Phone cameras not a threat, says Leica CEO

Mobile-phone manufacturers are increasingly equipping their handsets with higher-megapixel cameras these days.

The trend has led some to wonder if the traditional camera would go the way of the dodo bird.

However, in the eyes of Mr Alfred Schopf, the global chief executive of Leica Camera, that is not an issue at all.

Here's why: The sensor of a traditional camera is more powerful than that of a cellphone camera.

"Currently, the cameras on mobile phones have very small sensors, due to the space limit. The smaller the sensor, the lesser the depth of field in your photographs," he told my paper on Monday in an exclusive interview. Mr Schopf was in town to visit Leica's office here.

"If you look at the picture quality, it's different. You can shoot images with such devices, but (they are) not photos," he said. That is why high-end brands in the market, including Leica, do not feel threatened by the emergence of cellphone cameras, he added.

For Leica, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013, worldwide sales in the first quarter of its fiscal year have gone up by 28.7 per cent.

The German firm's interim report also noted that camera sales in the Asian region have seen a rise of over 30 per cent.

Of late, camera manufacturers have been racing to come up with mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses.

Also known as Micro Four Thirds cameras, these devices are close to digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, cameras in performance but come in much smaller sizes - one factor that has made the Micro Four Thirds system a hit in the mass-consumer market.

Earlier this month, Bloom- berg reported that Sony's market share in Japan has doubled after its foray into the Micro Four Thirds market with the Sony Nex series.

In contrast, the combined Japan market share of the world's two biggest high-end camera makers, Canon and Nikon, which have not unveiled any Micro Four Thirds camera, has dropped by 35 per cent.

When asked if Leica would be launching its own line of Micro Four Thirds cameras, Mr Schopf said that the brand already has the Leica X1, a compact camera, and the M-System, which has interchangeable lenses but not an electronic viewfinder.

"We are at the borderline of compact-system cameras already, with the Leica X1 and Leica M-System, and it's pretty obvious that, at one point, we are going to offer something in between," said Mr Schopf.

"But we have to look very carefully into what sensor parts we are using and what features we are offering."

On Micro Four Thirds devices, Mr Schopf said: "They have compact bodies and huge lenses in front. I feel a little bit stressed by that design, to be honest."

It may take a bit more time to see a Leica Micro Four Thirds camera on the market, but Mr Schopf reassured fans of the brand that this is to ensure that high standards are maintained.

shong@sph.com.sg


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