Monday, September 23, 2013

Panasonic's Failure May Not Be Its Fault

I've been out of the videography market for some time. I was producing large numbers of videos but have since switched over to not having much time for anything, so I was unaware of some recent developments. These are both good developments and also incredibly frustrating.

The Panasonic GH3 and G6 (a GH2 in most ways), have been sales disappointments. Chances are, the GX7 will also be a disappointment. One of the major issues is that Panasonic isn't producing anything competitive, but the other issue is that the hacker community appears to have abandoned their newest products. They are the ones who kept the GH2 alive.

The first problem is that Panasonic made the GH3 much harder to hack. As of this writing, no major hack of the GH3 has taken place. They did this to try to protect their higher-end, pro-oriented gear which they were artificially segmenting from their consumer products. The first manifestation of this segmentation was the now-infamous failure, the AF100.

But the second problem is that an open source project called Magic Lantern has done wonders with Canon's cameras. Canon's 5D Mark III was a total disappointment to anyone in the Canon system and did little to encourage others to jump into the system. The 5D Mark II was a groundbreaking camera that made high-quality video recording a reality in an SLR body. The Mark III... did absolutely nothing better.

But good god, with Magic Lantern, the Mark III, and to a lesser degree the 7D and the 50D, are wonder-machines. They are wonder machines to the point that the Mark IIIs available for rental from Lens Rentals actually come with Magic Lantern pre-installed. That an open-source, aftermarket piece of software has become standard tools is amazing. It is a testament to the community and also a testament to the failure of Canon to do this from the get-go.

Canon sucks. Just throwing that out there.

So that may be why the GH3 has failed to set the videography world on fire like the GH2 did. They're simply moved on to the 7D and 5D, both of which can now produce raw video that blows everything the GH3 can do so far out of the water that it clears the land and enters another body of water.

Don't think that I am getting all soft and squishy about the quality of Canon's products. If a company ships a product that requires the community to make it not suck, that it's still a crap product and a crap company. This seems like a good time to remind people that Canon threatened to sue Magic Lantern if they tried to modify the EOS 1D X. So, yeah. Canon produces crap and then tries to stop people from making their crap less crappy. Brilliant business model.

But back to Panasonic. The market for serious videography tools is relatively small. Instead of the tens of millions of mirrorless and SLR cameras sold every year, serious video tools amount to a few million at most.

But that smaller market has more money and is also more willing to get into the gritty details of their craft. Android grew quickly because the hackers loved it. Remember, early Android was terrible. The GH1 and GH2 rose above the din only because of the work of Vitaliy Kiselev. And now, Canon's old 50D and 7D are taking what the GH2 once had because the hackers have moved over there.

So the failure of the GH3 may be partially that a larger community has simply sprung up around Canon's cameras, and with them being much more popular, the community was immediately larger. Hell, Magic Lantern has nearly 23,000 likes on Facebook. For something so esoteric, that's impressive. Damned impressive.

But also, Panasonic did nothing to protect themselves from this turn of events. If anything, their resistance to the hacker community damaged the GH3 and made it vulnerable. That's stupid business. That's, again, why Panasonic's stock price was recently at a level that it hadn't seen since 1985. Coincidentally, this was the year that Back to the Future was released. In part III, Marty McFly told the doc that "all the best stuff is made in Japan."

Oh, how times change.

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