Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Finally, a Compact Large Sensor with Zoom or CLSZ?

My previous post talked about why SLD or EVIL camera would face limitations in terms of miniaturization due to large lenses. It so happens that a few weeks after that post, a very credible rumor has emerged here that Panasonic is working on a compact non-interchangeable lens camera with a micro fourthird sensor and a Leica designed 3x zoom lens.

If we need another set of alphabets in our soup, I would call it CLSZ - The Compact Large Sensor with Zoom :)

Despite the success of SLD and EVIL cameras, I believe that they are still not the killer products which would truly dominate the prosumer market. Together with some of the factors I have mentioned my previous post, here is a list of reasons why I think this Panasonic CLSZ cameras would be that killer product.

  • The Non-Interchangeable Advantage -As I have mentioned, SLD/EVIL cameras are system based and prosumers with dSLRs may not want to invest in another system. Especially when the new system often have a much more limited lens selection
  • Size Matters, really - SLD/EVIL zoom lenses are often not small, this defeats the purpose of such systems. Pancake prime lenses may go well with pros but some PnS upgraders (which forms the bulk of the target market) would definitely prefer zoom lenses.
  • Convenience - CLSZ cameras would likely fit into a small pouch or even the pocket. SLD/EVIL cameras would require an dSLR like bag especially if more than one lens is required.
  • Complexity (of SLD/EVIL) - Most PnS upgraders merely want a PnS like camera with superior image quality. They do not want the complexity of system cameras. Many SLD/EVIL owners do not think they will change the lens at all. This explains the huge amount of interest in the likes of Canon G11/S90, Panasonic LX3 and Samsung EX1.
  • Price/Performance - The interchangeable capabilities would mean that SLD/EVIL would cost a lot more than a competing PnS. Fixed lenses have a advantage of being easier/cheaper to design, more compact and may even provide much better performance than an equivalent interchangeable zoom lens.
Some of the downside of CLSZ are

  • Limited zoom range - Personally, I feel that the 5x zoom lens of the Canon G10/G11 is about as adequate as it gets in such a compact camera. The announced 3x seems a little limited. Although Tele/Wide converters + adapters add to the total weight & size of the package, they are most definitely still simpler, cheaper and lighter than an interchangeable lens system.
  • Performance - So far, most compact with large sensor cameras like Ricoh GXR, Sigma DP1/DP2 and Leica X1 are very slow cameras. Given Panasonic's track record in terms of m4/3 camera AF speed, I am confident a company such as Panasonic can do better than most in terms of AF performance.
  • Accessories - The prosumer market segment, as the name suggests is made of professionals and enthusiasts. It means that while most of the enthusiast would want an easy to use camera, there are times when the professionals would want something relatively advanced. As mentioned earlier, Wide/Tele adapters, flash, and other accessories have to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the wide range of users in this segment. I know this contradicts my earlier comment about wanting to make this group of cameras simpler and cheaper, but hey this is a very confusing segment... Options are often very welcomed. This is where the accessories come in to fill the gaps.
If the rumor is true, once again, it seems like Panasonic has taken the lead in creating a very unique product aimed at changing the rules of the game in this market segment. After only a few weeks of my writing about what I would love to see in a camera like this, Panasonic has announced something so close to what I envisioned. That truly impressed me.

Now, with such a great track record with the G series, what can Canon do to try to catch up? I would really really love to see the G series with a larger sensor, improved performance while keeping most of the features that they currently have, including the very impressive zoom range.

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