Used specialist MPB has just launched its first-ever Hall of Fame awards to recognise and honour the world’s best photographic and video kit. We caught up with founder and CEO, Matt Barker, to find out more, and to see how things have been going or the company over the lockdown.
How did the idea for the Hall of Fame come about?
It evolved organically, really. The idea came from the amount of gear we handle now and the amount of enthusiasm we see from the staff here when something new comes in, whether it’s brand new or an older camera or lens we have not seen before. As you can imagine, we have a lot of debates over what is the best kit ever made, we have Fujifilm aficionados, Canon aficionados etc.
So it was an evolution of an internal conversation, and then we got the marketing dept involved to see how we could celebrate this kit. A great industry sits behind all these cameras and lenses and accessories; yes it has its struggles, but there is still amazing stuff coming out and lots of positive stories. The awards make an uplifting story, coming after a difficult time, and it’s going to be an annual event.
How did you come up with the categories?
We set up some internal working groups to decide on the shortlist, and also did some work with a creative agency. In fact, we ran some ads demonstrating these categories, also showcasing other product groups, so it all evolved from there really.
Are you also looking to have the winners exhibited here in the UK?
It’s something we are looking to repeat here, yes. It’s no secret that the US is a big growth market for us, so we want to support and grow our brand awareness over there. We have a great base in Brooklyn, which is the creative heart of New York state, so we hope the buzz around the exhibition will filter out from there across the country.
How did you choose the kit for each of the categories?
It’s not like we were trying to influence the voting, but we wanted to have a few choices next to each other that weren’t so obvious. We could have just come up with our list of best sellers – the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and III basically – and run with that, but there are some real hidden gems out there, whether it’s a Leica or Ricoh, or whatever. By including a wide range of different products in the categories we hope it will remind people of the hidden gems that often get overlooked.
The categories also speak to how the industry has developed. There are the classics people come back to time and again, and then there the trendsetters that create new niches. The Sigma 50mm Art lens for example was a massive game changer; this was the first time we had people trading their kit for a lens from a third party maker. Sony launching the A9 full frame camera was another milestone moment. If you’d have said to me five years ago that Sony would be the player they are now, I would have laughed it off. It’s so healthy for the market when these amazing products come along, such as the A7R.
When you run the Hall of Fame again next year, do you think you should have an analogue/film camera category, or indeed focus more on this sector within MBP generally?
I think it’s a challenge to keep up with everything we want to do next. We are embarking a big push into the US with cine and video kit, for example. The issue with older film cameras is that they tend to have a lower average value, and it costs us the same amount of money to process each unit, but maybe a window of opportunity will open with film cameras in the next year or so. Or somebody will have a great idea and run with it.
Moving to wider issues, what are your thoughts on the news that Olympus is selling its camera and lens business?
We have definitely seen a lot of Olympus kit being sold this week, but I reman positive about the brand. It has real history, and it could be worthwhile enterprise for someone. Olympus has been around for a long time. Maybe some of their product innovation was behind the curve, and they didn’t embrace certain things like video quite strongly enough, but we will have to see how it goes.
Finally what have been good sellers for you during the lockdown?
MPB has sold more macro lenses in last two months than in the company’s entire history. It shows that people were still getting a lot of joy from photography while stuck at home, and maybe trying new genres.