Uncertainty

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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19 thoughts on “Uncertainty”

  1. Thank you very much for your words, I understand that the decision is solely the buyer, although in the current moments another vision of a professional is always needed.
    Thanks for yor time and greetings from Spain.

    1. Hi Jose,

      Investing money in camera gear is a significant decision from both financial and emotional perspectives. As such, I try not to tell people what they should do with their hard-earned money as my personal needs and perspectives may not be relevant for someone else.

      I don’t have a long history with Olympus camera gear as I’ve only owned my equipment for about a year. I certainly don’t consider myself a ‘fan boy’ in any way. To this point my Olympus gear has more than met my expectations. It is simply the best camera gear that I’ve had the pleasure to own and use. From a real life, pragmatic perspective it allows me to do more varied work with my camera, in harsher conditions. It gives me a competitive edge, as well as challenging me to push my creative boundaries.

      Late last year the rumour mill was rife with concerns about Olympus closing down its imaging business, with the assumption being that its product line would simply die. Even during those dark times I felt so strongly about my E-M1X and its capabilities that I purchased a second one in late November. I haven’t regretted that decision for an instant. There isn’t another camera that better meets my needs than the E-M1X. Ultimately that’s all that matters to me.

      Tom

  2. Hello good afternoon.
    I have Olympus cameras from 82, PEN EE-3 and to this date i am shooting with the EM-5, given the uncertainty of the photography market it would be rash to buy the EM1 MK III, or wait to see what happens in 2021?.
    According to the interviews, logical, they do not clarify if they will continue updating the current models.
    Greetings,

    1. Hi Jose,

      Everyone will need to decide for themselves what the best course of action is for their photographic needs. It really comes down to how comfortable a photographer is with the future and their perceptions of what is likely to happen in the years to come. Only you can make that decision for yourself.

      For my part, there are a couple of upcoming M.Zuiko lenses in which I have significant interest. Assuming that they are within the price range I have in my head, I plan on purchasing one or two of them as they become available. But, that’s just me. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same.

      Tom

  3. These are the times that try men’s souls. Normal predictions are no longer as valid as they might have been. Trying to predict a camera brands longevity is mired in factors beyond our knowledge at this point in time. If the financial troubles continue, the pace of innovation will decrease (less R&D money) as well as the pricing structure will change (all going probably higher). I like new gear as well as anyone else. My expectations for new gear is diminished. Photographers will have to dig into their creative box of tools to maximize the gear that they own now. It may help us all to rethink what we want to do in/with photography.
    Keep the articles coming Mr. Stirr. Thoughtful, pragmatic and timely. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspectives Lewsh… much appreciated! Your comment caused some ‘noodling’ in my old, porous brain… not sure where that will lead yet.

      Tom

  4. Tom,

    I love the first image — it evokes images of an Amish head of family headed off on his horse drawn carriage to a distant destination.

    I share your sentiments. However, I realize there are a lot of other equally, if not, more important things to mind especially in our corner of the world. Wondering if there are going to be jobs to help feed us and our kin, for one, after the pandemic. Well, we have yet to see the next wave at this junction so there are a lot of uncertainties, that’s the only thing that’s for certain (pun intended). China just warned of the G mutation today and the possibility of bubonic plague recurring from Mongolia (so they say).

    Back to photography, quite a lot of people I’ve observed have been offloading their cameras and lenses (myself included) out here. No events coverage, no photo assignments for us who derive part of our income from photography so might as well find something else to earn from.

    I’m keeping up with some developments though, like the announcement of the promising birding lens from Olympus and the launch of the Sony 12-24 f/2.8 lens today. Sigh, but what the hey, some people are having it much harder, so I it’s already a gift to wake up to a new day 😀

    Cheers!

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      I certainly did not intend to diminish in any way the human suffering that has been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges that countries and their citizens around the globe are facing are truly gut-wrenching. Since this site is a photography blog I do my best to refrain from commenting on societal issues as I don’t believe that is why folks visit this site. On occasion I do create some ‘photo essays’ of a more philosophic nature.

      Inequalities of all kinds exist all over the planet. While there are no easy fixes, the pandemic has laid bare the need for change. Whether governments are up to the task remains to be seen. I am hopeful that some fundamental changes are afoot.

      We’ve communicated in the past about the pressures that professional photographers have been facing. And, how those pressures have been forcing many talented individuals out of the photographic industry. As economies re-shape and recover, many changes will be thrust upon us, and as you point out, these changes are forcing people in many career fields to look for new ways to generate an income. These challenges are significant and drive deeply to the core of existence.

      For the majority of people owning cameras is a discretionary, luxury goods purchase. The importance of which pales in comparison to a plethora of far more serious issues.

      Tom

      PS: the photograph in this article was captured in Ireland on a back country road

      1. Tom,

        I didn’t mean to come across as political 😀 I wrote my response tied to your topic of uncertainty as well as how the times are impacting the industry as well as the professionals who earn part or all of their income from practicing photography. Maybe we have just crossed an important milestone that changes the game altogether.

        To share insights on what’s happening in our part of the world, a lot of people have joined the gig economy and/or selling online stuff to live. Smartphones have figured in heavily in snapping up images of food, stuff, created merchandise for posting and selling online. Truth is, one doesn’t need IG drool quality images to sell. This, I think, is helping shape the new normal in how images are consumed nowadays.

        I’ve read local celebrities following the example of US celebrities who have take their own pictures for commercial use. Interesting if uncertain times we’re living in, indeed.

        Oggie

        1. Hi Oggie,

          I did not interpret your previous comment as being political in any way… so not to worry! I think it was an important comment that reminds us to put things in perspective in terms of the relative importance of various factors.

          Tom

  5. Looking forward to the 150-400/4.5, but tempered by the solvency of Olympus Imaging/JIP and the long-term capacity to service such an expensive lens. That’s a decade long investment. The stability of Canon and a 100-500 L + TC might be a better path. I’d need a credible guarantee by Olympus mothership or a third party surety before purchasing that style of glass.

    1. Hi Scott,

      Everyone has their own parametres when it comes to their purchase decision process. Another Olympus option that will likely appear in the near future is the 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS. I suspect that this lens will be smaller, lighter and more affordable than the PRO 150-400 f/4.5. Logically this lens would be priced closer to the Panasonic 100-400 zoom and as such would have much broader appeal than the PRO 150-400. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Olympus 100-400 was not compatible with a teleconverter as it would not be part of the PRO series of lenses.

      I’ve never owned or used Canon so I’m not familiar with the company’s product offering. Is the Canon lens you mentioned the recently announced 100-500 f/4.5-7.1? That lens will accept teleconverters.

      Tom

      1. I have one of those as well, although mine was bought in Japan for me, so it is a “Nikomat” rather than “Nikkormat”.

  6. Tom, like all your articles, this is excellent and takes a very rational approach to how to deal with this situation. All too often, people seem to think it is the camera that takes the great images. While it obviously helps, it is the person controlling the camera that is the real reason the images are great.
    I think if you find a system that works for you, you hold on to it. Cameras can last a long time when treated properly and can still take incredible images long after they disappear from dealer shelves. You prove that on a regular basis with your Nikon 1 system.
    There are more than a few of us out here who wish we had a Nikon 1.

    1. Thanks for sharing your perspectives Ron! I completely agree that when we find a system that works for us it makes sense to keep using it and enjoying the experience. It’s like being out with an old friend.

      Tom

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