> The bigger question is whether Panasonic will relish the role of micro 4/3
> monopolist, or decide, like Sylvester, to “Exit, stage left.”
> Anybody got any tea leaves to read?
No tea leaves, but I can stare at the bottom of my empty coffee cup
and the foam residue from the espresso.
Panasonic camera/video/imaging division is a hard to read company. I
think their #1 competitor has been and always will be their eternal
mortal fight with Sony. I've always had the impression of Jacob
(Panasonic) grabbing onto Esau (Sony) on the way out of the womb. But
unlike Jacob, Panasonic just isn't smart enough to figure out how to
get Sony to eat the Miso Soup. Until the past several years,
Panasonic's video offerings have always been just a bit short of
Honestly, in the "affordable" pro-digital world, the GH5(S) is
unmatched by anything in the Sony lineup. The S1(H) and variants
anchor the FF 35 sensor world, and on the high end you have the
VariCam lineup. This is some SERIOUS horsepower that Panasonic brings
Why is this important? I believe still imaging was always a "because
we can" and between the partners (Olympus, Leica), Panasonic was able
to develop features and technologies (specifically all the software)
that allowed them to leapfrog Sony. Sony has traditionally always been
a company that has been into the "new shiny". Whatever fancy new
system they bring to market WILL be abandoned in 10 years or so. While
Sony has been distracting itself with various efforts (some VERY
success ones), Panasonic has been iterating an amazing system.
That amazing system now contains sensors and lens mounts of all shapes
and sizes. But I think the full-frame S1 series marks the future of
the camera division and it comes down to ONE reason:
Camera companies sell lenses. The cameras are mostly loss-leaders, but
it's the lenses where the profit margin resides. Throw a couple
low-cost mass-produced kit lenses in with a camera purchase where half
the elements are molded plastic (nothing actually wrong with that
where appropriate), or dinky things the size of fingernails. No harm,
no foul. The customer will gladly spend additional thousands on
higher-grade lenses. Until, that is, they are no longer buying the
higher-grade lenses because they already have all the lenses they
The elephant in the room when it comes to m43 is pretty much every
lens ever desired has been conceived, created, delivered, and
purchased. Without too much effort, I could buy EVERY lens I ever
wanted for m43 off of ebay, or by "dragging a $20 bill through a
trailer park" on the Zuikoholics Anonymous group on Facebook. I think
the latest versions of the "Pro" lenses from both Olympus and
Panasonic are the last hurrah. m43 has run its course.
Larger and smaller formats are the future.
I believe 1" will be the new industry standard for everything below FF
35mm in two years. The APS formats that Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, Sony,
etc., use will also die right after Four-Thirds is declared dead.
While Olympus is completely tossing in the towel and giving up, I
think everybody else will regroup and emerge from the industry
downturn with completely new or "refocused" (sorry) systems based on
1" and FF35. I can see them continuing to support m43 or APS with the
occasional body to keep the lens mount viable for a while, but those
are dead-end systems. Actually, the only company that really has had
any active development in APS formats has been Fujifilm, and even that
has shifted gears to mostly freshening of the bodies.
Canon is a good company to watch here. As far as significant product
development, there has been ZERO development in the crop-sensor
formats. It's all FF. The annual product refreshes in crop-sensor, are
hand-me-down technologies being developed for FF. However, this has
been and will continue to be important. Every million dollars in
product development needs to be spread out over as many sold units as
possible. If I put a million dollars into my FF camera line, but with
a global sales estimate of 10000 units, I'll go right out of business.
However, if I can spread that out over a million units then the cost
per unit is a non-issue. I need to sell all those low-cost cameras for
just enough to recoup my development dollars and then my FF camera
essentially gets the technology for free.
This is where Olympus REALLY screwed itself with the South Korea
thing. It doesn't matter if you are losing money in that market, what
was important was that enough units WERE being sold there that it
helped get the per-unit development investment down. Yes, there is
definitely a cross-over point in the graphs, but just like Sears, you
can't close most of your stores and succeed.
So, all that said (TLDR, I know), Panasonic will continue to throw a
new model or two out for m43 every year, just because they can and the
manufacturing methods are based on batch builds for the entire run.
You NEVER build the same model twice. It's always going to be a new
version with some new features slipped in because they happen to be
ready at the time. Move a couple buttons around, change the knurling,
insert whatever sensor is now available, and call it a new model. But
the lens line is done. I think m43 lens mount is now history.
Panasonic's primary focus will be FF 35mm. Eventually, 1" on the
low-side, but FF is where the new sweet spot is at.
Speaking of 1", I think we haven't really seen this format come into
its own yet. The Nikon One was a good start, but timing was terrible.
The sensor-tech just wasn't ready yet, and they created a product that
just had no design cohesiveness that meant anything real. But I think
we're going to see 1" be the upstep from cellphones. A small, but very
professional camera based on this sensor size, but with the AI
software internals of cellphones, combined with exceptionally good
optics and a larger sensor? Oh, yes! Bring it on.
Four-thirds is dead. New occasional body from Panasonic, but the mount
is history. No new lens development after what is currently in the
pipe-line. I figured that it had a lifespan of around 10 years anyway,
so I think we're right on track.
Themed Olympus Photo Exhibition: http://www.tope.nl/