Vectis Wrecked Us

It’s really scary when I think of it this way, but my career in the photo industry spans parts of four decades. I started as a junior salesman at Minolta Corporation in 1975 and left as the vice president of marketing for the camera division 29 years later. Minolta is gone and the Konica interlopers are out of the camera business. Many of my friends in Japan are now designing and marketing cameras for Sony, having moved there when Minolta sold off all of their camera patents and other intellectual property. Other former colleagues here in the US are now selling Panasonic, Fujifilm and Samsung products. I am doing what I have done long if not well: writing.

So what happened to Minolta, anyway? Simple. Vectis wrecked us.

Ask any former Minolta Corporation employee what “Vectis wrecked us” means and you’ll get a knowing nod of the head. Vectis was the sub-brand name of Minolta’s very complete line of Advanced Photo System (APS) cameras. You remember those, right? Big promises, funny names and expensive film.

To protect the innocent and ignore the guilty, I won’t name names or specify numbers. But the truth is APS was Minolta’s idea. Minolta Japan’s uppermost management and R&D directors convinced Fujifilm, Kodak, Canon and Nikon that “good old sharp and reliable 35mm film” cameras needed a boost to assure long term survival. How right they were! How wrong they were! The camera industry needed a boost all right, but the boost it needed wasn’t a new format that billed itself as being “a bridge to digital.”

Vectis dealt a second blow to Minolta that most people have forgotten about. Minolta sold one of the first digital SLR cameras, the RD-175. Built on a unique three-ccd design, it was truly a market leader in the mid-1990s. Although it was a marvel of engineering it was only 1.75-megapixel and needed updating. Many of us believed that we should stay with the Minolta Maxxum AF lens platform. If nothing else, we would have been demonstrating our long-term commitment to the Maxxum/Dynax/Alpha line—or so we argued. But Minolta Osaka decided that the 1.5X magnification factor that came into play when an APS-C size sensor was used with lenses designed for 35mm film cameras would never be accepted by photographers.

Arguing with Minolta Osaka—in those days—was like standing on the platform of a train station, yelling at people to get back on the train and sit down. In Latin. Got that image in your head?

Because the truth is this: Minolta had so many APS lenses (and parts to build APS lenses) that they HAD to produce a digital SLR camera that accepted them. Enter the RD-3000, a chunky DSLR that was doomed from birth.

Subsequent Minolta digital cameras, including the Dimage 7 and Dimage X, defined new categories that are still with us today. And the argument can be made that Minolta’s experience in APS contributed to their success in digital. But for many of us who lived through Minolta’s final ten years, Vectis wrecked us.