[Interview] Casio: There Is No Need for Camera Shutter

Jan 29, 2008
Tomohiro Ootsuki, Nikkei Electronics
[Click to enlarge image]

Casio Computer Co Ltd will release a digital camera "EX-F1" in March 2008. It enables to release a shutter at the right moment with a continuous shooting speed of 60 fps (frames per second) (each frame is 6 Mpixels) and to shoot full HD (1080/60i) H.264 movies. Previously, about 10 fps was the fastest.

In addition, the EX-F1 can take pictures that are invisible to the naked eye (sample movies). The shooting speed can be as fast as 1,200 fps when 336 × 96 pixel pictures are being taken. It is the speed that only expensive industrial cameras could achieve.

What did Casio Computer intend to do with the EX-F1? I interviewed Jin Nakayama, general manager for QV Unit of Planning Department, who took charge of the product planning. He is a representative trend setter in the camera industry and has been leading the company's product planning since "QV-10." (Interviewer: Tomohiro Ootsuki)

Because it's the only one ...

- The EX-F1 is an innovative camera, but it's expensive. Its nominal price, at first, is about ¥130,000 (US$1,220), equivalent to two sets of "D40x," Nicon's digital SLR, and the normal zoom lens. In addition, some people say that they cannot understand the uses of the EX-F1 because it can be used for various purposes.

The price is expensive, but the EX-F1 is an innovative camera with the functions that other cameras cannot have. I'm sure that only a small number of people recognize this and buy the camera. Specifically, it can shoot pictures that even a digital SLR with a high-speed auto-focus function cannot shoot and pictures that are invisible to the naked eye. And people who are interested in those capabilities will buy the EX-F1.

- People playing sports and birds might be suited for objects of the EX-F1. But there must be more suitable objects, considering that it achieved a distinguished high-speed shooting capability as a consumer digital camera.

We have to continue the research on how to utilize an enormous quantity of data that the CMOS sensor produces. To do that research, we have to sell a certain number (monthly production of 10,000 units) of the cameras as consumer products. We decided the nominal price, ¥130,000, considering this plan.

- Can you turn a profit at this price? Even if you could collect the development cost from future products, it must be ...

To be honest, we cannot say it is lucrative. However, there is a great benefit that we cannot put a price tag on. By selling the EX-F1, we could give consumers an impression that Casio develops state-of-the-art products.

There are few differences among compact cameras. Manufacturers in Taiwan can make as good cameras as Japanese makers. It is crucial to improve the brand image. Therefore, we applied "EXILIM" brand to the EX-F1. Some people said the EX-F1 does not fit into the image of EXILIM, or slimness. But we want to grow the EXILIM brand so that it gives impressions of novelty and evolution to consumers.

High-speed continuous shooting gives birth to third-generation digital cameras

We defines the EX-F1 as a third-generation digital camera. At present, it interests only a small number of users. However, it has a function that can be adopted for all cameras in future: the high continuous shooting speed, which effectively prevents users from failing at taking a picture.

The first generation of digital camera was pioneered by the QV-10. And the second generation was developed by "EX-S1," the first EXILIM digital camera, because it achieved the "wearability," which silver salt cameras could not realize.

- I think "EX-Z3" is greater than the EX-S1. It became a big hit with a 3x optical zoom in the 2cm-thick chassis and an LCD panel as large as two inches.

That's right. The EXILIM series might have not lasted if we had depended only on the wearability. It is because camera-equipped cell-phones spread rapidly, improving their capabilities. The EX-Z3 established a standard for compact cameras because it took over the slimness of the EX-S1 and still features a full-scale shooting function.

- Are you planning on launching products that sell in high volume like the EX-Z3, in the market of high-speed continuous shooting camera?

Of course, we are considering applying the technologies used for the EX-F1 to less expensive products. But it takes time. For the time being, the products mounted with an ultrahigh-speed CMOS sensor are targeted at "those who appreciate the difference."

It takes time because there are several problems involved. For example, it goes beyond the development of a 45nm-generation image processing LSI. We have to develop an application that exactly fits with consumer needs and to decide the shape of the product and its target price range.

Also, it is also necessary that other camera manufacturers release high-speed continuous shooting cameras and stimulate the demand for cameras in this genre. If that happens, image sensor manufacturers like Sony can throw more energy into the development of ultrahigh-speed CMOS sensors.

Shutter buttons play tricks

- Let me go back a little. What the third-generation digital camera is like? You often say, "Scenes suited for movies should be recorded as movies. When it is difficult to take a picture of an object, take a movie of it. The wall between movies and still pictures is formed by immature technologies.

Everyone can take a picture that the person wants to take: This is the ideal camera. Whether it is a movie or a still picture does not matter. The (ideal) still picture might be the one taken from a movie. In addition, future cameras will suggest taking a still picture or movie depending on the situation.

I do not deny the pleasure of waiting with bated breath and releasing a shutter at a decisive moment. But, for most consumers, taking a picture in itself is not a goal. The real purposes are to see the picture and recall the excitement, to show the picture to friends or family members and share the excitement with them, and so forth.

Furthermore, a shutter button might even be one of the principal causes of bad pictures. If users did not release a shutter, there were no camera shake. If a camera decided the timing, it would not miss a decisive moment.

Cameras are becoming more and more automated. One of the examples is "Omakase iA mode," an automatic-setting function that a digital camera of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd features. In the future, the EX-F1's high-speed continuous shooting will be combined with this function.