Sadly, Friday March 31, 2006 was Konica-Minolta‘s last day in the photography business. For years, Minolta, and then Konica-Minolta, has brought innovation to the world of cameras. Minolta has always designed cameras with photographers in mind, resulting in cameras that are efficient and simple in use, without compromising their power. Michael Reichmann refered to this as Engineers as Photographers. Even today, Konica-Minolta cameras, like the Maxxum 7D, still standout due to their superb ergonomics and outstanding features such as Anti-Shake and wireless flash.
The future is uncertain because there is hope that things will eventually improve or people will forget about what was lost. The world of photography is not the only one which has lost capabilities over the years, but some capabilties are being recovered slowly. Take the Olympus E-330, for example, it is brining back what the E-10 and E-20 had in several years ago. The Olympus E-10 could show a live-preview on its LCD screen with 100% coverage and still use its autofocus mechanism. Imagine if the E-330 did that! Last year, IBM discontinued a 22″ LCD panel which had a resolution of 3840×2400, the T220. This 205 dpi LCD display still has no equal today, not even close! Someone will probably catch up, but the uncertainty of when is distressing. The same is true of Konica-Minolta cameras, because no one knows when an equally comfortable to use DSLR camera will come with Anti-Shake built-in right into the camera body.
Simultaneously with the announcement of its demise, Konica-Minolta offered a glimmer of hope and a black-hole of uncertainty in the form of an accord with Sony. From that announcement, we know that Konica-Minolta will continue producing digital cameras for Sony. These cameras are allegedly co-developed with Sony and use technology from both companies, including Sony sensors, Konica-Minolta Anti-Shake and Sony Info-Lithium batteries. During the second half of 2006, Sony will present its first DSLR cameras as the result of this accord.
Many things were left unsaid by this announcement, things which we can only guess at:
- There were no mentions of lenses, the legendary optics made by Konica-Minolta for its cameras and Leica’s. Note that Konica-Minolta still has an optics division which was not closed and will, at least, continue producing lenses for industrial applications. That leaves either KM as a potential producer of lenses for Sony or Carl-Zeiss. Incidently, Carl-Zeiss produces lenses for some compact Sony cameras, but has recently started producing lenses for Nikon SLRs. This may point to Carl-Zeiss not producing lenses for Sony since they have the policy of not producing lenses for competing manufacturers.
- Wether the ergonomics will be designed by Konica-Minolta or by Sony. This is a big issue for KM fans. KM has always pushed for usability above all else. On the other hand, Sony has frequently produced ackward designs with poor usability such as the Cybershot R1.
- Sony only had an agreement to co-develop DSLR cameras with Konica-Minolta. This leaves very little hope for their fixed-lens digital cameras such as the legendary Dimage A2 with its unmatched 1 megapixel EVF and other fantastic features such as its Anti-Shake mechanism, eye-start sensor, tiltable EVF, grip-sensor, 3D tracking focus, wide-angle mechanical lens, fly-by-wire focus, direct-manual-focus and dual control wheels. Since Sony already has several cameras aimed at the same market segment, it is highly unlikely that they would encourage production of these cameras by Konica-Minolta.
- Finally, Sony has not revealed any details about the cameras it intends to introduce later this year. This leaves uncertainty as to which market segment will be targeted by this cameras. Some people expect entry-level DSLR cameras to replace the Maxxum 5D. This makes sense because it is the market-segment with the highest growth and total revenue opportunity. Others expect a high-end model corresponding to the Minolta Maxxum 9 to compete with the Canon 5D or the Nikon D200. This is a high-end market with very little competition but can serve Sony as a demonstration of its technological superiority, just like Formula One race-cars serve their makers. This is a riskier approach but reasearch in that area can be trickled down to lower-cost offerings.