THE CAMERA INDUSTRY AND CHANGE



🌇 THE STATE OF THE UNION: 

For more than six decades, I have had a hand on a camera in the photo industry. I covered the bases from photojournalist, sales in retail and wholesale, a lab owner, sports shooter, inventor and manufacturer, commercial work and a victim of over 450 weddings and a miracle. 

I think I kept my sanity,  from the wedding work alone you could go certified nuts.  With a few lunatics here and there I thought it might behoove me to use my .45 Colt instead of my Nikon 28-80.  It was a mix, there were some exceptional people, I got to meet and I would like to share with you...

And if you desire to move on in the Wedding game, here are forty pages of hints that might help.   WEDDING HINTOLOGY


IN THE BEGINNING
I worked, first jobs in the camera industry in New York,  the Mecca of the retail camera business.  It was not so different from buying a car.  Folks got wind of lens swapping and just about every other trick in the book to gross sales and make incredible offers that were festooned with trickery and subbed parts.  

The ten dollar protective filter on the cheap  “ upgraded 28-80mm variable junk lens”   they talked you into cost 87 cents. That upgraded lens was junk and about 19 dollars. If you bought a Nikon or Canon, Pentax, you gave up the 50 mm F2 superbly sharp and fast lens and got a junker.   No one in particular, all the dealers in NYC were doing it. It was a huge mail order rip-off.

A cheap price for the camera, the newspaper and magazines were before the internet,  but did you want the strap, lens caps and other accessories ( which came in the box) extra.  It was like buying a car and being charged extra for the tires. 

It was very competitive and there were Gray market  ( products brought in from other than factory distributors) dealer all over the place.  Even film destined by KODAK to go to “ Slobovia”  got dragged off the docks and sold to retail stores.

There was so much bait and switch, and there were twenty dealers to choose from by mail and those camera magazines. It was an experience, I was brought up differently,  I did not care for it and made some new friends.  

Some guy by the name of Joseph Ehrenreich from a place Nippon Koyagaku who was selling optical gear like telescopes, binocs and microscopes, eventually getting into  Nikon Cameras.  I carried Nikon for forty-seven plus years till I went with SONY.

Another wonderful guy by the name of Marty Forscher, the Dean Of Camera repairs and alterations. You had a Nikon and wanted a certain Minolta lens to work with it? No problem, see Marty.   Thats what it was like before the internet, it changed all things, some for the good , some for the bad and here is the whole story of the industry 


THE GADGET MEISTER


MARTY FORSCHER - 1921 - 2009
Martin Hubert Forscher was born in Manhattan on Nov. 25, 1921.  He died on Sept. 30, 2009 in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 87 and lived in Pittsfield. He is the Dean Emeritus of the Camera Repair and Innovation business. No doubt about that. 

His contributions to the industry are too much to mention in this humble venue.  I met him many decades ago as a delivery boy in NY and usually saw him once a year at the PMA. (see picture) 

Watching him work was a distinct honor and maybe with the addition of some input from my uncle’s Morris and Eddie caused me to become interested in taking things apart. 

The difference is he could put them back together.  Hopefully in my next life I will tackle that aspect of construction, sometimes I create destruction.

For more than 40 years, Mr. Forscher ran Professional Camera Repair Service in Midtown Manhattan. Founded in 1946, the shop was a Mecca for generations of camera owners, from the world’s most celebrated fashion, advertising and news photographers to wedding portraitists, threadbare students, bejeweled celebrities and anxious tourists.

In World War II, Mr. Forscher worked in Washington as a repairman for the Navy photographic unit run by the eminent photographer Edward Steichen. After the war, he opened Professional Camera Repair Service. Originally at 480 Lexington Avenue in Midtown, the shop was located for many years afterward at 37 west 47th Street.  Mr. Forscher had sold it to colleagues when he retired in 1987. In 2001 the shop went out of business.  With digital the repairs are more exchange rather than repair.

The Polaroid's he adapted for 35mm and medium format opened the eyes and the doors for professional photographers.  Just making it work with the NPC line of backs is more than you might think. It took fiber optics when few even knew what they were.  In this copy cat world, his approaches and ideas were out of the box and they worked.  

I was a bottom underling more of a sophisticated delivery boy but I soaked it all up.  I gained a lot of knowledge in those early days as a kid meeting with some of the great building blocks of the analog era of photography like Master Machinist Marty Forschner and the father of Nikon,  Mr. Joseph Ehrenreich. 

Skills I watched and observed later on allowed me with a bit of confidence to start building my own gear.


THE PLAYBOY CLUB FRANCHISE -  HOUSE MOUSE


St.  PETERSBURG, FL  1981-1983 - MY BEST FUN JOB
After a brief two year stint as the house photographer at the franchised Playboy Club, in St. Petersburg,
I leaned more into Journalism, covering Politics and the Military, I carried a gun, and my roots which were in Weddings, over 450.  That took care of a few decades.  

That’s David Poy Chan, he was one of the first on payroll shooters as the man for the Playboy magazine and later at one time Playboy had franchised clubs around the country, in various locations.  He spent thirty years at Playboy.   He passed away two years ago. 

The girls were great, totally portrayed wrong at that time and would be considered saints in todays world.  David Chan, Playboy’s first house photographer passed on and just as much fun as he appears in this picture.

Rest well my friend...



CRAZINESS and THE BIBLE BELT
If the Bible Belt stretches through the South, Ga, Al, SC, NC MI,  I worked for the Playboy club in St. Petersburg Florida which was in a Hilton Hotel that folded.  It was a huge cabaret and dining facility on the first floor with all the named groups from the seventies and eighties appearing nightly. 

As I have said on occasion that at times St. Petersburg is not part of the Bible Belt, it has lower standards and we refer to it as “ The Garter Belt”

The funny part, almost hilarious, well not so hilarious,  was when we were harassed by the City Commissioners and the fake Clergy who were some of our best secretive customers… I had to be very discreet as to who was in the pictures but they were there.

I met with the owner referred by a friend...  again Divine intervention... he invited me back and I got the job. That was tough times locally downtown, when financially and unfortunately the club closed.   

Too bad it was a nice clean operation.  Totally portrayed wrong to the public, nothing like the bible thumpers were saying.  In fact one of the heavy attackers of the club got arrested   and did ten years for the money he stole from his churches.  Guess who?

Head of the Southern Baptist Convention, I saw that as a sign, something about casting the first stone, that schmuck tried it, and the Lord dropped the boulder on his foot.  He did his prison time and went back to preaching and the idiots in his church forgave him so he screwed them again and got caught again.  On my consumer site, I go into more detail... about fake Evangelicals.  We call them scambags.


Eddie Adams...1933-2004


The final shot,  NEW YORK - September 19,2004 - 

Eddie Adams, a photojournalist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer is best remembered by a photo of a communist guerrilla being executed in a Saigon street during the Vietnam War. He died Sunday, the 19th of September. He was 71. Mr. Adams died at his Manhattan home from complications due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. 

So you sit next to this guy at a Nikon Bash in Vegas and your wife says "who is that gentleman with the hat on you are talking to”.   "Oh, thats Eddie Adams, he's probably one of the most honored photographers of our time.  I want you to meet him".  So my wife leans over and I introduce him, as one of the most influential photojournalists of all time and whose work I deeply admired.  

He just smiled, took it in stride and she commented later how quiet and reserved he was.  I took this shot, maybe one of the last after we left for a Nikon Party at the Harley Davidson Club in Vegas.   I explained even though he has photographed most of the influential people on the planet, in the industry many just ask, whose that guy standing next to Eddie…


TOP DRAWER
He received a Pulitzer Prize for his work.  He's well known in journalism, corporate, editorial, fashion, entertainment and advertising". He's been featured in Time, Newsweek, Life, Paris Match, Parade, Penthouse, Vogue, The London Sunday Times Magazine, The New York Times, Stern and Vanity Fair, in addition to his photographs of 13 wars. Then she says "Does he always wear a hat indoors".  I said, "He can wear a hat anywhere he wants".

He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his startling photograph of the execution of a Viet Cong from a single photo taken Feb. 1, 1968, the second day of the communists' Tet Offensive, in the embattled streets of Cholon, Saigon's Chinese quarter.

I found this tidbit on PNN's page. and I quote, "Eddie Adams is a man to whom Clint Eastwood said, "Good shot",  Fidel Castro said, "Let's go duck hunting",  The Pope said, "You've got three minutes". His portraits of Presidents ranged from Richard Nixon to President Bush, and those of world figures included  Deng Xiao Ping, Anwar Sadat, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for the Saigon execution picture, among the more than 500 honors he received in his career, including a 1978 Robert Capa Award and three George Polk Memorial Awards for war coverage.

The picture I took of him is him.  A very natural, quiet, reserved individual… We were at the Harley Davidson Club in Las Vegas. He was resplendent in black, with the fedora always worn squared to the head.  I sat next to him at a many of the Nikon bashes and had the chance to chat with him. He was not as short with people as many have said, he was just great at what he did and when working very focused.  The 2005 Nikon Calendar has many of Eddies imagery magic.


Paul Conrad Buff  1934 - 2015 

Alien Bees and Lightning and the next words were a name,  Paul Buff.   An innovator in the studio flash business and known for his great service and accommodating the customer, few other companies came close to their level of service. I modeled my aftermarket business after him.   Paul and his wife Deborah resided in Nashville Tn. 

They also had a farm house in Theodore, AL where they were visiting for a while at the time of his passing. Paul was a man of many talents.  Paul was a self taught, multi talented man. He mentored many people thru out his life and always did for others without wanting anything in return. 

Few knew this.  Paul started his own music recording business call PAL in Cucamonga, CA in the 60's. He recorded many people.  Also later during Paul's time recording others he and now deceased Frank Zappa were very good friends whom was an iconic legend in the music industry as well. Paul later on decided to sell his recording studio to Frank Zappa and move to TN. 

He decided to get into Photography. He read all about it...and wanted to create Professional Mono lights unlike what was out there already. So he started that up in his home and Paul later became an icon and number one in that industry up until the time he departed. His   photographic company is still working and going on. There will never be another inventor or creator of products or an engineer that could fill his shoes. There was only one Paul Buff, he was ahead of his time, and till today his products are universally accepted and utilized.


MILITARY TIME


David Howell Petraeus (USA Ret.) - DIRECTOR CIA, COMMANDER CENTCOM

David Howell Petraeus is a retired American military officer, scholar and public official. He served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2011- 2012. Prior to his assuming the directorship of the CIA, Petraeus was a highly decorated four-star general, serving over 37 years in the United States Army. He was commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A)  His other four-star assignments include serving as the 10th Commander, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) from October 13, 2008, to June 30, 2010, and as Commanding General, Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) from 2007, to 2008.  As commander of MNF-I, Petraeus oversaw all coalition forces in Iraq.  He is best associated with the term “surge” a plan of rapid engagement with superior forces in the battle zone as used in IRAQ and Afganistan.


Gen. Henry H. Shelton (USA Ret.)
CHAIRMAN of the JOINT CHIEFS

Is one of those special people you cross paths with in life that makes an impression. Called a Soldier's Soldier by his troops, I never met a Commander in any level of the military whose staff felt truly privileged to work with. They liked him and he was their leader.  I Had met with him several times while doing work for the troops.  

The artist was Scott Stearman.  It said everything it had to say about the sense of honor and duty he has shown for his country and his men.  Again that divine guidance thing prompted me to get out the credit card and act.

I had the pleasure of being one of the presenters of this artwork to the General in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Leandri, a true friend of the the Military and especially the "Quiet Professionals",  our Special Forces. 

I requested that it be displayed in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and any politician who would send our men into harm's way would  see it… who would know that before September 11th, 2001?   In 2004, a duplicate statue rests in my home.  I am a Board Member of the Foundation  and the coincidence or divine guidance has placed that piece of artwork twice in my life.   


CHANGE IS BOTH GOOD AND BAD
The entire industry as we knew it has died with the demise of the retail camera store.  We went from selling product, teaching, training, seminars, comforting mess ups, fixing bad work in the lab, passing knowledge on to customers with classes and a learned higher level series improving the people skills and their science of photography, the art of light...

Went to Cellphone Photography, the popularity... selfies... who doesn’t love one self? And the ability to show the world.

It wound up as the Buy it, Use it, Abuse it, and Throw it out generation.  I simply do not buy high end anymore on some items.  On my last trip up north by car I counted as many BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Honda and Toyotas dead on the side as Fords Chevrolets and Chryslers.  My friends high end car had more things wrong with it than my simple one.  And some things like 1200 dollar Bose radios aren’t warranty.

For the ten thousand dealers, closed doors and for some bankruptcy.  We had many customers and friends, photo trips and seminars, thats all gone now.  

Fifteen years ago the average attendance at the PMAi trade only show was 35,000 people from all over the world, and took a week to go through it in Vegas. Five days on the floor which took the entire LVCC both levels and no computers or cell phones in those days. Radio shack mini-walkie talkies were the communication.  

Few independent Camera stores without a lab survived the onslaught of the big box, the web and cellphones. Something like less than 750 independent stores are left in the entire country. The pic is from my last convention and roundup...thirty-three trips there.


TRADE SHOWS

The Photo Industry Vegas Trade Only shows are gone, replaced by the CES, which is all cellphones, TV’s, toys, computers and gaming in addition to about 50,000 companies selling cell phone covers.  Photography is now a state of electronics, where at one time it was a country all its own and covers and extra batteries are hot. 

The majors (Nikon and Canon, SONY and Fuji, Panasonic) knowing there aren’t enough dealers to support the thousands of dollars it cost to do a show went to retail shows, smart move.  One day of the usual three day show is dealers ( maybe) the next two or three are open to the public.

The retail shows allow the reps get to talk to thousands of end users. To my knowledge the public or retail show at the Javits in NY and one in Anaheim are whats left in addition to trade specific (Wedding Seminar - Kelby Photoshop - and Pro Organizations) which are shrinking in attendance as well.  


THE WEDDING MARKET - CELLPHONES
The wedding market is crippled too.  I never took on low end Weddings, left them to the warriors, the cheap 100-300 dollar end of the business is not a means of survival.   If you did fifty-two weddings a year at $200 dollars you didn’t make the poverty level.  Thats a part time job, and if you edit a lot it’s a five dollar an hour job and a lot of liability.

Then you walk in the hall and see disposable cameras on the table, and everyone has a cellphone.  The millennial’s, brought up on smart phones are not traditionalists.  Few aftermarket sales of albums and coffee table books cut into profit.  You give them a decoded disk and they will make their own or not care at all.

The better cellphones have cameras equal to the point and shoot which killed that market.  We sold ten point and shoots to one DSLR.   People spend 1000 dollars for a phone they’ll dump in two years but won’ t buy a decent camera for a lifetime. The camera was inconvenient and the phone glued to their head is their communication lifeline.  


ELECTION WORK
Time to punt.  After the really sick two election cycles, I am off the list for working with politicians. No more election work. No mas, No mas...   It’s a circus, competitive even with credentials.  Don’t think for a second when a critical shot can happen you don’t get bumped, pushed or shoved out of he way.

Several years back I covered  Sara Pain-land, a VP candidate for a month, on tour in Florida.  Never again, you learn a lot backstage, the things voters don’t get to see.  I have never witnessed a dysfunctional family like this one.  
I thought I was filming the sequel to “ One flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”.  Her tribe was like that TV show the Beverly Hillbillies who found oil on their land.   She found a GOP credit card and blew 150,000 dollars of voter money on her wardrobe. An estimated 50,000 was wasted on other crap for her tribe.  In my final story on her it all gets summed up

Really sick and just when things went back to normal, T-RUMP came along and the Democratic party called me. It was a mistake to answer the phone.  
As someone put it mildly , “ He could suck the air out of the room and then in a massive explosion blow it out his ass.


MAJOR SPORTS 

We have little or no Major Sports coverage anymore as it is all contracted, as it is all Press pools, Getty, REUTERS, etc, and  frankly when I covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during preseason my temperature gauge attached to my shirt registered 115 degrees and at my age now (76)  thats asking for a heart attack and thats not joking. The kids can have it and i might add what it pays.  

Our hockey team is closed environment and pooled, and our baseball team is so screwed up, and more shooters than customers.  And they are fighting for a new stadium, a joke, you win first then ask for a stadium. 


NEWSPAPERS AND POOLS

And what newspapers?  Printed media is a lost art and papers buy from the pools.  I survived because I was able to go out get the story and the pictures instead of a two person crew.


NO CAMERA STORES LEFT
Business wise a camera store can be a financial disaster these days.  At one time Pinellas County,  FL  and Hillsboro County, FL  had eleven full line camera stores surrounding Tampa Bay including mine.  Almost one camera store for every gun shop.  

Today there are NO camera stores, but hundreds of gun shops.  Both retail and pawn stores selling guns.  I was in my prime an active wing, skeet, trap, and competitive IPSC three gun combat shooter, but thats not what the bulk of these gun stores are selling today.  Few seminars ( more like a sell-a-thon) as the Big Box stores, including Best Buy and others are doing all the retail selling.  And today the only local store is in Pasco County 25 miles north, Mom and Pop, about the size of a two car garage.   The other store is forty miles south in Sarasota and few if any discounting.

At the yearly trek to Vegas, for the PMAI trade show we met with our Nikon Representative, who became the US sales manager.  He told us about “Big Box Stores” and the effect they would create eventually dominating and controlling the US retail market.  For every flagship pro camera level sold, the big box stores sold a hundred newbie or entry level cameras.  

And then came Amazon and shopping changed.   Needless to say,  what I spent on gasoline, finding a parking spot  a mile from any stores front  door and mixed  shopping meaning five stops and starts, and that parking on a 95 degree day with a heat index of 105 was no fun.  The gasoline saved is enough to pay for my prime membership.  Heatstroke avoided, thats just age.   

Buying on the web is where the money went.  B&H and Adorama own the industry, a billion dollar one.  Also the market items are not the same stuff made in the USA years ago. The last independent retail camera store dealers, are mainly selling Chinese disposable products to maintain profit but those customers are dwindling as the cellphone allows cross shopping and seeing who has the best pricing.

Many went down serious, one store the owner who passed on had his inventory placed at  $118,000.  My partner and I were in the business and saw $51,000 on a stretch in useable merchandise.  Used lab gear is very specific.  Dry machines are in, wet machines are not, simple. This was basically new merchandise and relatively current.  The brokers on the settlement wrote a check for under $30,000 and we had to clean the mess.  

Like anything else several things killed it...

NEWER CONCEPTS IN COMMUNICATION - INTERNET AND INSTANT TRANSMISSION
CHINESE MANUFACTURING AND CHEAP ITEM - POOR CONSTRUCTION AND LIFE EXPECTANCY
SINCE NEWER MODELS ARE RIGHT BEHIND - BUILT IN OBSOLESCENCE
PARTNERING WITH US COMPANIES
THE BIG BOX STORES, WITH HOURS AND TRAFFIC NOT CONDUCIVE TO SMALL BUSINESS PRACTICES


SOCIAL MEDIA
And then the smartphone with advanced camera features sealed the fate of the small camera end of the business.  I got out of the retail end in time.  As of last November there are only two stores left on the entire West coast of Florida.  With no competition the people further look for what they want on line and surf the web.   Social media has changed how we record, communicate and transfer data.  We don’t show our photos we e-mail them and that was the icing on the grave.   And how we get hacked. 


REAL NEWS, THE JAPANESE FINANCIALS SHOW DECLINES FOR NIKON AND CANON

  1. Due to loss of competitiveness
  2. Lack of Chinese customers buying SLRs in Japan 
  3. Compact point and shoots replaced by cellphones, better cameras being built in combined with a method for sending it
  4. And a lack of retail stores to sell the higher end complex cameras.  
  5. Serious enough for camera divisions to be up for sale and the selling off of prime subdivisions. 
  6. Some of the smaller manufacturers have consolidated.  Some might not be there much longer.  
  7. Canon stated its intention to shift more production to Japan back in November. At that time the company quoted an increase to 50 percent domestic production over time.  
  8. Canon isn’t the only company looking to increase its production in Japan. Both Panasonic and Sharp are considering increasing their domestic production, though neither have explicitly confirmed plans to do so.  Major problem is Chinese quality control.


THE FUTURE FROM CANON

In an article in Fortune magazine Canon has expanded its theology.   Late 2016 marks the inaugural year of Phase V. Over the next five years we will expand the ambitious reforms we have promoted to date. I want the Canon of 2020 to look completely different from how it does now, completing a transformation into an all-new Canon capable of achieving new growth.

Across our business operations we are strengthening and expanding the growth engines we acquired through diversifcation and M&A. In manufacturing, we are refocusing on Japan- based production, implementing advanced automation while maximizing our in-house production capabilities. 

At the same time, IoT, big data, artificial intelligence and other next- generation technologies are enabling us to develop a new production system. In R&D, we are embracing open innovation to integrate leading-edge technologies from different fields. 

And as we work to complete our Three Regional Headquarters management system, we are restructuring our worldwide sales network to capture the dynamism of global economic growth. Along the way, Canon remains committed to cultivating global human resources that enable us to work successfully across international borders. 

PURCHASED:  Canon has purchased OCE, a leader in large printing format as digital is now on a par with offset printing. Large printing is a 80 trillion dollar a year business.  

PURCHASED:  They now own TOKKI  a leader in touch screen devices and production of OLEDS.

PURCHASED: Another acquisition is MOLECULAR IMPRINTS, now called Canon Nanotech will be shipping its first new machines this year for the growing IC market.   

PURCHASED:  They now own Milestone industries. This will place them strong in the network camera business, surveillance  production monitoring, market research and identification.

PURCHASED:   TOSHIBA Medical Systems, a leader in radiology.


Convenience
Many millennials so accustomed to buying and throwing away things, like their smartphone every two years, costing 600-900 dollars, the price built into the ridiculous monthly fees included in that great contract.  Thats what ate up the hobby, fun, sports, photography available cash and time.  You not only have a phone, you have a camera and the ability to transmit.  

Credit Managers lost jobs
NIKON and CANON took hits and had to restructure when two of the Big Boxes, Circuit City and the horribly run RITZ chain cost Nikon and Canon like 28+ millions in advances when they folded.  This big box deal backfired with those two majors and really cost the independent stores because both raised wholesale prices to further hinder, and to accommodate the losses.  

The few independent stores in the nation now have less reps or none at all
Less deals, lower profits, less credit deals and most large dollar purchases by the retailer are due 30 days period,  and failure to pay on time means no further orders.  With fast model changes, being stuck with a dated model, in some cases quality as in the case of Canon base lenses you have problems, no you have nightmares.  Profit margins are down between Nikon and Canon, you cannot stay in business without a lab or selling ancillary higher profit junk rebranded and overpriced distributed directly from companies here and made in the land of JUNK’s. 

Several distributors acting as group buying advocates
D
o a good job with rebranding and repackaging the cheap stuff, and I mean real better packaging to look expensive, and retaining a higher false profit margin.  But what they are selling is junk,  keystoned four times and discounted 40% to get you in.  Just like the TV ads, WAIT! Buy one and get the second free, just pay the S&H charges. HINT: S&H is what the second and first thing is really worth.  3-4 weeks delivery, thats because it comes from China. No warehousing on US property, no tariffs and so forth.

Killer for the little guy with a store
The margins to dealer are below 18% and that covers nothing after discounts and credit card fees.  Lets call it what it really is, the other culprit, the smartphone and connectivity has replaced addiction wise the cigarette as the nemesis of our society.  

Both cigarettes and texting can kill
Actually cigarettes will kill more but texting kills younger citizens and faster.  Both are distractions. But Nikon and Canons poor management and bad business dealings killed the independent retailer.  It reflects in their positions today.

Nikon dropped a couple of very troubling bombshells today
The first was a “Recognition of Extraordinary Loss” due to company-wide restructuring; the second was the cancellation of the much-delayed series of Nikon DL compact cameras announced in February of 2016. They made the mistake of going against Fuji and SONY with their award winning cameras in this class and could not top them.

NOTE:
I will be available working from 6:00 am to 12:00 (Noon) daily  by phone and email the rest of the day having fun knowing my decision to get out of retail and become a service business only suits me just fine.