What you see above is a Contax G1 camera body. Well, more exactly, this is the part in which you can verify that it was made in Japan by Kyocera, which, if you didn’t know, at the time when this camera was released was known in the West for making copying machines. The system was a flop. Not because the cameras and the lenses were bad: they weren’t. In fact, the lenses are on par with Leica, which is to say that they’re as good as a photographic lens can be. They failed because there was no market for such a product. Them guys at Kyocera failed to understand why they would totally fail at selling “Contax” cameras made in Japan.
It was because they weren’t Zeiss.
It doesn’t matter how much you pay to some German conglomerate to use the Contax or Carl Zeiss brands if everybody knows you are a Japanese copying machine company: people ain’t gonna buy into it. You can spend as many millions you want, but you can’t buy one hundred years of history. In a market where purchases are so emotionally driven as high-end amateur cameras, being a fraud is fatal. Because if I am an afficionado who doesn’t care about money and have to choose between a fraud and a camera whose brand has always been its own, I will go to Leica. And that’s just what people did: they passed on the Contax G, as wonderful as it was, and they went to the real thing. Very often I hear orientals lecturing the western world in general for being so materialistic yet I haven’t seen people with so much confidence in the green bills with presidents on them as the Japanese. After rightly kicking the German (and every other nationalities, if that matters) camera makers asses out of every market by offering better and cheaper products than them, the Japanese added insult to injury by buying the brands of all the sacred cows of German optics. By believing that photographers would jump at the bait of buying something with a German name but made in Japan by a Japanese company, in other words, a fraud, Japanese conglomerates showed that their hubris was rivalled only by their idiocy.
Those of you who have been around for a few decades will remember how it went. After the 1950’s thinks weren’t so well for German camera makers. The sector underwent painful restructuring as a result of the Japanese irruption: many companies were cast out of business and others had to completely rethink themselves. That’s euphemism for squandering all their machinery and real estate and selling their brand names for peanuts. Guess to whom. The few survivors ended up badly injured and some had the big idea of outsourcing their production to East Asia. Even Leica joined the bunch for a while. And the remedy just killed the patient.
It could have worked if what they sold was nuts and bolts, but when you are buying a Voigtländer camera or a Carl Zeiss lens, what your are buying is the expertise, tradition and mystique that goes with the name. You just can’t buy pizzazz.