Panasonic has been on a real tear lately with its solid line of Lumix Micro Four Thirds cameras, which feature interchangeable lenses. The latest two Panasonic Micro Four Thirds models, the GH1 and GF1, offer solid HD video capture. The Panasonic GH1 comes with a 14-140mm HD lens specifically designed for quiet auto operation for use in video recording. Currently, Panasonic has no DSLRs in its line-up.
Several recent patent applications filed in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) indicate that Panasonic may be bringing some of the popular features found in the GH1 and GF1 to a full-on DSLR. In particular, USPTO Application No. 12/581,286, filed by Panasonic on October 19, 2009, reveals a DSLR (complete with mirror and optical viewfinder) with a video mode, vari-angle LCD, on-board video LED light source and special video-compatible lenses.
The patent application discusses two types of autofocus: the typical DSLR phase-difference detection (i.e., fast autofocus) and the slower, contrast detection method (however, the Panasonic GH1 and GF1 have class-leading contrast AF). The new DSLR must have special video-compatible lenses attached for recording movies, which lenses are automatically detected by the camera’s microcomputer. Video formats contemplated by the patent application include MPEG and H.264/AVCHD.
The Panasonic DSLR will autodetect the presence of an external monitor attached via the AV plug when in video capture mode, and is also be capable of transmitting live video to an external monitor over a wireless LAN.
The video autofocus mode appears to be the same type of responsive, full-time AF found in the GH1 with the 14-140mm lens attached. Likewise, the lens(es) described in the patent application appear to be quite similar to the smooth operation of the GH1 kit lens.
As noted above, Panasonic has filed several patent applications relating to DSLRs in recent months. Could the company be moving back into the DSLR market now that it has demonstrated some success with its line of Micro Four Thirds cameras? Perhaps.
Just gleaning the claimed specs from this most recent patent application suggests what essentially appears to be a DSLR version of the popular Panasonic GH1. Perhaps Panasonic will be able to capture the attention of more serious shooters who would otherwise be attracted to the GH1 if it had more serious features like the quick phase difference AF found in DSLRs.
As always, remember that we are only talking about possible, future technology here. Panasonic and other camera manufacturers file many patent applications each year for which the underlying technology never sees the light of day or at least does not come to fruition for years to come. As a result, I never recommend making purchasing decisions based on what might come out next week, month or year. Finally, all of the information within this article is derived from my own opinions on and interpretation of the published and publicly-available patent applications.