OM Digital for 2021

Now that the transfer of the Olympus Imaging division has been completed, thoughts about OM Digital for 2021 may be appropriate. Whenever a large company with activities in a multitude of global markets changes ownership there are a number of actions that need to be taken.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Two fingers hooked onto tripod foot to stabilize lens, with other two fingers free to move zoom ring

No doubt many photography websites and their readers will be focused on product-related issues as they anticipate what OM Digital Solutions needs to do to move forward in the near term.

I think this is one of the least important issues facing OM Digital Solutions over the next 6 months. We may see some product related activity towards the back half of 2021. Until then, focusing on product issues is putting the cart before the horse.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 359 mm, efov 718 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-400, subject distance 18.6 metres, cropped to 4519 on the width

Complete and verify audits of physical inventories, schedule near term production volumes.

Before diving in to product development and engineering, OM Digital Solutions needs to take care of immediate issues associated with the purchase of the Olympus Imaging division. One of the high priority items is to complete and verify audits of physical inventories throughout all of the previous Olympus Imagining operating offices around the globe.

I assume that change-over inventory pricing would have been part of the overall agreement that was negotiated between the two entities. Taking over existing inventories may have come with some kind of discount against book values. It is in the interests of both parties to make sure that audits of physical inventories are completed in an orderly and accurate manner. All inventories would then need to be secured and controlled by OM Digital.

An assessment of the anticipated unit sales of specific products would need to be done so near term production volumes of individual products can be calculated, and necessary manufacturing scheduled.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 800 mm, efov 1600 mm, f/14, 1/2500, ISO-3200, subject distance 52.7 metres, cropped to 4556 pixels on the width

Review existing headcount and determine distribution strategy.

Another high priority item is for OM Digital to reduce its fixed costs of operation with the former Olympus Imaging division. A large part of this will entail reviewing all existing headcount around the world, and making adjustments as necessary to lower fixed costs.

This is a painful, but necessary step for OM Digital. Obviously I don’t have a full picture of what is transpiring, nor would I ever have access to that kind of information. The process of headcount reduction is underway.

Robin Wong, a former Olympus Ambassador, did report that the Olympus Malaysia office was closed in late 2020. One of the largest camera retailers in the country was subsequently appointed as the OM Digital distributor for Malaysia. I think we can expect activities of this nature happening in other national markets. OM Digital will need to adjust its distribution strategy as needed, and do so on a more cost effective basis than was previously done by Olympus Imaging.

I am aware that the Canadian field staff has been affected and some headcount in the US office has also been eliminated. Depending on where you are located in the world, your local market may also experience a shift to a distributor relationship, or some reduction in local headcount.

These changes in human resource allocations can take some time, as does shifting to more distributors. In my mind these actions are far more important than product development at the present time. OM Digital will need to stabilize the financial position of the camera division by significantly reducing fixed costs. A company has to finalize its human resource requirements and its distribution strategy before it worries about future products.

Many of the Olympus cameras were recently refreshed with firmware updates in 2020, and some new camera models were launched. So, it is likely that we’ll see some additional lenses added to the product portfolio in the near term rather than camera bodies, once product development begins in earnest.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 502 mm, efov 1004 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-2500, subject distance 2.8 metres, cropped to 4620 pixels on the width

Conduct thorough market research in all major volume markets.

Each of us can wax endlessly about what OM Digital Solutions should do with its product portfolio. Decisions about product development and engineering are not done in a vacuum.

Both qualitative and quantitative market research needs to be done in all major market areas. This will help OM Digital to not only decide on how to move forward with its product portfolio, but also determine the best overall strategy to use with its marketing.

Without the insights that come from comprehensive market research, the company would not have a clear understanding of its current position with various buyer segments. It also would not empirically know what product features and attributes are valued, or should be developed, to meet the needs of target customers.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, -0.3 EV, 1/2500, ISO-500, cropped to 3928 pixels

Determine market segmentation strategy.

Once field research has been completed and analysed, OM Digital can then determine how it intends to segment the market. Various camera formats have their advantages and challenges. The key for success will be how OM Digital decides to position OM-D and M.Zuiko products going forward.

If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on some kind of segmentation based on both photographic genre and psychographic considerations. With the camera market continuing to erode in terms of volume, the future of OM Digital cameras and lenses will depend on maintaining its current customer base and switching over owners of other brands.

I wrote an earlier article about the potential for Olympus to use a niche market differentiation strategy. I still firmly believe that this is the best approach to move forward. It does not appear that any other camera makers are using psychographic segmentation in their marketing. This would give OM Digital Solutions an early adopter advantage if it pursued this approach. I can attest from personal experience that customized psychographic segmentation can be an incredibly powerful strategic marketing approach.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-2500

Develop a strategy on how to maximize the imagining performance of existing M4/3 sensors

Smartphones did not kill large segments of the camera market by incorporating larger sensors. Technologies like computational photography were effectively used to maximize imaging from quite small sensors.

OM-D cameras do not need new sensors. They need additional breakthrough technologies with firmware to maximize the performance of existing sensors. The Olympus Imaging division was moving along this road with functions like Pro Capture, Live ND, Starry Skies AF, Live Composite, Handheld Hi Res, in-camera focus stacking, in-camera perspective control, and Intelligent Subject Tracking AF. OM Digital needs to accelerate the development of additional imaging technologies.

The development of new M4/3 sensors takes time and money. It is not logical to me that a sensor manufacturer would invest the time and money necessary to develop brand new M4/3 sensors for a smaller volume market in a declining industry. From a practical standpoint, OM Digital may not have the option to use updated M4/3 sensors if none are developed as it may not be economically viable to do so.

As I see it, the challenge for OM Digital is to use firmware to create a differentiated market position that will appeal to niche market customers who are skewed to the advantages of smaller sensor M4/3 cameras.

Leveraging computational photography technology can also help OM Digital Solutions increase its sales of M.Zuiko lenses. Firmware advancements could be programmed to only work with those lenses.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 75-300 mm f/4.8-6.7 @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/6.7, -0.7 step, 1/4000, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H

Build an appropriate operational base, then take flight.

The five steps outlined above would help create an appropriate operational base for OM Digital Solutions. Once completed, the company can then develop a product road map. Start to build new and stronger brand images for OM-D and M.Zuiko products. And, focus on effective, targeted marketing to niche markets skewed to the M4/3 format. It is my belief that the Olympus brand name will disappear from OM Digital cameras and lenses before 2023.

You’ve probably noticed that I purposely chose bird images to include in this article. I believe this segment will be one of the key  photography genres on which OM Digital Solutions will focus.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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10 thoughts on “OM Digital for 2021”

  1. I have been as Olympus fan since the OM-1. I used to think they were a smaller player because they tended to be more expensive. However I think now that the issue is their marketing has been a bit erratic over the years. Apparently they have a pretty good share of the Japanese domesti ccamera market but not so internationally. Here in NZ we have Youtubers who openly use OM-D cameras in challenging environments – great promotional material. Their videos have millions of views- I emailed the local agents about them and never got the courtesy of a reply. A bit sad when a worldwide audience was just ignored.
    I certainly hope the new entity can get a successful strategy in place to promote the company strengths of innovation, ruggedness and image quality.

    1. Hi Mark,

      I agree that the marketing approach used by Olympus has been erratic in the past. Like many people I was skewed towards some of the well known brands and became a Nikon camera user back in 1974. I didn’t really know anything about Olympus products until I started to research camera options in early 2019. It is interesting to ponder why so many people, including myself, knew so little about Olympus.

      The more I researched Olympus the more intrigued I was with the quality of the products and the imaging technology that was being implemented. I had the opportunity to participate in the Pro Loaner Program and within a few days of actually using the gear I was sold. I was blown away by the quality, functionality and capabilities of the E-M1X and M.Zuiko lenses.

      Like you, I really hope that OM Digital can put together a successful marketing strategy. Before the Olympus Imagining sale was announced I had some interesting discussions with some of the folks at Olympus America about marketing and segmentation. I have no idea what, if anything, will become of those discussions.

      Although I haven’t been out with my gear very much over the past year, I have noticed that a lot more photographers recognize OM-D cameras and want to discuss some specific capabilities like Pro Capture. The vast majority are very intrigued with the technology.

      My understanding that the biggest markets for Olympus camera gear are Japan and Europe.

      Tom

  2. My user suggestion would be an upgrade to the EVF.
    I would certainly purchase the first camera of any brand that contains the computational firmware of the iPhone 12 or Pixel 5. For some reason, Canon and Nikon are slow to catch on to this proven technology.
    The Canon R6, 1DX, and Nikon D5 are current examples of 20 mgpxl cameras. I think the sensor is just fine.

  3. Digital solutions to photo problems will continue throughout the industry. I think the bottom line is a new sensor with better high ISO noise control and a bump to 24MP. Higher dynamic range wouldn’t hurt also. Olympus is harassed in the photo market because of its’ sensor and will continue to be so until a new sensor is implemented. New sensor… new chance at life.

      1. Is it possible for Olympus to get a greater market share via software when the whole market is doing the same with upgraded sensors? I’m not trying to be argumentative but I can’t see a business path for Olympus success with its present market share.
        The advantages of size and weight has already been established.

        1. Hi Lewsh,

          I’m not perceiving you to be argumentative at all. 🙂 We just have different views on a path for OM Digital to move forward. I don’t see a ‘better sensor’ as making any meaningful difference to the OM-D line of cameras and the value that they bring to OM-D owners. People in photography chat rooms who constantly rag on about OM-D cameras and M.Zuiko lenses are not the folks who will buy these products anyway, regardless of the quality of the M4/3 sensor that is used.

          The existing M4/3 sensor performs extremely well for its size, and is more than capable enough for a wide range of photographers. There are many highly regarded professional photographers that have been making the switch to OM-D cameras and M.Zuiko lenses over the past few years. Folks like Andy Rouse, Petr Bambousek, David Tipling, Jari Peltomaki, and Joe Edelman to name just a few. Check out their work. These folks know what they’re doing, and have well earned reputations… along with some awards.

          These pros left their full frame gear behind so they could take advantage of the many advantages provided by OM-D/M.Zuiko products. The size and performance of the current M4/3 sensor isn’t an issue for them. If it was they wouldn’t have bought into the OM-D/M.Zuiko system. These professional photographers value the size, weight and portability of their OM-D/M.Zuiko gear. The outstanding quality of M.Zuiko optics. IPX1 weather sealing. World leading IBIS performance. Incredible technology like Pro Capture, Live ND, Live Composite, Intelligent Subject Tracking, Handheld Hi Res, etc. There is no other system that offers all of the capabilities and functionality of pro level OM-D cameras.

          Without question some brands have larger sensors that perform better. I used to shoot with some of that gear in the past. But, for many photographers that difference in sensor performance is far outweighed by all of the other capabilities of cameras like the E-M1X. Every piece of camera gear comes with some kind of trade-off. The pros I mentioned earlier were prepared to trade-off some sensor performance so they could take advantage of all of the other technology packed into cameras like the E-M1X.

          It really comes down to how well a particular camera and lens system meets a photographer’s specific needs. I couldn’t care less about sensor performance if the camera body I’m using doesn’t allow me to capture the photographs I want. Or, if the camera gear makes me inefficient when doing client video projects. The E-M1X and my collection of M.Zuiko lenses are perfect for my needs. The E-M1X is hands down the best camera that I’ve ever owned.

          I think OM Digital Solutions can be very successful with OM-D/M.Zuiko products. The company needs to significantly reduce its fixed costs to achieve success in the long term. It also needs to maximize the product differentiation that comes from the M4/3 format and its industry leading imaging technology by expanding on the many features I previously mentioned. And finally… OM Digital needs to clearly define its target markets and reach them with outstanding, innovative marketing. They don’t need huge market share to be profitable. But they do need to be a very effective niche market competitor. Time will tell if they can accomplish these four things.

          Tom

          1. Thanks for the extensive explanation. Some really good points made. I hope your view of Olympus in the future will materialize.
            Thanks again for taking the time to further explain your position.

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