Panasonic’s Camera Strategy: Women and Elderly First

Posted by: Kenji Hall on September 12, 2008

Panasonic could have spruced up its digital camera lineup with another feature-packed product. But instead it chose to survey women and elderly consumers and to design a camera with them in mind

Panasonic’s new Lumix DMC-G1, unveiled today in Tokyo, is a digital single-reflex-lens camera that’s lighter, more compact and has simpler controls than others in this sector of the market. The company sought to offer a camera with interchangeable lenses and high-end specs that wouldn’t scare off anyone who isn’t a camera buff. (They came up with brighter colors and, in Japan, chose 50-year-old actress Kanako Higuchi, in full kimono, as the poster girl.)

The Lumix G1 won’t please the purists. And it’s not cheap, at upwards of $1,000. But Panasonic risked trying something different to reach beyond the men who typically buy SLRs. It’s reminiscent of Nintendo’s decision to make an unconventional video game console that appeals to both kids and elderly adults, not just diehard gamers. (And we all know what that’s done for Nintendo.) Critics of Panasonic’s move into the SLR business in 2006 who wondered what a tech conglomerate could offer may be regretting their skepticism.

The company’s execs looked at their market stats and saw three trends. Competition had made compact point-and-shoot cameras a low profit-margin business. The opportunity for growth was in SLRs, which are outsold by point-and-shoot types 10 to 1. And though women and elderly consumers wanted better cameras they didn’t want to mess with all the menus and buttons of today’s high-end SLRs.

To develop a camera body that weighed just 385 grams and is smaller than other SLR models took a feat of engineering. Panasonic’s engineers didn’t just make tiny cosmetic modifications; they bucked the conventional thinking. The most obvious change: They tossed out the so-called “mirror box”. The mirror box actually consists of a mirror and a pentaprism, which bounce the image from the lens to the viewfinder that the photographer looks through. It’s been a standard feature of SLR cameras for decades and Panasonic dared to replace it with a digital viewfinder.

Removing the mirror box let Panasonic do two things: It eliminated the need for space needed to house the mirrors. And with Olympus’s help, it reduced the distance between the lens and the sensor, which captures the image. (An adapter makes the camera compatible with lenses for other Panasonic SLRs.)

Most of the G1’s controls are located on a dial next to the shutter release. The camera has both manual controls as well as an iA, or intelligent auto, function that lets the camera make all the decisions about shutter speed, aperture, white balance and focus. The difference from other SLRs comes when looking through the viewfinder. Instead of seeing the actual thing through the glass lens, the photographer sees a digitally reproduced image on a tiny flat screen inside--the same as what’s projected onto a 3-inch LCD screen on the back. The disadvantage is that there’s a perceptible lag between what’s happening in the real world and on the screen. And between shots, the screen goes black for about 4 seconds as the camera processes the image. It’s a trade-off. This camera won't be ideal for shooting athletes in action, for instance. But ultimately that could be a small price for Panasonic’s (and Olympus’s) innovative and elegant use of technology and design to solve a thorny marketing problem.

Reader Comments

john M Stonham

September 15, 2008 10:24 PM

This is a good design inovation from Pansonic, I can see the
design improving in time as to shorten the function between
the viewer sceen and the accual photo. I have used Pansonic
Camers both still and movie and never cease to be amazed
at the quality they produce.
john maxwell stonham
Photomax Canberra AU.

Inte3rconnect

September 16, 2008 5:33 AM

Great news from Panasonic for senior citizen or 50's or above for the new G1. Canon PowerShot CHDK DIGIC III compliant has a new story. Pansonic subscribed to the G1, which gives more value for money to the users. As admirer/fan of Pansonic Digital SLR with higher ratings, I look forward for this and other Pansonic products for compliance to the CHDK, DIGIC III. I look forward to the user group of G1 to tell more about the product.

Optics Expert

September 22, 2008 2:33 PM

This camera is not an SLR "single lens reflex". Reflex refers to single reflection. The lens from this camera images on the sensor at all times. There is no mirror that diverts the image to the viewfinder. The viewfinder on this camera is an LCD.

It's a digital camera, and it has inter-changeable lenses, but it's not a DSLR.

ElderGadget

July 30, 2009 3:33 AM

Being a blog about seniors and senior-friendly gadgets, we at ElderGadget.com are happy to see that both manufacturers and media outlets are catching onto this all-too-overlooked demographic.
We actually just released our top five picks for elder-friendly point-and-shoot digital cameras (http://eldergadget.com/products/product_reviews/top-five-digital-cameras-for-the-elderly), though after reading this article we're thinking maybe we should review single-lens reflex cameras next.
Thanks for the great article, and if anyone has any tips on SLRs that are particularly easy for seniors to use, feel free to leave us a comment at www.ElderGadget.com or e-mail us at EJ@eldergadget.com.

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