Home L-Mount Alliance Nobody buys cameras any more: Really?

Nobody buys cameras any more: Really?

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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.

The smartphone has killed off the camera market. Discuss. I prefer to see the ubiquitous smartphone as the recruiting tool for a revitalised premium camera market. Image Mike Evans, Olympus Pen-F with the truly spectacular M.Zuiko 75mm prime

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.

Street portraiture with the Olympus PEN-F and M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 (Mike Evans)

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.

In the home city of Leica’a Dr. Kaufmann, Salzburg: Olympus PEN-F and M.Zuiko 12-40mm at 34mm (Mike Evans)

Nonsense

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.

MFT and bokeh? The 25mm M.Zuiko f/1.2 mounted on the PEN-F (Mike Evans)

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.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Mike – I agree; I graduated from the OM1 to the OM10 and thence to the Pen-F which I use readily with the excellent pana-laica lenses- especially the two light zooms 12-60 and 8-18 – and the beautiful 15/1.7. And no-one buys cameras anymore? I just traded in my Panasonic Lumix S1R for the first SL2 to arrive at Adorama this month. Now Im very happy with the SL2 and the CL, with all the TL and some of the Panasonic and Sigma L lenses. My summer is set up!

    • Enjoy the summer, Tony, and exercise all those cameras. But I also need to take my own advice because, so far, I haven’t had much opportunity. With kick, things will now change.

  2. Hi Mike,
    I was shocked to see diglloyd (the Lloyd Chambers Blog) have a post on June 27, 2020 titled Olympus is dead. Since my feedback to him he has changed the title but it is still misleading. Unfortunately, most younger people these days only read headlines. I am a subscriber and emailed him to say that his title was untrue and that the camera division was simply sold by a very large company and it was a small bit of it and so on. I said that his title was incorrect and click bait and hence unworthy of him. Within hours, I got the reply “Well, you are an assh???.” but the word was fully spelled out but I will keep this professional.

    I have told him that I will no longer renew my subscription. I had almost quit subscribing before but that does it. I had given him input a couple of other times and he was quite rude in response. I always found his reviews extreme and if you were happy with your camera and lens you would be surprised at his bashing review. I did find nuggets of gold at times but I never followed his advice as it was heavily shaded by unrealistic views and brand bias. He always was read to bash Leica in particular and certainly does not like Hasselblad among others.

    Anyway, unfortunately most of the advice and reviews on the internet kill perfectly good camera and lens sales based on their heavily biased and often incompetent advice. I find there are very few websites with objective and competent opinions to help me make a choice on my personal needs. The camera companies are having enough struggle compounded by the virus to not need further garbage posted about them. It seems that a lot of blogs feel the need to be sensational to get more views and creep ( a good term!) up the search engine scoring.

    M43 serves a very valid market and I do not see it ending anytime soon. However, there needs to be slower roll out of product and it should target real market needs. The problem I see with most cameras, regardless of sensor formats, is they are getting stuffed with every possible feature and impossible menus and interfaces in attempt to be all things to all consumers. I think there needs to be a lot of slimming down on product lines and then only release a product solving a real problem and need.

  3. Thanks for the article. Your headline is almost Yogi Berra-like, who once said “Nobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded”

    As said before Olympus could easily cut down its model range for production cost savings and marketing costs. Let’s hope the brand thrives once replanted and pruned for the future.

  4. So the market really peaked from 2006-2013, selling huge amounts of cameras and also making huge profits in the process. Now, given the challenge of smart phones, the market is on a steep declining, and it is now returning to the somewhat normal levels of sales seen in the 1980s and 1990s.

    The market will not die, but it is certainly being refined, as you have suggested. During the golden period the majority of new cameras hitting the shelves were merely minor updates of previous models, designed not to drastically improve usability but to make a quick buck. Nowadays, given the immense pressure that manufacturers are under, we can clearly see a more concerted effort to improve upon each model. There are fewer cameras out there but the quality is oh so much higher. I am confident that the majority of camera brands will be able to stay this course. After all, there will always be a need for dedicated cameras, at least for the next 30 years or so.

    Having said that, the market’s sharp decline is awful from the perspective of jobs. Thousands more are going to be let go as companies fall or rationalise, which is heart-breaking for the industry.

  5. That sales are falling is undeniable https://petapixel.com/2019/11/30/sony-now-2-in-digital-camera-sales-as-nikon-falls-to-3/ . They are coming off an artificially high peak created by the ‘digital turn’ and this too was inevitable. Prices had been going up in line with the falls in volume, but they too will probably have to sink to re-generate the market post-Covid. The latter scenario may be some way off as I believe that the effects of this could be around for at least half a decade. The one thing absent from a lot of discussion here is how images are consumed today. There are still chaps (they are mainly chaps) out there making prints the size of a barn door, but for billions across the world an image is something that is consumed on social media for a few seconds and then forgotten about. There will be those who say ‘not me’ and I would include myself among them, but what is happening is undeniable. Digital and social media have been perfect storms for the imaging industry. Just talk to the thousands of former press photographers and they will tell you about that.

    As for nobody buying cameras, I have bought 3 in recent weeks, a 1922 Contessa with Zeiss Tessar, a 1930s Nagel Vollenda with a Leitz Elmar Compur and a late 1940s FED Zorki with a Sonnar copy. The 1920s and 1930s Deckel Compur mounts with lenses by Zeiss, Leitz, Schneider and many others were the L mounts of their day and, at their height, there were many players in the German camera market. Now there is only one. Likewise the British camera industry expanded after WWII and now only highly specialised large format makers are left. I have prepared a talk to be delivered later this year about the impact of changing photographic technology on Irish photography in the 19th Century. It goes the whole journey from daguerreotypes and calotypes on to wet and dry plates and finally on to a thing called film. There was a big upward trend right throughout that century and when George Eastman introduced the Kodak Brownie that was only the beginning and not the end.

    My view is that we will always have devices that can be called cameras, even though for most people the term phone will be more relevant as the sending or posting of the image will be as important as taking them. The issue, though, that will be addressed some day is whether the camera body plus interchangeable lens model created for 35mm photography can really survive in the longer term. I am trying to take a longer look here and I am not concerned at all with what is said, in a ‘here and now’ context on X or Y digital camera blog, which I don’t read anyway. There have been changes in camera technology all of the time since 1840 and each time those changes have changed the nature of what is was possible for photographers to do. The smartphone has revolutionised what is possible with photographic images and the lesson of that needs to absorbed before predicting the future. The nature of cameras and photography will continue to change just as they have done for the past 180 years.

    William

  6. I want to know what that appendage next to that steeple is,can’t figure it out. Is part of that church or does it enclose stairs to that cliff? Have gd week end and here in US HAPPY FOURTH JULY! BE SAVE AND COVID FREE!

    • That’s the famous Mönchsberglift:

      Thanks to the Mönchsberg lift, locals and tourists alike are able to ride up to the Mönchsberg at an elevation of 485 m in just a matter of seconds. Stepping out of the elevator, visitors find themselves right at the entrance to the museum of modern art. The Restaurant M32 – located in the same building – invites you to indulge in a selection of fine foods. And once your taste buds are thoroughly satisfied, you might decide to explore the numerous pathways that lead through the nature sanctuary on top of the Mönchsberg, from where you can enjoy unique views across the historic rooftops of Salzburg’s Old Town.

      Happy fourth of July, you rebels!

  7. Yes people, really don’t care about cameras like DSLR or mirrorless if they have an amazing camera with no need of know-how in a pocket. DSLR or mirrorless is very complicated to use. Most of time you create a “nicer” image with a phone anyway.

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