We're here with Panasonic in Shanghai, to talk about mirrorless system cameras, or what they're now calling DSLM cameras for Digital Single Lens Mirrorless. Discover what Panasonic aims to achieve with mirrorless cameras, why Leica was one of their most severe teachers and how in the world they think competitor Canon entering the mirrorless market is a great thing.
We're speaking with Junichiro Kitagawa, Associate Director, Global Consumer Marketing Sector and Izumi Tomozawa, Group Manager, AVC Networks Company, Imaging Business Group.
What are Panasonic's goals for mirrorless system cameras?
Kitagawa: We started the camera business just ten years before, and we believe we'd already established a certain position with our compact cameras. But in order to establish a business and photography brand, we needed to challenge SLR category. Since the market was dominated by the two giants (Canon and Nikon), with Sony and newcomer Samsung maybe three or four, we needed to do something different - this is the idea behind Micro Four Thirds and mirrorless.
So I believe our first goal is achieved; because we have unique products and established a reputation for our mirrorless system cameras which is supported by many consumers. That's why not only Olympus, but Sony, Nikon and now Canon are coming out with mirrorless cameras. It is now, I believe, the real fight for us. Our goal is to be in the top three of the camera industry and we also want to create new value in our photography products.
Tomozawa: Our goal hasn't changed; when we started the Lumix business our goal was to be a camera brand. This was the biggest goal we were aiming for. During these ten years we realized that without having a good reputation, or the certain status of a system camera, we cannot be a camera brand. Our goal is to be a camera brand.
Panasonic not only has to disrupt the dominance of the big three in the compact camera and mirrorless categories, Panasonic also has to disrupt the entrenched DSLR category. How do you plan to do that?
Kitagawa: A camera is a completely different consumer product. We have TVs, camcorders, very similar but different - because nobody cleans their TV after they switch it off. But they do with cameras. They like to use and feel their cameras. And this product is making art, you know? This is different from other consumer products. So the two giants (Canon and Nikon) have a long history, they're not only selling good products but also selling how to make art. So we'd really like to establish those things. So this is really challenging, not only do we have to make good products, but we also need to have people who understand good product and art in our organization.
One good thing is we learned a lot from Leica when we started this business. They were the best and most severe teachers and they never compromised.
Tomozawa: Especially for lens quality, they're very keen on performance of the optics. So if our level of quality doesn't hit their standards, they don't allow us to introduce a model on the market (with the Leica name). The very first model, the LC5, was delayed for half a year because we were discussing how to hit the Leica standard. They never compromised.
Not only do they check the final products, but they also check the process of production. So from development to final product, they are checking step by step. And at each step it has to pass the Leica standard. That was ten years ago, but nowadays we are already well-trained (laughs) so we don't have many problems.
What has been the biggest challenge in changing the consumer's mind from a DSLR to a DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless) camera?
Tomozawa: The biggest challenge has been the way of thinking that a bigger camera provides better quality. In some countries it's still very hard to convince customers that smaller cameras also can provide good picture quality.
But you know, the world's largest camera brand has just joined the mirrorless camera category (Canon) so the whole industry is now in mirrorless.
Which also means that competition is increasing, right?
Kitagawa: Yes, but we have an advantage in the mirrorless category, we were the first to introduce it and we have a variety of lenses. So I think everyone joining - of course competition increases, but we appreciate it and we welcome them. This is what we wanted: We want the mirrorless category to be bigger and we want all our competitors to join the concept of mirrorless.