Casio wants to make cameras that allow everyone to take better images, and that could mean large sensor compacts, says Jin Nakayama, Senior General Manager of the company's QV Digital Camera Division, but don't expect a mirrorless camera. The company, which makes some of Japan's best-selling compacts, has a development strategy Nakayama believes will distinguish it from smartphones while also staying a step ahead of its camera rivals, he says.
Casio may not be a big name in digital cameras in all markets but it was responsible for the first consumer digital camera to feature an LCD screen (1995's QV-10). Nakayama is proud of the company's history of innovation and says the company's original technologies can help keep it competitive. He talks of wanting to create a new market segment for people who think a DSLR is difficult but who still want to take beautiful pictures.
The challenge of smartphones
Like everyone else in the industry, he is fully aware of the threat posed by smartphones. Since 2008, overall camera sales have been falling and interchangeable lens cameras have taken an increasing share (now representing over half, by value). 'The reason why is that penetration rate of compact cameras is already very high, and smartphones make it easier to take a photo and upload it to the internet.'
But, he says, smartphones can't offer the image quality of a compact camera: 'a lot of photographs taken with smartphones are snapshots - photos as taking notes, rather than a work of art. Even people who are not camera savvy want to take pictures and enjoy looking at them afterwards.'
The company's strategy is to push towards cameras that offer better image quality while also being easy for anyone to use: 'Look at DSLR and mirrorless cameras - they attract similar users to film cameras. You get the high performance but it still requires a degree of technique. We want to offer a product that allows people to take beautiful pictures by just pressing the shutter - even without the knowledge of a complex, intricate camera.'
A question of focus
And this focus on compact cameras is what will help set them apart from their camera-making rivals, he believes: 'other camera manufacturers still try to launch cameras in every part of the market to have a complete line-up but how much of their research efforts can they put into product development to move towards the easy-to-use, high image quality products we plan to make? We can concentrate - we need to develop new products in a speedy way.'
He highlights the Exilim Engine HS 3 processor at the heart of Casio's high speed compacts as an example: 'Usually when you want to incorporate new ideas, you have to introduce new hardware in the processor, which takes 2 years. We have what we call a dynamic reconfigurable processor - we can add new functions like it was software. So, while other manufacturers might catch us up with hardware, with our design we can always re-write and add more new features.'
Compact cameras can continue to offer better image quality than smartphones, he says: 'the image quality is completely different - maybe it isn't so different in good light but if you take a picture in a dark place it will be very different. Smartphones will improve, in terms of factors like lens brightness. But we want to offer image quality more like DSLRs, mirrorless and high end compacts - sensor must be bigger and the lens brighter than it is today. Casio pursues image creating that goes beyond interchangeable lens cameras with our own high-speed shooting technology and high-speed processing technology.'