Thursday, August 18, 2011

Panasonic Puzzles Me (UPDATED)

Panasonic is going to be announcing two new lenses in a short time. Whatever the final specs, rumor sources are positive that they are going to be very cheap, compact lenses.

I am assuming that this is Panny putting some muscle behind its little GF3, which is so comically small that even many m4/3 lenses make it look silly. Again, I am assuming that they are doing this because they feel the heat from the Samsung NX and the Sony NEX systems, and thus want to focus on their smaller-sensored strength: tiny-ass lenses.

I find this puzzling because I don't know the details of Olympus and Panasonic sales. I think that they are wrong to try and aim their system cameras at point-&-shoot users who are upgrading, and instead focus on extant SLR users who want something different. This seems logical, and is somewhat backed up by lots of anecdotal evidence, because SLR camera buyers are predominantly male, and those males want to feel special. Thus, they want cameras that ape the features and designs of the high-end cameras.

Meanwhile, the P&Sers will NEVER be lured away since they want their cameras to be ultra-compact and stylish beyond all other variables. Olympus, Panasonic, and also Sony with their NEX cameras, are chasing a market segment that doesn't exist.

But still, here we are, with two new, cheap, tiny lenses. Are Panasonic and Olympus actually selling more of these cameras? Am I wrong? I just don't think so.

Point-&-Shoot buyers make up the vast majority of the market in both revenue and sheer numbers. The two biggest reasons, I think, are changes in stylistic tastes and physical abuse. I still have a Canon EOS 20D from 2004. My Panasonic GF1 has not a scratch upon its pretty little head. Point-&-shoot cameras do not receive such kind treatment.

So, if these people were actually interested in upgrading, the market would be huge. So I can understand why Panasonic and Olympus are obsessed with this demographic, but I contend that it is a specter. The Top-30 SLR cameras on Amazon are all Canon or Nikon. Even camera bags are more popular than Panasonic's most popular current camera, the GF2.

We have to go all the way down to #47 to find another Panasonic camera, the now-obsolete G2, which costs a scant $298. The entire list is so hilariously dominated by Canon and Nikon, that whatever Panny and Olympus are doing, it's not working. The Point-&-Shoot market is so large, that if even a small percentage did what Olysonic thinks they should be doing, they should have multiple cameras in the top 50.

But no. We don't have that. We have Olympus and Panasonic struggling to make a dent in this phantom market that they think exists. Instead, we have Fuji, selling a $1,200 point-&-shoot to enthusiasts, the market that our dynamic duo should be targeting, and becoming the #5 camera on Amazon. That ranking includes SLRs and point-&-shoots. It's current price? $1,800.

I'm left to wonder if both Oly and Panasonic, being Japanese, are unable to look past their Japanese perspective and see the global market. Because as far as Japan goes, Oly and Panny seem to know what they are doing. They have multiple cameras in the top 50 according to BCN. But everyone already knows this. Japan is very interested in small size and big features. In fact, it's an aspect of the Japanese mentality that pisses off serious photogs who want beefy parts and abilities with a minimum of features.

Regardless of how well they know their home market, they're falling flat in other markets. They had one bona fide success, the GF1. They have got to shift their philosophy if they hope to succeed anywhere else but home.


Ok, apparently this post is now out-of-date. I just read the newest rumors over at, surprise, 4/3 Rumors, and these new lenses coming out of Panasonic are going to be part of a new line of lenses called the X-Series. Their purpose is to provide very high image quality in compact sizes. I'm skeptical. There are limitations to optics.

As focal lengths grow, the sensor requires a larger piece of front glass to keep F-stops low. Even the small-sensored 4/3 standard requires some pretty hefty glass at 175mm, which is one of the lenses' zoomed length. Just look at the Olympus 150mm F2.0 to see the size that would be required.

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