Yesterday, the internet was hit with a rumor that Olympus may be selling its imaging division within the next 12 months – I do not have any contacts with Olympus and I do not know if this rumor has any truth in it or not.
The Official word from Olympus is that Olympus is NOT closing down or selling off its imaging division – see this post from PhotoFocus!
ALL camera manufacturers have been hit hard by the sustained downturn in camera sales and we are in the midst of a major change of dSLRs to mirrorless full-frame which is unsettling buyers everywhere.
Personally, I would dearly hope they they don’t sell it off as Olympus have shown the photography world that not only are they among the leading innovators in camera technologies, but their OM-D line of cameras have been built with the photographer in mind – they are small, light, compact yet highly customizable, fully featured cameras that are not only stylish and ergonomic to handle but are fun to use.
No other camera manufacturer has been able to design cameras with all of these qualities in one camera.
It started off in 2012 with the original OM-D, the Olympus E-M5 which truly revolutionised the mirrorless camera world and made mirrorless cameras a viable option because for the first time, they were able to combine all the following features into a fun camera:
- awesome weathersealing, so good, that you could pour a bottle of water over it and not worry
- great retro styling
- small enough to fit in a jacket pocket with a pancake lens
- high image quality – the 16mp sensor was a massive improvement over the previous 12mp sensors, and not because of the increase in pixel numbers, but its dynamic range and high ISO performance was much improved
- the fastest, most accurate AF system then on the market for relatively still subjects, and they were the first to include closest eye AF detection which was a god-send
- their incredible innovative class leading 5 axis in body sensor shift image stabilization system which would work even with legacy lenses
- an electronic viewfinder that was at last good enough for most people not to miss their optical viewfinders
- a flip out touch sensitive rear screen which could be used to select the AF point and immediately take the shot
- a fast 9fps mechanical shutter burst rate which rates well with the pro sports dSLRs of the day, albeit with AF locked
- flash sync to 1/250th sec
- unique innovate night modes such as Timed Bulb and Timed Live modes where you can do well past the usual timed limit of 30secs as with most other cameras, and in addition you can see the image “developing”, while the Live Boost allows easier visualisation of stars, etc.
- a range of lovely small prime lenses which were a pleasure to travel with and yet provided adequate shallow depth of field for most purposes, excellent sharpness and combined with the IBIS, excellent hand holdable low light performance of static subjects as well as hand holdable infrared photography using very dark R72 filters
- wonderful ergonomics of its extremely customisable buttons and dual dial control system
- image stabilised magnified view for accurate manual focus
- unique innovative Live Histogram so you can better analyse your exposure setting BEFORE you take the shot
- an adequate image stabilised video mode of 1080 30p which was the standard at that time
- an of course the ultrasonic sensor dust removal system which Olympus pioneered
- optional battery holder grip for when you need longer battery life or a better grip to hold heavier lenses
- optional underwater housings
- and don’t forget, IT WAS FUN to use!
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
The 2nd version of the E-M5 in 2015 was a substantial evolutionary improvement over the original which updated various components and added a few extras such as swivel out fully articulating screen, Live Composite mode for stacking night images, 64mp HiRes pixel shift mode, improved video codec and image stabilisation, 1/16,000th sec electronic shutter which could do bursts to 11fps, mechanical shutter to 1/8000th sec, electronic first-curtain shutter mode, improved EVF, autoHDR, keystone correction, colour creator, focus peaking, and WiFi remote control with smartphone apps BUT this was still missing two important features PDAF for AF of fast moving subjects, and 4K video.
The new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III
With the 3rd incarnation, the Olympus OM-D E-M5III, Olympus has essentially completed the package of what any photographer could really want in a light, compact, Micro Four Thirds camera by adding in most of the sports and video features of the pro Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II which I so love.
The 20mp sensor is the same as in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II and has 121 all cross point PDAF which allows excellent subject tracking at up to 10fps (6fps mechanical) and can do Pro capture mode whereby 14 full RAW frames can be captured BEFORE the shutter is fully released thereby allowing capture of unexpected action before human reaction lag time.
The AntiFlicker mode makes capture in indoor lighting so much better while the EVF has been further improved to 2.36mdots.
Video now allows Cinema 4K 24p as well as 24-120p 1080 FullHD video to create Slo-Mo videos, all with minimal Rolling Shutter thanks to a fast sensor readout.
The even smaller size and lighter weight when combined with the swivel out selfie mode rear screen, the awesome image stabilisation and a light wide angle lens such as a 12mm f/2.0 creates perhaps THE BEST selfie vlogging tool for walks short of using a drone. This little outfit should fit into most jacket pockets!
When you need to use larger lenses then just add on the optional grip for better ergonomics.
This makes it one of the best family / travel / enthusiast cameras available.
But what about the rumor?
Rumors such as these would scare off most people from buying into the system, BUT this is a unique system and it is comprehensive and there is also Panasonic which has stated it is committed to this system earlier this year despite themselves also entering the full frame market.
No other system can offer such small, light, high quality telephoto lenses, for example, I love using the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO zoom which covers 80-300mm in full frame terms – but I would not be wanting to carry around a weathersealed, high quality 80-300mm full frame lens on my hikes or travels!
If the rumor is true and Olympus sells off its highly valuable imaging division, and likely buyers may be Sony, Samsung or Panasonic given they would be the main ones large enough to take on such a system.
Whilst I am not a fan of how Samsung or Sony have designed their cameras in the past, Sony at least is the leading sensor manufacturer and may incorporate Olympus ergonomics into the range of future cameras, while maintaining a Micro Four Thirds presence to to provide a truly compact option. Sony have always seemed to value compact cameras, but unfortunately, their APS-C and full frame cameras, whilst being compact, have had to use large, heavy lenses – Micro Four Thirds may just add that extra capability of smaller lenses that they have always been chasing.
Perhaps the only real stumbling block for Sony is the different flash systems, but in the current world, these differences have been overcome by users choosing universal flash systems such as Godox and Cactus, so users will probably not feel this incompatibility is as serious as it seems.
Would Samsung venture back into the camera market again after its failed NX series venture and in a world where there are declining camera sales? I think not.
Would Panasonic acquire the Olympus gear to value add to their Micro Four Thirds system? This would make a lot of sense as the Panasonic cameras tend to target videographers while Olympus has targeted still photographers, so the two camera styles could co-exist, and it would be an opportunity for Panasonic to at last make the two brands fully compatible (eg. DFD AF working with Olympus lenses, Dual IS working with both brand lenses, aperture controls on lenses working with Olympus cameras).
The worst case scenario is that Olympus ends their imaging division and can’t find a buyer, and then Panasonic decides to also give up on Micro Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds is no more. This would seem an unlikely scenario, as at the very least I would think there would be enterprising Chinese companies out their willing to take on the Micro Four Thirds system if the price was right.
I just hope whatever happens, the style and functionality of the current Olympus OM-D cameras is continued by whoever takes this on, but hopefully, Olympus in their 100th anniversary would not be giving up now.
There is opportunity to continue to undercut the full frame cameras which seem to be going up in price each year to levels far too high for most families and enthusiasts and hence there is a market for such amazingly good cameras as these OM-Ds, as long as the price is right and there is reassurance that the Micro Four Thirds system will remain viable.