Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why not M4/3?

I wonder why basically only Panasonic and Olympus, still, have joined Micro Four Thirds. Why not Sigma, Pentax, Sony, and Fuji (I don't even include Nikon and Canon, they are ultra-separatist)? Is it a kind of ego thing, they have to "be their own man" as a corporation? If they joined M4/3, they could immediately sell camera bodies to people who have the lenses. And if they make good lenses as time goes on, these may be bought by people who have bodies from other manufacturers.

For example, the otherwise very interesting Fuji X1-Pro (or maybe X-Pro1, sigh*.) is hampered by only having three lenses so far, and no zooms. It takes tonnes of money and time to develop a good lens line. Why not join up to an already strong lens line? And the sensor size is almost the same anyway. Why all this super-pride.

*As said in a review of the new Canon G1X: 

Just a few months ago when I reviewed the Panasonic GX1 I joked about the number of new cameras with X in their names. This then included the Leica X1, Canon 1DX, Samsung NX200, Fujifilm X-10, Ricoh GXR, Casio EX15, Olympus XZ1, Sigma DP2X, Sony HX9V – and that's with just one model from each company. Since then, in addition to the Panasonic GX1 and the new Panasonic X series lenses we have had the Fuji X1 Pro and now the Canon G1X. 


Bert said...

It's called the NIH syndrome (NIH = Not Invented Here). It is very common in large corporations, where being perceived as a follower is unthinkable. Because of that, they can't join in unless everybody joins in (like with the media formats (SD & such), for example).

Bruce said...

Also, I think good old fashioned greed is involved as well. They don't want their customers buying lenses from other camera companies.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Well, they already lost the last one, so...

Re NIH, I can get the kind of think. But it's stupid, nobody out there would think: "no way I'll buy a Nikon now, the company has become a follower-company by going to M/4/3." They just look at the benefits they get from the camera.

Bert said...

But it's stupid, nobody out there would think[...]

Truth be told, top execs at (pick company) don't give a shit about their customer base, except in abstract terms of revenue, stability & growth. The NIH effect is far more a matter of standing before their peers, never giving grounds to anyone for an attack on their personal prestige.

That attitude applies to every department: marketing can't possibly adhere to a campaign they didn't design (what of our image?!!); R&D perceives outside products as an outright intrusion, something they wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole (what, you mean we couldn't do as well?!!), and so on.

NIH is not the only factor at play either. The (pick one of USB, SD, 4/3, alouette!) consortium is ultimately owned and controlled by some or all of its members. Whom that really is, and just as importantly how many players are in control, is extremely important. Nobody will sign into a deal that opens up a door for someone else to control their profits (thru royalties or trade rules, etc.).

'Tis a complex matter, and the specifics of each case are very rarely of public record. You have to be a serious contender for membership before you get to know all the details.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

How about that.

It's a stony world. I heard that every company that even gets mentioned in a show like Shark Tank has to give up equity to the owners of the show.

Bert said...

I'm also quite certain that the entire 4/3 world is fairly small fry when compared to any one segment of Canikon's business. Certainly not worth the stain it could bring if the current crapstorm at Olympus should sink the 4/3 boat, for example.

Panasonic's case is quite different. It's easy to forget that they are a toaster manufacturer seeking legitimacy in the photography world. Having coined open alliances with Leica and Olympus, two lens designers / manufacturers with indisputably great heritage, was a great shortcut to the upper end of the amateur market. I'm far from sure that the ascension would have been that rapid, if even possible at all, without such alliances.

Taking this into account, and giving the proper weight to the prestige aspect of the question, you could rephrase your question as How badly do I want a share of that tiny market? Enough to league myself with an ailing small player and a toaster manufacturer?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I can see that.

Though my viewpoint is, I haven't ever seen a Panasonic toaster, only stereos and TVs. And their cameras are great, the GH2 is one of the best I've tried.

After digital, the photo tech is changing so fast, I think what a company did 20 years ago is less important. Just see that new Nokia phone-camera. See what real photographers say:

Bert said...

I haven't ever seen a Panasonic toaster

Well, have a look for yourself. ;-)

I'm not saying that Lumix products aren't good, not at all. What I'm saying is that you can't judge afer the fact, you have to look at where they came from, where they stood before they started making cameras.

Honestly, I don't know if they export home appliances outside Asia. But that is where they came from, that's what was, and very well might still be, their core business.

In the late '70s, Panasonic created the Technics brand because "serious" HiFi vendors wouldn't have Panasonic products on their shelves (from an interview I read ages ago). And even then, the acceptance of the brand took years to build.

Today, thanks to the Internet, everything moves a lot faster. But still, I am far from certain that Lumix would have made it on your radar without first gaining some legitimacy in the face of at least some of the photography world's "authorities".

And you can ask anyone you know who has first-hand knowledge of Japan: it's a lot harder to achieve recognition in a land where appearances are everything! (Can anyone tell us if the name Panasonic appears besides the Lumix brand in Japan? I'd love to know...)

Looking at things from a different angle: how many Chinese camera brands can you name? I don't know a single one, and yet I'm sure that there has to be at least one good Chinese camera manufacturer! China accounts for more than 1/5 of the world's population, for crying out loud! But most of China's native products haven't (yet) echoed on your radar or mine.

I could also ask if you really think that Panasonic cameras would be just as good if they hadn't sought help with their lenses? I seriously doubt that anyone could learn that art from scratch in just a few years without proper guidance.

Take an honest look at the market, and you'll see more examples of companies who took "the fast track to the top". Sony buying Minolta, for example. Could anyone honestly say that current Sony cameras are still pure Minolta products? Of course not, they bear Sony's thinking all over (and I'm not saying that's bad or anything, it's just evolution) because Sony now truly "owns" its camera business. But I certainly will defend that Sony wouldn't be standing near the top today had they started from scratch...

Bert said...

Oh! I almost forgot: regarding the Nokia supercam, have you noticed the name?

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Zeiss? Yeah, smart people know where to go.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yah, sure Pana had to get help with the lenses. Would be stupid to hire six lens engineers and start from scratch.

Chinese camera: Seagull!
I had a Seagull enlarger, my first one, as a kid. It was crap though, the hole set cost fifty bucks the case was made from sheet iron!

Bert said...

Mine was a Durst M301. Made of plastic, and probably not much better than yours! Fond memories anyway. :-D

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

My next one was a Durst. Good model though, solid metal and sturdy.

And I got a really good Nikon 50mm 4.0 enlarging lens for the insane price of about 40 bucks from new! It was pin-sharp in the corners.

Bruce said...

Panasonic has been producing video equipment for over 50 years. They have been making video cameras since 1985. Repeatedly referring to them as a toaster company is deceptive and demagogic.

Bert said...

Bruce, sorry if I hurt your feelings... toaster-lover. ;-P

Seriously, all along, this discussion has been about perceptions, and only perceptions.

My point goes like this: pick any name that appears all over your kitchen and/or laundry room. Some name that invariably makes you think about cooking or laundry or lawn-mowing, whatever.

Then honestly ask yourself "Would I buy a 500$+ camera with that name on it?"

My point about toasters is that, for the average Japanese person, Panasonic is that name. Sure, would they stop and think about it, they would quickly realize that a corporate giant like Panasonic also makes Pro video equipment like you mentioned, and copier lenses, and probably a zillion other optical devices I can't think of. Heck, they could manufacture high-end FLIR assemblies for missiles, for all I know.

But in the store, nobody cares about that. Marketing is all about creating and controlling impressions.

I, myself, might buy a camera branded Fisher-Price for a five-year old, if it's cute and the price is right. But it would take serious convincing to have me dish out a grand for a high-end camera bearing that same label, irrespective of how good the product really is.

It's all about apparent legitimacy, and my only claim here is that Panasonic had nothing to lose and much to gain by joining the 4/3 venture.

A final word: you might be tempted to say "the heck with Japanese people, Panasonic had me just by being on the shelf with a good product". That would be naive, commerce doesn't work that way. A lot is required just to get on the shelf you aim for; in fact, achieving that goal might be the single hardest part of creating any new product. Also, a Japanese company that would choose to ignore their local market might as well pack and move.

Bert said...

Before I get hit on the head about the apparent contradiction in my last post, I'll state that I stand by my earlier comment about seeking help to design top notch camera lenses.

Making lenses that will appeal to photographers has little if anything to do with copier lens design, or even movie/video lenses for that matter. Only the former will prioritize IQ above all, the latter will generally prioritize large apertures and ruggedness, among other things.