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NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"



 
 
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  #1  
Old February 20th 06, 10:40 PM posted to rec.photo.equipment.35mm
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Default NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"

Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras
By IAN AUSTEN
Published: February 20, 2006
But the reasons for his commitment have as much to do with practical matters
as emotional pull. The 10 Konica Minolta digital and film cameras owned by
Mr. Marek, a 35-year-old quality-control engineer who is also the president
of a Chicago camera club, work only with lenses designed for that brand.
Similarly, Mr. Marek's collection of about 33 Minolta lenses - he's lost
count - will not fit any other make of camera.

So Mr. Marek was more than a little concerned when Konica Minolta said last
month that it was abandoning the photo business - both digital and film -
and selling some of its camera technology to Sony.

"Minolta had a great name in photography - they were No. 3 in the market
when I bought my first camera," Mr. Marek said. "I can't imagine being
without it now."

Not all of the traditional leading camera makers have taken Konica Minolta's
drastic step. Faced with brutal competition in the consumer market for
compact digital cameras, several have turned to high-margin, digital
single-lens reflex, or S.L.R., cameras, which feature interchangeable
lenses, to maintain their profits.

Those high margins have not escaped the notice of relative newcomers like
Sony, Panasonic and Samsung. At the annual Photo Marketing Association
International show next week in Orlando, Fla., all three are expected to
further outline their plans to move into photography's top tier. When that
occurs, the challenge for some of photography's most venerable brands may be
simply to survive.

"Life used to be stable in the camera business," said Ned Bunnell, director
of marketing at Pentax Imaging. "But if you look at what happened to the
personal computer industry, I think it's logical to think that the same sort
of consolidation would take place in the camera industry."

Sony has already risen to the No. 3 spot in digital camera sales in the
United States, with 15.8 percent of the market, just behind Canon, at 17.2
percent, and Kodak, at 16.9 percent, according to Current Analysis, a
research firm in Sterling, Va.

And as the competition gets keener, life becomes fundamentally different for
camera companies, which used to operate at a stately pace with new product
cycles measured in years. Nikon's top-of-the-line F-series of cameras, for
example, has been revamped only six times over nearly five decades.

"In the past, as a camera maker we were able to take it easy, watch what was
happening," said Makoto Kimura, the president of Nikon Imaging and a senior
managing director of Nikon, its parent. "Now we've had to revitalize
ourselves."

In 1988, Sony introduced what is generally regarded as the first successful
digital camera for consumers, the Mavica, which stored its photos on a
standard diskette. While not breathtaking technology, the disks meant that
the Mavica was the first camera that offered an easy way to transfer photos
to computers.

"That was when we started to think that other players were beginning to look
at the possibilities of digital photography," Mr. Kimura said.

With digital photography, Sony and other electronics makers immediately
boasted advantages that offset their lack of optical experience. From its
video camera business, Sony knew how to design and manufacture
charge-coupled devices, or C.C.D.'s, the light-sensing chips that became
film's most common digital replacement. Making the chips is beyond the
financial or technical reach of most camera makers, several of which rely on
Sony and other electronics companies as suppliers.

The electronics companies' main advantage, however, was far less technical.
The shift to digital photography meant that even relatively expensive
cameras were increasingly purchased at electronics chains rather than
specialty shops. The traditional camera makers were, by and large, left
learning how to elbow their way onto shelves at Best Buy, Staples and
Circuit City as well as adjusting their systems to meet the inventory and
logistics demands of the national chains.

"I was with Sony for a number of years," said Jeff R. Clark, the senior
digital photography analyst at Current Analysis. "Supply chain management
was probably more important to that company than the products it made."

Eastman Kodak and Fuji Photo Film also have a good understanding of mass
merchandisers from their film businesses. That helped Kodak, at least in the
United States, become a major vendor of digital cameras and sometimes the
market leader. But its sales are weighted toward lower-priced cameras, a
factor somewhat offset by the cameras' ability to connect easily to home
snapshot printers that use only profitable Kodak supplies.

Perhaps inevitably, the number of competitors offset the
higher-than-anticipated demand for digital cameras, pushing down prices and
margins. New models with additional features appeared every few months
rather than years apart.

anon, which is unique among camera companies in that it has extensive
in-house chip-making ability through its office machine division, found a
route to salvation. In 2003, it introduced the Digital Rebel, the first
digital S.L.R. priced under $1,000 with a lens.

The move was well timed. Many early digital camera buyers were returning for
their second camera, and digital S.L.R.'s offered higher image quality,
partly because of larger imaging chips.

Digital S.L.R.'s were equally appealing to their makers and retailers. The
incompatibility of lenses between brands and a lack of similar products from
electronics makers has, so far at least, minimized price-cutting. Further
adding to profits are the sales of even higher-margin accessory lenses and
other add-ons that digital S.L.R.'s generate.

Although Pentax cut the price of one digital S.L.R. this month to $600, from
$800, the category has generally avoided the price free-fall that has
plagued the compact camera market. According to Current Analysis, the
average price of a Canon PowerShot S410 compact camera fell to $244 last
month, from $346 a year earlier. But the successor to the Digital Rebel
S.L.R., the Digital Rebel XT, still retails for just under $1,000. Nikon has
similarly been able to maintain prices on its two S.L.R. cameras aimed
mainly at consumers.

Nikon said this month that its success with high-margin digital S.L.R.
cameras helped account for a 26 percent increase in third-quarter sales,
tripling its profits. And Canon ended 2005 with sales up 8.3 percent and a
net revenue increase of 11.9 percent, performance it attributed largely to
its digital S.L.R. cameras and photo printers.

But Steve Hoffenberg, the director of consumer imaging research at Lyra
Research in Newton, Mass., said that it was not just the high margins of
S.L.R.'s that had drawn manufacturers' interest in the segment. The compact
camera market, he said, is likely to be squeezed further as high-quality
cameras are introduced into mobile phones and hand-held devices.

He also expects the electronics companies to match their earlier digital
imaging successes in the S.L.R. market.

"A new wave of technology has given the newcomers the upper hand," Mr.
Hoffenberg said. "For the consumer electronics companies, digital
photography has been all upside, while the photo industry was stuck in a
slow evolution stage."

Some smaller camera makers appear to be looking for a truce. While neither
Pentax nor Olympus has followed Konica Minolta's lead and retrenched to more
profitable lines of business like medical imaging, both have allied
themselves with electronics companies. Pentax is producing a Samsung-branded
digital S.L.R. and supplying the Korean maker with its lenses. Olympus and
Panasonic's parent company, Matsu****a Electric, have similarly joined
forces, although they have yet to unveil specific products.

Those alliances, like Sony's deal with Konica Minolta, give electronics
companies access to a full range of established lens systems and other
accessories. James Neal, director of digital imaging products at Sony
Electronics, said his company expected interchangeable lens cameras to
maintain a strong position in the market.

"It is key for Sony to be in this market at this time," Mr. Neal said.
"Consumers are really interested in moving up the ladder in terms of quality
and performance to digital S.L.R.'s. If we just stopped at point-and-shoots,
we would not have met all the needs of consumers."

Mr. Neal said Sony was counting on sales to owners of Minolta lenses.
(Konica, a maker of film, photocopiers and mini photo labs, merged with
Minolta about two years ago.)

For customers like Mr. Marek, it may be a tough sell. While Sony has been
skilled at making its cameras easy to use, particularly for newcomers, it
has sometimes omitted features like optical viewfinders and tripod sockets,
which serious photographers often view as essential. Similarly, Sony cameras
use proprietary memory cards that are generally more expensive than industry
standards such as Compact Flash.

Mr. Marek is eager to see what Sony offers, but he is also wary.

"They're going to get my first look next time I buy a camera because of my
investment in my current equipment," Mr. Marek said. "But if they don't meet
my needs, I'll go elsewhere."


  #2  
Old February 21st 06, 02:37 AM posted to rec.photo.equipment.35mm
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Default NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"

Using the term "Top-Tier" is somewhat laughable, though in all not too
bad an article with an overview of the industry. I think it actually
raises more questions than it answers.

Sony are the main imaging chip supplier to Nikon. Samsung have been
supplying chips for smaller compact cameras, but can easily move into a
higher level now with the help of Pentax, though the Pentax name brand
might need to remain in some markets. Panasonic has been making chips
for quite some time, and had a nice lens design relationship with Leica,
though now align themselves more with Olympus. The Olympus 4/3 system
cameras have used Kodak imaging chips.

So it seems that Olympus could stop being a customer for Kodak imaging
chips, and while it might seem a stretch perhaps Sony and Nikon could
part ways. Canon already make their own imaging chips for their D-SLRs.
Okay, so here is the stretch in imagination, and it might be a good 18
to 24 months . . . with Kodak ceasing their Nikon mount D-SLRs, yet
still producing large imaging chips, it seems that it might be natural
for Nikon to source imaging chips from Kodak, at least at the high end
(true high end) of D-SLRs. That move could also easily allow a shift to
full frame chips, since Kodak has been making those for several years
for medium format digital back users (starting at an 11 MP 24 mm by 36
mm chip they still produce, and upwards from there).

What is interesting about PMA is the focus on consumer gear. Sure, that
is the main part of the show, but some other news seems to have been
missed. Perhaps everyone on this newsgroup stopped using film?

Both Fuji and Kodak announced new films . . . yes, films. I recall many
stating that film R&D stopped years ago, and to not expect any new
emulsions. Well, when a new film gets released, it means at least five
years worth of available product. So while ISO 400 and ISO 800 films
don't generally excite me much, I did notice a new ISO 64 Tungsten film
.. . . . . . It has been a while since I used any Tungsten film, but for
some reason I want to get some of this to try. I will probably start
with the 35 mm size, but I am tempted to run some through my 4x5.

So a little weird bit of outside reality. In San Diego, which should not
be used as a model for any general trends (except high prices), I have
recently noticed many more old film SLRs in use. While that might not
sound surprising, the part about it that surprised me a little is that
people fresh out of high school are the ones picking up on this. Even
the professional lab I used made a comment about it. So I asked a few
people last night at this one cafe' I frequent, and the answer to why an
old film SLR brought some not too surprising answers. One was the low
cost for things that seemed to be made very high quality; with the
average mobile phone barely lasting more than one year prior to
replacement, that old metal and heavy glass seemed very different.
Second point was a sense of control; these younger adults grew up with
computers, and even spend countless hours on them, yet they wanted
something they controlled completely; even to the point of acknowledging
that some of the old cameras they chose could be used wrongly very
easily; in other words it took effort to master the old gear. The third
item was that it got them "old school" photos just by dropping off the
film somewhere; which also meant less time on the computer, and gave
them images to just pass around to show to friends.

Anyway, it was probably an anomaly just happening in San Diego, and
mainly just downtown areas and at the beaches. It would surprise me to
hear about any similar trends in any other city . . . maybe it is the
strange weather we have experienced lately . . . or I could blame it on
El Nin~o.

Ciao!

Gordon Moat
A G Studio
http://www.allgstudio.com

  #3  
Old February 21st 06, 07:14 AM posted to rec.photo.equipment.35mm
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Default NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"

On Mon, 20 Feb 2006 17:37:43 -0800, Gordon Moat
wrote:


So a little weird bit of outside reality. In San Diego, which should not
be used as a model for any general trends (except high prices), I have
recently noticed many more old film SLRs in use. While that might not
sound surprising, the part about it that surprised me a little is that
people fresh out of high school are the ones picking up on this. Even
the professional lab I used made a comment about it. So I asked a few
people last night at this one cafe' I frequent, and the answer to why an
old film SLR brought some not too surprising answers.



Gordon Moat
A G Studio
http://www.allgstudio.com


Gordon,

I haven't been to San Diego in 2-3 years now, always like the small,
convenient airport access near to downtown hotels and such.

What *I* have noticed is that all those old Nikon F series mechanical
bodies are being bid up on ebay. And there can't be THAT many
collectors, especially for the "user" cameras.

Father Kodak
  #4  
Old February 21st 06, 08:36 AM posted to rec.photo.equipment.35mm
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Default NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"



Father Kodak wrote:
On Mon, 20 Feb 2006 17:37:43 -0800, Gordon Moat
wrote:



So a little weird bit of outside reality. In San Diego, which should not
be used as a model for any general trends (except high prices), I have
recently noticed many more old film SLRs in use. While that might not
sound surprising, the part about it that surprised me a little is that
people fresh out of high school are the ones picking up on this. Even
the professional lab I used made a comment about it. So I asked a few
people last night at this one cafe' I frequent, and the answer to why an
old film SLR brought some not too surprising answers.



Gordon Moat
A G Studio
http://www.allgstudio.com



Gordon,

I haven't been to San Diego in 2-3 years now, always like the small,
convenient airport access near to downtown hotels and such.

What *I* have noticed is that all those old Nikon F series mechanical
bodies are being bid up on ebay. And there can't be THAT many
collectors, especially for the "user" cameras.

Father Kodak


It would be very interesting if some university statistics students ran
a data gathering investigation of EBAY, maybe just being specific with
35 mm SLRs, or even just Nikon SLRs that still function. EBAY is very
strict on not providing statistics on buying habits broken down to
specific data sets. If I were to guess, I would imaging there are more
usable Nikon film cameras sold on EBAY world-wide each year than what
Nikon sell new . . . just a guess, but probably would be surprising numbers.

While I did not notice any really collectible cameras in use recently,
there were many Nikon and Canon manual focus bodies that I saw. Like I
stated, probably just some weird local activity. Though it is
interesting to see how many auctions run for this gear, and like you
stated a great deal of it is not dust collector shelf pieces.

Ciao!

Gordon Moat
A G Studio
http://www.allgstudio.com

  #5  
Old February 21st 06, 10:27 AM posted to rec.photo.equipment.35mm
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Default NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"

In article ,
Father Kodak wrote:
What *I* have noticed is that all those old Nikon F series mechanical
bodies are being bid up on ebay. And there can't be THAT many
collectors, especially for the "user" cameras.


I wonder where those people get the batteries for the light meters.
At least the F2 uses regular ones.

For available light print film, I would get an F3HP. And for other
situations (including slide film) I would just get an F4.

In my opinion, the view finder of the F3HP is much better than the ones on
the F and F2. The F4 is much more complicated than the F3, but the lack
of a spotmeter and the poor display illumination make the F3 less
comfortable outside normal daylight on print film.

But as a fashion statement, an F with photomic FTN, F36, and a 45/2.8 looks
like it came from outer space.


--
That was it. Done. The faulty Monk was turned out into the desert where it
could believe what it liked, including the idea that it had been hard done
by. It was allowed to keep its horse, since horses were so cheap to make.
-- Douglas Adams in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
  #6  
Old February 22nd 06, 12:15 PM posted to rec.photo.equipment.35mm
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Default NY Times: "Digital Moves to Top-Tier Cameras"

On Mon, 20 Feb 2006 23:36:14 -0800, Gordon Moat
wrote:



It would be very interesting if some university statistics students ran
a data gathering investigation of EBAY, maybe just being specific with
35 mm SLRs, or even just Nikon SLRs that still function. EBAY is very
strict on not providing statistics on buying habits broken down to
specific data sets. If I were to guess, I would imaging there are more
usable Nikon film cameras sold on EBAY world-wide each year than what
Nikon sell new . . . just a guess, but probably would be surprising numbers.


Gordon,

It would not be that hard to collect statistics on completed ebay
auctions. While Ebay might not want to provide detailed statistics,
any person in effect could compile these statistics. The only
difficult part might be tying together price and condition of the item
under bid, since you would have to rely on the seller's description.


I'm not sure that more Nikon cameras are sold on ebay each year than
by Nikon. For SLRs along you would be talking about easily 400K, may
be more. That would be over a thousand a day on Ebay and I don't
think Ebay sales come close to that amount.

But Nikon still wins, even with all those EBay sales. All those new
camera owners need lenses, and some of them will be bought new. And
you know how it is with NAS. You're hooked for life! :-)

Father Kodak
 




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