Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is Olympus Doomed?

If various business publications are to be believed, the bell has been tolling for Olympus for some time. I think most of these websites and magazines are just trying to write captivating articles, but whether Olympus has any hope for long-term survival is very much an open question.

As I've said many times before, Olympus' current position is its own fault. The company has displayed a shocking arrogance for one so dominated by much larger rivals and has done absolutely nothing to reward loyal Olympus users who invested large amounts into the 4/3 system when it was new.

It is this persistent arrogance that puts Olympus in real danger. The vast majority of Micro 4/3 cameras are being sold at discount. Cameras such as the E-PL3 don't make top-20 lists for sustained periods of time until they hit sub-$300 prices. For example, on Amazon right now, in their Compact System Cameras category, there are only three Micro 4/3 cameras in the top-20. The Olympus E-PM2 with two lenses for $399; the Olympus E-PM2 with one lens for $272; and the Panasonic GF6 with one lens for $469. No E-M1. No GH3.

For the companies that literally created the category, that is a startling failure.

But even in the face of that humbling reality, Olympus is not humble. For further evidence of this, one need look no further than a recent article at 4/3 Rumors. Basically, the E-P5 finally got focus peaking, a feature that Sony has had for years. It wasn't as good as Sony's, but hey, it worked. An update was ready to go, giving those who had bought the E-P5 more features, but Olympus executives cancelled its release. They want to give all the goodies to the next Pen camera.

Remember, this is software only. There is no reason to not release the update for previous customers other than arrogant greed. Compare this to Fuji, which recently released a large firmware update for the original X100.

Fuck you, Olympus. Fuck you. You should be grateful that people chose your cameras over the manifold alternatives. The camera industry is lousy with options, and your cameras aren't any more special than anyone else. Even your precious 5-Axis IS isn't enough to differentiate you. Canon can be arrogant. You cannot.

It's not even the particular feature that is being held back, it is the mere act of holding back that is significant. I don't even care about focus peaking! But if my hardware supports it, and I gave you money, I damn-well better get the feature. I don't buy the whole "You got what you paid for," argument. No. I didn't. When I buy a product, I expect support in the future. I download updates for Windows. I download updates for my cell phone. It is expected.

No. I don't expect updates for the next decade for something as small as a camera, but the E-P5 isn't even a year old. When Fuji is updating cameras that are three years old, Olympus has no excuse.

Fuji's behavior indicates a company that is ready to compete. Olympus' behavior indicates a company that thinks it doesn't have to.

And that is deadly.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Does The GH4 Hold up?

It's been about a month since the release of the GH4. While I still await the review from EOSHD, I think it safe to say that the GH4 mostly lives up to the hype. ISO performance is very good, resolution is excellent, color is good, and on and on.

I am disappointed that the increase in sensor read speed is countered by the increase in resolution, meaning that rolling shutter is actually worse than the old GH3. As such, the GH4 is pretty much useless for high-speed action shots.

It's interesting to note that sensors are "clocked" in much the same that computer CPUs are clocked. You can set a sensor to run slower or faster. Setting it faster uses more power and generates more heat, which is where design concessions come into play.

I suppose, then, that a dream feature would be the ability to add a cooling fan and "overclock" the sensor, thus reducing rolling shutter. Panasonic wanted to keep the camera usable for stills, though, and hardware like that would make the camera look more like something that Blackmagic might design.

Most importantly, unlike the GH3, which was loaded with artificial crippling, the GH4 is truly limited by the hardware. This is important, because it means that Panasonic has genuinely made the best product they could for the price. This is not an arrogant product.

Panasonic should be concerned, though, because they also have their X lenses, which are arrogant products. The 42.5mm lens is laughable for its price. And seeing how popular the GH4 already is, the nearly complete lack of people using it with Panasonic lenses is rather conspicuous. Granted, most people talking about the camera online are talking about it as regards video, but still; you would expect at least a few people to be using Panasonic lenses. Instead, everyone is using Sigma and/or old Olympus 4/3 lenses.

The Micro 4/3 industry is still, sadly, very small. Outside of Japan it is being left behind by both Sony and Fuji in terms of interest and mind-share. As I've laid out in my writings, this is entirely the fault of Panasonic and Olympus. Their sheer, unmitigated stupidity has stunted the growth of a camera system that should have taken the world by storm.

I hope that the GH4 succeeds. I think that it will succeed. But Panasonic will have to bring their A-game in a big way for the holiday season. They need far more than one camera; they need well-priced glass, and lots of it.