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Destiny of m43 mount cameras, how soon production will stop
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  • Finally, our interview


    During Photokina 2018 Igor Drozdovsky, Personal View EU team member, met with three Panasonic representatives: Mr. Michiharu Uematsu (Adviser for Technical PR, Merchandising Department, Imaging Network Business Division), Ms. Emi Fujiwara (Imaging Section, Communication Department) and Mr. Taku Kariyazaki (Staff Engineer, Innovative Entertainment Development Center, Corporate Engineering Division). The text below is based on the transcription of the audio recording of this meeting during which Panasonic representatives kindly made time to answer a few questions focused on the new L-mount alliance, the destiny of the Micro Four Thirds systems, and the Panasonic research and development.

    PV: Many members of the ‘Personal View’ community are shooting with the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system digital cameras including many of the Panasonic MFT system products. Therefore when during the Leica and then Panasonic press conferences prior to the opening of Photokina 2018 we have learned about new L-mount alliance, many of our community members become concern that MFT system is in danger because of these new series of L-mount cameras.
    Can you give us some insight on the destiny of the Panasonic MFT products?

    Mr. Uematsu: You really should not be concerned about MFT format. L-mount is an addition not replacement of the MFT format. The same situation, for example, in film cameras categories: not only 35mm, but also larger format so called “medium format”. In some special occasions we need large format cameras, especially when large size high quality pictures are required, for instance, for the commercial and industrial photography, fashion or landscape. During the silver halide film era the most popular format was 35mm film, while some others used even larger films for special purpose. The same is with digital imaging. When we introduced the MFT system, at that time its picture quality was comparable with 35mm film, but now, the MFT has much more potential than the 35 millimeter film. If compared with 10 years ago, when we introduced our first MFT camera G1, the current MFT cameras has been improved about 2 f-stops more performance. As you already know, it was possible because of the improvements in sensor technology as well as in image processing algorithms. However, while we have so many improvements in MFT category, some kind of professional photographers want to get more than 40 or 50 megapixels images, especially for making very big prints, when the extra high-quality high-resolution photos are required: commercial, industrial, artistic portraits... It’s not only for the final images, but also during post-processing. For instance, the large pixel images are preferable for photo retouching. The only way to reach that level of image quality without further increasing the pixel density is to go for larger area sensors. For such applications we are introducing the new category, while we also continue development of the MFT. I also believe the MFT has far future. One of the strengths, the advantages of MFT systems is their compact size and low weight. Especially when we talk about the MFT telephoto lenses. For example, a telephoto lens with 800 millimeters focal length for 35mm sensor weights a few kilograms, while for MFT the equivalent lens is less than 1 kg and the MFT cameras are small, so we are looking at a total of about 1.5 kg in weight for the camera plus lens MFT system. I also believe that with progress in sensor technology in very near future many customers will find the advantage of MFT again. However, currently some of the customers also require larger format cameras. In fact large sensor cameras are experiencing the boom.

    PV: Will the new L-mount system affect the Panasonic development of new MFT products, for example will some of the proposed MFT lenses be delayed? Another concern is that the MFT could be refocused primarily towards the basic entry-level of cameras, eliminating the semi-professional MFT category of products. Will the MFT cameras have the same attention from the best Panasonic engineers and designers, or it will suffer from lack of resources?

    Mr. Uematsu: Of course our resources are limited, but I don't think it would strongly affect the current MFT developments. That is also why we have an alliance with Leica and Sigma. From the customer's point of view, it will be good for customers to be able to choose among cameras and lenses from three different companies. It is a matter of internal management to properly redistribute workforces. That being said, our internal management in Panasonic is very good. We certainly will be continuing working on new MFT lenses, even though Panasonic is already offering more than 20 MFT lenses, and together with other lens manufactures there are in total, I think, almost 50 lenses which complement each other. While we already have a normal general purpose lenses, in the future we may focus more on what people call "premium" high-quality fast lenses, like just announced 10-25mm f/1.7 lens. And also we would like to produce more cinema lenses designed for exceptional video quality. Anyway don't worry, we will continue with MFT and some of the new enhancements, vice versa, might be shared between L-mount and MFT systems.

    PV: Talking about new L-mount alliance among Leica, Panasonic and Sigma. There is one company I was expected to see and surprised to not see, Olympus. I know that Olympus and Panasonic, although these are two quite different teams with two different visions, have a long established alliance within the MFT system. Do you think in the future Olympus might come to join the L-mount? The partnership with Olympus may perhaps also benefit the L-mount system as it did with the MFT.

    Mr. Uematsu: About the MFT standard. The standard means that we have fixed about the interface between a lens and camera body, and also the optical image circle and flange back. However, we never make any discussion with Olympus about the products itself. For the MFT we only have an agreement about the lens mount, without discussing specifics of our products. This could possibly lead to competition between our products. Therefore you may find almost the same specs lenses made by Panasonic and Olympus. If we can make any good discussion, we can make very good balance among products of two companies. But it is strictly prohibited by antitrust law. For the L-mount alliance, the licenser is Leica, Panasonic and also Sigma are just licensee.

    Ms. Fujiwara: We have no information which other companies will get the license for L-mount as Leica owns the license. This will be the Leica’s decision to which other companies to offer the license for the L-mount.

    PV: How do you see the future development of the MFT cameras? For example, one of my favorite MFT camera series is a rangefinder-style GX line, such as GX8. I have noticed that in latest GX-series release, the Lumix GX9 camera is more GX7-alike than GX8, similar to GX7 in size and less advanced in some of its features than GX8, such as weather-sealing, OLED viewfinder, fully articulated display, or availability of external microphone port. Can we expect another series of the compact rangefinder style MFT camera with more advanced features, or all future MFT cameras with advanced features will be solely designed in GH5-style of camera bodies? It would be interesting to know what do you think also because you are one of the persons who developed the first Panasonic digital camera that was in rangefinder-like format, Lumix DMC-L1.

    Mr. Uematsu: Actually, some of the customers like GX7 size and style.

    PV: I like the compactness of GX7, but lack of some of the GX8 features that is rather disappointing. The question is rather what kind of new products can we expect for MFT system in the future?

    Mr. Uematsu: About the GX8 or GX9 style cameras. The main distinction of the GX-line is the location of the electronic viewfinder and possibility to tilt it.

    PV: Yes, I find the tiltable viewfinder is very convenient.

    Mr. Uematsu: Of course, we understand the importance of a good viewfinder especially for example when shooting outdoors under bright sun. Regarding the microphone jack. In the small camera bodies sometimes it's very challenging to find an optimal location for various connectors. We do have a lot of discussions in Panasonic on this topic.

    PV: During the IBC I have noticed a lack of any Lumix cameras at the booth of the Panasonic Broadcast & ProAV Team. I am wondering if this is due to considerations that GH5 or GH5s are not suitable there, or due to little communication between divisions? At the same time I've seen a few interesting cameras and solutions which can be interesting for the regular customers, for example, remote camera systems, which probably can be used together with the consumer cameras. Do you share the information between Consumer and ProAV teams? Could we see in the future some of the advanced consumer cameras, to be used, for example, as a part remotely-controlled camera solution?

    Mr. Uematsu: We have to look not only on the motion picture but also on the still picture capabilities. However, every product for broadcast means just for motion picture. In this case the sensor should be much different. If we want to get just 4K, in that case the sensor of 8M- or 10M-pixels is enough, like in GH5S. This allows getting better motion picture quality. However, if we also want to target the camera for still users, 8-10 Mpixels might be not enough, except if the good image quality under low light conditions is required. Hopefully in the future, when we will have 8K products, maybe we should have a stronger collaboration.

    PV: It would be interesting to know in this respect your opinion on the future of sensor technology. As you mentioned there was a large progress in digital image sensors in the last 10 years. How do you see the future in this field? For example, do you think we have reached the limits of the CMOS sensors and we really need something else? For example, I have seen the publications about the collaboration between Panasonic's sensor division and FujiFilm developing organic sensors. I am certain there are other efforts.

    Mr. Uematsu: As you know, since its initial announcement in 2016, there is a continuous cooperation between Panasonic and FujiFilm in development of the organic sensor technology. The recent results are very promising. The mass production of this kind of sensor, however, will take a little bit more time, and today I cannot say when we can use this kind of a sensor.

    PV: Will Panasonic continue with development of sensors?

    Mr. Uematsu: Yes of course. But even with the silicon photodiode, we still have some margin to be improved. The reason is for this is when more than 10 years ago in compact camera category many people said that pixels of a 3 micron in size is near the limits and any smaller sensor pixel would produce images of very bad quality, but nowadays the sensor pixels are 1.5 microns or less and we can get good picture quality, and this means that even with the silicon sensors we still have margins to be improved.

    PV: However, wouldn’t the further decrease of pixel size bring us to the physical limit when the pixel size will be close to the wavelength of visible light? I am aware about the different kind of ideas, but I hope you perhaps could tell us your personal view on the possible future with sensor technology?

    Mr. Uematsu: Of course, we do not want to reduce the sensor pixel size infinitely. However, each sensor pixel consists partially of a photodiode, a substrate and also of a transistor. If we can increase the relative ratio of the photodiode relative to two other parts, this will make sensor more efficient and also result in the better image quality. The reason why an organic photoconductive film makes better efficiency is because this allows to maximize the light reception area and more angle of the incident light. The organic sensor has less deflection. This means that the organic sensor can get more efficiency/sensitivity. This theoretically could make the organic film sensor better.

    PV: Since we're talking still about the future, can you share with members of the Personal View community any other technological developments? Any upcoming projects which you could disclose?

    Mr. Uematsu: Unfortunately, no. We cannot disclose more on what is in development.

    PV: Well, at least it's good to know that after Photokina you will not all go to vacation, but continue development :-)

    Mr. Uematsu: Anyway, we have in Panasonic a nice process for the future development. Regarding the 35-mm L-format. We have a clear strategy. Another manufactures they have already APS-C sensor and "Full-Size" DSLRs. In comparison, a Full-Size SLR and Full-Size mirrorless are not much different in size. Sure, it is easier to handle a motion picture with mirrorless, but picture quality is roughly the same. Also, when compared the cameras with an APS-C sensor and a Full-Frame sensor, the difference in those systems is not so big in picture quality and size, but in our case, M4/3 versus Full Size, the differences between two systems will be more noticeable, more clear.

    PV: In defense of smaller M4/3 sensor - smaller sensor is beneficial in terms of less downsampling, faster read-out times and generating less heat. Looking into the cell-phone cameras, the progress came not from the increasing the sensor size but implementing new smart technologies of dealing with physically small sensors. Some of those unique innovations for mobile/cell phones contain perhaps also technologies that of use in small-sensor cameras. Talking about the cells-phones. Any plans to make an updated version of the next generation Panasonic Lumix CM1?

    Mr. Uematsu: Leider nicht (from German "Unfortunately not"), No. One of the reasons is a lack of resources, and another reason it's difficult to sell. For smart mobile phones, the good relationship with wireless network carriers is very very important, but even we can sell the phone. we need to establish the certain quantity of phones to be selected by telecommunications service provider. However, to make such a single device would require too much effort for Panasonic. And once we quit our mobile phone business in your country we have to re-established this situation again. It makes much difficult. And also so many regulations for telecommunicating devices. It costs a lot and also would require too many efforts just for one type of phone.

    PV: If there is anything you would like to tell?

    Mr. Uematsu: Please don't worry about M4/3. We plan to make much more M4/3 products.

    PV: Thank you very much.

  • @cantsin

    They also have interesting understanding of professional. Normally it sounds like "rich, preferably old guy who want quite portable, but pro looking camera".

  • Panasonic will continue to focus on the development of high-end digital cameras that meet stringent standards of professional photographers and video creators.

    So, in other words, ditch the consumer market.

  • Panasonic is proud to celebrate ten years since it introduced the world's first Mirrorless Camera.[i] Revolutionising the world of photography, mirrorless cameras combine compactness with ease of use and outstanding performance. The biggest difference between mirrorless and DSLR cameras is the lack of mirror box and pentaprism, and the inclusion of an electronic rather than optical viewfinder. This enables mirrorless cameras to have smaller, lighter bodies and more compact lenses, as well as providing a real Live-View without a time-lag. This assists you to compose the perfect shot, even before you take it, making it the perfect travel companion for photographers of every level of experience.

    "As an inventor of mirrorless cameras, we have developed unique technologies to achieve high picture quality, high-speed performance, mobility, and professional-level video as core competencies. This also includes optical technology, with the close cooperation of leading technology partners and a long-term collaboration with Leica camera AG, to bring to market the Dual Image Stabilizer, and Digital Processing by Venus Engine to realise high picture quality."*

    Yosuke Yamane, Director of the Imaging Network Business Division at Panasonic

    Panasonic transformed the very idea of photography with LUMIX G, expanding the capabilities of a traditional digital camera to not only be more compact but also include the Micro Four Thirds philosophy of creating a truly and completely digital system. This paved the way to the ultimate hybrid camera in the form of the GH5S, which achieves the highest video performance in LUMIX history and great low light capabilities. The LUMIX DMC-G1 was launched in 2008 and in the years since, Panasonic has continued to commit to being first to market with outstanding technological innovations such as the world's first mirrorless 4K video recording[ii] and 6K PHOTO[iii].

    The last ten years of LUMIX G stand out in the long history of camera development, where Panasonic's technologies have made paradigm changes to the industry. In fact, since 2008 the digital camera technology evolution has been tremendously accelerated with established camera manufacturers following Panasonic's path to true digitalism.

    Already many firsts -- and even more to come

    Panasonic's LUMIX G cameras are known for high-speed performance and LUMIX original DFD (Depth from Defocus) Auto Focus technology for ultrafast focusing. Notably, developments of a mirrorless camera that enables world's first 4K video recording, Dual I.S. (Image Stabilizer) and 6K PHOTO for high-speed burst shooting at 30 fps in 18-megapixel resolution are definitely epoch-making in the industry. These developments were realised by a devotion to technology and to detail. "Crystallising the core competence in our technologies for mirrorless cameras, we have developed cutting-edge digital cameras; the LUMIX G9 that packs uncompromising performance for still photography, and the LUMIX GH5S that has attained the highest-ever sensitivity and video quality in succession to our world-acclaimed flagship, the LUMIX GH5", says Yamane. Panasonic will continue to focus on the development of high-end digital cameras that meet stringent standards of professional photographers and video creators.

    Becoming an innovator, staying an innovator

    Under the vision of "Changing Photography", LUMIX will continue its challenge over the next ten years to maintain its position in the industry as an innovator with continuous effort to introduce new and exciting technologies.

    Yamane comments: "Photography is not just capturing a moment. Photographers can express story, time flow, and life itself through their work. We push ourselves to develop the best tools for photographers so that they can capture their vision of life with every shutter release, anytime and anywhere. We are determined that LUMIX will continue to lead innovation in the camera industry for many more years to come."

  • One thing I noticed is that in our Tamron interview they said that "it is STILL many" photographers who use this system, but they actually do not have resources now to develop any m43 new lenses.

  • Olympus is committed to the Micro Four Thirds system because it gives photographers a smaller, lightweight alternative to full-frame cameras. That was the message from the head of the company’s imaging business, Shigemi Sugimoto, when I spoke to him in an exclusive interview at Photokina.

    According to Sugimoto, Olympus is aware that its users want more high-quality telephoto lenses. It’s an area that the company wants to ‘improve and grow’. So it looks like we can expect some new long lenses in the near future.

  • Just get a Polaroid and be done with it. Then the big bad wolves can't track you either ;)

  • OK, I think I follow the thesis. So really, both (all DSLR DSLM?) formats are eventually doomed to failure by being technologically & economically surpassed by devices that can be more efficiently manufactured.

    In the long term this is very likely true, but the question is "how long will it take?" And does the "extreme" price & tech of full frame really give more time (for users) once you allow for the fact that there will be a ramp up period for lenses, etc.

    Given that, I would be very reluctant to chuck money at L mount.

  • @kinvermark

    Well, expensive cameras sell not in very big volume. Yet. As top percentiles level of living differs more and more from other crowd - companies try to sell them new cameras and it more or less works. Lot of recent marketing changes, orientation on all this "ambassadors" - this all going from it.

    Idea of camera companies is same as of all present capitalism - somehow stop the time and progress. But as you can't really stop both - at least try to slow it down by throwing lot of expensive and incompatible stuff. Progress require universal standard mounts and protocols, progress requires standard realtime OS and more hefty OS on top of it. Lot of camera design choices are made because Japanese are good at making such stuff, and they know if they will go into more modern design approach - it will give new companies good hints, and all market can be stolen from them in few years.

  • Couldn't you apply all the same reasoning to the full frame mount systems? You aren't seriously claiming that expensive cameras for "professionals" sell in higher volumes are you?

  • The market is relatively small for all of BM, JVC, Z-Cam, Yi, and Kodak. DJI's market is a little bigger, but still probably not enough to save the system. If Panasonic and Olympus both pull out, the mount probably has a few years left, at most.

  • @IronFilm not sure if the YN camera was in reference to the ones I mentioned, but I really meant the YI M1 (check Amazon). Kodak also has a PixPro S1, both with native m43 mount. BlackMagic, JVC, and DJI also make cameras with native m43 mount + the new ZCam, so not sure what Vitaliy is talking about.

  • @IronFilm

    Seems so.

    As in capitalism getting normal clear m43 mount specs is close to impossible.

    Actually Panasonic intentionally uses crippled and non standard commands in many lenses to make life of people making adapters and such much worse.

  • "YN43 camera"?? Sounds like Yongnuo is going to make the MFT version of a Sony QX1?


    Ahhhhh..... I see now! I somehow forgot about that news, I guess because I was so very busy back in May with a million other things going on. Is it still the weird MFT sensor with EF mount?!

    M43 has the biggest variety of mirrorless cameras and lenses. If you want to go small, which a lot of people do, there's equipment for that. If you want lowlight capability or shallow DoF there are lenses for that.(or gh5s for lowlight) If you want to go to Antarctica, there's equipment that can handle that. Olympus and Panasonic has the best Ibis in the business, and combined with fast native lenses or speedboosted lenses, there is very little that cannot be achieved on m43, unless you happen to be a pro that needs 50MP plus resolution on moving objects.There are also 3rd party companies doing various cameras and lenses. It is not a dying format at all.

    The only threat is the constant bashing and tricking people into thinking it is somewhat inferior. The fact of the matter is that most of us on this forum are gearheads to a much larger degree than talented photographers or videographers. The good ones in those fields can use m43 without issues, while most of us are looking for the next thing to take a slightly better picture, to compensate for lack of skill, artistry etc.

    Nailed it.

  • @tosvus

    Forget about "legal investigations". Whole purpose, design and such of modern phone is being able to find and track any "wrong" person, and who is "wrong" is up to algorithms to decide. It is all same in banks or such. As soon as algorithms that will automatically use all information it could gather will decide that you are "not fit" - you are done. Human already barely can understand that can cause this decision and soon they just wont' care. It'll belike Paypal or Youtube - no one sane to appeal to.

    Images at smartphone are extremely important. As it is standard now to get GPS, all faces identified and now also places identification becomes standard. Try to go with wife of your friend into abandoned house during work time - and you are done.

  • Yes, that makes sense, though I'm not the most paranoid except for certain countries, I'm sure at the very least they know it's useful for legal investigations. Then there is the whole convenience thing. I love bigger cameras, and have a lx100 for more normal situations, but in the end, the thing is, the cell phone is always with me, and I do take pics and videos with that, so I always prioritize the camera quality on the phone. Most people forego the compacts altogether of course.

    In terms of LSI, maybe I'm not forward thinking enough(but in my defense I'm at least a 4K nut!) - i just don't see a need for much improvement for a long time. As long as it can keep up with some improvement in resolution and focusing for video, for m43, there is very little else I or most m43 owners need out of those cameras.

  • Vitaliy, your click bait is working really well :-P

  • @tovrus

    Answer is very complex here :-)

    As for "compact will struggle". Never underestimate mass media that also help a little. Compact owners are very bad for ruling class. In case of smartphone it is just few key presses to check all your current shots and all old that are in cloud (it is enabled by default usually). With all GPS and such things in them. Compacts are shitty as most of their photos are offline.

    People at big sites know perfectly - promoting smartphones is good, telling that all compacts are inferior and shitty - will be also praised.

  • Sorry but can you explain why cost is increasing exponentially? Material costs? In any case, compacts will for sure struggle - phones made sure of that. M43 or aps-c are less direct competitors to phones though.

  • @tosvus

    Cost of making LSI is rising exponentially. And sales are mostly dropping (if you count m43+compacts).

  • The LSI seems fine on the upper end though? It can process 6K photo mode, 4K60P etc. I would think the LSI could handle cropping image from a bit larger sensor. (Like JVC) Are you saying it is hard to make really cheap models?

    Surely BM, Yi, DJI etc don't use same LSI as Panasonic or Olympus?

  • @tosvus

    I am talking about LSI, for now.

    As for sensors - usually modern APS-C sensors just lack necessary models (with m43 proper crop and such).

  • Vitaliy, if APS-C keeps getting developed, there is nothing stopping manufacturers from using those in say the GH5 series and other larger m43 cameras. One could use it to allow multi aspect, and for lenses with larger circles almost entire sensor could be used. Besides, I bough a CELLPHONE with 42MP in 2013! No reason why we can't squeeze more out of aps-c/m43.

  • Jjj_ri_usa Agreed, there ARE some specific scenarios where it makes more sense to go FF, even if you could have gotten close with that lens on a speedboosted for instance (EF version to get af). Sounds like you found a solution that works for you, and as you hinted at, m43 has other strengths, so it is just a different alternative overall, not an inferior one.