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Author Topic: Digital destruction of traditional camera makers  (Read 8818 times)
samirkharusi
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« on: May 29, 2009, 02:48:19 AM »
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I found the article excellent, its insights seemingly obvious in retrovision, like all great insights should be. I was not aware that Hasselblad and Leica had dabbled in digital imaging that far back, when the technology was still absurdly expensive and rather immature. Somewhat makes me wonder as to what may happen to the multi-national integrated oil companies. They have their industries extremely well covered, similarly to Kodak in days gone by, but will their skills be relevant in 50 years? They have good mastery in seismic, drilling, handling very hazardous products, political savvy, retailing in a murderously competitive environment (since gasoline is seen as a No-Brand commodity by most customers), etc. Yet how much of all this will be relevant when the world switches over to nuclear, wind, solar energy, or whatever. Will Hasselblad's dabbling and then abandoning digital prematurely be seen in similar light as Shell's dabbling and abandoning nuclear energy some 20 years back? Shell had invested in Gulf Atomic for several years and finally quit with a loss of a few billion $. No idea what Exxon-Mobil are doing. Microsoft's very existence is based on a near-monopoly dominance, yet OpenSource software is slowly nibbling in. Will a turning point ever come and will Microsoft be able to compete when they no longer have pre-emptive dominance? Kodak had it with film...
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JohnBrew
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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2009, 07:11:05 AM »
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While the author's point is taken, myself and many others keep exploring the wonderful world of photography with film. I now shoot with three film cameras and only one digital. Of course this could change in the future and I enjoy my photography regardless of which medium I shoot.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2009, 07:33:15 AM »
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I can buy petrol from 100 different companies and it all works the same. Same deal with film. Pretty much the same with lenses and memory cards. But operating systems and software are different, and interoperability is very limited. I don't think it matters much whether the monopoly is one entity like Microsoft or many like the U.S. corporate media, factory farms, or automobile manufacturing. There's no innovation there, just cost cutting and price gouging - whatever they can get away with. In cameras, the little guys dominate, and despite Kodak and other mass-market brand attempts to get in, they haven't succeeded. Nuclear technology is unique in that they have no ability to dispose of their wastes, which severely limits their threat to Big Oil. Now what kind of innovation would it take to unseat Canon and Nikon in DSLR's? If someone could do that, they might also try to steer the addons market toward their proprietary products, such as Sony memory sticks. And wouldn't it be nice if there were more competition in quality printer inks?
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Pete Ferling
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2009, 10:14:32 AM »
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Very interesting article, and interesting times alike (as Michael points out).  To be in both camps and see this unfold will make great conversation when I'm feebly rocking in my chair on the porch some decades from now.

Let us not forget that this revolution doesn't just stop at brick and mortar.  I am certain that the effect, or rather the inexpensiveness of digital photography is also affecting those whom could charge a premium for photographic services, when even doing the otherwise simple or mundane jobs that once required much skill and expensive equipment.  Photographers with average experience no longer really need to understand their cameras.  They can just point and shoot and get most of their anticipated results spot on.  Of course, this offers pros an advantage as we bother to do more difficult shots using tried and true experience and application, as we switch our digital cameras to manual.

Another point is the effect on print media, and how we view things on digital screens vs. framed pictures on the wall.  Fine art is one thing, but at least in my corner of the world of corporate advertising, we are switching to "digital posters".  The cost of maintenance, ink, paper, and the added convenience of updates and maintaining control over the media -including the use of mixed media, makes for rental of large plasmas, projectors and electronic brochures very attractive.

The final change is how this generation views media ownership.  Where I may know the merits of a hard copy in file drawer, my teenage son and his friends are just as comfortable having their 'hard copies' on a thumb drive.  Even though he prints his high school reports to hand in as required, he can't understand why he just can't email the finished piece to his teacher instead.

Like many of you, I will continue to shoot both medium format and 35mm film for artistic and personal use.  I don't discredit either format, and treat them both as just that, a format, a look, whatever.  Maybe for fine art I'll shoot film while I can, and that may add or make it a unique selling point.
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Anders_HK
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2009, 06:15:02 PM »
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Hi

Very interesting and excellent written article.

Even more pleasure to in end read it was written from someone at my Chalmers Univarsity in Goteborg! Way to go!!!!        

Regards
Anders V-91 & A-91
« Last Edit: May 29, 2009, 06:15:30 PM by Anders_HK » Logged
barryfitzgerald
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« Reply #5 on: May 30, 2009, 05:48:34 AM »
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Strange article. Moore's law has nothing at all to do with photography, not sure why it even gets a mention. It's also highly debated, and some feel it has been broken in computers for some time now. I won't get into that..

I do wish articles would be more accurate. Ilford is trading and doing pretty well so I hear. Yes they did go out of business...for a very short time, before they got bought out. Konica Minolta sold their camera division to Sony..they still trade (they are not out of business). Picky? Yup..but no point trying to tell me a company went to the wall, when they trade making film/copiers to this day ;-)

Ok leaving that aside some fair points made..and yes companies have had to adapt..few doubted digital would be rampant in the late 90's, just a matter of time.
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lenelg
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« Reply #6 on: May 30, 2009, 12:42:28 PM »
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Quote from: barryfitzgerald
Strange article. Moore's law has nothing at all to do with photography, not sure why it even gets a mention.
few doubted digital would be rampant in the late 90's, just a matter of time.

On the contrary, Moore's law has everything to do with it!  Not only did it allow the evolution of digital sensors equalling the quality of  film (more or less, I will not get dragged into that argument..), but it has also allowed an ever-increasing amount of in-camera processing (and yes, I know this not to everyone's liking) with the latest generation of compact cameras offering in-camera panorama stitching or HDR.. Not only that, but the economics of manufacturing changes: Features which can be implemented in the software of an onboard microprocessor cost next to nothing to include once the development work has been done, which favors big makers with long production runs.

When a new technology comes along, the old one often survives in small "connaiseur" markets. Not only do some photographer's continue to shoot film, there are still a few who prepare their own wet process glass plates - not because they have no other choice, but for a certain effect. A small number of audiophiles claim that vacuum-tube amplifiers give them superior sound, and - yes - Ilford are still around for the time being, but when you walk into a camera store, the first thing you see is not a rack of 35 mm film.

The whole point of the article is that "few doubted digital would be rampant in the late 90's" , the issue is why few of the old market leaders were able to survive the transition even though they saw it coming!

Lennart Elg, Sweden
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barryfitzgerald
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« Reply #7 on: May 30, 2009, 01:02:53 PM »
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Moore's law is a specific one based on the transistor count, and the increase over a set period of time. It has sadly become used as a source for describing technology advances in many areas, that appear to follow a general trend. But this is not the same thing.

Yes consumer electronics get cheaper..(wow tell me something new), yes prices drop...that's about it! This is not Moore's law..which is used all too frequently as a cop out.

Back to Ilford, I simply state the obvious, the company is trading..it is selling film. The article is misleading in respect of this, and I feel should be corrected. It's not about where you can or cannot buy film (I buy almost all online, and digital online as well), just accurate information for the reader.

And yes Valve amps do really sound better ;-)



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Jonathan Ratzlaff
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« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2009, 02:48:03 PM »
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This  is an excellent article, outlining what has happened to a small segment of the manufacturing industry that has suffered as a result of changes in technology that it was not prepared to deal with.  In part the whole economic situation right now is a direct result of large companies that were either unwilling or unable to deal with change. There are some important lessons to be learned here for everyone.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2009, 04:00:01 PM »
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Quote from: barryfitzgerald
And yes Valve amps do really sound better ;-)

Valve amps sound better because they don't have the harsh switching distortions of the solid state amps. I think there's a rough (very rough) analogy between that and a 100% analog photo process -vs- digital - the film and paper emulsions have randomly distributed grains of random sizes and shapes, where digital is much less random. The only cases where digital is going to be 100% better is when the pixel patterns are well below the subliminal threshold of the brain as viewing takes place.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2009, 08:37:55 PM »
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Quote from: lenelg
The whole point of the article is that "few doubted digital would be rampant in the late 90's" , the issue is why few of the old market leaders were able to survive the transition even though they saw it coming!

There are probably a wide arrays of reaons and these may vary from case to case, but I guess that this mostly happened for the same reason we are all seeing global warming coming but are not doing much about it... poor mgt (of priorities) and inability to trust statistics and their projections.

One more common factor is the disconnect between high Mgt and the realities of business and technology (call is over-confidence).

Cheers,
Bernard
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A few images online here!
hcubell
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« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2009, 09:56:17 PM »
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Quote from: Jonathan Ratzlaff
This  is an excellent article, outlining what has happened to a small segment of the manufacturing industry that has suffered as a result of changes in technology that it was not prepared to deal with.  In part the whole economic situation right now is a direct result of large companies that were either unwilling or unable to deal with change. There are some important lessons to be learned here for everyone.

The article is, in my view, flawed. It does a good job of telling part of the story: how companies were unable to respond effectively to the threat posed to their historic businesses, and that it was not because they failed to see the digital revolution coming. However, the article does not continue in any detail the Hasselblad part of the story by showing how Hasselblad did respond ultimately by making a key, strategic acquisition. By acquiring Imacon and combining its core competence in digital imaging products with Hasselblad's legacy camera business, Hasselblad has apparently been able to resuscitate itself. Was this a no-brainer? Hardly. Look at the other medium format camera companies that probably had better financial resources and failed to follow that path. Bronica, Pentax, Contax. All gone. Mamiya would also have been gone by now had Phase not rescued it because Phase was facing its own existential business crisis. The last chapter in the Hasselblad story has surely not been written, but Hasselblad's decision making process in acquiring Imacon is at least as important as the story of the digital revolution and its impact on the legacy camera/film businesses. Similar existential business threats are inevitable in the future, but brilliant, strategic acquisitions in response are not.
BTW, the article is highly recommended reading for the anti-Hasselblad crowd. It provides an invaluable perspective for what Hasselblad has been up against in trying to secure the futures of its shareholders, its employees and the majority of its customers. And that was before the global economic meltdown.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2009, 09:57:33 PM by hcubell » Logged

David Sutton
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« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2009, 10:10:22 PM »
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Quote from: dalethorn
Valve amps sound better because they don't have the harsh switching distortions of the solid state amps.
Valve amps add a type of distortion that some people find appealing. As, I guess, many people like the "distortion" that Velvia adds. But certainly neither are as accurate as digital. As always, it depends on what you are looking for I guess.
There is no such thing as audible "harsh switching" on solid state amps. Some earlier digital recordings had a harsh treble because vinyl had difficulties in the high frequencies and they needed boosting here, and sound engineers were still adding the boost when recording digital. I remember seeing a filmed test of music students who where blindfolded and asked whether they were hearing an organ played live or digitally recorded and reproduced. Fifty percent got it right. My own PA amp is digital. One of the world's leading concert musicians was trying it out wired up to his instrument. He commented "you can turn it on now". It was.   If it had been a valve amp, he would have known straight away. They have a "sound".
Cheers, David
« Last Edit: May 30, 2009, 10:10:58 PM by Taquin » Logged

dalethorn
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2009, 11:52:52 PM »
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Quote from: Taquin
But certainly neither are as accurate as digital.
..........
There is no such thing as audible "harsh switching" on solid state amps.

I guess all those years I read Stereophile, from 1971 on, I was misinformed. And yes, we are aware of how the *American* companies boosted the treble, which is why import pressings were so popular here. And I guess that pesky Intermodulation distortion was just a myth. Tsk - how I wasted all that money and time.
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David Sutton
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« Reply #14 on: May 31, 2009, 12:46:16 AM »
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Quote from: dalethorn
I guess all those years I read Stereophile, from 1971 on, I was misinformed. And yes, we are aware of how the *American* companies boosted the treble, which is why import pressings were so popular here. And I guess that pesky Intermodulation distortion was just a myth. Tsk - how I wasted all that money and time.
Certainly looks like it. What sort of gear are you people being sold there???
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Ernst Dinkla
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« Reply #15 on: May 31, 2009, 07:46:48 AM »
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Quote from: barryfitzgerald
Moore's law is a specific one based on the transistor count, and the increase over a set period of time. It has sadly become used as a source for describing technology advances in many areas, that appear to follow a general trend. But this is not the same thing.


Moore's law could be used as an analogy for creating more density on a chip, sensor. It has to be seen whether that aspect will have much influence in the future of digital photography. Wafer steppers already have to switch to higher frequency "light" to keep up with Moore's law on processors. memory etc and it would possible to do the same for sensor wells but in the end the sensor wells have to catch visible light when used. Per sensor area there's progress, per pixel it becomes more difficult and existing lens designs are also challenged in FF and sub FF. Software, firmware, onboard processing, video features, HDR, etc will probably become the future battlefield in the FF and sub FF camera market.

For the image quality of pure photography MF could become an answer again. Leica's move to FF+ is not bad at all if they have the financial resources to continue its development. I find the last hard to believe. Hasselblad could have done the same, scale down the Hasseblad concept to the largest sensor available or it could have created something like Leica does now. It didn't, the digital backs limitated an optimal use of the lens range and the price went up in an already very competitive market of digital backs, all suffering of the same reduced sensitive surface in 6x6 ad 645 bodies with their lens ranges. The DSLRs that replaced 35mm photography were much more adapted to the diversity of smaller sensors with their viewing systems and lenses. Even in technical cameras and their lens systems the adaption to smaller recording surfaces has been more succesful. Sinar, Cambo, Schneider and Rodenstock showed that. The adaption of MF cameras to the digital era is an example of inflexebility of companies, little vision and above all lack of risk taking. Mamiya, Pentax, Contax with their existing analogue 645 models should have been at the forefront of that change. Instead they promised and then postponed solutions, the worst you can do in the digital  market. In that perspective Hasselblad's attempts are not worse than the competition did.

The report is limited in only observing the inflexibility of camera companies. Analysing larger sensor manufacturing, its technology and costs, should have been part of it. That aspect must have been one of the most difficult parts for decision making in the MF camera market. On one hand the fast progress that FF and sub-FF digital cameras made: an MF camera that was developed at a slower rate and much higher costs was no competition at the end of that development (Mamiya) and where would that FF progress be halted and sensor area become an advantage again. Still hard to foresee but Olympus's motto that 12 MP is optimal for 4/3 and Leica's decision to go for FF+ and the DxO ranking the Phase One P65 plus at 1 could mark the turning point.


met vriendelijke groeten, Ernst Dinkla

New: Dinkla Canvas Wrap Actions for Photoshop
http://www.pigment-print.com/dinklacanvaswraps/index.html

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lenelg
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« Reply #16 on: May 31, 2009, 07:59:40 AM »
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Quote from: barryfitzgerald
Moore's law is a specific one based on the transistor count, and the increase over a set period of time. It has sadly become used as a source for describing technology advances in many areas, that appear to follow a general trend. But this is not the same thing.

I am not referring to Moore's law in a sloppy, metaphorical sense: The sensor of a digital camera is an integrated circuit with each pixel a transistor, responding to Moore's law.. As are the controller chips which not only are necessary to store the image, but are also taking over some functions which earlier had to be designed into optical hardware -see the recent discussion about why Hasselblad designed its latest camera as a closed system.

Compare what has happened in astronomy: Not too long ago, developments in optical astronomy were limited by the ability to cast and grind a huge mirror to the required precision. Today, with digital image capture and processing you can link up telescopes thousands of miles apart and acheive an optical resolution which astronomers could only dream of a generation ago.

/Lennart
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Seth Honeyman
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« Reply #17 on: May 31, 2009, 08:36:52 AM »
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[quote name='hcubell' date='May 31 2009, 02:56 AM' post='287951']
.... However, the article does not continue in any detail the Hasselblad part of the story by showing how Hasselblad did respond ultimately by making a key, strategic acquisition. By acquiring Imacon and combining its core competence in digital imaging products with Hasselblad's legacy camera business, Hasselblad has apparently been able to resuscitate itself. ....

I think you may overstate Hasselblad's prescience.  Hasselblad itself had been taken over by Shriro group based in Hong Kong, and the new owners/management made the decision to acquire Imacon.  Finally, the Imacon CEO took over management of the merged firm, so arguably the digital back maker ended up as the surviving firm.  Not that it matters much, i am grateful that the company survives and continues to make benchmark products.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #18 on: May 31, 2009, 09:30:59 AM »
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Quote from: Taquin
Certainly looks like it. What sort of gear are you people being sold there???

Your comments and ignorance of what Stereophile did says it all. We learned both how and why the studios manipulated sound to improve playback on cheap equipment, which you apparently missed (the why part anyway). I expect most photo enthusiasts understand the equivalent in photo gear and processing, but perhaps you missed that too.
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hcubell
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« Reply #19 on: May 31, 2009, 09:44:19 AM »
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Quote from: SDH
I think you may overstate Hasselblad's prescience.  Hasselblad itself had been taken over by Shriro group based in Hong Kong, and the new owners/management made the decision to acquire Imacon.  Finally, the Imacon CEO took over management of the merged firm, so arguably the digital back maker ended up as the surviving firm.  Not that it matters much, i am grateful that the company survives and continues to make benchmark products.

You are right. I am aware of the background. I just did not distinguish between the parent company--Shriro Group-- and its subsidiary in terms of who made the decision to acquire Imacon. Pentax, Mamiya, Contax and Bronica were/are also parts of larger companies and failed to make the key, strategic acquisition of a digital imaging company. What Shriro/Hasselblad did is all the more exceptional precisely because the acquisition of Imacon by Hasselblad was functionally a lot more like an acquisition of Hasselblad by Imacon, given the way Imacon senior management wound up in control of the combined operation. However, perhaps it is precisely because Shriro was so new to the scene and was a "financial buyer" of Hasselblad that it was able to overcome any internal inertia within Hasselblad. I don't know. Phase One is an interesting parallel from the opposite end, a digital imaging company that surely saw what was coming in terms of potentially finding itself with a great digital back with no camera platform to put it on. How many missed chances did it have to find a partner before it settled on the last remaining option, Mamiya, generally conceded to be the low prestige/"value" player in the market, to serve as the platform for $20-$40,000 digital backs?
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