Are Panasonic and Olympus pricing themselves into oblivion? A personal view of the current and future state of m4/3.


Who the hell do Panasonic think they are, Leica? £1300 for a m4/3 lens!!!, I think somebody has ideas above their station. The Fuji X equivalent is £400 cheaper and no it doesn't have OIS, but then that lens is for a sensor that has at least a 2-3 stop advantage in terms of high ISO performance. And yes it's cheaper than 35mm / Full-Frame equivalents, but they are just that, 35mm / Full-frame. They have to cover sensors twice the size and have to support pixel counts and resolution far in advance of what a m4/3 lens has to. And all this in a marketplace where every set of sales figures and future trend analysis indicates that, if anything, mirrorless camera sales are falling and DSLR sales are rising in terms of percentages, but both are operating in a shrinking market. 

Now I've been a great champion of m4/3 over the years and used it extensively. However I'm just waiting until the January sale period is over until I put all my gear on ebay. And this time I don't think I'll be coming back. For two reasons. Firstly I think m4/3 is stuck and can't really move forward that far. Because it's constantly held back by the size of the sensor. The size and weight advantages of the bodies are now available elsewhere and as time passes more and more of their competitors are introducing lighter and smaller lenses as well. Secondly, I don't think it's now a value for money system for me. Some of the lenses like this 42.5mm and cameras like the E-M1 have a pretty high price per pixel ratio. Too high, as far as I'm concerned. And the argument that you don't need high MP counts is only ever put forward by those who don't have them!! And it doesn't matter what we 'need' (as if others could tell us that) it's what we want that counts.

Add in the fact that the US and Europe, two huge markets, have failed to embrace mirrorless alternatives anywhere near as significantly as the far east and it becomes obvious that there is a credibility problem here. I saw some figures recently for total interchangeable lens camera sales worldwide, published earlier this year. The figures were 6 million for DSLR's, 1.2 million for mirrorless. So this is over a 4:1 ratio in favour of DSLR's. I just wonder what that ratio is for the US and Europe combined. If as mirrorless fans are fond of saying DSLR's are dying then mirrorless will be in the ground long before DSLR's. And we could also end up with a split market. Remember Canon are not releasing their next EOS M in either Europe or the US. And they aren't doing that out of spite.

The real reason I think Panasonic and Olympus have little to offer me any more is in fact nothing to do with mirrorless versus DSLR's and everything to do with what a camera has that I want. The Fuji X system offers me more than m4/3. I can get great image quality, high ISO performance m4/3 can only dream about, great lenses and a design aesthetic that doesn't remind me of bridge cameras and compact cameras on steroids. The Sony A7 and A7r offer me more a lot than m4/3. A 35mm sized sensor with resolution and image quality that again m4/3 can only dream about. Plus, I have the opportunity to configure my combinations so that I have a small, light outfit very similar to what m4/3 offers if I want, but put together a FY outfit if that's my choice. And the cameras handle well and don't look like or handle like electronic matchboxes. Because I really don't want to use cameras that look like jumped up smartphones. And it seems neither do lots of other people.

I have a theory and do be aware that it's just that, a theory and an unprovable, untested speculation. OK. We all have our phones and they pretty much all take pictures these days. And for some that's enough. They are quick, immediate, cheap, have easy access to social networking sites and above all they are fashionable and for many must-have items. But there will always be those for whom that isn't enough. People who want to be something more than snapshooters. They would quite like to be photographers. So what would they choose? Something that isn't much bigger and doesn't look that much different to their smartphones? Well my suspicion is that's the last thing they want. Because as well as owning a camera that lets them take pictures like a real photographer does, they would quite like to own a camera that lets them look like a real photographer does. And what do real photographers look like? Oh yes, we see them on the TV and in the movies all the time, they use Nikon and Canon DSLR's. 

I said it was only a theory!!

The other thing to remember is that the internet chatter about mirrorless cameras is way out of proportion to camera sales. If you are reading this then you will probably have experience of forums, review sites, blogs and news and rumour sites. And is the ratio of camera chatter in the ratio of 4:1 in favour of DSLR's? No of course it's not. If anything it's the reverse of that. So we have a situation where more people talk (and argue) about mirrorless cameras on the photographic internet as a % of people who use the photographic internet than actually buy them as a % of people who actually buy cameras. And m4/3 is a part of this. 

Now I know it's just me, and I know it's purely anecdotal but I spend a lot of time shooting in some of the UK's most popular tourist areas and I still see very few m4/3 cameras. In fact I can't actually remember the last time I saw someone using one apart from me. I still see lots of DSLR's, in fact they are by some distance the favoured cameras of those who can afford to come to the UK from other parts of the world as tourists. Plus as I've mentioned several times before, I'm now seeing a lot of young women from the far east shooting with DSLR's. So the % of what I personally see is way higher than the 4:1 ratio. Or are all these people walking past me with a GM1 in their pocket? Who knows. Anyway back to the point.

Another reason I've decided m4/3 isn't for me anymore is the direction Olympus and Panasonic seem to be going in. The next Panasonic camera is apparently a 4K video version of the GH3. So that'll sell big then!! This is surely taking the niche camera idea to new heights. Surely people who shoot broadcast video have the budgets to buy broadcast quality video cameras. And yes the 4K will benefit aspiring (and not particularly well-off) film makers and that's great. But this is hardly going to be a camera that ships by the container load. To my mind it's one of those 'Look we can can do' cameras, designed to get lots of internet buzz but not much else. I'm also somewhat unenthusiastic about Panasonics intention to go in the GM1 direction. Now some might like a camera that size with no viewfinder that forces you into that 'I'm holding something nasty' position. But I don't. No way, no how.

And as far as Olympus are concerned, they seem to just be increasing the prices of their cameras and lenses in direct proportion to the amount of BS they generate about what their cameras are capable of. That is until about a year later when they sell off all their existing stocks for virtually nothing. And in terms of my personal finances m4/3 cameras don't hold their value that well. Apart from the fact that both companies seem to release unnecessary updates to their 'consumer' ranges at regular intervals, here in the UK they are quite difficult to resell at prices I would like and they often 'stick' on ebay for some time. 

So there it is. And I have to state yet again that this is my personal view and is written with regard to my situation and how I see things. I am in no way trying to persuade anyone else to do the same or think the same. You may well think what I have just written is complete b******s and you may well be right! And of course those who have been reading these ramblings for a while will not be surprised when in a couple of months time I sell everything and buy two GM1's!! But for me writing a blog is all about the moment. I've given up trying to second guess what I'll do in the future and as those who visit here regularly will know, I act (and write) on instinct rather than with any sense of trying to 'educate and inform' my 'audience'. I'm far from perfect. I get things wrong all the time, but I do have a lot of fun at the same time and this blog is intended as primarily an entertainment for me and for you who read it. And if you are looking for something more than that, then you are in the wrong place.

However, in the light of recent comments for two posts I recently published, then withdrew, then published again, this post will have comments disabled. It will I know annoy some and amuse others, but as you will now be aware this is not the place to come for a slap on the back if you've bought into the 'right' system. Because after all, this is a lot of words about what cameras I'm planning to buy and sell. It's not like I'm writing about anything important!!


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