Japanese companies like Avenir, Computar, Kowa and Tamron and Korean CCTV lenses have long dominated the Chinese lens market. To compete with low-priced products, many Japanese and Korean manufacturers moved their facilities to China to take advantage of low-cost labor and enhance competitiveness in the domestic market. This is helping raise the bar when it comes to technology and quality.
Local players like Avemia and Leading are updating facilities to give the Japanese competition a run for the money, while suppliers like Alaud Optical, F&H and Ricom are responding more adeptly to market trends. Then, there is Senview, which is transforming itself into a camera and lens manufacturer.
Traditionally, Chinese lens products have not been very good. Defects stemmed from poor machining and molding. "We understand the importance of product quality," said Lin Feng, General Manger of F&H. Besides achieving RoHS and ISO9000 certification, the company has beefed up its facilities to enable testing of image resolution, iris and auto drive.
"Our IR and high-resolution series CCTV lenses," said Lin, "we're winning over Middle Eastern and European customers because of their improved quality." F&H is targeting the low to mid market with good price-to-performance ratios and quality. Its low-cost products have earned the company more than 20 Taiwanese customers and partners.
Ricom opened its first factory in 1958. "Our optical products are designed mainly for military and government customers," said Sun Jing, Sales Manager at Ricom. "Quality is strictly controlled; that includes everything from materials to finished products. In addition, to ensure stability, we do many tests before sales. If there are any quality problems during the first few months, we provide maintenance or replace the product." At the mid to high end of the market, Ricom is selling aspherical, IR and 3.5-millimeter to nine-millimeter lenses.
"We are investing a lot in R&D," said Ye Sunhua, General Manager of Alaud Optical. "We invest more than 10 percent of sales each year to be able to deliver high-quality products with the latest technologies." The next target is high-resolution and fish-eye lenses.
SOEST's returned material authorization rate is only 0.4 percent and, in 2007, 90 percent of its lenses passed quality control procedures with 96 percent of its customers reporting that they were satisfied with its products and service. "We have sold over 100,000 pieces of lenses recently and none of them are reported as defective until now. Quality relies greatly on facilities," explained Zhang Chunxu, Marketing Director of SOEST. "When it comes to trendy products, customers should understand that the relative lack of maturity may be a major factor." All SOEST lenses are RoHS-compliant.
Learning from Japan
Japanese lens manufacturers have been promoting aspheric technology since 2006. These have become quite popular due to their compact size and better image quality. While many Chinese manufacturers are interested in the technology, developing successful product s requi res huge capi tal investment and considerable experience.
Ricom launched a series of aspherical lenses, including its RV03509D aspheric varifocal lens with CS mount. It has a manually adjustable focal length of 3.5 millimeters to nine millimeters and an aperture of F1 to F1.2. "Aspheric lenses improve night vision by adjusting optical paths and focusing IR," said Sun. "Our aspheric lenses have been on the market for several months now with mainstream products having a focal length of 3.5 millimeters to nine millimeters or 10 millimeters to 60 millimeters."
Senview started using aspheric technology in 2006, launching products in 2007. Its TN0358A aspheric varifocal lens has a CS mount, focal length of 3.5 millimeters to eight millimeters and an aperture of F1.4.
Leading is also following the same steps. According to Eagle Wang, Vice President, following the R&D direction of Japanese lens players is the right thing to do. Leading prefers to introduce mature, stable products instead of trying to provide a wide array of cheap, poor-quality ones.
Chinese lens suppliers benefit from full product ranges and fast response time to market requirements. "We have large products lines from fixed and high-resolution to IR and varifocal lenses," said Lin. Ricom also has large product lines. It has more than 180 product lines, including short-focus, long-focus, IR, fog-penetrating and high-resolution lenses. In 2007, overseas sales increased up to 40 percent.
Others are emphasizing only a few lines. "We focus more on lenses for customer terminal systems than pure lens products," said Ye. "We are investing more than US$20 million to develop lens system integration and to set up a New York office to provide solutions and improve brand value. Currently, our mainstream products are IR and high-resolution lenses."
To differentiate itself, Dongya is looking to the small-vehicle market. Current product lines include conversion, optical, mobile phone and PC camera lenses. Its latest products include an internal optical varifocal lens and 22x optical varifocal lens. Its DY4500 optical varifocal lens is equipped with two stepping motors to control focus. View angle is more than 72 degrees with F2.8 to F4.8; dimensions are 54.4 millimeters by 21.5 millimeters by 31.8 millimeters.
The product is suitable for digital and all-in-one cameras; it also features ease of operation and stability, and it is highly suitable for five-megapixel to eight-megapixel digital cameras. The 22x model supports one-fourth-inch CCDs with F1.6 to F.3.7 and 10 lenses, including two asperical ones. Operating temperature is from -20 to 70 degrees Celsius, making it ideal for all-in-one cameras.