One year after the collapse of Franke & Heidecke, the maker of the Rolleiflex and Hy6 medium format camera body, a group of employees continue to produce the legendary products. BJP talks with Hans Hartje, who spearheaded the rebirth
Franke & Heidecke had a long history in photography before it closed down in 2009. It had been founded by Paul Franke and Reinhold Heidecke in 1920 to produce the legendary Rolleiflex series of cameras – as well as the Hy6 camera body. But, in early 2009, a few months after it had welcomed a new investor, the firm filed for insolvency. And a few months later, in July, it went bankrupt and closed down.
But, contrary to widespread belief, the legacy of Franke & Heidecke has survived. Late last year, with a registered capital of €25,200, DHW Fototechnik was born. The goal? To resume the production and sale of cameras and other optical instruments that had made Franke & Heidecke famous.
“When the company went bankrupt, a lawyer was appointed by the court to settle all accounts,” Hans Hartje, director of DHW Fototechnik, tells BJP in an exclusive interview. Hartje was a former partner and managing director of Franke & Heidecke. “We had the idea that the company could survive and continue to produce and sell these kinds of products. And we started work right away.”
While Franke & Heidecke used to employ more than 130 persons, DHW Fototechnik is working with a streamlined team of up to 50 employees. But, Hartje tells BJP, they are still able to manufacture “all the products that Franke & Heidecke used to produce, and we are quite successful.”
This year, DHW Fototechnik was able to attend the Photokina trade show, presenting new and established products. “We’ve relaunched the Rollei 35 camera,” says Hartje. “It’s now sold on customer request at a very attractive price. We’re also producing twin-lens cameras. There is still a big demand for those. In fact, we had to shift some people from one assembly line to this one.”
However, while Franke & Heidecke was famous for the Rolleiflex cameras, its most recent success was the Rolleiflex Hy6 camera body, which formed an integral part of Sinar’s and Leaf’s medium format strategies. In fact, when Franke & Heidecke went bankrupt, both companies went through turmoil. Sinar lost the support of its major financial sponsor – Jenoptik –, while Phase One acquired Leaf. Both firms dropped the Hy6 (or AFi, as Leaf named it) from their product lines.
But, Hartje tells BJP that his company is continuing the production of the Hy6. “When a camera such as this one comes onto the market, you have to look at the feedback and often redesign parts of it depending on that feedback,” he says. “Nobody took care of that in the past. When we decided that we would continue to produce the Hy6, we made an analysis of the camera body to see what we could change. Now, I’m convinced that the product is excellent and still has a chance as a hybrid camera.”
The Hy6 can accept both digital and analog backs from a wide variety of manufacturers – such as Sinar, Leaf and others.
The new Hy6 as redesigned by DHW Fototechnik looks like its predecessor and provides the same quality of images, but, says Hartje, “we’ve changed what’s inside. And, we have stock, so there is no waiting list – we know how many pieces we can sell each year and produce them accordingly.”
One year on, DHW Fototechnik is thriving. “At Photokina, we’ve received a lot of orders, more than expected – which shows that we were right in our decision to continue production.” However, the company still needs to gain a profile equivalent to that of its predecessor. Franke & Heidecke had a long history of involvement with photography, and while DHW Fototechnik is, on paper, Franke & Heidecke, it still needs to reach the end users – which it intends to do mostly by itself.
“In Europe, all countries used to have their own distributors,” says Hartje. “Now, we’re talking directly to the dealers. We still have distributors in China, Japan and Korea. In the US and in Russia, we have our own salesmen. China is now our biggest market. They have 1.3bl people. That makes for a lot of photographers. And they know the brand quite well.”
But, he adds, “the US market has changed. It’s different. There aren’t a lot of dealers left, and the one that still exist don’t want to hold stock. It’s too expensive for them. So, we mostly deal directly with the end users via mail order.”
For more details, visit www.dhw-fototechnik.de.
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