Disruptive Innovation - Mamiya and Digital Imaging
Mamiya and theDigital Revolution
Christian Sandström holds a PhD from ChalmersUniversity of Technology, Sweden. He writes and speaks about disruptive innovation and technological change.
Along with Hasselblad, Pentax, Contax,Bronica and some other companies,Mamiya used to bea dominant player in the mediumformat segment of the camera industry.
The medium format segment is comprised of those cameras which use6*6, 6*4,5 and 6*7 cm film. The segmenthas always been very small in relation to the camera industry, only about 1-3 percent of all cameras sold have been medium format cameras. It has always been a niche market for professional photographer.
On September 1, 2006, theMamiya camera business was sold to Cosmo Digital and formed a new company, Mamiya Digital Imaging.
The shiftto digital imaging hadcreated a lot ofproblems for thecompany.
Let’s go back in time and take a look at what happened to Mamiya.
Mamiya emerged after the second worldwar as a low cost alternative to Rollei. The Mamiya camera was not as small orsmooth, but it was reasonably cheap andunlike Rollei had interchangeable lenses. Over the years, Mamiya kept improvingtheir products and emerged as a formidable competitor to Hasselblad, for instance in the segment for wedding photography.
Over the years, thousands of wedding memories have been captured by Mamiya cameras.
It was actually in Mamiya’s segment that digital imaging started to prosper in the early 1990s.
Some of thefirst digital imagingtechnology came from Leaf Systems.
Leaf produced digital backs, which could be attached to Hasselblad cameras instead of film.
During the 1990s, thesecompanies kept selling digital backs which could be attached to medium format cameras.
The analogue medium format was still healthy, though the segment kept shrinking dueto the improved performance of smaller cameras.
The next big thing in this segment was autofocus.Mamiya, Hasselblad, Contax and the others sought todevelop this new feature in the late 1990s.
Mamiya introduced autofocus in the645 AF 4.5×6 SLR in 1999.
Having done so before Hasselblad, the company obtained an increased marketshare on this shrinking market.
Together with backmanufacturers, Mamiya was ableto deliver a digital system at anearly point. However, this did by no means guarantee the long term survival of the company.
The Nikon D1 launched 1999 was the first true alternative for most photographers who wanted digital cameras. It was mortal to many of the old camera firms…
The digital SLR cameras fromCanon and Nikon were cheaper, lighter and good enough.
These companies investedmassively in R&D and generated cheaper and more advanced models at a furious pace.
Within a few years, Hasselblad and Mamiya lost the entire wedding photography segment to Canon.
Thus, the medium format segment shrank even furtherwith the shift to digital imaging and this put Mamiya in some great trouble.
Collaborating with Leaf and providing great but very expensive products was simply not enough.
However, Mamiya went further in this direction – in 2004 the company announced the Mamiya ZD and the Mamiya ZD digital back.
These products were severely delayed. It is very hard for asmall company with shrinking revenues to develop newproducts, especially in such a competitive market.
The Mamiya ZD was notlaunched until early 2006 andby then, the SLR models fromCanon and Nikon had reached a performance level which implied that few customers demanded an expensive, fantastic but big camera.
Thus, the efforts which were put into these products did not result in improved financial results.
The situation became desperate and Mamiyaannounced in early 2006 that the camera division was for sale.
Mamiya had up until this point been regarded as a survivorsince competitors like Bronica and Contax had already left the industry. Things change rapidly in an industry which has become digital…
Mamiya was bought by Cosmodigital imaging, an IT company.
The idea was to combinesoftware skills with Mamiyasskills in imaging and thereby regain lost ground.
New lenses were launched in2006 and Mamiya initiated aclose collaboration with the Danish digital back manufacturer Phase One.
The previous collaboration with Leaf resulted in the launch of the DL28 in late 2008. Priced at 15 000 USD, the camera offered improved autofocus and a better integration with the digital back of 28 Megapixels.
This sounds promising, giventhat the price of medium format cameras has been a critical issue before, this camera may help Mamiya to recover.
The collaboration with Phase One resulted in theMamiya 645, which was also launched under the Phase One brand.
Just recently, in March 2009,Phase One announced that thecompany will invest in Mamiya.
“We are committed to providing open,upgradable medium format camera systems, so that pro photographers can enjoy the maximum flexibility and versatility at an attractive cost of ownership” // Henrik O. Håkonsson, President, Phase One.
“Furthering our relationship withMamiya Digital Imaging that we initiatedin 2006, we continue to design a broad range of new cameras, digital backs and lenses that will offer the world’s leading photographers greater choice and satisfaction.”
Together, Phase One and Mamiya Digital Imaging own all competencies required for developing superior, innovative medium format camera systems. Our combined expertise comprises digitalization, camera fine mechanics, optics design and production and broad ranges of software and firmware capabilities.” // Toshio Midorikawa, President of Mamiya Digital Imaging.
“This investment by Phase One enables us to better optimize our complementary capabilities to the benefit of our customers. And as a result of our close collaboration, new products are just around the corner. We plan to introduce both new leaf shutter lenses and even more super lightweight focal plane shutter lenses in 2009. We aim to offer the world’s widest range of medium format lenses for Mamiya and Phase One.”
Whether this will help Mamiya out of their trouble remains to be seen. For sure, this is a step in the right direction. However, the SLR cameras from Canon and Nikon are getting better each year and the medium format market keeps shrinking…
This story is a bit puzzling – there was a financial logic in developing digital backs long before the real shift to digital imaging, yet still Mamiya never captured this market but instead left it to companies like Leaf, Imacon, Phase One and Jenoptik.
The main reason is probably that Mamiya had a competence base which was related to precise mechanics and optics, not electronics. Therefore, the company did not have and failed to develop the capabilities needed to launch digital backs themselves.
By looking inside a product you get an idea what the company and its knowledge are really all about.
With the shift to digital imaging, much of Mamiya’s competence base lost its value and thus, the company encountered great problems.
SourcesThe online photographerThe British Journal of PhotographyDigital Photography Review