Franke & Heidecke to close, causing medium format upheaval

Sinar, PhaseOne may be directly affected

Medium format digital photography is a specialized—and expensive—field. Cameras cost tens of thousands of dollars, and few companies make them. Now the medium format camera manufacturing industry is absorbing a major hit as Franke & Heidecke, a German manufacturer that produces 6x6-format cameras for Leaf and Sinar, has announced that it is closing. According to reports from the British Journal of Photogrpahy and other sources, the company told its 131 employees last week that the company was shutting down.

Franke & Heidecke announced insolvency in March and at the time companies affected tried to reassure customers that the plant was operating normally and that the company was working with creditors to restore financial viability. Those efforts, apparently, have failed.

Franke & Heidecke is best known for the Rolleiflex line of twin-lens and SLR medium format cameras, such as the Rolleiflex 2.8GX, 3.5F, and SL66. Rolleiflexes, which began production 80 years ago by Paul Franke and Reinhold Heidecke, were the cameras of choice for some of the biggest names of photography, such as David Bailey, Diane Arbus, Brett Weston, and Helmut Newton.

A medium-format meltdown in the making?

Photographers who have invested in the Hy6 or AFi systems could feel the aftershocks first. Copenhagen-based Phase One, which just announced it was purchasing the Leaf camera brand and all of its assets from Kodak, produces has produced the AFi system using bodies produced by Franke & Heidecke, and its CEO says their digital medium format AFi system is now "on hold." Sinar's Hy6 sytem likewise is built on Franke & Heidecke-manufactured cameras and is considering its future options. Sinar doesn't expect to make a decision until later this month, according to the BJP. But without a company to manufacture cameras for their sensors and other components, the future is in doubt.

Medium format camera companies that do not use the Franke & Heidecke product and should not be directly affected inlcude Hasselblad, Mamiya, and recent newcomer Red. Red is a digital cinema camera maker that recently added a line of medium-format still cameras. Leica's S2, currently being developed, can be considered a medium-format camera—and therefore, a competitor—despite its 35mm DSLR form factor due to its larger sensor. 

These competitors might benefit from the demise of Franke & Heidecke, but it appears further consolidation, restructuring and upheaval is in store for the near future.

Do you use a medium format camera? Are you worried the Franke & Heidecke closing will impact your gear buying decisions in the future? Leave a comment, below!

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