The photo world and fans of Konica equipment in particular have an enormous debt towards Henry Froehlich, the first importer and distributor of quality cameras made in Japan on the American market and one of the pioneers of the photo industry as we know it today. A gifted photographer himself, Henry Froehlich understood early on that American consumers needed dependable and more sophisticated cameras at an affordable price. He was one of the first to recognize the potential of Japanese products at a time when the choice was limited to German cameras most often priced out of reach and Kodak-type cameras for the amateur market.
Henry Froehlich 1922-2008 (W)
Thanks to his natural sense for consumers’ expectations, Henry Froehlich worked to convince the Japanese government and renascent photo industry in the late 1940s that the United States was a viable destination for Japanese cameras and optics. Coming so soon after hostilities between the two countries, such ideas were those of a visionary. He was also one of the persons who encouraged Japanese officials to set up the Japan Camera Inspection Institute (JCII), whose golden sticker has for decades adorned all photographic equipment exported from Japan. The cooperation that followed led to the flourishing of the Japanese photo industry after the war and profoundly influenced the world of photography as a whole.
Henry Froehlich was the first in the West to recognize the innovative qualities of Konica cameras, at a time when the cameras of most other Japanese makers, including Canon and Nikon, were more or less successful imitations of Leica or Contax designs. As a Jew who had managed to flee Nazi Germany with his mother and younger brother in 1940, after his father, who had been arrested during Kristallnacht, had been murdered in the Dachau concentration camp, Henry Froehlich was especially interested in cameras that didn’t owe anything to German designs. He found that of all the makes he could possibly import, Konica cameras had the best combination of four traits: original design, superior optics, quality workmanship and affordable price.
In 1951, having acquired the exclusive rights to distribute Konica cameras in North and South America from Konishiroku Photo Industry Co., Ltd., Henry Froehlich, his wife Marian and his brother Max founded the Konica Camera Company in Philadelphia, with only $5,000 in capital. Konica and other Japanese camera makers benefited greatly from the Korean War, during which many western photographers first came into contact with Japanese cameras and optical products and came away greatly impressed. So much so in fact, that by 1955, the Froehlichs' Konica Camera Company was selling Konica cameras through 22 distributors serving 1,800 dealers, and sold nearly 15,000 Konica cameras in 1958 ("Froehlich’s Japanese Cameras", Fortune Magazine, 1958, p. 232).
In 1962, the Konica Camera Company merged with Berkey Photo, a distributor of other known Japanese photo brands, such as Sekonic, Sunpak, Tamron, etc. Henry Froehlich became the CEO of Berkey Photo, a position which he held until 1982.
In the early 1980s, when Konica decided to terminate its business relationship with Berkey Photo and go direct, Henry Froehlich resigned from Berkey Photo and founded Froehlich FotoVideo Corporation, where he pioneered the concept of transferring images from film to magnetic tape and developped the technology that made this service available to retail consumers. In 1988 Henry Froehlich and two partners bought the exclusive US distribution rights for Mamiya cameras and founded the Mamiya America Corporation. In the years that followed, this company, now known as the MAC Group, helped revive the slumping fortunes of this camera maker. Henry Froehlich remained CEO of MAC Group until 2006.
Henry Froehlich passed away in January 2008.
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My technical appreciation for Konica cameras owes much to various photographers and Konica users, some of whom I have corresponded with for years. They include Fred McCaslin, Erik Rahlén, and Daniel Roberts, who reviewed parts of my text, pointed out mistakes, clarified a number of technical issues and provided much interesting insight. I am also indebted to Alan Myers, the spiritus movens of the Konica SLR discussion list on Yahoo for many years.
I wish to thank the professional and amateur photographers who gave me permission to quote them in the capsules that accompany the text on this site or who allowed me to use photos of their cameras. I am very thankful to Mike Michaelski who lent me most of the instruction manuals scanned in section 6.
In Japan, Mr Philbert Ono's assistance in purchasing Konica-related literature unavailable in the West has been invaluable. I was greatly assisted in my efforts to locate information about some of the prototypes mentioned in section 8 by Mr Yoshio Inokuchi of the JCII Camera Museum, Mr Michiaki Matsuzaki of Konica Minolta Holdings Inc., and Mr Tetsuo Taniguchi of Asahi Camera magazine.
Other people I wish to thank for their assistance are Mr Keith Martin of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Mr Frank Gottke of the German National Library of Science and Technology; Ms Gabriele Klausing of the Hanover University Library; and the friendly staff of the OSU University Library in Corvallis, Oregon, where I fear my quirky interest and relentless pestering must have left a lasting impression.
Many thanks also go to my wife Michelle for her encouragement and insightful editorial advice; to my two sons, Gabriel and Raphaël, both gifted photographers, for their keen eye and inspiration; and to my brother Stan, for repeated courses of html relief.
● KONICA ●