Saturday, November 24, 2007

Q&A: Microsoft aids upper-crust camera company

Posted by Stephen Shankland
PhaseOne Chief Executive Henrik Hakonsson is bridging a vast digital photography divide.

A medium-format camera with a Phase One digital back.
His company makes top-end image sensor housings called digital backs, each costing tens of thousands of dollars and attaching to high-end medium-format cameras with similarly high price tags. But he just signed a partnership with Microsoft, which gears its products for the broadest possible audience.
The Phase One product that brings these two worlds together is Capture One, software that helped pioneer the area of processing "raw" images taken directly from image sensors without any in-camera processing. The software exists chiefly for Phase One's high-end customers, but it also supports many mainstream cameras.
Through the partnership, terms of which were not disclosed, Microsoft will help Phase One tackle technical challenges of improving that software, Hakonsson said. And according to Josh Weisberg, Microsoft's director of digital imaging evangelism, Capture One will be able to handle files encoded with Microsoft's HD Photo format, which the company is advocating as a higher-quality replacement for the ubiquitous JPEG and is standardizing as JPEG XR.
Phase One, based in Copenhagen, was founded in 1993 and is owned by its 130 employees. On the hardware side, its top-end P45+ back uses a 39-megapixel sensor from Kodak. It sells two versions of Capture One, the $499 Pro and the $99 LE, but with the upcoming version 4, the LE version will simply be named Capture One 4.
I chatted with Hakonsson about his company's software, hardware, and Microsoft alliance earlier this month. Here's an edited transcript.

Phase One CEO Henrik Hakonsson(Credit: Phase One)
Q: Most people haven't heard of Phase One. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch? Hakonsson: Phase One is the world's leading digital camera back manufacturer. If you take a copy of Vogue magazine and look at the first 50 pages, approximately 80 percent of the images are shot with Phase One digital back and Capture One software. Our position in the market is the very top maybe 1 percent of the photo segment--shooters who work with the biggest clients and the most demanding photographic applications.
What's your sales volume for digital backs? The global market will exceed 10,000. Phase 1 has more than 50 percent of the market. Some of our digital back competitors are working to make less costly solutions. We try to target the most demanding photographers.

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