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If you are looking for the bigger picture of future photo technologies, you need to ask the market leader about it. Canon will remain a leader for quite some time to come, said general director of a competetive company a year ago during one of the conferences. Things are clear. Optics and huge investments in the development are the main advantages when speaking about photo cameras. For many years now Canon is always the second or the third company with the most registered patents. That might be the reason they have outrun their competitors during the past ten years. It is a common phenomenon that every time competitors release a new product, Canon has their own answer ready. However the competition is growing stronger and using similar technologies these days, so it is most convenient to ask questions about future developments directly to Canon. I already had an interesting conversation in Amsterdam with Mr. Takaya Iwasaki, Canon representative for Central East and North East Europe, Sub-Sahara Africa and Middle East, and I was looking forward to our next meeting. After the introduction of all attending, we began with our questions.
Matjaz: do you know how many EF lenses (from 1987) have been sold? Minolta said they sold 16mio AF Rokkor lenses, Sigma 10mio and Nikon 35mio lenses from 1959.
TAKAYA: I'll have to check. I want to be precise so I will contact Tomaz with the figures. (I got the exact number the following day. It's 26 million.)
Matjaz: When will Canon introduce some kind of dust protection?
TAKAYA: We get a lot of request to do something about it and we wanted to install it in the 20D, but in the end it all came down to cost. This time we said we should make it affordable so we decided against dust protection, but we are working on it.
Matjaz: Olympus R&D managers said the future of image stabilising is a system similar to what Minolta have at the moment i.e. in-body image stabilising. What's Canons opinion regarding this issue?
TAKAYA: We are confident in our optical stabilising system, but as you know we are always considering better alternatives. Canon is capable of having a stabilising system both in the lens and the body, but we are choosing the best way at the best time so at the moment we're going with optical stabilising.
If there will be more requests from professional photographers to have it in the body then we are prepared to do it, but for now things stay as they are.
Matjaz: Who gave Nikon their optical stabilisation technology?
TAKAYA: Both Canon and Nikon spend a lot of money on developoing new technology.
Matjaz: But is IS, VR, OS technology the same?
TAKAYA: There are a lot of differences, but the most important thing is the function.
Matjaz: Does Canon have any patents on it?
TAKAYA: As you know Nikon now also uses CMOS technology, but it doesn't mean it is the same. Behind CMOS technology there are many differences but the most important thing for photographers is image quality.
Matjaz: Nikon now introduced D2x with Sony CMOS.
TAKAYA: It happens that they are developing the same technology.
Matjaz: Canon must spend a lot of money on new technology and patents?
TAKAYA: Not only on consumer products but on total Canon brand we are spending 30% of profits on development of new technology as well as getting the patents for it. It is not cheap to get a patent. That is one of advantages for Canon.
Matjaz: Can Kodak do this in some way?
TAKAYA: There is a difference between Kodak and Canon. We both have a lot of patents but at the same time Kodak does not have the technology to use those patents to deliver a product.
Ales: Will Canon enter the mobile phone lens market?
TAKAYA: We get a lot of requests from mobile phone companies, but at the moment we are not planing to supply our lenses to that market because we have to use our lenses to make better cameras.
Ales: Do you think that mobile phones will prevail over low end digital cameras?
TAKAYA: I think both will be available. Of course mobile phones will take a lot of the market share but low end digital cameras will still exist because usage is different. Digital camera is a camera, mobile phone with a camera is an all in one. We believe low end digicams will not disappear.
The thing that is important to us is that a lot of mobile phones with cameras provide a lot of opportunities to take a photo. We want everyone to take photos. Young people take lots of photographs with mobile phones and a lot of them will realize they need better quality and switch to higher end digicams.
Similar thing happened ten years ago when disposable cameras appeared. Many were nervous that regular cameras might disappear. But all it did was increase the opportunities to take photos. Canon will always try to make great cameras for people that decide they need more, who end up buying a second or third camera.
Ales: Can we expect more video functions in digicams?
TAKAYA: As you know we are also developing video cameras as well and now we are thinking that in the future this will become one single product. Video and still cameras will become one but it will take some time. It actually does not depend on us. There are so many different storage formats. Video uses DVC, tape, disks and memory sticks. With still cameras we have all sorts of flash card formats. It all comes down to a single storage media for both video and photo for this to become one product.
Jernej: Are you planing to introduce some high end EF-S lenses in the near future?
TAKAYA: Definitely. We are always planing 5 year spans so within the next 5 years we will develop high and mid end or even some completely unique EF-S lenses. But those are based on requests of professional photographers, however at the same time DSLRS are getting more popular with non professionals, therefore we have to develop lenses for both markets. It is not a question of timing, but as a leader of professional photography industry we are always thinking of high end products and new technology.
Jernej: Right now EF-S lenses are about 30% more expensive than EF counterparts. Will it stay the same or are prices going to fall?
TAKAYA: It is a matter of cost reduction and keeping the quality level. Our first priority was to achieve best possible quality. The next step will be to keep the quality and reduce the cost and achieve a more affordable price.
Ales: How much longer can we expect from Canon to keep developing film cameras?
TAKAYA: We are not trying to stop making them. Not at all. There are a lot of countries in the world where people cannot afford digital equipment or don't even have the opportunity to get it. Again, as the industry leader we just cannot stop. We have a responsibility to offer film EOS cameras.
Matjaz: Will we see a new EOS 1v?
TAKAYA: Even today people are still buying EOS 1v and EOS 3. For all those people we must deliver.
As you know I'm also responsible for african markets and there are many people who want to take photographs. Unfortunately a lot of them cannot afford to buy digital cameras and that is one of the reasons we have to go on.
Matjaz: Nikon now have VR in their professional lenses, they have fresnel lenses and so on. They have a lot of technology that Canon has had for almost ten years but now they are very close. The question is... which new technology is now coming? I'm expecting Canon to have something new in backstage!
TAKAYA: There are so many new technologies being discussed by our R&D departmens, but I don't know what will actually appear. Even I'm wondering what we are trying to put into our products.
What new technology are you, as professional photographers, expecting from us? You are the ones who should request new things from us and I believe our R&D departments will take them into serious consideration.
Ales: I have one request but it has to do with printers rather than cameras.... better B&W printing. I believe it is quite a reasonable request. HP made available a special cartridge with two shades of grey to give a better B&W print.
TAKAYA: Can I interpret that as colour reproduction? As you know we are currently using DIGIC II (or III or IV or V...later on) imaging engine which will help make better B&W prints. Maybe. What we are doing is to influence imaging engine to make better color reproduction. That may satisfy your request, but I don't know.
Matjaz: Lots of people are looking at printers these days. Everyone wants to know what is around the corner regarding the price of printing?
TAKAYA: We are not only camera manufactures, we are imaging manufacturers. What we must do now is to have lineups of printers. We have small dyesub printers, bigger inkjets and large format printers as well.
Ales: Do you think the price of low end printing can compete with minilabs in the future?
TAKAYA: We will try. As well as having to compete for new technology we also have to compete for lower cost. We are always looking for a better price.
Jernej: When can we expect larger LCDs?
TAKAYA: [laughing]... That's what we are requesting from Canon Tokio as well.
Jernej: That is one of the best features of the new Minolta.
Matjaz: The LCDs are probably not from Canon.
TAKAYA: Technology is, components are not.
Matjaz: I got the impression Canon wants to use as much of its own technology as possible.
TAKAYA: As you know we just launched the announcement to jump into monitor business. It's not LCD, it's not plasma, it is SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display – op.prev.) That may be the technology used in the future of our cameras. Low cost, low power consumption and we can make it ourselves.
Matjaz: Why don't you use CMOS in compact cameras?
TAKAYA: It is a matter of cost. We could do it but the total cost would be bigger. Custumer who is after a compact camera focuses more on cost rather than quality. We think it is not a suitable technology at the moment.
Jernej: When can we expect ISO sensitivity of sensors to go beyond 3200? It would be a very usefull feature for those of us that like to shoot in available light.
TAKAYA: I can only tell you that this is one of the things that is also being considered in the R&D department.
It is very interesing for us to have such diverse custumer requests. Some use our cameras in low others in bright light, some at -45°C others at +50°C. It is very difficult to cover such a broad range of requests at the same time, but as I told you before, we are making priorities, we are taking time to develop certain features and we are trying to offer the best technology at the best time. It is difficult to estimate when a certain feature might appear.
Ales: In what range of compact digital cameras are you experiencing the most pressure from competition? Where do you put most effort to stay ahead of competition?
TAKAYA: Competition is always attacking from the low end. We are always after best possible quality and that takes some kind of investment.
Ales: A lot of companies are now offering "fashionable" cameras. Will we see that from Canon as well?
TAKAYA: Yes, I think so. It's a line up, people will have a broader choice. Now we're looking for design concept products.
Ales: Do you work exclusively with Japanese designers or from other countries as well?
TAKAYA: Mainly Japanese. In the past we have also cooperated with Italian designers, but now we have our own Japanese designers.
Matjaz: How many cameras will Canon sell this year, combined analog and digital sales?
TAKAYA: We believe about 15 million units.
Ales: How about connecting mobile phones with cameras, will you implement Bluetooth in future models?
TAKAYA: We are thinking about that, but it's not only our technology and secondly, the images are big and that takes a lot of transmission time.
Jernej: At the moment you have two high end cameras. Will the next generation be just one, high speed and high resolution camera?
Takaya: [nodding] yes
Matjaz: Mamiya introduced a new camera with 22 million pixels for fashion photographers, maybe they want something more?
TAKAYA: Our solution for those photographers at the moment is 1Ds mark II.
Matjaz: Do you think it is important how many pixels a camera has?
TAKAYA: Again, our objective is make the best product at the best price in its class.
Matjaz: Currently the new problem are lenses, the resolution is not good enough for digital cameras. Will you be making any changes?
TAKAYA: As I axplained at the beginning, the camera is very important to make the picture, so it's not the matter of changing the technology, but to implement the technology to work for us. This lens technology is not only for still cameras, but also for video, copiers etc.
Ales: Looks like in the future you'll have two lines of lenses, one for APS size senzor and one for normal, 35mm senzor size.
TAKAYA: Best size to fit the customer. But we won't stick to just one technology.
Matjaz: Will it be possible to change just the sensor in future cameras? Let's say to replace a small sensor with a bigger one?
TAKAYA: Good idea, but it will also be a surprise. There are a lot of difficulties in doing something like it. It's not only the sensor that has to be changed but a combination of entire technology.
Ales: But if you look at the Nikon F6, the film camera, does it look ready for a digital back?
TAKAYA: I'm sure our people in the headquaters are also considering this technology and it might be available in the future.
That’s true. The future alone will tell us about the next digital cameras. Thank you, Takaya, for this conversation. I also want to thank Tomaz Sveticic from Canon Adria for organizing everything and for his hospitality.
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