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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Road Ahead

With the staggering number of recent changes in the camera industry, professionals are suddenly looking at a shifting group of manufacturers who will be producing the tools of the trade

Symbiotic Relationships

Electronics companies with a history of manufacturing camcorders have the technology to process image signals—one of the most important ingredients in the digital camera recipe. They also have substantial intellectual property and patents that are crucial to digital camera development. But historically, they have sourced lenses on an OEM basis. Because they never produced a camera with interchangeable lenses, they sorely lack an installed customer base of lens owners. On the other hand, traditional SLR makers enjoy a loyal customer base who own lenses that won't fit on any other brand of camera. Put all of this together under the right circumstances, and the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Indeed, millions of customers already own lenses that will perform flawlessly on the new Sony DSLR-A100, and to a lesser extent, the Samsung Digimax GS-1S.

Power To Invest

All major technology companies have a few secret inventions hidden away at the R&D center. Sometimes these are incorporated into products, other times they're licensed or sold off, but many times they just plain sit around and gather dust. Many great ideas languish due to lack of financial resources, poor judgment or simply because the internal group responsible for them wasn't politically powerful enough to convince upper management to take a chance on their innovations. Combining the resources of a struggling Pentax with a superpower like Samsung, for example, means that some great ideas may be more likely to see the light of day. And because a company like Samsung can immediately enjoy access to Pentax's huge installed base of lens owners, they may be more inclined to take risks than they would be if they were trying to create a market on their own from scratch.


All of the Big Seven camera makers—Canon, Fujifilm, Kodak, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus and Pentax—have flourished by using their own direct sales force, warehouse network, repair department and customer service facilities. Some of the electronics companies have their own salespeople, but their products are also widely available through distributors and resellers that are serviced by independent sales reps. The Big Seven camera makers have been closer to the market, more connected to photo specialty stores and more responsive to the needs of both professionals and amateurs alike. Unless Panasonic, Sony and Samsung company executives make enormous mistakes, they will learn a great deal about the professional market from their partnerships with the camera makers. The result will be the introduction of more products that meet the needs of professional photographers.


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