Konica Minolta Exits Camera, Film Business

Japan’s Konica Minolta announced today that it is exiting the camera and film businesses, putting an end to one of the world’s most-recognized names in photography. Company President Fumio Iwai also announced he would be stepping down April 1, 2006, to be replaced by Vice President Yoshikatsu Ota.

Konica Minolta had said in November 2005 that it was considering scaling back its traditional photography business, but not shutting it down entirely.

Citing declining markets of traditional cameras and film and difficulties developing and marketing digital photography products in a rapidly-changing marketplace, the company said it would cease manufacturing photographic film and color paper by March 31, 2007 and will withdraw from the camera business by March 31, 2006. Konica Minolta will sell its digital single lens reflex (SLR) business to Sony for an undisclosed amount; Konica Minolta will continue to manufacture digital SLR cameras and interchangable lenses to be developed and sold under the Sony brand. Sony, for its part, plans to develop digital SLR cameras compatible with Konica Minolta’s Maxxum/Dynax lens mount systems, providing future compatibility for lens systems which have long been on the market.

Konica Minolta is s storied name in the photo industry, even though the company was only formed in August 2003 by the merger of Minolta Company and Konica Corporation. A predecessor of Konica introduced its first camera and Japan’s first photographic paper in 1903; the first Minolta camera appeared in 1933, Japans’ first color film in 1940, and the companies went on to produce the world’s first auto-focus cameras and launch SLR camera technology in the mid-80s. “Konica Minolta Group will make our utmost efforts not to cause any inconvenience to our customer[sic] due to the decision we made this time. At the same time, camera and photo businesses are our traditional businesses ever since our founding, and we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to the worldwide Konica Minolta fans for their patronage to our products for more than a century.”

The company also said it would cease development of minilabs, those machines you see in photo shops used to develop and print traditional photos, and instead focus on color copiers, LCD display materials, medical imaging equipment, and other optical devices.

Konica Minolta’s withdrawal from the film industry could be a minor boon for rivals Kodak and Fujifilm (which quickly announced it would continue making traditional camera film), although both companies have been under pressure to downsize their film businesses.