Panasonic Focuses 4K Video on Camera Market

With the digital camera market shrinking, Panasonic is turning to the latest hot technology in the television industry – 4K video – to spark fresh consumer interest in cameras.

Courtesy of Panasonic Corp.
Panasonic is looking for a new spark in the mirrorless camera market with 4K video capable products such as this Lumix GH4.

Last week, Panasonic showcased its “Lumix GH4,” a new digital single lens mirrorless camera the company claims is the world’s first to shoot 4K video.

With the plunge in demand for point-and-shoot compact varieties, camera manufacturers including Panasonic have moved their focus to mirrorless technology.

Like their more expensive single lens reflex counterparts, mirrorless cameras come with large sensors and interchangeable lenses and produce high-quality images. The difference is they are more compact in size since they don’t have the conventional mirror-based viewfinder system.

This segment of the market has been expanding in recent years — in Japan at least — even as consumers turned to smartphones for most of their snaps. But signs of slowdown are already emerging, with mirrorless-camera shipments dropping 1.2% last year, according to IDC. That fall was still vastly better than compact point-and-shoot sales, which tumbled 40%.

“It’s clear we can’t attract customers with products in line with what we’ve done in the past,” Katsuyoshi Tanaka, Panasonic’s group manager in charge of product planning, said in an interview on the sidelines of a camera show in Yokohama.

“We’re hoping 4K will be the trigger to create a new market,” he said.

The ultra high-definition technology, known as 4K for its 4,000-pixel horizontal resolution, promises four times the picture quality of full high-definition. Images with that level of high resolution can capture small details from tiny water drops to beads of sweat.

With 4K TVs already flooding the market worldwide, the technology is rapidly spreading to other devices from personal computers, digital cameras and even smartphones. Still, prices of 4K TVs remain expensive and there is precious little content that can be played on them yet.

With its GH4, Panasonic is mainly targeting semi-professionals or serious amateur photographers who want to take 4K content. With photography no longer limited to still images, the company is hoping the new camera can appeal to those who want to capture both stills and video. For taking photos, the GH4 is installed with a new technology enabling it to focus in 0.07 second. That’s just a fraction short of the 0.06 second Sony claims is the world’s fastest autofocusing speed for its interchangeable lens digital cameras.

The GH4 is expected to hit the market in the spring. While its price has not been disclosed, the cameras will be cheaper than professional devices that can take 4K footage, Mr. Tanaka said.

For the Japanese electronics giant, the GH4 is also symbolic of the company’s transition from a heavy focus on consumer products to other more profitable businesses such as autos and housing geared more towards corporate clients.

The company’s separate business divisions for consumers and corporate clients came together for the first time to jointly develop the new mirroless camera. That’s because the GH4 is not necessarily a mass-consumer product, but a product also for semi-professional photographers.

“This is the first time we made a product together. For us, this is like our first step and we’d like to further strengthen this kind of collaboration,” Mr. Tanaka said.

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