Last week’s news of the sale of the Olympus camera division to a Japanese investment fund has led to a raft of ill-informed comment in the general press. Many journalists have read more into it than they really should have done. The car’s got a new owner, but it’s still a good runner with lots of miles remaining on the clock.
Perhaps the most fatuous headline of the week was, “One of the world’s top camera brands is giving up since nobody buys cameras anymore”. The premise was, “everyone” now uses a smartphone and that the camera industry is dead. Even Olympus has fallen. QED. I suppose it ranks high in the click-bait stakes, though. And, I suppose, I have just committed the same crime.
More positive coverage has been seen from the micro four-thirds community, as we would expect. There are some strong arguments to suggest that, far from bowing out, Olympus now has an even more secure future.
In the past, Olympus has always been one of the most innovative camera manufacturers. Who can forget the original OM-1 (intended to be the M1 until Leica, reasonably, objected)? This cuddly SLR system came as a shock because of its small size and its innovation. It helped transform the camera market of the 1970s. Later, in mirrorless cameras, Olympus has led the way in technology for the past twelve years.
Who knows? A bit of rationalisation in the product range, a little more focus, and Olympus could be set for great things. And a blitz on those ridiculously complicated and meaningless model designations wouldn’t come amiss while they’re at it.
Micro four-thirds has come a long way these past five years, with class-leading autofocus and, in the case of Olympus, some of the best in-body stabilisation in the world.
Benefits of MFT
Enthusiasts are attracted to MFT primarily because of the small system size, both in cameras and lenses. But MFT has other benefits, particularly for videographers where the smaller sensor is the norm. The greater depth of field is also seen as a benefit rather than a disadvantage, something which comes as a shock to fans of ultra-fast full-frame primes with their Rizla-paper DOFs. But for street photography, a wider depth of field is a great advantage.
Despite a tendency for MFT cameras and lenses to put on weight in the past few years (perhaps not the most sensible move when larger systems are banging on the door), there are still clear benefits in the quarter-size sensor that will ensure the continuance of the genre.
So, I don’t think Olympus is going anywhere. Anywhere bad, I mean. Let’s hope the new management doesn’t pull back on research and development so that Olympus can continue to spearhead the smaller-sensor system. The system is good to go and has a tremendous following.
As for no one buying cameras anymore, this is just plain nonsense. Admittedly all camera manufacturers have suffered as smartphones have almost completely taken over the point-and-shoot market. The cheap end of the market is dead in the water, without a doubt.
But the demand for high-level mirrorless cameras and system lenses is relatively encouraging and should pick up when the market returns to normal after the pandemic. I’m one of those people who believe that smartphone photography has brought a whole new generation of photographers into the “real” camera market. The smartphone flatters almost anyone, they are so easy to use, and I believe an increasing number of addicts are wondering if they could do better with a “proper” camera.
That said, it’s a crowded marketplace, particularly in the new darling-of-the-masses full-frame sector and, inevitably, we will see some future rationalisation.
On a personal note, with my Leica hat on, I hope that the L-Mount system will continue to attract converts, supported by Leica, Panasonic and Sigma. So far, the signs are good and the range of available lenses is among the most impressive for any system.
But people are still buying cameras. They’re just a more discerning bunch, many of whom have progressed from the ease and convenience of the smartphone.