Canon sees big opportunity in photos

When the photo industry market leader places so much weight in the launch of a single product (albeit a large and sophisticated one) it warrants more that a quick new product release story. So this week we go a little deeper into the technological and marketing aspects of the arrival of the Canon Dreamlabo 5000:

Dreamlabo 5000 output samples (Pic courtesy Margaret Brown).

One measure of the significance Canon is placing on its new Dreamlabo 5000 commercial inkjet photo printer is that the showroom in the company’s North Ryde headquarters was fully renovated ‘expressly for this launch’ according to Canon Australia managing director, Taz Nakamasu.

Canon clearly identifies the Dreamlabo as a landmark product. It’s convinced that the quality of the Dreamlabo’s output is beyond comparison, in that it can produce photos which are visibly better than silver halide, and (literally) at the same time  text which matches offset printing. That’s an impressive quinella.

Strategically, it also sees the introduction as a bold step into a new business domain for Canon – ‘production photo printing’.

So while there are few Photo Counter readers who would be direct prospects to acquire one of the $600,000+ behemoths, the knock-on effect of Canon involving itself in retail photo printing will impact the entire industry. (Either that, or Canon has made an uncharacteristic and hugely expensive blunder!)

‘For Canon,’ said Mr Nakamasu, ‘it’s a chance to further develop our position in the photo industry. For our channel partners a new range of premium merchandise will provide a chance to open up new markets. For our customers, it’s a chance to experience the highest quality images – like they have never seen before and like no other.

‘We believe the Dreamlabo is truly the future of inkjet.’

Photo printing is growing

The common wisdom both inside the industry and from outside commentators is that photo printing is on the wane. (It’s all going on Facebook now.’) Canon has a refreshingly different point of view.

‘The thing to note is the enormous growth in image capture in the market,’ said Jason McLean, director, Consumer Imaging, Canon Australia. He said this is driven by the availability of usable technology through improvement and simplification of products –  and the take up of smartphone technology.

With ‘more people taking more images more often’  and 60 percent of those images not currently being printed, ‘that’s the great opportunity we have in this market.  The market is not declining, it’s growing.’

Furthermore, he said, the upgrade to better cameras will continue to drive the market for photographic output. The number one driver for people upgrading cameras is better quality. It’s logical that consumers are going to want to print out those better quality images.

‘In four years we’ve virtually doubled the size of the EOS business. Last year we sold 155,000 EOS cameras into the market. It’s over 30 percent of our [camera] business now. The reason: people are looking for better image capture devices irrespective of the smartphone revolution.’

He said that consumers print because: they can then retrieve that memory by simply glancing at the image; they  want to look back on the captured memory as it’s like looking back into the past; and they want to make those memories real and tangible.

‘With Dreamlabo those images are clearer and crisper than ever before. They don’t want to look at them on a computer, and definitely don’t want them stuck on a hard drive somewhere where they will never see them.

‘They really want to be able to share those memories. We want to take that sharing out of the digital realm and into the physical realm – and that’s the opportunity.

He said in a recent survey of 3000 members of the 50,000-strong World of EOS membership, ‘the overwhelming feedback to us was that they are willing to pay for quality. Willing to invest in quality output because they have already invested in the front end in buying quality capture devices. So they really want the best for their memories.’

He said that today the majority of the photo printing market is in 4×6 prints, representing sales of around $200 million.

‘What I would say…is that the profitability in that market has been dramatically eroded by the race to the bottom – it’s a commoditised product

So how do you bring value back? The opportunity, he said, was in the photo book market, which accounted for a meagre $18 million in sales in 2011, and also in larger prints.

He predicted that the Dreamlabo would grow to be a significant player in the market by 2015, because it offers superior image quality, aided and abetted by DSLR sales which will also continue to grow over the next 3 – 5 years, further adding to demand for quality ouptut.

‘The Dreamlabo gives us the opportunity to sell across the whole range of our image capture consumers  – so at the very high end with the professional – there’s products there which will provide opportunities for wedding albums, print display, etc, all the way down to the mum and dad  who want to create an album based on their latest holiday.

‘We know that image capture will continue to grow. SLR will continue to grow. Consumers really want to tell their story and that’s where this technology plays right into the real heart of the consumer need. They want to tell their story and the device here today provides and opportunity to do that in so many creative ways.

‘They will pay for quality. Seven cent and 10 cent 6x4s – that’s cool, but that’s not where this market sits. They want quality reproductions that will bring those memories vividly back every day they chose to look at them.’

Better than silver and offset printing

Canon displayed comparison prints including other printing systems and the Dreamlabo output was visibly superior.

Will Parker, from Canon Australia’s Production Printing Systems group, oultined the  technical details of the Dreamlabo, predicting that it would ‘contribute to the rapid expansion of this rich marketplace in retail photo and digital printing opportunities.

‘In my 17 years of working in digital colour, colour matching management and colour science, I’ve never seen a product with the colour gamut and capabilities, as well as the consistency and versatility, of Dreamlabo,’ he said.

He said that its competitors were silver halide for photos and, in print-on-demand for printing of catalogues containing photos, digital offset equipment. (Such as HP Indigo).

He said the features of the Dreamlabo might open ‘a new market for high quality print-on-demand to create customised premium products – catalogues and brochures for individual customers.’

Key features as outlined by Mr Parker were:
– 7 colour dye based ink system provides a superior colour reproducability;
– Automatic duplex printing as a standard feature. (‘This supports photo book printing and album printing as well as the more traditional requirements of commercial production print.’);
– Printing speeds of 40 4×6 photos per minute or a 20-page A4 double sided photo album in just 80 seconds;
– The variety of print media offered including single- and double-sided, glossy and semi-glossy roll papers, and lustre, satin and silk in a variety of weights;
– User and envorinmentally friendly. (‘Requires no direct contact with any harmful chemicals for either the operator or the environment, and there are no irritating odours.’)

He explained that ‘the secret, and indeed the heart’ of the Dreamlabo is the new super-wide, one-pass print head, which ensures accurate uniform placement of ink droplets at 2400dpi and up to a width of 305mm.

The three key technological features contributing to overall quality, he said, were: smooth gradation of tones due to the use of a grey ink; a wider colour gamut than silver halide printing; and high res printing of text and other vector elements (line drawings, etc).

The wide colour gamut ‘infuses images with a sense of transparency through reproduction of vivid, high saturation blues and yellows especially, and in bright areas of images, for a level of expression difficult or nearly impossible for silver halide to achieve.’

Now available

The first Australian installation of the DreamLabo 5000 is at Melbourne’s Pictureworks (which currently supplies Officeworks and Target, among others). Pictureworks, through it’s direct-to-consumer Albumworks website, is offering what it calls the ‘world’s first HD photo books’ from the new machine, at a premium to its standard definition books. Details of the range of photo books available can be found at http://www.albumworks.com.au with pricing at http://www.albumworks.com.au/hd-pricing.



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