the few people I have mentioned here are a mere drop in the bucket compared to those in attendance, it’s not all about these specific stories. These stories were just a vessel to inspire the attendees, to show that our craft and our abilities can make great changes to the world we live in. Sony then followed up with classes and discussions to help attendees get involved, either in projects already taking place, or through classes such as “Art of The Pitch,” which helped showcase ways to pitch ideas to would-be funders and advocates so that creators could be more free to tell the important stories they feel inspired to tell.
As you can imagine, it's not all about the attendees. But this isn’t a fancy timeshare-type event where you get a little with hopes of Sony getting a lot. Instead, Sony uses this unique time when some of the world's best creators are under one roof in order to help themselves improve. They do this with scheduled focus groups as well as impromptu conversations over a meal or while watching a model hang out of a helicopter. And while there are many different questions asked by many different levels of Sony employees (from marketing managers to engineers, to design experts), the focus of these questions is to gather information about all future and current offerings.
For example, while sitting down at lunch I got into a conversation about what I liked and disliked about the new a7CR. I listed things like loving the size and speed, but really not loving the single card slot. I even gave some personal ideas of how to fix certain qualms with the camera. And instead of simply listening to what I had to say, this Sony rep pulled out a pen and notebook and started taking detailed notes. They then called over a fellow colleague and shared their findings, only to have this new rep ask me more questions while pulling out his own pen and notebook. So, given this opportunity, I made sure to mention how badly I wanted an updated version of the Sony RX1 (can I get an amen!?).
The key detail here, though, is that Sony is listening. Not only that, but they are eagerly listening with excitement for what they might find. And while looking back at past events, I can see where conversations were had that led to real change in future products. But to make things even better, I have had conversations with Sony engineers only for them to recognize my name from mere articles such as this. So, while they are listening to what everyone has to say at the Kando event, they are also listening to what all the other users are saying in the comments section to posts such as this.
We can’t talk about a Sony event without at least touching on the actual gear. Because who doesn't love a good geek-out moment? Not only did Sony align this year's Kando event with the release of the Sony a7C II, Sony a7CR, and Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II lens, but they also had enough pieces of each item so that all the attendees could try them out in person on the actual announcement date.
In addition to the new gear, Sony Pro Support was also on-site to not only clean your Sony gear, but also to lend out basically any piece of Sony gear you could think of, from the Sony a1 to the Sony 400mm f/2.8 GM lens. You could even get audio equipment and Xperia phones on loan. Essentially, if there was any type of Sony gear you had ever wanted to try, it was on site and available for you to do so. They even supplied models to go, where you could reserve time with talent in order to test gear or record content.
I asked this question to a few people at the event. You see back at Sony Kando 2.0 and 3.0, the event was partially open to the public. That all went away in 2020 because of the big C-word, and the years since have been invite only. While this has been neither a good or bad thing, it does leave the question as to whether future event may be open to the public again. Also, as the event has gotten bigger and bigger and people outside of the Sony Alpha ecosystem have made their way in, there could be room for even more creative types to enter the framework, which could lead to more opportunities, more classes, and more connections. But as more people enter the space, the sense of community could take a hit and Sony would need to find a way to truly connect all the unfamiliar faces with one another.
While the evolution of Sony Kando events is a little unclear, one thing is certain. Sony truly values its users and community by offering an event that focuses on experience, inspiration, empowerment, and opportunity. And while these elements are the foundation of such a great event, the heart and soul of Kando will always be the people. So, as long as Sony maintains this path and objective, next year's Kando will be sure to impress.