When a company introduces a new product like OMDS’s new OM-5, it is always an interesting exercise to ponder their strategic intent. Some folks that I respect like Robin Wong, had a decidedly negative reaction to the OM-5. You may want to rewind this video and watch it from the start.
Suffice to say that I don’t agree at all with Robin’s product focused assessment of why the Olympus Imaging Division failed. Nor do I agree at all with his assessment of the OM-5.
As we all know, the Olympus Imaging Division ultimately was transferred to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) and re-emerged as OM Digital Solutions (OMDS).
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.
I believe there were two fundamental reasons why the Olympus Imaging Division failed. The first is that they allowed their fixed costs to get out of control and woefully bloated. This made the prospects of profitability virtually impossible.
OMDS has been addressing this issue by taking tough, necessary actions such as reducing worldwide employment by 66% with the number of employees going from about 6,000 down to 2,000. Actions like this have dramatically reduced the company’s fixed costs, and lowered its breakeven point correspondingly. Both of these are key factors that contribute to profitability.
The second fundamental reason for failure was that the Olympus Imaging Division did not have a clear business strategy. It spread its resources too thin by trying to be too many things to too many people. It was taking a broad market strategic approach which was inappropriate for its size and capabilities. It relied on the size and weight advantages of M4/3 for far too long. It failed to identify appropriate niche markets and to differentiate itself in those niche markets with its products.
As detailed in an earlier article, the OM-1 sent a clear signal about the strategic intent of OMDS. In my view the new OM-5 is a continuation of this strategic intent. From my perspective the OM-5 makes perfect sense as it serves to reinforce the strategic position that OMDS is trying to establish in the market.
Strategy really comes down to making choices about how a business intends to move forward, and how it plans to successfully compete with its rivals. As a producer of M4/3 equipment OMDS is never going to successfully compete against full frame manufacturers by trying to go head-to-head on image quality.
Physics are physics. Larger sensors will deliver more dynamic range and colour depth when compared to smaller sensors like M4/3, and perform better in low light. Thinking that putting in a newer M4/3 sensor will magically allow the OM-5 to compete more effectively is misguided thinking.
Let’s look at what changes OMDS made with the OM-5 versus the E-M5 Mark III. What the company chose to do… and chose not to do… are very instructive when assessing strategic intent. Did it choose to make a substantial number of changes to the hardware or physical design of the OM-5? No… it maintained the same M4/3 sensor and the majority of the physical components and design from the E-M5 Mark III.
This tells us that OMDS is leaving the old paradigm of competition based on incremental hardware improvements behind. What changes did OMDS make with the OM-5? It added more computational photography technologies to the OM-5. Functionality like Live ND, Starry Sky and Handheld Hi Res were added. The strategic intent of this is crystal clear. OMDS will be competing based on the image making advantages of computational photography technologies.
Let’s consider the size, weight and image creating power that is resident in the OM-5 for the price that a photographer would pay to acquire all of that capability. In Canada the OM-5 lists for about $1,700. For that investment a photographer gets a small, lightweight camera and the computational photography technologies listed below. Plus, up to 7.5 stops of IBIS performance and industry-leading weather proofing.
- Pro Capture
- Live Composite
- Keystone Compensation
- In-camera Focus Stacking
- In-camera HDR
- Live ND
- Starry Sky
- Handheld Hi Res
What else can a photographer who wants the advantages of computational photography buy for up to $1,700 that delivers this much total computational photography capability in a dedicated interchangeable lens camera? You can answer that question for yourself after doing some research.
This brings us to the essence of a successful Focus Differentiation strategy. A company doesn’t have to create products that appeal to a wide array of buyers and capture large market share like Canon does to be successful.
What a focus differentiator needs to do is meet the needs of a select number of buyers better than any of its competition. It can be profitable and successful if it is the preferred brand of 1 out of 25 buyers, or even less. It doesn’t have to care about the rest of the market as long as it dominates its chosen niche market segment(s).
As photographers we all have our unique needs when it comes to our choice of camera gear. Every piece of equipment comes with advantages and challenges. The key is for each of us is to choose the gear that best meets our requirements with the least number of acceptable trade-offs.
Perhaps you’ve looked at the specifications of the OM-5 and you don’t like the fact that the camera does not have an upgraded sensor, or other hardware factors that you deem important. No problem. Buy something else. The OM-5 is not targeted to your needs.
If on the other hand the prospect of utilizing computational photography technologies is of primary importance to you, then you may find the OM-5 to be a perfect solution.
I shoot with a pair of E-M1X bodies and over 75% of the photography that I do utilizes the computational photography technologies in the E-M1X. These technologies are far more important to me than a new sensor or some enhanced video capabilities. I used to shoot with full frame cameras and my E-M1X can easily run circles around what was possible with full frame for the kind of photography that I do.
The comfort, handling and ergonomics of the E-M1X are critical factors for me as well. I’m often out with my camera for extended periods of time and having a really comfortable camera makes long, hard days out in the field, much more enjoyable and less physically demanding. So, all of this really comes down to the needs of a specific photographer.
To me, using a camera that basically offers me little more than being able to press the shutter release and get a typical image… regardless of its resolution, dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance… is the ultimate definition of boredom. I have no interest in ever owning a camera like that again. But… that’s just me… and my specific needs may not be indicative of what the majority of photographers may want.
Since the camera market peaked in 2012 sales volumes have been eroding over time. Smartphones have decimated the lower end of the dedicated camera market. Did that happen because Smartphones had superior photography-related hardware in them? Nope. They killed parts of the dedicated camera market because of convenience and computational photography technologies.
How you choose to assess the OM-5 will reveal how you see the future of dedicated cameras. I see success directly related to the integration of computational photography technologies.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files or from out-of-camera jpegs using my standard approach in post. Photographs have been resized for web use. This is the 1,220 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.
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