In an interview with Yosuke Yamane, Director of Panasonic’s Imaging Business Unit, Dave Etchells of Imaging Resource obtained some clearer understanding concerning the future of Panasonic’s mirrorless cameras.
Here’s our take from the interview (which you can read in its entirety here). We could be overreading into things, but the key to understanding any interview is to carefully read between the lines. Which questions are answered directly, clearly? And which questions are deflected, are “being considered” or “under study”? A product line that is under study is not being actively developed and does not have new development budget allocated to it. Usually when a product line is under study as to its viability or profitability, it means it’s already on the cutting block and it’s just a matter of when — not if — the ax falls.
First off, Panasonic views the mass market as veering away from the LX and GX snapshooting categories and toward smart phones using more sophisticated lenses and sensors. So, our take is don’t expect many more cameras from these categories.
Second, the future of Micro Four Thirds (MFT) is being re-evaluated in view of the success of their full-frame mirrorless cameras.
We are now studying the balance between full-frame and Micro Four Thirds in terms of the value which we can provide by the large sensor size of full-frame, or the value which we can provide by the compactness of Micro Four Thirds. By studying this balance, we are now considering the future development of this category.
So, our take concerning the future of MFT is that there is a real possibility that Panasonic exits the MFT category entirely — or seriously deemphasizes it. After all, Olympus has been the main MFT torch bearer and the latter’s exit — and the apparently relative ease of ramping up to full-frame — now makes this category even less appealing. Instead of the MFT mount, Panasonic is now concentrating on the full-frame L-mount.
UPDATE 2020-08-25: Some reviewers have pointed out that in the interview, Mr. Yamane said good things about the MFT GH series, so that means that MFT has a future. Perhaps, and we really hope so. But again it’s important to read between the lines: “We are now studying how we are going to evolve GH series going forward” and “So we are studying the future development plan, including Micro Four Thirds.” Perhaps Panasonic could evolve their long zoom bridge camera to using a Four Thirds sensor and with a quality fixed long zoom lens. Price it attractively (i.e. affordably) and target it to family photographers, soccer moms, nature lovers, etc. But, make it very compact and very light, taking full advantage of the MFT technology.
Third, video demand is high in the US market and so the LUMIX S1 and S1R target the high-end professional market, while the S1H targets the middle-range, low-budget cinema and video production companies. Achieving industry acceptance is very important since video footage submitted to these companies require being shot on approved video cameras (e.g. the S1H is approved by Netflix for 4K video).
So, it seems that Panasonic is edging its bets, concentrating scarce resources to the most profitable projects and being willing to drop camera lines that are not — or will not be — profitable. Our take concerning the future of Panasonic mirrorless direction is that it is sending a clear-enough message that, going forward, expect it to stay Full-Frame.
We used to have a slogan here at Photoxels (back when people were still hotly debating if it was the DSLR or mirrorless that would prevail) that “The Future is Mirrorless.” Well, here’s our new slogan: “The Future of Mirrorless is Full-Frame.”
What about MFT? There’s still a hope that it may continue to exist in some form, but that’s very dependent on performance improvements of its image sensor and AF Tracking capabilities. Currently, there is no size and weight advantage of the MFT body over a full-frame (FF) body. In fact, some FF mirrorless bodies are smaller and lighter than MFT mirrorless bodies, go figure! Where MFT has an advantage is in the size and weight of very long tele lenses (though FF mirrorless are coming out with similar lenses with equivalent small apertures).
So, there you go, this is our take from the interview. But, don’t take our words for it. You can read the Imaging Resource Interview for yourself and draw your own conclusions.