Recent improvements in Olympus and Panasonic cameras go beyond the simple firmware update, following a logic of giving the consumer more camera for a longer time. It’s something Fujifilm has done for quite a while and even has a name in Japanese: Kaizen, or change for good.
The idea for this article grew from reading the news about two recent updates for Olympus and Panasonic cameras that brought new functions to different models from each company. The article Panasonic Post Focus: shoot now, focus later published here at Pro Video Coalition is one of the examples, but at about the same time Olympus announced a new firmware for some of their OM-D cameras, something I mentioned briefly in one piece of news, but deserves to be explained in detail.
Olympus devised a new concept, under the name “Love Your Camera Longer”, as has updated firmware in some of their cameras from the OM-D family. They did it before, and although they mention a firmware upgrade, they also use another name that makes more sense: feature upgrade. While a firmware update is usually launched to correct bugs and adjust functions, these firmware upgrades extend functions of cameras, opening many times new options that were not there when the model was first launched. Or were there, sometimes, but simply not active…
Olympus and Panasonic are following in the steps of another company: Fujifilm. This trend to update older models so they offer new functions is an active part of Fujifilm’s philosophy, and has been especially present in their X-series of cameras, which is built in such a way that it allows engineers to extend functionalities when they are available. While Fujifilm, no doubt, will always have a commercial perspective of their camera business, they’ve suggested they understand a value a camera has for its owner, and want to extend that relation in time, through updates that allow users to keep using their cameras for a longer time.
From a pure commercial perspective this may seem wrong, but it may also work another way: by giving customers a reason to keep a camera for a longer period it is probably possible to make them invest more in other equipment, from lenses to flashes, etc. After all, it was not so many years ago that people would keep their film cameras for a long time, as the one thing that changed the most was the quality of film used. Fujifilm’s philosophy even has a name in Japanese: kaizen.
The term Kaizen means “improvement” and does not pertain exclusively to the world of photography, as the concept is widely used in multiple areas, from healthcare to banking. The idea grew in Japan after the Second World War, when Japanese companies adopted the teachings from American business visitors sent to help rebuild Japan, and applied a name to it. Afterwards the West imported the idea under the catching Japanese term, although the term in itself simply means improvement or “change or the better” and not the idea of continuing improvement some stick to it nowadays.
Kaizen, improvement or whatever you want to call it, the truth is that owners of some Panasonic, Fujifilm and Olympus cameras can, now, keep their models for a longer time, thanks to firmware updates that extend, improve and even introduce, in some cases, new functions. Panasonic’s Post Focus is such an example, but the recent updates from Olympus seem equally exciting, as they offer things as advanced macro shooting and video capabilities for the OM-D. No wonder that Olympus promotes the firmware updates with a single phrase: Download your next camera!
Under the concept “Love Your Camera Longer”, Olympus is offering owners of some of their Mirrorless models the chance to follow technology and get their models updated. Their frequent feature upgrades offer, says the company, the most innovative imaging technology available today so you can love your camera longer. For Olympus the idea is simple: Technology is evolving every day. So is the OM-D system.
This concept is distant from what other companies in the market seem to do. While they have firmware updates for their cameras, other players do not seem to invest so much – or at all – in improving existent cameras, preferring to launch new models, sometimes without much change from models they replace. Maybe this will change in the future, as, in fact, we’ve seen signs of that in the past. Not so long ago Canon surprised the world with the firmware V2 for their EOS 7D.
Canon’s EOS 7D was launched in September 2009, but in August 2012, when everyone would expect a new camera, the company announced the launch of a new firmware that, “further enhances the DSLR camera by adding a range of new benefits and functionality for those who are looking to explore the creative boundaries of their photography.” Considered a revolution at the time, as it, according to some, turned the camera in a new model, the firmware was created “following direct user feedback from photographers around the world”.
The new firmware further extends the 18 Megapixel EOS 7D’s advanced image quality, high-speed shooting and creative functionality. According to Canon, it offers greater control of image settings and functionality, including a higher maximum RAW burst rate, now up to 25 RAW files or 130 JPEGs. Giving photographers greater control over images directly after capture, a new range of in-camera editing functions includes processing of RAW files, as well as the ability to easily adjust white balance, sharpness and Picture Style. Enhanced control over Auto ISO levels during both still and movie shooting now allows users to limit ISO speeds to within the native ISO 400-6400 range; perfect for manipulating exposure in different situations.
The new features even extended to video, as during movie shooting videographers “will also benefit from new manual control of audio levels, with the ability to choose from 64 different sound levels. New compatibility with Canon’s high-performance GPS unit, the GP-E2, enables photographers to track the locations of their images using longitude, latitude and altitude geo-tagging.”
Announced by Canon as something very special, the upgrade to Canon EOS 7D was seen at the time as a logical step. Consumers praised it and expected it to become a regular practice, but the truth is quite different. Firmware updates do exist, mostly to correct bugs and add expected compatibilities, but the Kaizen philosophy is, apparently, not present in the minds of many Japanese companies in the photographic industry. This makes one wonder if a sound investment for those that don’t want to change cameras every two years or so, should not pass through names as Fujifilm, Panasonic or Olympus.