What went wrong with Olympus

There are two things that I believe really helped bring Olympus to this point.

BUT…before I begin… just know…

This is just my opinion.  From the outside.  It’s easy to be opinionated from the outside.  So this is based solely on nothing.  Just my thoughts.


First, Micro Four Thirds.  That KILLED Olympus before they began.  Worst choice of title.  In a culture where bigger is better, micro was the wrong choice.  Nobody wants to see the featherweight fights.  Nobody wants the diet portion, no body wants the city car, etc…  (this is just perception, plenty of people do actually choose smaller options…but just follow me…)  People often want the more option, not the less.  Look at our plates when we eat out.  Portions are ridiculous.  Would you choose a micro burger, or a whopper.  The micro greens or the super salad.  The mini or the Full size sedan or SUV.  Have you seen the pickup trucks in America?  People don’t want to feel they are paying more for less even if it’s not reality.

Micro killed Olympus.  Simple as that.  What is Micro about the system?  Nothing.  The sensor was the same size as the DSLRs that came before it.  Those were already maligned to the public perception, and now you called them Micro when they got even better?  This isn’t even russian roulette.  All six were loaded.  I apologize to whoever came up with the title, i’m sure there was a good idea and great discussion about the benefits of small and light weight.  However, the name was a disaster.  And it played out as such.  All ANYONE ever complains about is how “small” the sensor is.  Why…because you call your camera system Micro.  And when it’s bigger than anything else, shame on you because its not micro.  When a lens is bigger than anyone else, shame on you because its not micro.  When anything is anything more than a “Full” sensor, shame on you because it’s not micro.  When price is not far less than everyone else…shame on you because it’s not micro.

Olympus, you marketed yourself as an Isetta with a turbocharger.  You should have marketed yourself as a Porsche Cayman or an insane hot hatch like an R32 or a rally setup Ford Focus.  You have the perforance of the big boys…and better….but you clothed yourselves with the wrong identity.

Which brings me to my second thought.  That was exactly the problem.  You do perform better.  Your system has matured.  Forget the deep menus…they actually gave advanced users controls we never dreamed of.  For the advanced user, Olympus is untouchable compared to what other systems offered.  It is AMAZING what can be done with an Olympus.  The lens lineup is stupendous.  Best fisheye on the market, one of the best super telephotos on the market, a standard zoom to die for (12-40), one of the greatest single landscape lenses ever made (12-100), a set of 1.2 primes that are spectacular, a macro lens that delivers…really… the system checks all the boxes.

Honestly if you took the name off of all of this and just simply showed people results of the system.  And indicated the lens lineup and its relative performance… you look like a super system.  I mean…if you list the capabilities, it is hard not to be amazed.  I’m not talking stupid system specs that don’t turn into real world results.  Like viewfinder specs, and body size millimeter differences…i’m talking ability lists.  What you really gain from the system.  Gaining 2-stops of flash power for instance, gaining faster shutter speeds with telephotos while retaining depth of field, gaining the ability to blur motion in a raw file in midday without filters, gaining high res shooting without moire and actually accurate color that removes bayer issues with or without a tripod, gaining handheld stability that defies logic on every level, gaining the ability to carry a fully pro kit in a fanny pack, and on and on.  There are so many ways to extol the virtues of the system as a powerhouse, and really define the benefits without needing to be the end all or the smallest and cheapest.

No one every said Olympus had to be the smallest or the lightest or the cheapest.  As a system it is small.  Very small, and for what your end results can be, no other system gives you that flexibility.  Sure you can make it a big kit, but you can also then pare it down and be TINY.  I can keep an E-M5.3 with two tiny primes and have an astounding kit that still delivers pro results with my desired setups or I can have my larger lenses or larger bodies and do what I need with those.  Yet the kit is still relatively small.  Regardless.  The marketing just did not reveal what you gained.  Break free… from what?  From my tripod?  Hell no.  I love my tripod.  I still use a HUGE carbon tripod with Olympus, and an RRS BH-55 ballhead with a pano setup ONTOP of that.  Yup.  Any my results are spectacular.  However, the benefits I get from the camera even on my tripod are well beyond what I get with other cameras.  The way I work, the options I have, layout and ease of access to functions that allow me to make shots I couldn’t do otherwise.

The true gains from the system are just never marketed.  I’ve been to Olympus events.  Most of the time no one has a clue how to really express the system.  People are then amazed when they watch people like Joe Edelman create artwork effortlessly.  Getting the equipment into the hands of great photographers, abut then also showing off the rest of the system and the benefits of using the combinations of options and features has been poorly expressed I feel.  It’s not all about autofocus and size.

Lots of people say there are full frame cameras that are smaller and cheaper.  Thank God I have choices because if I was stuck using them it would be a nightmare.  Have you used some of the full frame mirrorless cameras out there?  I’m sorry, as great as Nikon is, and their sensors DO deliver amazing results… the Z7 and the Z6 are rough.  And the focus is annoying.  I know for some, they love them…but we have to look at reality…it was a good first try but certainly not solid.  Same thing with the Canons… what the R or RP?  Over my E-M1.3?  Please.  I was a Canon user for years…but they feel so limited now compared to Olympus.  And I did try to use Sony…I even told myself I am on a tripod 80% of the time… I don’t have to hold them.  In reality…I do have to hold them…and for that 20% that I have to hold them…it would be torture.  At least for me.  Fuji on the other hand is wonderful!  I only like their primes and I DO NOT get along with X-trans.  So, that’s tough for my work at least.  And honestly…I don’t want retro controls.  I like to command dials under my fingers.  And so, Olympus works for me.  Really really well.  That’s me.  It might not be you.  You might shoot different subjects, and have different hands, and like different things.  So someone else is the magic for you.  That’s ok.  I know there are a lot of people that mirror my opinion though.  I know because you tell me.  I know because I speak with you via email, this website, in the field, on workshops, on the street, etc…  I can’t believe how many people have told me they ran out and bought an Olympus system after using my camera.  So I know there are at least some people out there that mirror my sentiment.  And honestly I think there are A LOT of people out there that do.  And they just never would think to try or realize what they are missing because of the stigma our general photographic community has placed on Olympus.  And it was self created.

Olympus by any other name would have had a different story.  Olympus… the mountain home of the Gods.  There is NOTHING micro about that.  You wanted to be the summit, the abode of the most high.  The realm of those that defied what mere mortals could do.  And in many ways, your cameras reflect those ideas.  They really do.  And I can make lists of examples…

But WHY did you have to call yourself Micro?  Sorry, it’s not cute.  You aren’t a baby bunny.  Micro is even a horrid name for one of the most open and largest systems.  There is nothing micro about the 4/3 world.  4/3 is even a bad name in itself.

JIP…if your deal goes through do yourselves a favor and let’s pick new words and MAYBE the world will forget over time, especially if it delivers.  Show us, tell us, but just stop trying to compare and prove yourself.  There is nothing to prove.  I don’t want to compare…I want to be sold on the magic.  Simple.  Show me the 3 second sharp exposure that was single hand, hand held, at 400mm equivalent while perched sideways on a log over a river to make a shot of a frog at minimum focus distance.  An impossible shot with anything else…but pulled of and amazing with Olympus.  (yes I’ve ive made shots like that and see plenty)  And then give me a slick idea in a tagline to really express it.  It’s not about the size.  Because no one wants micro.  But we do.  But we don’t.  We want to know that our cameras are full too.  Full of performance.  And that we are getting value for the price.  Small often comes with a price tag when performance is involved.  That’s ok, we don’t care.  We want the best.  And we want to see it succeed.  And I am rooting for you.  And so are many others.  Just let’s do everyone a favor and dump the branding that is killing the brand.  It would help everyone in the system too.


June 25, 2020

9 responses on "What went wrong with Olympus"

  1. Hi Tony, nice rant, good to read, I think you have it spot-on! (Its “pare”, though, not “pair”: pare it down…)

  2. Thanks Lester. Correction noted and updated as well! Thanks!

  3. I hope I’m wrong but I think it’s over for Olympus as we know it. JIP is basically a predator company that dismantles its acquisitions and sells for scrap or just slaps the label on cheap crap like they did with VIAO. Innovation? I doubt it. So I guess it’s down to Panasonic. Now that they have the m4/3 market all to themselves it may be profitable enough to forge ahead. In the meantime looking forward to great bargains on ebay.

    • Yeah… I am really hoping for a resale. We’ll see. I might buy into some backup gear though. Having an extra 12-40 and 40-150 might serve me well in the long run if people services and support ends.

  4. I pretty much agree with you. One of the things with Olympus is that it is actually fun to use. It can do so many things that other cameras cannot. Besides taking “normal pictures, it spawns a creative part of me. Do all kinds of creative experiments.
    I hope I can use my Olympus gear for many years to come. I wouldn’t have a clue on what to buy instead.

  5. I would suggest to wait and see for some time, for both Olympus and non-Olympus users… apart from the marketing aspects you have passionately mentioned, there is a reality in the camera market that is not impacting only to Olympus but to the whole industry. Camera sales has divided by ten in few years time, who can resist that?

    Olympus has been taking measures since some time to cope with it, moving factories to better places, kill the support to legacy DSLR, keep prices relatively high, implement useful computational photography functions before any other, offering to us a little technological marvel, and despite that, at the end, they have been forced to take a spin-off decision that may or may not save the OMD and mZuiko system, but it maybe the only choice in front of the debacle of the overall market, because this trend is not finished, the cameras sales will continue to decline every year and this is the reason for not continuing.

    There is a question for the rest of the big vendors: what are they doing to stop the financial losses ALL of them are suffering? Do you imagine the financial situation of Canon and Nikon after being already invested a ton of money in R&D to change all product line to mirrorless? With the COVID-19 impacting sales even more, their situation is much worse than Olympus.

    As this situation cannot be sustained for long time, I do expect a reaction on all others very soon, just wait and see.

    With respect to the future of OMD, let’s wait until the end of the year to see if they maintain the release of expected new models and firmware updates, this will give us a feeling about what comes later.

    I personally prefer to see Olympus glass half full, and will not move to any other brand as I consider they are even in more dangerous situation.

  6. Not sure if you have seen this. Interesting documentary on Olympus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_Ihcl-1OIk&list=PLbnMTcZEga8SflPQojcgZF8pXNJewRlg0&index=5&t=28s

    This is what should happen to Olympus: See the story
    How Nissan nearly went bust

    There are various other interesting documentaries under the search category “Inside the Storm”

  7. Thanks for such a cheerful post, Tony.

    Yes, the designation “Micro” doomed Olympus even though the cameras are great.

    I’m really not interested in the various comparisons on YouTube. Camera X may edge out Olympus in one regard and camera Y in another regard but no camera seems to have the complete Olympus package.

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