Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

As I was packing for our recent trip to Florida I looked at my camera bag with my Canon 5D MKII, lenses, battery, filters, and assorted gadgets and thought “man I really don’t want to haul that stuff when I’m really not going to have an opportunity to use it for more than casual pictures”. So I talked with a couple of friends, @mkrigsman and @mfauscette who are my goto guys for the latest in camera gear.

I have a pretty good camera in my Samsung S4 so I didn’t want a point-and-shoot that was little more than the Samsung S4 without the smartphone pieces. but at the same time I didn’t want to spring for a super high end compact camera like the Fuji X100S or the Sony RX1R. I did want a compact camera that came with a high quality lens, not a prime, and was fast enough to perform well in low light while offering the convenience of point-and-shoot. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 and Sony RX100 were on the short list. I chose the Lumix primarily because it was about $200 less expensive than the Sony while offering pretty much the same specs.

The family vacation in south Florida went off well and I have continued to use the camera in a few other instances over the last few weeks. Overall I really like it but given the choice I would spring the extra $ and get the Sony if I were to do it again.

P1000086The Leica lens on the Lumix is impressive and pixel for pixel probably equal to the Zeiss glass in the Sony. I really like the aperture control ring on the lens itself, which is very handy but am wondering how useful the aspect ratio selector is. The low light performance of this camera is exactly why I bought it, and the noise that comes with cranking up the ISO is not actually that severe.

The controls are easy, love the knurled dial on top and like the video button that does not require me to switch modes before using. The on/off switch is easy to deal with on the fly and zooming is fast. Once you get used to the multi-function buttons on the back of the camera you can work these easily enough, but getting used to them is the key. P1000136

The LCD display is sharp and bright but the ability to use it outdoors depends a lot on where and how you are using it. This is something that I found really frustrating and just wanted an integrated viewfinder I could look through. there is an attachment from Panasonic for this but it is an additional $160 and increases the bulk of the camera significantly.

The most surprising thing to me about this camera is the thing I found really annoying. the lens cap! The Sony has an integrated lens cover, the Lumix has a traditional cap that you need to remove before use and if you turn the camera on without removing the cap you have to press a button, any button, for the camera to activate. Little things always prove to be the undoing of otherwise great products. P1000115

In retrospect I would have sprung for the Sony but not because it is that much of a better camera. Purely on the basis of performance it is probably about equal with the Lumix but a couple of design aspects overcome weak spots with the Lumix.

The integrated lens cover is a big plus in my opinion but the overall form factor of the Sony is quite a bit more compact than the Lumix and that makes a difference for a walking around camera. The lens quality is comparable and while I like the manual adjustment rings on the Lumix I have to say that the pancake style lens on the Sony is pretty appealing.

P1000142Both companies offer included software but I did not have the opportunity to use the Panasonic supplied software because they ship it, along with the full manual, on a DVD drive and I do not have a single computer in my house with a DVD unit. I contacted Panasonic support and they do not offer the software as a download. This is a significant failing on their part and I hope they start offering downloads.

You won’t go wrong with either camera and in the future I will be leaving my 5D at home more than I ever thought I would have as a result of what these high performance compact cameras bring to the table.

PS- I have some great action shots from this camera but in each one my children are featured. I generally don’t post pictures of my family in my blog posts so you will have to take my word for it that when it comes to action shots the Lumix handles the task with ease.

The Market for E-Readers

I agree with this statement:

But industry executives believe the time has come for consumers to begin embracing dedicated readers, especially as the prices fall into a comfortable range.

“There were readers who were perhaps unable to join the digital reading environment because our prior products might have been cost prohibitive,” said Brennan Mullin, vice president of the audio and digital reading divisions at Sony. “These latest products are breaking that barrier.”

[From Market for e-readers may be turning a page]

However, I think the hardware vendors miss the point that it ain’t about the device anymore… it’s about the content. Amazon, like Apple with iTunes, was able to translate an engineering achievement into mass market success because they made it drop dead easy to enjoy content on the device and they lined up a huge inventory of content that could be enjoyed.

The Sony e-reader is a superior device to the Kindle in many ways, but like Sony’s failures with digital music services their e-reader has lagged because Sony does not have anything comparable to Amazon’s service integration for content.

The Plastic Logic device is one to watch because they have the wireless deal in place as well as a relationship with Barnes & Noble to integrate content merchandising and fulfillment. This is smart but in many ways they are set up to always be “Avis to Hertz”… as in we’re number 2 but we try harder. It remains to be seen whether a competitor to Amazon that is simply a lot like Amazon can achieve the market momentum necessary to carry them forward in the U.S. market, which for reasons I can’t explain, operates as a zero sum outcome for digital services, as in a winner and a bunch of losers.

That Sony could fumble their clear multi-year advantage in e-readers is mind boggling, right up their with whiffing digital music and screwing up the goose that laid their golden eggs… the PS3. At this point I think it is beyond debate that this company is incapable of asserting leadership in any digital services market, the preferred outcome for Sony shareholders should be to break up the company and sell it off piecemeal.

Sony Risks Losing Game Developers

Sony didn’t see this coming 4 years ago when they first announced the PS3. At that time the competitor was Microsoft and price points were footnotes on slides detailing world domination of the digital home, today the company has faltered so badly on the PS3 that not only are they are risk of continuing losses well into the future but 3rd party game developers may abandon the platform as R&D budgets inevitably tighten, which would put the PS3 platform into a death spiral that would be exceptionally difficult to overcome without a reset, a do-over, that takes them back to square one.   

Three years into the latest generation of game consoles, Sony is stuck in third place, data from the manufacturers show. The Tokyo-based company, once the dominant player, has half the worldwide users of Wii, even though the PS3 has earned praise for its processing power, graphics and Blu-ray movie player. U.S. sales of the PS3 have declined for three straight months.

“If they can’t meaningfully increase their install base, then you will likely see a capital reallocation,” Hickey said.

[From Sony Faces Heat From Game Publishers to Cut PS3 Price (Update1) –]

What killed the PS3? Two factors, the first being over confidence as a result of dominating the market with the PS2 for so long, which resulted in ambitious tangental strategies around home entertainment and technology adoption that were not linked to the gaming experience. The second being Blu-ray which pushed the bill of materials cost up beyond what the market would support and was responsible for critical delays in 2006 as Sony dithered around with DRM details unrelated to gaming which had the effect of giving Microsoft a full year head start in the market. More critically, the Blu-ray delay caused Sony to launch the PS3 during the Wii launch, literally a few days apart just before Christmas 2006, drawing contrast to the significant price delta between the two consoles.

While you can’t ever count Sony out of the game, the fact remains that the PS3 development and launch has been so badly executed that it could set the company’s game division back 5 years as they try to recover lost ground. The gaming market has long operated as a duopoly, if you are not in first place you are last, and right now the market dynamics are around Nintendo and Microsoft. As developers make hard choices about where to focus their limited budgets, it’s unlikely that Sony will retain the library of popular titles available on the PS3, much less grow it.

Sony has two choices and neither are good, they can subsidize the PS3 with a retail price that essentially gives it away and recover the losses from game royalties, or put the PS3 on life support and focus their resources on developing a PS4 platform that serves as the base from which to expand. The former is a defensive strategy and you don’t win by defending, while the latter is fraught with risk as it relies on completely unpredictable factors and a lot of luck.

PS3 Sinks Lower

Santa was not kind to Sony, who not only suffered body blows in cameras and television product categories, but was hit hard on the PS3 as Nintendo and Microsoft saw gains. At this point the market is essentially Nintendo and Microsoft, there is no compelling reason to consider a PS3.

But early results from this holiday season aren’t promising. U.S. sales of the PS3 fell 19% last month from a year earlier, while sales doubled for the Wii console and rose 8% for the Xbox 360, according to research firm NPD. Analysts say they expect PS3 sales for this month to be flat or lower than last year, while sales for its rivals are likely to rise. And Sony may not reach its goal of selling 10 million PS3 consoles in the fiscal year through March, analysts say.

[From PS3 Sags in Battle Again Xbox 360, Wii –]

I’ve written a lot about this over the last couple of years because it’s a fascinating case study on how misplaced product to market trends, pricing, and the inclusion of an orthogonal product (Blu-ray) dictated aspects of product and price to great detriment.

For Sony to move forward and rescue a very expensive mistake they should consider the following steps: 1) cut the price dramatically to be price competitive with Xbox360, 2) buy exclusivity for hot game titles, 3) bundle content from Sony Pictures and integrate video title content in a streamlined online service, and package the product for family gaming instead of power gaming.

Blu-ray is stillborn, they won a war that simply wasn’t worth winning. Sony would do well to invest minimally in Blu-ray while investing heavily in online content distribution capabilities that become the iTunes for gaming consoles. Lastly, partner up with Netflix or Amazon to integrate their download services with the PS3.

Depends on the Meaning of “DRM”

When I first read that Sony was going to give up their DRM ways I was skeptical… after all this is the company that brought us a rootkit. After learning more about how their system works, well it makes perfect sense (for Sony, it doesn’t make sense for anyone else).

Kid #2: So to recap, what you’ve got here is a system that makes people leave their house in order to download music at their house, and makes them go to a store to get music that they could get at the store, somewhere else [From Why It Won’t Work]

This system will fail as all DRM systems have failed. Apple’s FairPlay has been the most successful in terms of market adoption, but it’s not difficult to strip out FairPlay from tracks you download from iTunes, in fact it is ridiculously easy. Apple was successful with FairPlay because their customers were getting something out of iTunes beyond music, they were getting convenience. It was a “truth between two parties” that as long as iTunes continued to give me easy access and hassle free downloading of reasonably priced music, well I’d put up with their DRM as long as it didn’t get in the way.

To support my argument that all DRM fails, I submit into evidence the fact that despite an abundance of DRM in commercial music for several years now there is no shortage of free downloadable illegal music. Of the 37 albums that Sony puts up on their “DRM free” scheme, I would bet that by the end of the day I could download all 37 albums and not pay one cent for any track. The vast majority of consumers will pay for their downloaded music if you give them a reasonably convenient mechanism for doing so.

As usual, Sony misses the boat on this concept and continues to insist that I come to them on their terms. This will fail and Sony will continue to fail in portable media players, online distribution, and customer satisfaction.