There obviously is a lot of uncertainty in the photographic world these days. Depending on what you have read or watched recently, it would be easy to assume that the world as photographers currently define it, is crashing down around us.
COVID-19 has recently reduced camera and lens volumes by 40-50% according to CIPA data. This has impacted every brand. No one knows how much of this decline will be permanent. Olympus is potentially selling its imaging division. Nikon is racking up losses with its camera business and has warned investors about potential future losses.
Other questions abound. What will become of small camera brands like Panasonic, Pentax and Fujifilm in a world of shrinking camera and lens volumes? Will only Canon and Sony survive the carnage in the future? If the camera market becomes a basic duopoly, how much will those brands actually care about their customers? We can drive ourselves to distraction with what we choose to think about.
Uncertainty brings out our emotions… and most often our fears. And, as our emotions are amplified, our ability to think logically declines. Emotional arousal and rational thought are inversely proportional.
Given current events, you may find yourself contemplating making a change with your camera gear, moving to a perceived ‘safe haven’ with another brand. That is a choice only you can make. Like any decision you will need to consider what you may be potentially gaining from that change, as well as what you are potentially losing by doing it.
The potential sale of the Olympus imaging business to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) is an obvious subject to mention in this article. Much of what has been written seems to focus on JIP, its lack of experience in the camera business, and its involvement with VAIO computers.
JIP is a private equity firm that is in the business of buying distressed companies or divisions, making them profitable, and then reselling them for a profit. The fact that JIP still currently owns VAIO is an anomaly. They typically hold on to an acquisition for 2-3 years, as was the case with NEC Biglobe, and then resell it.
The majority of the doom and gloom Olympus articles that are proliferating on the internet typically focus on how JIP is running the VAIO business. Then, assumptions are made about what this means for the Olympus imaging business. I haven’t wasted a lot of my time reading these articles that reguritate the same storyline, as they ignore the basic business model of Japan Industrial Partners.
JIP is not in the business of buying and running companies in the longer term. That is not their business model. They buy… fix… sell. The only logical reason that JIP still currently owns VAIO, which it purchased in 2014, is that they have not yet found a suitable buyer/price for the VAIO business.
Rather than look at the VAIO anomaly, let’s have a quick look at NEC Biglobe. JIP bought NEC Biglobe in 2014 for $70 Billion Yen, kept it for about 3 years (apparently making it profitable), then resold it for $80 Billion Yen to KDDI. Biglobe is still operating today as a wholly owned subsidiary of KDDI.
Based on what I’ve been able to find out about JIP, I perceive its potential ownership of the Olympus imaging division as nothing more than a stop-over point for OM-D and M.Zuiko products. Since the PEN series of cameras was not specifically mentioned in the recent official Olympus announcement, my assumption is that this camera line will be discontinued in the foreseeable future.
So, there is uncertainty about the future of Olympus camera gear. Uncertainty also exists for many other camera brands like Panasonic, Pentax, Fuji and Nikon to name a few. Given the continued contraction of camera and lens volumes no one can predict with certainty what will happen to various camera brands in the future.
Does the uncertainty about Olympus camera equipment mean that I am considering selling my Olympus gear and moving to another brand? Absolutely not.
All of the things that I love about my Olympus gear are still there… with potentially more to come in 2020. The announcement of the AI Bird Subject Tracking mode for my E-M1X is fantastic news, as is the launch of the M.Zuiko PRO IS 150-400 mm f/4.5 with integrated 1.25X teleconverter. These are two factors that I weighed when I decided to buy into the Olympus camera system.
Why would I give up incredible, innovative capabilities like 7-stop IBIS performance, Pro Capture, Live ND, Handheld Hi Res, In-camera focus stacking, and Live Composite to move to another brand because of some current uncertainty? There is no logical reason for me to do that. Some folks may label me a ‘fan boy’ like they did with Nikon 1. I view myself as a pragmatist.
Almost any brand that I changed to today has the risk of becoming a discontinued brand a few years down the road anyway. Emotionally I would be buying into the illusion of security in the short term… and selling the proven capability of the camera gear that I now own.
Nikon’s decision to discontinue the Nikon 1 product line was an intensely emotional event for many photographers who owned and loved the system. Some sold their gear. Others kept it.
There was no logical reason for me to get rid of my Nikon 1 camera gear. All of the things that I came to love and value about Nikon 1 still existed after it was discontinued. Nothing changed for me on a day-to-day basis when the Nikon 1 system was discontinued.
When it came to deciding which camera system to take on our trip to Italy last fall, I chose Nikon 1 over my Olympus kit because of its diminutive size and performance characteristics. I fully expect that 10 years from now I’ll still be using my Nikon 1 gear. Just like I’ll still be using my Olympus gear for many years to come.
Uncertainty is all around us. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Even being alive tomorrow is nothing more than a promissory note.
It’s good to remember that each of us deals with uncertainty in our own ways. Our emotions directly impact how we perceive events around us. For the majority of people, potential change is a negative. As a result, they focus on what they could lose from the change. And, they end up making emotional decisions, not logical ones.
The only thing of which I can be assured is that I am here right now. Today is a gift. It is up to me to make the most of it. I’ll doing that with the camera gear I currently own and love. And, that absolutely includes Olympus… as it does Nikon 1.
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