Analysis: Farewell, Konica Minolta Friday, March 31 2006

Analysis: Farewell, Konica Minolta

By Mason Resnick

Konica Minolta made its last camera today.

As we reported previously, the company announced in a January bombshell announcement that it is leaving the photo industry. Starting tomorrow, Sony will take over Minolta's manufacturing facilities and is expected to make a new line of DSLRs and lenses with Maxxum mounts. Sony will also handle all servicing and repairs.

So much for logistics. How did the photo industry lose one of its most innovative companies?

Konica and Minolta merged in 2004 and immediately announced its first digital SLR, the Maxxum 7D, the first DSLR with built-in Anti-Shake technology. But as the last major camera manufacturer to unveil a DSLR, it it was believed to be too little, too late despite innovations.

Konica and Minolta reacted too slowly to consumers' fast acceptance of digital photography. Some analysists say the companies wasted precious time and resources on the ill-fated APS venture, allowing electronics companies to quietly position themselves for success when digital photography became a viable consumer product. In this, Konica and Minolta were not alone: all of the old-guard camera companies have had to play catch-up with Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and Casio, and were all sidetracked by APS.

Minolta was also derailed financially when it lost a copyright infringement lawsuit to Honeywell; a jury agreed that Minolta stole autofocus technology from Honeywell, and made Minolta pay a record $172 million settlement--which was a lot of money in 1992. (Never mind that we haven't seen any cameras--autofocus or otherwise--from Honeywell; why make a camera when you can make a mint through litigation?) The company never recovered financially; even the merger with Konica was not enough to bring it back into solvency.

Finally, there was the market: After five consecutive quarters of losses caused by dropping compact camera prices and sluggish sales--despite a seies of draconian cutbacks--Konica Minolta decided to abandon its photography division and concentrate on its profitable business machines business.

Silver lining?

If there's a positive development for consumers, its that you can pick up good deals on Konica Minolta cameras now, and get some very innovative equipment to boot. Sony is certain to apply its own innovations and retain the best of Minolta's technology when it comes out with its first DSLR, which it promises for sometime this summer. Sony's DSLRs will retain the Minolta mount, so if you already have Minolta lenses and other SLRs, you're not going to be left in the lurch.

But can we handle "Only from the mind of Sony"? That just doesn't sound right.

© 2006 Adorama

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