Leica and Matsushita (known by the Panasonic brand) have announced that they will be jointly developing digital cameras. The products will be marketed under both the Leica and Panasonic brands. This interesting announcement almost definitely puts a lid on the relationship Leica had with Fujifilm, the last product from which was the Leica Digilux 4.3 which was essentially a re-badged, re-cased Fujifilm 4700Z.

So now we have: Sony & Zeiss and Matsushita & Leica.


Matsushita, Leica in digital camera tie-up

Leica Camera AG Chief Executive Hanns-Peter Cohn, left,
shakes hands with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
Senior Managing Director Kazuo Toda (AP Photo)

TOKYO, July 24 (Reuters) - Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd said on Tuesday it would ally with Germany's Leica Camera AG in a bid to gain a 10 percent share of the fast-growing digital still camera market by 2003.

Consumer electronics giant Matsushita, known for its Panasonic brand goods, is a minor player in the digital camera market, in which rival Sony Corp holds a sizable share.

Matsushita and Leica announced at a joint news conference in Tokyo that they will jointly develop digital still cameras for release this autumn, utilizing Leica's optical lens units.

Matsushita Senior Managing Director Kazuo Tada said the company aimed to use the tie-up to help it gain a 10 percent share of a forecast 29 million unit digital camera market in 2003, and hinted that it might play a part in a networked consumer electronics scheme.

"With the help of Leica, we will be able to reach a new level of richness and quality for our new digital still cameras,'' he said.

"Digital cameras are playing an important role as a network tool - you can't build a network without digital cameras.''

Matsushita rival Sony has said it sees digital cameras as an input device for networked consumer electronics, a way to capture images for input into Vaio PCs or Sony photo printers, all interconnected with camcorders, audio players and other gadgets via its memory stick data storage device.

Leica Chief Executive Hanns-Peter Cohn said he hoped that the jointly manufactured digital cameras would account for 25 percent of his company's total turnover within three years.

"Matsushita's strength is in electronic and digital components, and our knowledge is especially in optics,'' Cohn told reporters after the news conference.

"We want to bring the two together effectively.''

The devices will be marketed under both Matsushita's Panasonic brand and the Leica brand, with three products to be released in early autumn, Tada said.

Production will take place in Japan, with the companies initially using Matsushita's subsidiary Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics Industries Ltd's factory in Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku.

Tada said that other production sites would also eventually be used, but did not give specifics.