Panasonic G series dev team hints at rift with marketing?


Above – genius, behind the Panasonic GH2.

The leader of Panasonic’s digital imaging development team has admitted that resources have been diverted from global shutter development in order to satisfy market demand for 3D gimmickry.

French website (it came to me via 43Rumors) Focus Numerique has interviewed Panasonic engineering boss of digital cameras Michiharu Uematsu. You can read what he has to say for yourself here, but here is my (possibly controversial) take on it.

Uematsu sounds like a frustrated man.

The engineering team wanted to keep the G series sensor at 12MP, but says that market trends dictated it should rise to 16MP on the GH2 (actually 18MP in total due to multi-aspect design). Panasonic are developing a global shutter, but have had to redirect almost all R&D resources to 3D imaging.

3D at this stage is basically a product shipped before it’s ready, to please market trends started by James Cameron with Avatar. The consumer television business is also benefiting from the 3D craze and actually the technology is more mature in that sector than it is in the consumer digital camera business. Panasonic have had to react to the market to exploit it, and that means diverting tons of R&D resources into developing 3D lenses, firmware and image processing chips for the G series. This is not a purist engineering lead vision, it is purely a marketing one.

The megapixel race is well known. Recently on some cameras there has been signs of a slow down. But this year, after a short period of stagnation Nikon and Panasonic have had to react to the decision of Canon to push to 18MP on their DSLRs. This for one is a stupid decision by Canon and it has effected the whole market for the worse. Indeed, with their extraordinary CMOS performance Canon could afford to push to 18MP and still push for better ISO performance on the 550D, 60D and 7D but it should never have happened. Imagine how the GH2’s sensor and 7D’s sensor could have performed at 12MP with all the other advantages they’re brought to the table like gapless micro-lenses and other refinements.

So here we have not so much a marketing department in control of the engineering team, but the engineering team at the beck and call of the market – a strange place where uneducated consumers buy bad cameras.

It is time all camera companies began to educate the consumer better. The expense of an arms race is much less than the expense of doing that.

Also it is time that on the enthusiast lines (like the G series) at least, the camera companies put their foot down and got down to a more pure engineering lead effort. For sure give the idiots all the megapixels and gimmicks they can munch through lower range cameras, but leave them out of the high end consumer cameras. That audience is better educated.

The problem however comes through getting rich people to part with more cash. Whilst a lot of the 60D’s customer base for example would be happy with a cheaper camera, Canon push them to the higher end models because they have the potential to make more money. For Panasonic too, the 3D lenses and higher megapixel counts keep them in touch with the competition and give richer consumers the carrots their ignorant minds need to NOT choose a cheaper, better camera. (Stick a Leica badge on it instead, not a higher megapixel count!)

It is not going to be easy to stop this dumbing down of technology.

Unless the market changes as a whole in unison, and all camera companies have a legally binding agreement to cap megapixels and to forget gimmicks until they turn into useful features, one company taking the lead (like Nikon on megapixels) is not enough. They eventually have to toe the line.

It goes without saying that had we not have the dumb market influencing our greatest camera engineers, we would be shooting with better cameras.

Michiharu Uematsu on Global Shutter:

“As I had announced, we are working on this. However, we lack the internal resources to work quickly on this element. The improvements are progressive and we are moving step by step. It is clear that 3D has monopolized much of our resources and we had to delay some work; further improve the picture quality seemed more important that eliminating the mechanical shutter. However, in the future, I think we have two ways of shooting, one with the mechanical shutter and the other with an electronic shutter – product lines with and without mechanical shutter.”

Michiharu Uematsu on EVF development to meet the quality of Optical Viewfinders:

In this and like mechanical shutter, we ran out of internal resources to improve the characteristics. But it is something on which we work and explore different ways to achieve better results. In the future, the electronic viewfinder will be excellent.

The last quote is quite curious. I thought the EVF unit in the GH2 was from Epson? It’s a marginal improvement, but it seems that again market demand (or lack of it) saw only an incremental unit upgrade from Panasonic’s supplier, and to save costs the GH2 does not use the best Epson unit currently available.

Time for the market to get out of the way and for engineering logic to prevail. Otherwise, I know what engineers are like – even loyal Japanese ones – they won’t stick around for the mess around!!