Dennis Hissink : October 6th 2006 - 04:00 CET updated
Panasonic interview : During out Photokina visit we had a meeting with Suguru Takamatsu, Coordinator Marketing Team Overseas Sales & Marketing Group and Ichiro Kitao, Product Planning Manager, from Panasonic and discussed the status of the Panasonic L1 digital SLR camera and Panasonic's plans as to future DSLR cameras. Panasonic showcased their complete new series of digital compact and SLR cameras. The booth is very big and it shows Panasonic is serious about their position in the camera market. Visitors were able to touch and try the new Panasonic L1, Lumix FZ50 and LX2 cameras, and the ultra-compact FX3, FX03 and FX50 models. Suguru and Ichiro spend some time to have quick Q & A session with us.
Question : Good to meet you again. The last time we spoke to each other was at the PMA 2006, where we discussed the pre-production model of the Panasonic L1, which was a very special announcement. That camera is on the market right now. Can you tell us more about the sales, and if it is fulfilling your expectations?
Answer : (Suguru) Thank you and nice to meet you again too. We didn't expect to sell a large number of units, as we said at the PMA. Sales are going ok and I think it is fulfilling our expectations. But the Panasonic L1 is not meant to be a big sales camera. It is also an image product, to set our name in the DSLR market and show the market what we are capable of.
Question : Can you see some trends in different regions? For example, is the L1 more popular in Europe than in Japan?
Answer : (Suguru) It is little bit too early to give comments on that. The Panasonic L1 camera has just been made available. What we can tell is that the European market is responding very well and we are getting some very positive reactions. It differs from country to country, but as far as we can see at the moment, Germany and France are responding remarkably well. Of course that has also to do with the fact that their market is quite large within Europe.
Question : Do you have a target market share for the L1 or future DSLR cameras?
Answer : (Suguru) Our target is that we will have a market share of around 10% in the DSLR market by 2010.
Question : What can the users of the L1 expect to see in the near future? More lenses, more accessories?
Answer : (Suguru) For sure we will introduce more new lenses, just as we did at this show. The new LEICA D SUMMILUX 25mm/F1.4 ASPH lens is just one of the new products we will release. But we will do it step by step. Our priority is to produce good lenses; we are not interested in the lower reaches. Nevertheless, the user has the advantage of the FourThirds System. He can use every lens of the system on the Panasonic L1. Users of Olympus may use our f/1.4 25mm lens on their camera as well. We also announced today that the standard lens, which is delivered with the L1, will be available as a single unit. The Panasonic L1 itself, however, will be sold as kit only.
Question : At the Photokina, Leica announced the DIGILUX 3, which is basically the same camera as the L1. Will it be harder for Panasonic to sell the L1? I think that a lot of users will choose for Leica if it is more or less the same price, as long as that red logo is on it…
Answer : (Suguru) First of all, the Leica will be more expensive than the Panasonic L1 and the difference is significant. Leica is including extras like Photoshop Elements and of course the red dot, which is a very strong selling point. Nevertheless, we won't say that the Leica is the same as the Panasonic L1; Leica has a similar product. The Panasonic L1 is a high-quality product and we are confident that the concept is successful.
Question : The market for the DSLR is growing almost by the day with brands like Sony and Samsung entering the market. Will it be hard for Panasonic to accomplish its goal in getting the desired market share?
Answer : (Ichiro) We know that we are the latest brand entering the DSLR market. Therefore we really have to promote our brand in this segment of the market. We developed the Panasonic L1 on our own; we did not just buy a division of a brand and relabeled its product with our name. We believe that if we develop our product step by step and focus on our goal we will succeed in our tasks.
Question : Most new brands started with an entry level DSLR; you didn't. Why did you make that decision? And do you have a strategy on new products in the line-up?
Answer : (Ichiro) I think that if we had started with an entry level DSLR we wouldn't be getting the respect we are receiving right now. Of course you may expect more DSLR products in the future; another DSLR would complete our program. Our strategy is to have a wide range of Lumix cameras. But first things come first…
Question : Doesn't that compete with the L1? The Panasonic L1 is for a specific kind of user or group; let's call it the Leica/Contax users. People who want to have the best, a very high standard and prestige, something exclusive. If you will introduce another camera, will that be a totally other user group?
Answer : (Suguru) I don't anticipate any problems with adding new models to the Lumix DSLR range. Even if we have an entry-level DSLR, I don't think the users of the L1 will care. It is a specific target group and the other cameras will have a different target group. We will just have separate segments for consumers to choose from.
Question : But how do you reach those new target groups? I mean the DSLR market for the mass consumer is totally different and until now it is not your consumer group. In fact the entry-level and mid-range of DSLR cameras is a totally new market for Panasonic.
Answer : (Ichiro) We have some ideas. And that's all I can say for this moment, you understand...
Question : The Panasonic Lumix range is very popular and the overall quality of the products is very good. Some of the issues with compact cameras that are much discussed topic is noise. Panasonic also has high ISO settings on its compact camera line-up, but of course you know that noise with high ISO is a quality issue. Why has Panasonic incorporated high ISO in its Lumix compact series?
Answer : (Ichiro) Well… hmm... let's put it like this. There is a demand out there for high ISO and we all know that when you use ISO 1600, noise will become a part of the deal. But we think of it like this; it is more important to capture the picture than to have no picture at all. I mean there are some situations where there is simply not enough light, but you still want to capture that moment. And yes, then you have to deal with noise. Of course we also get feedback from our users and testers all around the world and yes, there is still room for improvement. We have already improved the quality of high ISO with the new Venus Engine III, but we are still working to improve and develop new solutions. As you know we are not the only ones out there who have to deal with noise, but we have improved and hey… there are worse cameras on the market!
Question : Could it be that the Lumix is so good, that testers have to have something to complain about?
Answer : Suguru and Ichiro are laughing…
Question : Another thing is the monitor. Panasonic is using a special LCD with a high angle view mode. Some of the competitors use LCD monitors with a very large viewing angle, from every angle. Is this something that Panasonic is considering using in future models?
Answer : (Ichiro) It's true, the LCD monitors have become better and it is possible to use larger viewing angles. It is something we already have in mind. Maybe we will improve next generations LCD display with a new technique.
Question : What is your opinion of the use of touch screens on digital cameras?
Answer : (Ichiro) Personally, I believe that touch screens can be a good thing, but not in the shooting mode. It slows down the process of working with the camera compared to normal buttons on the camera. On the other hand it can be useful with playback. The biggest disadvantage of touchscreen is a dirty monitor, which is very unpleasant when shooting.
Question : Panasonic is part of the SD group which developed the SD card. Now there is SDHC card and I think a lot of users don't understand this new standard. Why SDHC?
Answer : (Ichiro) We had to develop new flash memory cards with higher capacity. The standard Secure Digital platform has a maximum storage capacity of 2GB and we just need more capacity for future solutions. To achieve this, we had to go for a new platform, what SDHC is. It is a new platform, which unfortunately means that SDHC cards don't work in cameras that aren't already SDHC-ready. At the moment only the new models, like the newest Lumix cameras, are already SDHC-ready. We know that we have to explain this new situation; however the market will adopt the SDHC like other formats have been adopted previously.
Photo: Panasonic Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system - This unique system uses supersonic vibration to instantly shake off any dust that might otherwise affect the image.
Question : Can we expect improvements to MEGA O.I.S.? Panasonic has two modes of O.I.S. Do users really use these two modes, isn't it to difficult to understand? And will MEGA O.I.S. become more intelligent in ways of recognizing the best setting itself?
Answer : (Ichiro & Suguru) MEGA O.I.S. is being improved step by step. The MEGA O.I.S. is very important and our R&D department is continuously working on several features like MEGA O.I.S. to try and see how we can improve, but again this is progressing step by step and sometimes in very small steps. As to the use of the two different MEGA O.I.S. modes, we did a survey in Japan and asked our clients about this. It seemed that most users do change mode and recognize the method of using the two different modes. They are aware when to use the right mode. To be honest, we were surprised to see the majority of the users using both modes.
Question : What do you think of wireless technology in a digital camera, like Bluetooth or WiFi?
Answer : (Ichiro) Bluetooth is too slow to be considered seriously. WiFi is an interesting technology. For printing however it isn't that interesting, but for shooting on the spot it is. With it, your images can be sent away right after you have pressed the shutter button. The downside is that it costs a lot of battery power and necessitates setting up the camera in a WLAN; the operation is very difficult at this moment. But we are interested in it. Nevertheless, if we can't find a good solution for power consumption, etc. we won't use it.