On the morning of November 13, 2007 I wrote the following announcement on this site’sWhat’s Newpage.
In a press announcement released this morning Phase One and Mamiya Digital Imaging jointly announced a "strategic alliance" to develop open platform-based medium format digital camera systems.
Apparently the agreement includes technology-sharing and intellectual property assets as well as sales and marketing co-operation. Their first new camera system is anticipated to be introduced in the first quarter of 2008.
For the small but vital medium format industry this is an important announcement. Depending on whose numbers you believe Phase One has been 50% and 70% market share in medium format backs. But with the death a few years ago of the Contax 645, the introduction a year ago of the closed Hasselblad H3D, and the termination last month of manufacture of the open H2, Phase One found itself in a bit of a pickle. What camera to mount their backs on?
The other two players, Sinar and Leaf, have each signed onto the new Hy6 camera system, which will start shipping very soon. Phase needed a platform and Mamiya was the only game left in town.
Exactly what a Phase One / Mamiya camera system will look like is anyone’s guess at this moment, but by combining a company with some of the greatest digital imaging depth with another with tremendous historical roots in camera and lens manufacture, there are fascinating possibilities.
What’s interesting, in an ironic sort of way, is that Hasselblad’s move last year to turn the H series into a closed system so that only Hasselblad digital backs would work with it, seems to have backfired. Its three back competitors, who used to at least generate camera and lens sales for Hasselblad, no longer will, since each now has been forced to have its own camera platform. The Hy6 camera and lenses are interchangeable between Leaf and Sinar, and the Mamiya system and lenses are owned by hundreds of thousands of pros and amateurs, forming a very strong installed base for Phase.
Isn’t there an old phrase about cutting off your nose to spite your face?
Later that day I had an opportunity of conducting a telephone interview with Henrik Håkonsson, Phase One’s CEO. The following, in bullet point form, is some of the information gleaned from that interview. Some of what is written below is my own commentary, most is derived from my interview. I take responsibility for any inaccuracies. Please note that any editorializing is my own, not that of Phase One or anyone else.
- The new camera system will be an "open platform". Henrik made the point that Phase One believes in open systems and that it’s their intention to make the lens mount and back mount open to other manufacturers.
- The camera has been under development for many months. Last year at Photokina a Phase and Mamiya relationship was presented to the world-wide Phase dealer network. One can only assume that camera development started some time soon after that.
- The new camera system will be available in Q1 2008. That means some time in the next 4-5 months.
- The new camera system will be based on the Mamiya lens mount and back mount. Previous lenses will be able to be fitted. A new line of AF lenses will be made available. Some will be made by Mamiya, some by other lens manufacturers, including some from Europe. There will be leaf shutter lenses available as well for high flash sync speeds.
- An adaptor allowing Hasselblad V series lenses to work with the new camera will be available.
- No price information yet, so don’t ask.
- The camera is designed by Phase One with the help of Mamiya, and will be built by Mamiya. The current Phase One Mamiya AFD range of Phase One backs will be compatible with the new system.
- The new camera system will be sold under the Phase One name by Phase Ones distribution channels and also by Mamiya under the Mamiya name through their sales and distribution channels worldwide.
- Mamiya will continue to sell its other current cameras and backs. For them this new system is an addition to the current Mamiya line, not a replacement for it.
- Anyone owning a Phase One back purchased within the past 12 months will be able to switch to a back for the new camera system without charge. There will be a nominal cost for other Phase One back owners to make a platform switch. Anyone buying a Phase One back after Oct 1, 2007 will receive a free platform switch option for 3 years following their initial purchase.
- Phase One claims that together with Mamiya the new camera system has been designed for maximum durability. They are therefore offering a “ No Hassle” program, which under the value added option will give photographers a 3 year uptime guarantee on both the camera and the digital back. If the camera or digital back goes down, Phase One will replace it within 24 hours and repair it within 10 days, at no extra cost .
So there you have it. A new medium format camera system is on its way. If Phase One is to be believed (and I see no reason why not to at this time) other lens and digital back makers will be able to design and sell compatible products, so it will not be a closed system. This will offer photographers choice and options.
I am assuming that with Mamiya also selling the camera this will be the channel through with other back makers will be able to work. But since Sinar and Leaf have now hitched their wagons to the Hy6 system, I think it unlikely that they would invest the effort in making their backs work with the new camera system. But, at least they can, if the demand is there and a business case can be made. That’s the point of open systems. Choice.
So for 2008 at least, the medium format marketplace now looks as follows. There are five major players; Phase One, Hasselblad, Leaf, Mamiya, and Sinar.
Medium format backs for Hasselblad V, Hasselblad H1 and H2, Contax 645, Mamiya AFD, and the new as yet unnamed camera system from Phase and Mamiya which will be marketed by both companies. Third party lenses available on the new system.
H3D camera with various back options. No backs other than those from Hasselblad can work on an H3 camera. No third party lenses. H1 and H2 discontinued. Hasselblad backs are available for a number of other camera systems, though not the Hy6.
Existing AFD cameras and ZD back and camera. New joint venture camera with Phase One. Phase backs and potentially others, including Hasselblad V lenses and third party lenses for the new system. Potentially a new Mamiya back for the new system.
Hy6 camera and their range of e-Motion backs for Hasselblad V, Hasselblad H1 and H2, Contax 645, Mamiya AFD and others. Comparability with the Hy6 camera line and lenses from others.
AFi Hy6 camera and their line of Aptus backs for Hasselblad V, Hasselblad H1 and H2, Contax 645, Mamiya AFD and others. Compatibility with the Hy6 camera line and lenses from others.