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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

Winners And Losers

Olympus abandoned the 35mm SLR market early on, despite the successful following that its 1970s vintage OM-1 enjoyed. It can't deliver an installed SLR user base and has no legacy of lens owners. One must wonder what Panasonic will gain by joining forces with a company that has had little recent experience in the SLR category and no established users.

Pentax has enjoyed a strong presence in the 35mm SLR category but has never been perceived as a professional 35mm camera. Although Samsung is a superstar company that has achieved 100 percent vertical integration (imaging sensor, LCD, battery and memory technologies), it's attempting to establish a beachhead in the D-SLR category and has chosen the weakest participant as a partner. Can the combined forces of a newcomer and a weak channel player persevere?

Nikon has a strong D-SLR product lineup and an extremely loyal and well-established user base. Although Nikon doesn't have inkjet printers, office products or other more profitable items, its business portfolio is diversified enough that it need not rely solely on the photo category for survival. By abandoning the film camera business, Nikon has more energy to devote to digital cameras—or one must assume. From a long-term perspective, it appears to be well positioned for stability and growth.

Sony has snatched Minolta's legacy, and although Minolta was seldom first choice among professionals, it was the market leader throughout the Maxxum era during the late 1980s and early '90s. Minolta managed to sell 26 million SLR cameras worldwide, and a large percentage of them use lenses compatible with the new Sony models. Besides, Sony is Sony. You probably have a dozen or more Sony products in your home. Sony wakes you up in the morning, monitors your infant, records your movies, brings you the news and provides a wide assortment of other entertainment activities. With its astute product-planning capabilities and superior marketing resources, Sony will vie with Nikon for the number-two position behind...whom?

Whither Canon

Canon achieved vertical integration years ago. It has perfected the CMOS imager and doesn't rely on electronics companies for sensors. The other players are just beginning to catch on and are still trying to catch up. Canon has tremendous depth and a very broad product portfolio that can subsidize its camera endeavors. Years ago, Canon admitted that the camera division was only 7 percent of its revenue—but 70 percent of its image. Canon was the first to understand that American consumers purchase brands that they can identify with. Love our cameras, buy our copiers. It worked then, back in the AE-1 tennis pro days, and it still works today, but no other camera maker can put it all together. This writer sees Canon remaining at the top of the heap for the foreseeable future—maybe forever.



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