There’s a lot to read into the decision by Olympus to sell off its loss-making photographic division. By the end of the year the cameras will be controlled by Japan Industrial Partners, an investment fund which specialises in local brands which have fallen on difficult times.
Since JIP is likely to regard the preservation of the brand as paramount, it is unlikely we are looking at an asset-stripping operation as might be the case with more the voracious western venture capital operations. However, things will undoubtedly change, perhaps in terms of rationalisation of the range, which is already complex, and in a reduction in marketing and promotional costs. There is also the big question of what all this means for research and development.
Not to be ruled out, also, is the uncertainty engendered by this transfer of ownership which could cast doubt over the continued viability of the marque. In term, this would adversely dent consumer confidence, possibility resulting in defection to Panasonic or to a larger-sensor system.
At a time when all camera manufacturers are suffering, where does this leave Olympus? And what is the future for micro four-thirds which is already being threatened by the compact end of the full-frame market?
So-called “pro” micro four-thirds systems have grown in size – particularly in the lens department – while prices have risen to the point where larger sensor cameras could seem to make more sense. This is more of a problem for Olympus, which is recognised as a leader in the professional MFT market, than for Panasonic which is more consumer-orientated and, in any case, has ventured into the full-frame market. The rumoured smaller S camera could challenge MFT both in system size and, above all, in price.
Ming Thein has written an erudite assessment of the situation and I would commend it to you. He sees continued consolidation in the camera industry, with fewer manufacturers fighting for a shrinking consumer market (see the link below).
Too many systems?
I believe that there has to be consolidation, too, in the range of systems on offer. If we exclude the 1in and smaller travel market, there are currently four major segments – MFT, APS-C, full-frame and medium format – fighting for this shrinking market. And within each segment there are several different systems. How much of this variety can survive in a shrinking, more price-conscious market?
What do you think? Will Olympus continue in its present form or gradually fade away? And what future do you see for MFT?