[Interview] Matsushita Discusses Development of Mirrorless Digital SLR

Sep 19, 2008
Tomohiro Ootsuki, Nikkei Electronics

We interviewed product planners for the "Lumix DMC-G1," a digital camera with an interchangeable lens. The interviewees are Shinobu Fusa, who leads the product planning team for SLR cameras and Micro Four Thirds cameras at Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd, and Yoshiyuki Inoue, councilor of the Planning Group/Development Planning Team of the company.

In terms of technologies, what were your priorities when you were developing the the "DMC-G1"?

First, we aimed at removing a mirror box and mounting an EVF (electronic view finder) that is comparable to an optical viewfinder. And our second goal was to use the contrast detection method for the autofocus (AF) system and achieve a focus speed equivalent to that of the phase difference detection method.

The resolutions of EVFs are coming close to the theoretical maximum resolution of the human eye. Though high-resolution LCD panels tend to have dimmer images due to their low aperture ratios, we do not think that kind of problem will arise this time.

How did you speed up the AF function?

Originally, the AF function with the contrast detection method had a potential to strongly assist in taking impressive pictures by preventing failures. Specifically, it has a high focus accuracy, and an increase in the number of distance measuring points does not result in a larger camera.

It is because the number of distance measuring points is not increased by enlarging an image sensor used for the AF system as in the case of the phase difference detection method. In addition, users can decide a position and width for measuring distance.

The speed, however, has been a problem. It was enhanced by increasing (1) the number of control signals and control terminals of the lens, (2) the signal reading speed of the MOS sensor that is also used for shooting pictures, (3) the processing speed of the image processing LSI as well as by preventing mechanical parts of the interchangeable lens from wobbling.

You ventured to eliminate the movie shooting function from the DMC-G1.

We will meet that demand with our next product (See related article).

The DMC-G1 is equipped with various prominent features. But when compared in price, it is more expensive than other companies' products. Have you considered competing in price to conquer overseas (outside Japan) markets, where people prefer low-price products?

We have no intention to become a leader of price reduction. Our goal is to gain a 10% share in the global market for digital SLR cameras and Micro Four Thirds cameras in 2010. It's not that we are in a hurry to dominate the market. The DMC-G1 is not too expensive, so I think we can steadily advance toward our goal.

Are you planning to cooperate with Leica Camera AG of Germany on Micro Four Thirds cameras?

Yes. We prioritized modest price in the development of the "Lumix G lens," an interchangeable lens that we have just announced. However, we have a plan to sell Leica-branded products, which are characterized by very high image quality.

Are you considering making rangefinder cameras, like the ones developed by Leica, based on the Micro Four Thirds System standard?

There aren't enough interchangeable lenses available, and that's the problem. When a telephoto lens is used, an image in the finder is difficult to see because it's too small. With a super-wide angle lens, the entire shooting area does not fit in the finder. That's why users of rangefinder cameras are those who really like cameras. For other users, they are difficult to use.

Anyway, how could you remove the mirror box? It is a mechanical part that requires advanced know-how and has long been an entry barrier to the business of SLR cameras.

If we had already dominated the market, it would be like opening a Pandora's box. But we are newcomers. So, we have to bet on the possibility that mirrorless cameras will captivate users.