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Talking to Canon’s camera king

March 23, 2011: Last month Margaret Brown, technical editor of enthusiast magazine and website, Photo Review, travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Canon, visiting the CP+ show, the Oita Canon camera factory in Kyushu, and interviewing Masaya Maeda, managing director and chief executive of the Image Communication Products Operation at Canon Inc.

Margaret and Photo Review have kindly permitted us to publish her interview with Mr Maeda (pictured right). She writes:

The Image Communications Products Operation within the Consumer Business Unit, which Masaya Maeda manages, represented 28 percent of Canon’s overall business in 2010. It encompasses DLSR and compact digital cameras, broadcast lenses, DV camcorders, network (security) cameras and compact printers and, during 2010, saw sales volumes increase significantly, with cameras making up around 70 percent of total sales.

This section of the company can claim some noteworthy achievements. Canon has held the leading position in the world camera market for the past eight years, accounting for between 21 percent and 22 percent of the world market by volume. Its volume market share in the DSLR sector is a huge 45 percent, with compact digicams and camcorders at 19 percent and 18 percent respectively. In Australian these market shares are DSLR – 50.4 percent; DSC – 18 percent; and HD video camcorders – 11.7 percent (sales volume figures from a Canon Inc. presentation).

In a presentation to journalists, Mr Maeda expressed an on-going commitment to maintaining Canon’s own product lines, own development and own distribution. However, he said, future growth will focus on flagship technologies and cross-media imaging, covering connectivity, compatibility and operability with all kinds of imaging products, including games consoles, smart phones and MP3 players.

‘Digital technology has given us a chance to challenge and approach this wider area,’ he explained.

Mr Maeda also identified digital video in stills-based cameras as a new frontier to conquer. ‘EOS Movie represents a new horizon,’,he said. ‘Not just with HD but also Full HD. This “flagship” effect will be available across Canon’s DSLR range.’

When asked about the importance of the Australian market to Canon, he responded, ‘The Oceania region may not be the largest market, but people in this area have the interest and ability to appreciate new technology. Therefore, Canon will continue to offer outstanding products in the form of new models introduced from various divisions throughout the year.’

(Pictured right: Andrew Giles, national PR manager, Canon Australia, Margaret Brown, and Masaya Maeda.)

Photo Review put a range of questions to Mr Maeda in a private interview:

PR: Do you have any plans to make a small, light mirrorless camera with a large sensor in the future?
MM: We are receiving requests from different places, different people. And it is true that one of our challenges is to try to develop a compact camera which features high image quality. …If you are to introduce a big sensor, this could contribute to providing high image quality but it could conflict with trying to make the size more compact. Therefore we are in the midst of trying to study different perspectives and angles where the compromise point might come.

PR: Could the sensor be 4/3 size?
MM: With regard to the sensor size, I’m afraid I cannot respond but in the near future I think it’s highly likely that we could try to come up with a product which would satisfy you.

PR: To what extent is DSLR development still dominated by megapixels when most potential buyers will never print their photos larger than A4 size – and probably print fewer than 30 percent of the shots they take?
MM: On one hand there are people who are pursuing megapixels; but that is mainly for professional use. They would prefer to have megapixels but at the same time we are providing products to all types of users from the high end to the consumer class. Therefore we are offering a large number of SLRs to the market and we have to try to meet these different needs, whether it be the number of pixels or the sensitivity. We are examining which we should focus on; whether we should compromise a bit more on the pixel number and instead pursue sensitivity.

PR: Is the high megapixel count in cameras like the EOS 600D more of a marketing exercise so buyers can show off how many megapixels their camera has?
MM: That is not the case. Instead, by increasing the number of pixels this will enhance the possibility of doing different types of trimming. In other words, by having such a large pixel array, you have a very large photograph, from which you can crop in the way you wish. We have to provide a large number of pixels for this purpose, keeping in mind that we should not compromise sensitivity.

PR: Serious photographers compose shots using the entire frame; not with the objective of cropping. Is anyone promoting the idea that larger photosites (bigger pixels) will provide better quality – particularly with respect to dynamic range and sensitivity – for these photographers than more (but smaller) photosites?
MM: Even though we see professional users that say the number of pixels is not sufficient, there are others who say 10 megapixels is enough and instead we should emphasise the sensitivity side more. I would like to pose this question to you: Where do you think the balance point rests?

PR: About 14 megapixels. You can make a very nice A2 print from a Raw file taken with a 14-megapixel camera. And I don’t think many people would see a big difference between that and a print from a higher-resolution camera at the correct viewing distance. What do you think?
MM: I think that is one way of thinking. But there are different views. Photographers who are taking graphics say the number of pixels is not sufficient, whereas photographers who are shooting sports events with a lot of dynamism in them say the pixels could be less but they want to see the speed enhanced. There are different voices and we would like to listen to all of them and try to reflect this feedback into our product development. On one hand we are seeing that the number of pixels is increasing but at the same time we are seeing the sensor performance is also improving. Therefore we are not sacrificing sensitivity. We think the device performance will continue to be enhanced and, therefore, we would welcome various proposals as to how to use these cameras.

PR: Has Canon reached the limit of the image quality that can be extracted from each photosite in a camera’s sensor? Or is there potential for even higher ISO settings with less image noise?
MM: I have never seen good image quality with 12,800 ISO, but I do believe there is still potential for the sensors to be improved. At the same time there is a lot of variation with respect to the lenses. Some are very bright and others are not. So on the one hand we have the sensor performance and on the other the lens. We can combine different types of lenses in different types of cameras to offer to our customers. So lens performance and sensor performance will both be improved together. I am sure that in the future you will be seeing a lot more interesting products coming from Canon; processor performance improvements as well.

PR: Are there any plans to produce an A2-sized or larger printer that uses dye-based inks? Or a dry minilab?
MM: Those products fall into another business group so I can’t answer your questions. (The following week Canon announced a high-throughput ‘digital press’ , the Dreamlabo 5000, to compete against HP Indigo, Kodak Nexpress and Fuji iGen technology.)

PR: To what extent do Canon’s camera and lens designers consult with photographers to find out what they want? Does this happen only in Japan – or across a wider range of countries? Is Australia included?
MM: We talk directly to photographers worldwide and listen to their responses. I think Mr Suzuki is the right person to answer this question because he is responsible for Canon’s lenses.
Mr Suzuki added: We have a team that is dedicated to listening to photographers, especially the professionals. They go to major sports events like the Australian Open tennis tournament and talk with photographers there. They listen to their requests, get their feedback and reflect whatever can be reflected in the new products.

PR: Do Canon’s product designers feel the future will involve converging products, technologies, such as sophisticated, large-sensor cameras or camcorders with built-in communications devices (GPS, phone or internet)?
MM: First of all let me talk about the future camera design direction. One thing we must never forget is the lens performance. This is an area we will be very much focused upon in introducing new types of materials and design methods. At the same time, I think that rather than just focusing on GPS it’s even more important to have good connectivity between digital cameras and networks. We will keep an eye on what is happening in that environment.
Yesterday we announced a new compact digital camera with GPS and I believe GPS in DSLR is likely to follow some time in the future.

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