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Global lens market undergoes dynamic transformation

Global lens market undergoes dynamic transformation
Previously, lenses and cameras were carefully selected and paired according to each end user’s specific needs and applications. To make things less complicated for users, cameras and lenses are increasingly being sold as a bundle, saving users the need to pair everything on their own.

Previously, lenses and cameras were carefully selected and paired according to each end user's specific needs and applications. To make things less complicated for users, cameras and lenses are increasingly being sold as a bundle, saving users the need to pair everything on their own.

Some cameras are also employing their own onboard lenses, gradually changing the dynamics of the traditional lens market. “The trend is changing because of costs and ease of installation. With a 360-degree mini dome, there are no lens adjustments, everything is packaged together and it can be easily mounted,” said Alessandro Gasparini, Chief Commercial Officer of ImmerVision. As a result, more OEMs are sprouting up than ever before, while dealers are getting struck out of the playing field. Hence, lens manufacturers must find different channels in order to address the shrinking number of dealers to upkeep and increase their sales.

This trend of bundling lenses and cameras is expected to continue, even if lenses become more mature and standardized as time passes. “The bundle concept may become stronger as a more precise match will be required.

Each camera manufacturer has its own design policy and tries its best to process the image as desired. Ideally, it will be best to find the matched lens to keep the desired image quality, either that is the resolution level or the color reproduction, etc.,” explained Tommy Tsunoyama, Section Manager of Tamron.

OEM-bundled lenses and cameras have led to more direct sales to OEMs, and has driven more motorized, board mount, and smaller size lenses. However, this can often mean fewer features or lower performance in the lens, as it is difficult to design one with full capability in a very small envelope, according to Andrea Iniguez, VP of Business Development at Theia Technologies.

“Lens designs have many variables that can be traded off, such as resolution, size, format, focal range, IR correction, zoom function, etc. These capabilities are accomplished in the lens through the number, shape, placement, and materials of the elements in the lens design. Lens designers do their best to optimize the overall design, but ask the OEM customers about what capabilities are most important and which can be traded off, or where can performance be compromised, so other areas are improved.”

Yet, there are still instances in which separately sold lenses and cameras are required. “Although we cannot predict the market, we think that some lenses will continue to be sold separately because they can address specific requirements. Some applications still require an integrator to match a lens with a camera for a specific result. For example: if an end user's application requires the ability to survey distant areas under extreme temperatures, a zoom lens with a box camera in a weatherproof housing would be the ideal solution,” said Gasparini.

According to Toshirou Tsujimoto, Manager of Sales & Marketing Division, Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Division of Fujifilm, these particular applications where lenses and cameras are sold separately include border surveillance, police, coast guard, rail, banking, gaming, and so on.

New Applications Lead to Channel Changes
End users are progressively using megapixel lenses in new applications, culminating to a change in channels for many manufacturers. Surveillance cameras are no longer used just for monitoring, but can be used for a variety of applications such as workforce optimization and management.

“Adding new lens types (telephotos for example) have led to application-specific systems integrators, such as license plate recognition. Other opportunities exist to take security lenses and modify them to work on cameras in machine vision, broadcast, and consumer/prosumer markets,” said Gasparini. City surveillance and/ or ITS are also the newest emerging markets. Since these markets are so big, their sales channel is different from the ordinal dealer and installer channels, according to Tsunoyama.

Indeed, it is apparent that sales channels are gradually shifting or increasing as more uses for video surveillance are being explored.

Chinese Manufacturers Gain Footing
More and more, Chinese lens manufacturers are affecting the industry and lens manufacturers around the world. What used to be a market dominated by the Japanese is now slowly being replaced by Chinese manufacturers. Not only are they vastly improving their product quality, they are also on the path to catching up with Japanese technology. Combine the previously mentioned attributes, along with China's unbeatably low priced, Japanese manufacturers, along with other lens manufacturers, are starting to feel the pressure on their backs to stay competitive.

“Certainly there is more price pressure for all lens manufacturers generally, as there are not only more lenses from manufacturers in China, where there is still a lower cost structure, but also from an increase in viable competitors,” mentioned Iniguez.

This is also seen by the shifting development of wide-angle megapixel lenses. “Some of the early panamorph lens manufacturers were Japanese. They are renowned for their high quality and advanced knowledge of optics. Recently, Japanese manufacturers are feeling the pressure from Chinese and Korean lens manufacturers, as they are creating quality lenses at lower costs. The gap has decreased and Korean manufacturers are catching up to the Japanese reputation.

Over the last year, Korean manufacturers have been creating more reliable products at a cost-effective price, and the Chinese are following close behind. In reading the IMS (part of IHS) research report, Korean and Chinese manufacturers are moving up the list. It should also be noted that numerous Japanese lens manufacturers have plants in China,” said Gasparini. It is already known that Chinese technology and quality have been improving tremendously over the past few years.

Many Chinese manufacturers are also coming out with their own unique technologies in order to differentiate themselves from their competition. “With its ‘full constant aperture' technique, the Hikvision lens can always achieve a high- performance aperture of F1.5 through different focal ranges. The infrared confocal technology of the Hikvision lens further ensures well-focused and crystal-clear images in IR conditions. Equipped with broadband AR coating technology, the Hikvision lens is able to maximize spectral transmittance, further eliminating image ghosting and halo effect. The design of independent fixed focus and focus features help to ensure images captured are not blurry from when the hand is trembling while trying to focus on an object or subject,” said Wei Wang, Optical Design Department Manager at Hikvision Digital Technology.

The Chinese manufacturers are also raising the bar on their own testing standards to guarantee their product quality. “Forecam's megapixel lens testing facility is one of the most professional optic inspection facilities in the country, with in-depth cooperation with universities, research institutes, and well-known companies in the security industry. The facility possesses advanced testing equipment to test lenses, lens groups, and almost all of the optical parameters of the lens, whether it is for visible or infrared light. Equipment includes MTF test line from Trioptics, spectrometer, salt spray, and many more,” said Keyven Lin, Manager at Forecam Optics.

Though Chinese manufacturing is taking the world by storm, Japanese manufacturers remain hopeful. “Yes, we see that Chinese lens performance is getting comparatively better than before. On the other hand, the demand for higher resolution and megapixel counts are increasing, and we see this is where the Japanese manufacturers have a chance or have to stay strong at. For building the true megapixel resolution lens, more and more precise set up and assembling technology will be required. Japanese manufacturers who have accumulated years and years of experience should stay ahead and keep the cutting edge design and assembly,” said Tsunoyama.

More Changes to Come
The global lens market is bound to see further changes in the upcoming years. Megapixel lenses will become the main commodity as high resolution becomes an increasing demand in countries all over the world. It is likely that Japanese manufacturers will have to relinquish their hold of the majority of the lens market as Chinese manufacturers catch up in terms of quality and technology.

After all, cost is now the main concern of end users, vendors, and manufacturers worldwide due to shrinking margins and hopes for making profit in this tough economy. That is not to say the Japanese manufacturers will lose all of their market share, as there will always be a market for those who value Japanese design and quality. In the years to come, megapixel resolution will increase while Chinese manufacturers solidify their position in the global lens market.

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