The beginning of the end?

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Yesterday, Olympus announced that it was selling off the camera business – which for most photographers probably seems a bit strange seeing as that’s their primary association with the company; after all, if a camera company doesn’t make cameras, what’s left? As it turns out, medical and scientific divisions account for nearly 78% of revenue; scientific a further 13+%, and cameras – just 6.1%. It’s also the only loss making division – and loss making for some time. And let’s not even begin to talk about the corporate scandals of the last few years. From a corporate point of view, no matter how storied, you look at the numbers and it becomes pretty difficult to justify continued operation especially in light of a global photographic market that is itself contracting and stagnating. I’m going to try and answer three questions now: what happens to Olympus next? What does this mean for M4/3 and its user base? And what could this signal for the rest of the industry?

The first question is fairly simple. The camera division has been bought out by Japan Industrial Partners, what appears to be a sort of quasi-government-linked fund that buys domestic brands that for want of a better description, are deemed significant to national interests. A large part is probably not wanting to have major Japanese brands fall into foreign ownership – or at least not publicly. Olympus would appear to fit that description quite well. This means two things: firstly, unlike a western VC/PE, they are unlikely to do an asset or IP strip even though this would be the best option to maximise immediate value given the patents held etc; the company will probably remain a going concern for the time being, with little changing from a public standpoint other than probably some reduction in advertising and promotion spending. Internally, there will be restructuring and product line rationalisation; frankly given how close most of the Olympus products are, it’s probably about time.

The real question is whether the R&D spend required to bring about the next generation will happen or not: without it, M4/3 can’t pass the wall it’s hit for some time now. We’ve had 20MP since the 2016 PEN-F, and the current 16MP sensor has been around since 2013 in the E-M1. Even though we’re at Mk III now – image quality is for all intents and purposes, the same. Yes, the new cameras are a bit faster and the stabilisers a bit better, but none of these improvements are the kind of thing that will drive consumer desire to the point of opening their wallets because they’re simply not significant enough changes. And like it or not, whilst there was some size justification for M4/3 before FF mirrorless matured, I think that doesn’t really exist anymore. A Z6 or Z7 will give you easily three to four stops (or more) wider shooting envelope, and pack to almost the same size with some judicious lens choices. Not to mention more dynamic range, resolution, color acuity etc. Worse still, a Z6 is about the same price as an E-M1 III. At this point, I actually think simplifying some of the critical tech in the E-M1 line and bringing it to a consumer level is likely to bring more advantages: a smaller, significantly less complex body with the same envelope would still be streets ahead of cameraphones, yet not as large, expensive or intimidating as an E-M1 type camera. It remains to be seen if the new management will have the depth of understanding of the camera industry required to see what shrinking spaces in the market remain unconquered and the necessary stones to take the risks. At this point though, they’ve got little to lose.

As for the second question: M4/3 fortunately grew beyond Olympus, even though I’d argue that they’re the driving force behind most of the development – moreso than Panasonic, whose focus is more consumer and increasingly shifting towards the SL-mount. However, there’s one curveball: video. There’s enough demand here that video is what might keep M4/3 alive in the long run; it’s a sweet spot in sensor size and doesn’t have quite the same demands as FF on the ancillaries. What worries me is that the consumer/entry markets and pro video might be served, but there won’t really be anything for the enthusiast stills photographer. At a more personal level, I wouldn’t be worried about support in the near immediate future, but come two to three years – that might no longer be the case. I suppose given the reliability of Olympus cameras in general (especially compared to some ‘premium’ brands) it’s not likely to be a major problem, but depending on how the next year shakes out – you might want to either divest or double down, depending on how much you like your M4/3 system.

Finally, we bring out the crystal ball for the industry as a whole. COVID has not been kind to any industry except perhaps videoconferencing, delivery services and some branches of online retail; between movement restrictions and companies/ clients on hiatus, photography all but came to a standstill for several months. The enthusiast market couldn’t leave their houses to shoot; clients were not operating and thus didn’t hire photographers who couldn’t leave anyway; those of us with majority international business that required extensive location travel basically went dry. The workshop market became unfeasible overnight. What’s interesting is the unlocking period hasn’t been entirely doom and gloom. I’ve heard from several retailers that it’s been a very good run at the high end, with pent up demand and boredom (“revenge spending” and not having anything to spend on anything for months) driving a rush of purchases. Belts have tightened at the low/consumer level, and that’s basically bottomed out. Pro spending has gone to zero as they try to keep their lights on – not that pro spending has been a significant driver of the hardware market for some time, anyway. What happens beyond the immediate horizon is a bit tougher to predict. Will businesses and consumers maintain the belt tightening in fear of a reprise, or will revenge spending dominate? Will the high end keep buying even if they can’t use the gear? (Not too different to previous normal, I guess).

My best guess is that we’ll see an acceleration of the consolidation that already started in the previous couple of years. There will be fewer manufacturers left, and those that do will mop up a shrinking consumer market. I have a feeling Pentax may be next, along with noises of a Phase One buyout by Sony – though my personal fear is the Z system will never see maturity (though I don’t see what other option Nikon has for survival but to complete the transition from F). There’ll be fewer pros left to service less serious client demand as content creation moves to almost entirely disposable and in-house generated; those that remain will likely do very well as they will be the final providers of a dying skill set, especially for very high end work. I can’t say if travel (and all of that associated spending, between hardware, workshops etc) will ever go back to normal; I know personally I would rather avoid it for the forseeable future if I can, not that we are allowed to leave the country anyway. Yet I also feel the responsibility to do our part to keep the overall economy going: if everybody stops spending in anticipation of a recession, then that very act will trigger a recession. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Whilst I haven’t engaged in any revenge spending myself, I’ve used the time to rationalise my own hardware around what I’m likely to be doing more of for the next year: less or no travel with a photographic component, little of the usual corporate documentary or overseas assignments, a whole load more watch work in the studio here. Unused hardware has gone in favour of some things to expand my macro and closeup options, taking advantage of the short flange Z mount and new electronic adaptors: a Canon TS-E 135/4 Macro and a Voigtlander 2/110 APO-Lanthar (yes, E mount, but thank you Techart). There’s also been consolidation of the Z7 into scalable kits: with the Z 16-50 DX pancake for when you aren’t sure you need a camera but would like to have one just in case; with the new Z 24-200/4-6.3 all-in-one superzoom for lightweight; that with the addition of two fast primes – the Z 20/1.8 S and Z 85/1.8 S (or use on their own, for low light); and a two-body Z 24-70/2.8 S and 70-200/2.8 FL solution for assignment work. I finally also got a couple of convertible boom stands; they seem to be perpetually out of stock here.

Bottom line advice: ask yourself what you want to do photographically, offset that against what you can do given current restrictions. Use this to rationalise your hardware and support your local retailers and favourite manufacturers, and then figure out what skills you need to get you there (perhaps seeking a little outside help) – in other words, pretty much the same thing I’ve always advocated. It’s just that now we have some restrictions thrown in; but on the bright side, restrictions are always known to spur creativity… MT

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Comments

  1. Jost Winnemöller says:

    Dear Ming,

    You left MFT behind due to the larger professional shooting envelope of stabilized FF (Nikon Z7). Understandable move for a renowned pro.
    MFT brought me back to photography 3 y ago (used OM-2 in film days, then long break). Startet with an EM1 and upgraded to an EM1III recently (a fit of GAS). The shooting envelope fits perfectly for me (enthusiast) and many pros (e.g. Robin Wong). Nevertheless Olympus failed. I see two reasons: eroding customer base and high production/distribution costs for top tech.
    Customer base: consumer are frustrated by the exposure triangle and postproduction. They are with smartphones now. Only few are not frustrated and get Enthusiasts/Pros. Pros face a crowded competition and have to think carefully about investments. The improvements of the „needed shooting envelope to do the job“ are incremental since 5y. It only makes commercially sense to replace a body if it is broken. With enthusiasts it is the same as with the pros. Even older DSLRs/Mirrorless have the „needed shooting envelope to do the job/get the pic/have fun“ (remember your D3500 review). Only GAS helps to speed up sales for the industry.
    High top tech production costs: I saw an analysis, that olympus would have needed to increase price by 30%, just to make no loss. This means that the existing customer base was much too small to earn the money for the top tech production and distribution costs. The margins seem to be too small.

    Both reasons are depleting the rest of the industry, too. Even the players with the biggest customer base don’t show good sales figures and profits at the moment. They will have to cut costs further substantially in any case (affecting R&D/Service). The gear has to go the „Leica-way“: much more expensive to create profit on a smaller customer base. So even fewer customer convert to enthusiasts and Pros may leave the market. It is not foreseeable which brand will survive this process.
    For me as an MFT shooter this means the same as for all the FF shooters. If you are not a gambler, stuck to your mount/system as long as possible. If you have to change or want to start your system, look for a fitting one (incl. MFT) and hope the best, that you can afford (or find) new gear in the future.
    Best Regards
    Jost

    • It used to be the case that the sensor was by far the main cost driver of the camera – and enough to justify the smaller formats. But that’s fallen to the point the ancillary tech cost is just as much or more; between IBIS, software development, processing pipeline etc. it probably costs just as much to develop a M4/3 camera as it does an FF one; but you can’t sell it for as much. It’s difficult to justify an E-M1 III (worse, E-M1X) except for quite specific use scenarios especially when you’re looking at a similar cost to say a Z6. Even worse for the enthusiast than the pro; for the pro it just has to have a business case (even if it’s a single job that requires and pays for the hardware). General upgrades happen when the new hardware allows you to do things you couldn’t with the old – higher image quality, less weight, no tripod etc. The same criteria apply to the hobbyist, but are constrained by disposable funds rather than underlying business rationale…

      • Wolfgang says:

        You could, of course, make the argument, that since the cost of the body is equal (and the differences in output quality much smaller than they used to be), it is the price of the lenses that will determine customer preferences.
        Making lenses for large sensors is costly. If you shoot sport or birds and want a 600 mm 4.0 lens you can pay 14.000 Euro for the Canon or 2.400 Euro for the 300 mm 4.0 from Olympus (autofocus will soon no longer be an issue, because solved by machine learning algorithms – an interface for bird photography has just been announced). If you only want a standard Telezoom you pay 2.100 – 2.800 Euro for a Nikon 70-200 mm 2.8 vs. 1.000 Euro for the 35-100 2.8 from Panasonic, or 1.200 for the Olympus 40-150 2.8 (Prices in Germany, they may differ elsewhere).

        The last 2 decades have been wonderful for photographers. Market forces have brought unimaginable advances to customers at quite low prices. For the future it is clear that a shrinking market will not support mass production of 3 different sensor sizes (legacy, APS-C,4/3). Understandably, everyone is nervous that their system will not survive, which translates into rather pointed discussions outlining the individual strengths of each systems.

        You, Ming, have always had an eye for market forces. You predicted years ago that mirrorless will disrupt DSLRs for economic reasons (production cost). It will be interesting to see how the market shapes photography in the next 10 years and who will be left standing. As more and more manufacturers leave the market the pressure to innovate will diminish and prices will go up. Nevertheless, I think we’ll see great advances in the coming years and I am looking forward to them.

        • True – you can get more reach for less money since the physical size of the glass dictates cost, which is in turn dictated by the real focal length required. Conversely though – there is still a difference in IQ between birding with 4/3 and FF…actually, even not birding – you’ll need a 35-100/1.4 on M4/3 to replicate the look you get out of the 70-200/2.8 on FF, which doesn’t exist.

          My crystal ball says the mass average will be better, but quantity and “pleasingness” over anything approaching quality or thought. At the other end, we’ll see consolidation and better (but less frequent) hardware. Just look at the latest crop of mirrorless lenses to get an idea of the delta. Even though consumer photography packs the computation into the device, it seems we still gain at the pro/hobbyist end with the computation applied once and upfront…

  2. Wolfgang says:

    In my view the sale of the Olympus camera division is the result of two wide spread human weaknesses. The first is ‘bigger is always better’ and the second is profit maximization at all costs.

    Let me explain:
    Size:
    Since the birth of the 4/3 format we have been hearing that it is a toy since it can’t compete with the legacy format. After all, ‘you can’t beat physics’, pixel size is smaller, more light per pixel etc..
    However, it is far from clear how this applies to modern cameras and their users. First, most photographers (pro or consumer) now shoot for digital screens. This means downsizing of the 20 MP information by a factor of at least 10. (Olympus or Panasonic should probably develop a 5 MP m4/3 sensor). Second, why is it that there is no problem in the top pro models of Nikon and Canon shooting 20 MP for several generations, but it is made to be one for m4/3? (btw: once you upscale pixel count on a legacy sensor to 80 MP, you have the same pixel size as on a 20 MP m4/3 sensor, but less per pixel sharpness). Third, system size: all of a sudden the argument ‘you can’t beat physics’ doesn’t apply anymore. Legacy mirrorless is now supposed to be the same size and weight as m4/3. That may be true with wide angle. But has anyone compared a 2.8 70-200 equivalent between systems? (I am not even talking about 600 mm equivalent). Fourth, and most importantly: legacy sensors have “more dynamic range, resolution, color acuity“. While this is true – does it matter? While fascinating to the photographer, this is quite unimportant for the customer viewing the photos. After all, when I drink a bottle of red wine I don’t care which chateau made it or if it was produced with the latest technology of wine making equipment. All I care about is how the wine tastes. It may be worthwhile to ask ourselves if the crisis of the photography profession has something to do with our fixation on the technical aspects of photography. Maybe we should think more about individual artistic expression, to differentiate the pro from the man or woman in the street. (I know you have written about this).

    Profit maximization:
    There are two competing views on what a company should do. Some say it should be profitable to its owners (i.e. shareholders). Others think it should produce useful, well made products that sell on an open market, thus keeping the company going and supporting society (employment, taxes, etc.). Since Olympus is a publicly traded company it is subject to the first notion. Stock holders are mostly interested in return on investment. If a small unit of the company looses money and thus diminishes profit – let’s get rid of it. Once r.o.i. is better elsewhere, let’s sell the stock and move on. A privately owned company might decide differently: With the maturation of user interface and computational photography (we haven’t seen a tenth of what smart phones can do in cameras) m4/3 might be a better option than legacy size based systems for a lot of people in the very near future. Being a leader in this market segment a company that has a long term agenda and doesn’t have to answer to shareholders might have decided to stick to it.

    In the end, I hope that one of the other camera manufacturers is smart enough to buy the Olympus camera business (Nikon? Canon? You might even learn something about jpeg colour output). It would be a shame if all the innovation we’ve seen from Olympus were to end, only for the sake of profit.

    • Dynamic range and color still matter because they’re visible even after downsizing. But the reason we’re stuck chasing numbers is because the marketing people set it up that way for the masses to easily ‘understand’ and believe 30>20…so even if 10MP is all that’s really needed, we’re not going to see such a new sensor developed *because it won’t sell*. It hasn’t been about need for a long time; only consumer economics.

      • Wolfgang says:

        I know they may still matter, in that they can be judged by a few knowledgeable people. But does it matter for the viewer looking at art? One of my favourite vlogs used to be the ‘camera challenge’ where professional photographers were flown into Hong Kong and given the likes of a lego or a barbie camera. It was amazing to see what they got out of them. I am not promoting throwing away our gear and switching to lego. But I do think that taking more and ever more life-like pictures of reality is a dead end. We could instead think about what it is that got people attracted to photography as an art form. How can we make (rather than take) photos that are interesting to viewers oversaturated by various depictions of reality?

        • Nothing against lego, personally. We use the tools that work to make the images we want – at least that’s always been the case for me. I know some choose cameras differently, but each to their own and whatever works for them…

  3. Richard says:

    Sad news about Olympus. Talking of which, does Robin Wong no longer contribute to the blog?

  4. “A Z6 or Z7 will give you easily three to four stops (or more) wider shooting envelope”

    This is simply not true. Who is telling this nonsense? The physical difference is 2 Stops. But Oly 20 MP-Sensor is so good, only best FF Camera sensors almost reach this advantage. Most in beetwen 1-1-½ Stop range (See DxO). And you always have so sacrifice Deepth of Field to get an advantage. For all Photograpy you need to stop down for DoF, you are loosing quality with going FF.

    • My own experience, tens to hundreds of thousands of images I’ve shot with both M4/3 and FF, development work I’ve done for Olympus, and plenty of lab testing we did at Hasselblad and DJI – which clearly is nonsense in your book. Believe what you want – but 12-13 stops DR at 20MP and a noise ceiling at 1600 ISO vs 15 stops at 47MP and noise ceiling at 3200-6400 ISO IS three to four stops. On top of that, you don’t always want more DOF. You can’t always open up wider with M4/3 if you need less.

      • Olympus EM1MK2 dynamic range is 12.8 stops compared to best FF like D850 at 14.8 stops which is a two stops difference & also difference between 1600 ISO & 6400 ISO is two stops as well….so your maths are totally off.

        • No, it isn’t. You fail to include the stop or two from oversampling/ downsampling to the same output size. That’s two stops on dynamic range meaning you can use two stops higher ISO for a given dynamic range/ noise level; cleaner pixel level results, and a downsampling advantage. Not to mention color accuracy and other intangibles like ergonomics and the ability to have shallower DOF when you want it. Shooting envelope is a good portion sensor ability, but a whole bunch of other things, too.

      • Big problem with the Z6/Z7 is the lack of two card slots & no dedicated grip for vertical shooting …at least the Olympus EM1MK2 has two card slots & a fully operational vertical battery grip!

        • Yes, because two card slots is a must for professional, commercial use. I don’t recall film cameras ever shooting to two rolls at the same time, yet somehow we managed to use them for work just fine…

          A battery grip would be nice but only defeats the point of smaller. Might as well go buy a Sony: big lenses, big body, add a grip…where did the claimed size advantage go all of a sudden?

          • Ryan Kwan says:

            Well put Ming. The two card slot crowd is bizarre. Most of the pros I know use the second slot for extra storage because they’re either shooting tethered or have multiple bodies :).

            • If they’re identical cards, then overflow (why not just buy larger cards?) or splitting stills/video, though generally your setup is going to be so different for both you’ll have one body dedicated to each anyway. Shooting tethered reduces the card to being a buffer only in case you’re outshooting the tethering download speed. Card failure occurs almost always in cheap cards, or for some odd reason – a lot of Sony A7RIIs (myself, my students, my friends all experienced multiple failures in this body regardless of card). If they’re different card types, you’re almost certainly going to have a preference since one will read/write faster than the other – in which case what’s the point of the second one? E.g. SD in the H6D was so slow as to be unusable; CFAST was therefore really the only way to go. And nobody is going to quibble about the couple of hundred bucks after spending the better part of $40k on the body…

  5. I started photographing 60 years ago, and it has been a bumpy ride, with technology changes and an amazing improvement of the image quality ‘our’ cameras produce. My first shock was going from Pentax DX (K-5) to Nikon 1 (V1), where the latter was better in every way, from start-up time to shutter speeds, and an AF that was eons better. For fun, I played with my first Pentax DSLR today, a K-x, and just the minimum three seconds between the RAW image was snapped till I saw it on the display is now so depressing!

    The Nikon 1 had mechanically crap lenses, but the FT-1 adapter works roughly as well as a ZTF adapter, so not everything has been lost, as DX lenses work very well. ANd FX, of course.

    But small (i.e. beginner’s) cameras seem to be a lot issue as you point out, and hopefully, Olympus will restrict the number of models, just as Nikon has said officially that they will do (the simpler DSLRs are soon gone, that is the 3xxx, the 5xxx, and the 7xxx series will be something in Wikipedia very soon.

    One wonders how long Pentax will be around, or will they drop the simpler cameras, like Nikon, and try to entice those with big wallets only?!

    For the time being, we are isolated and nobody knows when the business will be back to normal, if ever?!

    • The low end stuff survived well into the end of the film era; I suspect we’ll see one or two models to cover 3/5/7 lines rather than the proliferation there is now. Remember the 3xxx has the kind of bang for buck we don’t see even in mirrorless; it’s crazy to think one of those things is 40-50% the price of a RX100.

  6. GD Morris says:

    Nicely written summary of the current state of play.
    My take on the outfit “buying” the Olympus assets is that this will relieve Olympus of warranty support. They received some repair tools, a couple of repair centers, some desks and chairs and phones. That’s about it. No need to sustain the brand beyond the current warranty period. Whatever was “paid” will be returned as credit for warranty work.
    As for the rest going forward, the assessment that niche players will survive sounds reasonable. Leica, Zeiss/Voigtlander/Sigma (for lenses), Fuji for compacts (their MF bodies probably don’t have enough volume to stick around).
    My expectation is that Sony will exit long before Nikon or Canon. Why? They make their money selling sensors and embedded processors (billions of these from refrigerators to pick up trucks). If Sony spun the imaging business off as a separate company, would it survive in todays market? Maybe hang on for a couple of years but if sales erode as they have been, that would not bode well for Sony Imaging as a separate company.
    If I live long enough to see 2030 I would expect to see only Canon, Leica, and that’s about it for single name concerns. Maybe a Fuji/Nikon merger. Goodby to the rest. Not unlike the personal computer space 30 years ago. I read that Swiss watches are on the endangered list now as well.

    • We hope that’s the case – but regardless, Olympus is legally obliged to continue provision of warranties anyway seeing as the business itself has not filed for bankruptcy.

      I actually see Zeiss exiting consumer. That market has not been hot for some time now, and if Sony exits – then all they have left are phones, which are licensed branding and nothing compared to medical/industrial/scientific optics.

      Sony only does something as long as it’s hot and then gets out very quickly – look at first phones (though they’re back) then computers – I agree that next will be the camera division, though so long as they hold the sensor division it might take a little longer; there are internal synergies/ economies of scale there that work very much in their favor. Not to mention having a technological advantage seeing as there are very few sensor fab companies left; and none that can produce industrial quantities at the same quality level. I’ve always found this ironic given every other camera company seems to be able to do a better job at the actual image quality side of things than Sony, despite their being at a severe disadvantage…

      • GD Morris says:

        I re-read this piece and one thing I guess I missed towards the end popped out at me… you are using the little pancake Z50 16-50 zoom on the Z7 body; yes? How is that working out? What is the crop MP using an APSC lens on the Z7? Thanks for any sort of brief description (don’t burn up too much of your valuable time).

        To your comment Zeiss exiting consumer… Not too sure about that only because Zeiss, just like Voigtlander, is owned by Cosina. I am not sure what else Cosina does (maybe an OEM for other vendors such as Leica or Panasonic or other optics?) but if they are going to make Voigtlander lenses then why not Zeiss lenses.

        • L. Ron Hubbard says:

          Zeiss is not owned by Cosina. Where did you get that idea from? Cosina may manufacture for Zeiss but they don’t own them.

          “Carl Zeiss AG is the holding of all subsidiaries within Zeiss Group, of which Carl Zeiss Meditec AG is the only one that is traded at the stock market. Carl Zeiss AG is owned by the foundation Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung. The Zeiss Group has its headquarters in southern Germany, in the small town Oberkochen with its second largest and founding site being Jena in eastern Germany.”

        • Works just fine. I get a 20MP APSC body with pro controls and packing volume about the size of mirrorless – and the pixel quality is very high. Much cheaper than buying a small body when I already have one!

          Zeiss isn’t owned by Cosina. They outsource production of most of the glass to Cosina but ownership most definitely remains German. Voigtländer is owned by Cosina however.

          • GD Morris says:

            Thanks for the info regarding Zeiss. My mistake. Something new to learn every day.

            And thanks for the info regarding the Z7 + APSC lens. Fascinating. For myself, 20MP would be fine for most purposes. I like the idea of small lightweight glass paired with a high quality sensor. I watched something on YouTube about pairing Leica APSC lenses with the Leica SL2. Same thing you’re doing. Terrific cost effective idea. Thanks again.

    • Haider Gill says:

      Hi,

      I work in Corporate/Investment Banking; Olympus Imaging will be sold for a Yen. It’s been loss making for the last three years. Essentially you have to count last years loss of $157M as the actual price JIP will feel they are paying. Any debts and liabilities etc will transferred over to the new company, as will camera, lens, accessory stock etc. Oly may have to pay money to the new company to cover a period of time, as operating capital

  7. I’m saddened by this news. I switched from Nikon DX to Olympus m4/3 several years ago because of size and weight. Made my photo hobby fun again! With my type of photography I don’t think I’m missing anything compared to FF. Except a sore shoulder. 😉

    If Olympus disappears from the European market, I will keep shooting with my two small, lightweight EM-10s and 7 tiny lenses until they die. I’m expecting that to be a long time. I do hope the announced 100-400 tele-zoom actually sees the light of day so I can add it to my bag.

    When the time comes I really do need to replace my cameras, who knows, a smartphone could have become a perfect replacement?

    • Unfortunately, DX never really fully developed for any of the manufacturers – it was always a stopgap until FF became cheap enough to be mainstream for the consumer. Even though DX lenses might have less/smaller glass and barrels, they were still limited by mount specs designed for FX.

      I have to be honest, I’m not missing the PEN F or E-M1 II much given the Z7 is not really a whole load larger…And yes, the compact I used to carry has gone the way of the dodo after the last generation of iPhone – the processing power available and convenience really has rendered a lot of things a bit pointless.

      • Yes, very unfortunate Nikon did not do much with the potential of DX. One can only conjecture what would have happened if Nikon had put effort into a proper Nikon DX mirrorless system instead of the Nikon 1, while using the best features of the Nikon 1 tech.

        • I suspect they didn’t because the end results would have been too close to FX, but still unable to compete. Adjacent sensor sizes (i.e. double/half area) are fairly close; all other things being equal, you need to quadruple or quarter area to see a meaningful step change in image quality – i.e. 1” to APSC, 4/3 to FX, APSC to 44×33 mirrorless.

      • Ryan Kwan says:

        I still think there’s the ability to gain meaningful size and price differences between FX and DX. Look at the size difference between something like the Z6 + Z 24 f/1.8 compared to the Fuji X-T30 + Fujinon 32 f/1.4 or Canon EOS M6 II + EF-M 32 f1/.4. Similar output (okay, the Z 24 f/1.8 is probably sharper across the frame), but 1 kg vs 600 g and $3,400 CAD vs $2,000. I agree that once you start going to the bigger “Pro” compact bodies (e.g., E-M1 III, X-T4, etc.) and “Pro” zooms, the sizes advantage is lost.

        • Those aren’t like to like comparisons. For starters, a fast 24mm covering FX with a certain resolving power is much harder to make than a 50mm-e only covering APSC…surely you should at least be comparing the same FOV lenses, build quality and feature set?

          • Ryan Kwan says:

            You are correct, I had a brain fart and pulled the wrong lens. I meant to say the Z 50 f/1.8 compared to the Fujinon 35 f/1.4 and EF-M 32 f/1.4. The point remains though that there is a noticeable size and price difference.

            • One more factor to consider, then: the 50/1.8 Z is a much better lens than either the 35 or 32; if you have to stop down the other two to reach the same resolving power/IQ, you’re also not really comparing like to like. Price difference, agreed – but also quality difference. Size difference, not so much – you’re still going to need a small bag for either combination. And I was surprised some APSC options like the X-Pro3 are actually larger than the Zs.

          • Ryan Kwan says:

            I had a brain fart. I meant the Nikkor Z 50 f/1.8. Having said that, the size and price differential remains.

  8. Dimitris says:

    A little speculative fiction here:
    We all know that Olympus was losing money for a long time and the saving-face attitude of the Japanese companies was what kept her afloat the last few years.
    The speculation from my part is here. The introduction of the E-M1X really puzzled me as a strategic decision. The only way I could see it as viable would be if they had an ace up their sleeve, like an unexpected opportunity to sponsor with this camera and secure a lot of publicity all over the world.
    You know, Olymp…us, Olymp…ic Games? In Japan? The same Games of world-wide fame that were cancelled because of covid19?
    If they had somehow secretly planned to connect the Olympus brand with the Olympic Games brand, for example like ” Olympic Games, captured with Olympus” that would explain -at least in my mind- the otherwise redundant E-M1X, a camera to compete with full-frame professional cameras in everything except the sensor.
    Since the Olympic Games were cancelled, perhaps the mother company decided it was finally time to cut their losses and try to save face.
    Just sayin’…

    • Dimitris says:

      A PRO zoom super telephoto lens was announced also for 2020, 150-400/4.5 with included teleconverter. In white color.
      I think that adds a little support to my speculation

    • Why didn’t they do it earlier if that was the case?

      • Ricardo says:

        I keep saying the EM1X was a mistake. It doesn’t push forward the unique selling proposition of m43rds: size. Except on a very small niche with the right telephotos. That’s it.

        • Agreed, for the most part…and the flash sales and lack of adoption show the market has decided the same, too.

        • Peter Foster says:

          There’s nothing else like the E-M1x in any other camera format. Congratulations to Olympus for introducing this professional robust body into its range.

  9. Dear Ming

    I still enjoy using OMD cameras and is hoping that Olympus will move to BSI sensors in the near future. I would gladly upgrade to a new OMD with BSI sensor if Olympus releases one in the near future.
    Given the new situation, is this hope still realistic?

    I wonder what could be the reasons for NOT adopting BSI sensors in their flagship EM1 mk 3/EX.
    (Wouldn’t this significantly improve low light performance & dynamic range for M4/3?)

  10. Eric Anderson says:

    You mentioned the Canon EOS R. I have one and it has served me well. Coming from the 5DSr, the 30 mp sensor is more forgiving for handheld shots and image detail is not much different in practical use from the 50mp 5DSr. I use it exclusively with adapted EF lenses. As you mentioned, new RF lenses are mostly huge, heavy, and expensive. A few new RF lenses have been announced that will be smaller but they are f/4 or f/4.5 — f/7.1 variable aperture which isn’t too appealing to me. Six months ago, I bought a Panasonic G9. Weighs the same as EOS R but I love the compact, high quality lenses and the excellent stabilization. I bought it to use as my travel camera (timing wasn’t good for that) but I may end up selling my Canon gear as I really enjoy shooting with the G9 and appreciate the lighter weight system.

    Be glad you missed all the internet controversy surrounding the EOS R. It got bashed mercilessly for months due to its lack of IBIS, cropped 4k video, “only” 30mp sensor, and for some ergonomic changes from the 5D line of cameras. The recently announced, and forthcoming soon, EOS R5 with IBIS, rumored 45mp sensor and 8k un-cropped video is currently the darling of DPR, YouTube, etc. We’ll see if it lives up to the hype but the good lenses are still too large for me.

    • I owned a 5DSR back around its launch and found that it definitely didn’t live up to the expected resolution – the files were always a bit soft at the pixel level, dynamic range was quite lacking and the battery life was utterly dire (supposedly due to the dual processors required to shuffle the files around). It was ergonomically superior to the D810 I was using at the time, but I don’t think the files were better overall. The delta in image quality is even worse between the 5DSR and the D850/ Z7 – considering both of those improve on the DR of the D810 and have almost the same levels of acuity. I wouldn’t consider 30MP to be a limitation; depends entirely what you intend to use it for (and which idiotic website of the day is being paid to shill what). The 24MP Z6 has a good two or more stops more shooting envelope over the Z7, which for pretty much all purposes is more useful than more resolution.

      • Eric Anderson says:

        I remember well your excellent, in-depth writeup on the 5DSr. That article was my introduction to your site! Unfortunately, I found it after I had already made my purchase. That said, the 5DSr served me well and provided some excellent shots given methodical shooting protocols (higher shutter speeds, careful exposure metering, etc.) I mainly shoot landscape and travel — all handheld. Thanks for the information on the Z6 versus Z7 shooting envelope. Were it not for my collection of EF lenses, I likely would have purchased a Z series camera rather than the EOS R and I may yet go over to Nikon in the future. I find Nikon’s strategy on S lenses (smaller, lighter, less expensive options) much more appealing than Canon’s RF lens strategy. While I can continue to use adapted EF lenses on the EOS R, those lenses aren’t small or light either.

        • Thanks. Unfortunately I found out only after I’d bought it – Canon Malaysia refused to lend me one to review, and then their management had the cheek to demand they were allowed to read and veto the review before I published it – for a camera I had to buy at retail! To add insult to injury, my CPS application was rejected because apparently I ‘wasn’t professional enough’. Needless to say, it was a large contributing factor to why I sold the system and will never buy another Canon product unless I have no other options.

          Lastly: you do realize Technart makes a fully electronic EF-Z adaptor, right? I am using one with a 135/4 TSE Macro now for my watch photography… (ref. Final comment above: “no choice”…)

          • Eric Anderson says:

            I am sorry to hear how Canon treated you. I am in the US and typically buy all my gear from B&H. However, my one experience dealing directly with Canon was not good. Nothing like your experience, but it took me approximately 3 weeks and 3 separate phone calls to purchase a lens online from Canon. They lost my purchase in their system twice. While I ultimately received the product and they gave me a price reduction due to the delays, the experience soured me on buying anything else directly from Canon.

            I was only peripherally aware of the Technart adaptor…I’ll take a look at that option. Thanks again for your generous time and advice!

            • The Malaysian photographic industry is mostly a bunch of petty infighting and politics amongst tyrant egos in a teapot – not sad at all to have left it behind. Ironically they’ll be amongst the first to lose their jobs for neither seeing the writing on the wall nor having the balls to respond to it. At least natural selection is still alive and well when the market decides with their wallets…

              • Marcus Low says:

                t was inconceivable that they have staffs that are so blind to the advantages of having a reputable photographer with international audience. Plenty of old status-quo management in premium brands that are just waiting for things to turn around while dreaming of the old glory days.

          • If I may be cynical about it – to a large extent professionalism means “to know how business works”. In my professional career I had some bitter lessons to learn . . .

      • John Tholen says:

        Ming, are you saying 2 or more stops over the Z7 even after downsizing? My impression from photonstophotos and other sources is that it’s closer to half a stop after resizing. I don’t have a Z6 to compare directly to my Z7, but I’ve considered adding one at some point when used prices drop. However, I suspect I’d see little benefit in low light that would impact print quality in a meaningful way. Btw, I’ve been enjoying your site for years and your work and photographic vision are amazing.

  11. The 150m JIP value was brought by Thom Hogan, could no confirm it with others sources – most financial info sites are for subscribers only.
    But I’m not optimistic about JIP investing in Olymous future too. If they shift the boat towards the m43 strenghts (small lenses size, better stabilization with less sensor mass, good af because of the larger DOF) and convince ($$$) Sony to make a real modern m43 sensor, they could have a chance.
    Ironically (and 100% sure that it will not happen), Sony would be a perfect buyer for the Olympus assets. They could do a Pansonic and drop the APS-C line (which they never showed much love after the FF move – the A6xxxx body is almost the same since 2014), get Oly expertise in stabilization and color science (two kind of weak points from Sony), Zuiko expertise in compact optics, and port their superb AF to Olympus, and release a new m43 sensor with all tech avances (BSI and stacking).
    Imagine a OM-D camera with the tracking capabilities of Sony, a 24mp sensor with low light performance of Fuji, Olympus JPGs colors, newer codecs for video, and Olympus haptics, ergonomics and styling. Or even a FF OM-D using E-mount compact Zuiko lenses.

    • I believe they’re already licensing aspects of Olympus IBIS. Sony could obviously do sensors with much better color output – after all, the Hasselblad and Nikon sensors are both Sony – they choose not to. Their own sensors continue to retain the strange RGBE color filter array that results in oddly shifted color – one can only assume this is deliberate.

      The tech behind what you’re suggesting isn’t impossible; but the corporate inertia would be nearly insurmountable.

  12. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    Great article. With the recent corporate earnings from all the players in this market we know that every last one of them is hurting bad. The only question is high is their pain tolerance. Japanese companies have a tremendous reputation for hanging onto low or unprofitable businesses for huge lengths of time, but the virus situation is pushing them past their limit. The problems that all these camera manufacturers face is a collapse in demand that has been ongoing for years. Customers have simply left them in droves. I know of no single person at all in my private life who owns a camera anymore outside of their smart phones. Not. One. Person. 10 years ago that was unthinkable. The massive reduction in plant capacity that has occurred over the past decade probably rivals GM when they were shutting down car plants left and right in the US.

    Smart phones have made photography ubiquitous without any need for traditional cameras. An entire industry needs to be sustained by the enthusiasts and the small cadre of professionals (which in itself is a quickly dying career). I see much more carnage to come. Olympus is just the beginning.

    • “Japanese companies have a tremendous reputation for hanging onto low or unprofitable businesses for huge lengths of time”
      This – and associated company links plus a deflationary economy leading to relatively cheap financing costs that aren’t seen in other markets.

      There is one offset against the consumers not owning/buying relatively low profit cameras: the hobbyists tend to own several, and change frequently. The latter has rapidly diminished over the last couple of years as technical innovation has significantly slowed down though…

      • L. Ron Hubbard says:

        The level of innovation needed in photography today, for the general rank and file enthusiast is next to nothing. If Joe Public can’t take good photographs with today’s equipment, then he/she (if it’s Josephine) are not much of a photographer. You can’t buy or innovate your way out of that problem.

        • The innovation isn’t in hardware, it needs to be in the UI. Automatic mode isn’t very intelligent, and Joe Public has neither the patience nor interest to learn how to use these things to their full potential…the reality is even the most basic consumer grade gear now is capable of producing better images than the pro gear of not that long ago.

          • L. Ron Hubbard says:

            Joe Public is gone. He is never coming back. He’s in love with smart phones and does not even think of traditional camera makers.

            • True!

            • Yes John. And Joe Public thinks that mp3 music heard via small Bluetooth ear plugs from the newest smartphone is the best hearing experience mankind ever had, because it the latest, must be leading edge and high fidelity, if he happens to know this term.

              Fast, convenient, hip – be it food, music or imagery, that rules the age we live in.

              Cheers,
              Marc

              • Ah yes, instant gratification without effort: yet another self-fulfilling prediction. It’s so easy to get what you want and be satisfied that the ‘high’ doesn’t last very long, and you keep needing more and more sooner and sooner…

        • Ming, you describe Japan Industry Partners (JIP) as a quasi-government entity. They are one of the premier private equity funds in Japan, but I have never seen them described as being linked to the government. Are you sure you are not confusing them with Japan Investment Corporation (JIC) and its subsidiary INCJ, which is very clearly a quasi-government organization?

  13. Good article. We could see the demise of Olympus months ago – you can’t survive when you lose 30 cents on every dollar of sales.

    I don’t expect to see JIP produce cameras. The only economically viable option is to license technology and the brand name while discontinuing production altogether. Anything else requires additional investment in a declining market with a questionable return.

    I don’t expect to see Sony buying Phase One. Sony is already under pressure by an investor to exit several businesses to improve profitability. The imaging business faces the same issues as everyone else – with tough competitors. The camera business will be under pressure to be profitable and grow revenue and can’t afford additional investment in businesses with uncertain profitability.

    The question is whether Pentax, Fuji, or Panasonic is next to fall. All are niche players that are part of big companies. As those companies face financial pressure, they will be forced to consider eliminating the least profitable units.

    • Losses weren’t that bad – it was more like 12% (which admittedly still isn’t great). It could still be a profitable business with some streamlining of product and licensing of technology; but the latter has a limited runway if there isn’t continued R&D (which in turn would have to be funded by camera sales).

      I believe Sony’s camera division is one fo the few that’s still profitable; the only play in which Sony acquiring P1 makes sense is if there’s software involved – which so far has been P1’s strength and Sony’s weakness.

      I see Pentax as the next one; Panasonic is big in video which is closely linked to stills, and there’s also the associated Leica business. Fuji – hard to say, though I believe they’re also profitable.

      • Haider Gill says:

        With Sony and Panasonic, their investors may eventually put pressure on them to divert the resources from the camera division into other activities. ROI on cameras is probably going down. Sony has profitable sectors in console games, movies and music.

  14. Ryan Kwan says:

    I disagree with your assessment of JIP. They have < $150 Mm US dispersed across multiple funds. For context, Olympus was losing $156 Mm per year. While we do not have the terms of the transaction yet, I would be shocked if the Olympus brand was part of the transaction. What will likely happen is what happened with Sony's VAIO line-up: Olympus retains a small stake and the brand is licensed to JIP. Given JIP's small cap, they do not have the means (nor the desire as you traditionally invest < 10% of your fund in any given asset) to continue R&D. Looking at the Board and shareholders, most of the leadership/ownership are other private securities and holding companies. You can reasonably deduce that these are individual investors and not institutional investors, so even a relatively small return is going to be extremely attractive for them.

    My guess is they sell whatever assets come with the transaction (patents, real estate, etc.) and outsource production to another company like they did with VAIO. The days of m4/3 innovation are numbered.

    • I wasn’t able to find total fund value for JIP, but this seems like a strange acquisition for them if that’s the case…

      • Ryan Kwan says:

        It’s not strange in the context of what they do. They’ve done 14 divestitures in the last 5 years. They essentially take distressed Japanese assets off their owner’s hands and let them close down that division in a way that saves face. I can’t source their value for you, but my wife works for MUFG and gave me the skinny on them.

  15. Michael says:

    Thanks for the insight into Japanese vs. western VC models. We don’t call it Vulture Capitalism for nothing. Bleached bones everywhere.

    I still think of the EM5.2 as an absolute gem, both in manufacture and fulfillment of purpose. My only dissatisfactions with it were lack of 4K video and cramped handling size. The latter was cured with an aftermarket grip. The former by selling it (rip my heart out!) and replacing it with a Panasonic G9.

    • I always felt the Olympus stabilisers were much better for video. We used to film all of our stuff (teaching videos, plus the features linked in the sidebar) with either the E-M1 I or E-M1 II. No rigging needed, great stability and very cinematic moves.

  16. Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I didn’t even think about the toll of the pandemic on photographers, but of course I should have. It all makes sense. I’m taking far more pictures of flowers in my neighborhood than in foreign places due to travel restrictions. Thank you for this information and heads-up on what’s coming.

  17. M43 is not a great fit for video, though. The already puny sensor has to be cropped down even further to get the standard video 16:9 aspect ratio.

  18. Pierre Lagarde says:

    Well, always a sad thing when industry leading companies give up. Let’s hope it won’t have a too negative impact on their employees which is now the most important concern to my sense.
    In this odd situation, it’s very hard for anyone to foresee how things will turn… and you’re perfectly right, self-fulfilling prophecy behavior can also be a concern with dangerous consequences on economy.

    On a happier note, I’ve used the Fringer adapter on the Z6 with the Canon EF 135mm F/2 L and it’s pretty cool indeed.
    To me, the Z system is probably the most powerful and versatile system nowadays, which is quite a surprise when we know how advanced were Sony on mirrorless these last years.
    So indeed, let’s hope Nikon will be able to keep it up during these next years.

    • Self-fulfilling recessions expand beyond just photography – it’s almost a systemic attitude/ problem.

      This mention of EF reminds me that the EOS R system seems to have been quietly doing its thing – I’ve not really heard raves or rants either way, nor seen anybody use it, which makes me wonder what’s happening. They do have some really interesting (but enormous) lenses, too. The bodies are too big, but perhaps required to balance out the glass.

      • Pierre Lagarde says:

        Indeed (for self-fulfilling). In french we also say “prescription du problème”, leading the results to what you’re most afraid of.
        For Canon, it looks like they are selling anyway, but as you, I haven’t seen anybody out with the new system at my place recently.
        Some own sources nearby seem to indicate that Nikon Z system’s cameras sell much better in France than Canon EOS R system’s. But it looks different on Amazon (if the list of Amazon best sellers can be considered liable to estimate that).

        Anyway, EOS M system is their best seller (and probably overall mirrorless systems best seller), EOS M50, especially. They sell like hot cakes with the growing demand of a simple camera for Vlogging. More expansive full-frame cameras are not what people are looking at first for that, of course.

        Though, the coming R5 and R6 look promising. We’ll probably know soon.

        • EOS M is very different to EOS R – one is a very clear consumer option, the other is clearly pro. Maybe it’s a sensible way to serve both markets well, but it makes for questionable economics overall…

          • Pierre Lagarde says:

            Indeed. Though EOS M is an excellent system, the overall target can’t be the same as EOS R.
            Also, clearly, the approach of Nikon is different, offering only one MILC system.
            Though it may also be for structural reasons as Canon and Nikon are quite different companies in that regard.

            Anyway, it’s a good thing we still have choice that way.

  19. Actually for me m43 has the right compromises in image quality and size of bodies and especially the size of the lenses, even comparing to APSC counterparts. I don’t like carrying around the weight so I hope that the format continues.

    • That’s likely because there is no dedicated APSC system: everything is inherited from FF, and thus scaled accordingly. Even if lenses do not cover FF, the mounts are shared (and mount distances and geometry) – leaving things larger than they need to be. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of M4/3 gear still floating around for a while yet; who knows, perhaps it might even be a good chance to pick up some bargains…

  20. I think there would be a certain irony in play if the companies who “survive” the coming years end up being the “niche” companies, i.e. whose products are not really (or not ALL really) considered to be aimed at consumers. Leica would be one (I’m not counting their Panasonic hybrids), and maybe Hasselblad another, although you’d know that better than most (I can’t imagine that conversation in many camera or electronics stores around the world: “I’m looking for something simple to take family and travel photos with”. “Oh, I can confidently recommend this 400MP multi-shot Hasselblad. Hope you have strong arm and back muscles”). There would be an even bigger irony if most of the “survivors” were non-Japanese companies, given that most people still associate “Japan” with “cameras”.

    I was going to mention Phase One as well (can’t get more niche than that – they don’t make anything smaller than MF, do they?), but you mentioned rumours of a buy-out by Sony. Nothing, as they say, is sacred anymore.

    I’ve actually read this news on other sources too, and more than a few people have expressed surprise that it wasn’t Nikon who bowed out before Olympus, given that Nikon’s most recent financial results have apparently been disastrous.

    Who knows, maybe this will spur a complete unknown to turn up and shake the market.

    • Not really – I think you’ll see the truly irreplaceable niche companies and the widely penetrative mass market consumer goods companies survive; there won’t be anything much in the middle because both suppliers and consumers will have moved either way: to volume or to specialization and higher margins.

      Leica will survive because they can charge a premium by primarily being a lifestyle brand, with the electronic part taken care of by Panasonic. Hasselblad – I honestly don’t know. It depends on what DJI does. And realistically, there are fewer and fewer commercial pros who can afford to run a really high end MF system; and I bet that now even a good chunk of those are considering if they can get the job done for less. Staying in business is all about cashflow and margins, and high dollar, marginal reliability hardware is not it especially when most clients really cannot see the difference in image quality. (Creatively is another thing, but that does not require expensive hardware).

      I actually get the impression Nikon has more at stake and thus greater incentive to double down, if only because most of the current Olympus line has R&D depreciated, but the Z line is too new to have done so yet.

      But yes, it’s about time the camera companies stopped adding a numerical increment and another scene mode and calling it a new model.

      • Hasselblad is following in Olympus footsteps. (Or is it the other way around)? Old sensor and little innovation. The latest body iterations are minor upgrades, the lenses way too expensive and far behind what Fuji is offering. The 907 and CFV II combo is interesting but a niche within a niche.

        • The 907 was supposed to be the start, and ready/finished a long time ago. I have no idea what they’re doing now, but I do know there was a lot more in planning.

          On paper ‘behind’ Fuji, but not everything is quantifiable in a spec sheet. The Fujis have image processing that don’t make full use of the sensor’s potential and leave both dynamic range limited and pixel-soft files compared to the Hasselblads; the 100MP is really poor at the pixel level and most of the samples I’ve seen are also showing the limitations of the lenses. Let’s not even start on how unintuitive the UI is, and worse, how there’s nearly zero consistency between the 50S and 100.

      • Haider Gill says:

        If there is more money to be made elsewhere – ROI, the big consumer electronics brands will head-off. From what I know if Nikon pull out of cameras then there is not really much there. Sony has games, movies and music

        • Nikon is one of the largest manufacturers of semiconductor steppers, which is a core component required for photolithographic resizing of chip designs onto silicon – this has always been a far bigger business for them than cameras. That doesn’t include medical and scientific.

  21. Coming from the Nikon DSLR world I dived into the mirrorless world a few years back and never regretted it (for the type of photography I mainly do, which excludes sports and action), namely Olympus and Sony, and just recently went back to Nikon, Z mount, and I finally feel again like having a real camera in my hands, all the dials and buttons feel and operate gorgeously, in particular the shutter release button, the joystick and the EVF feel so natural to me, the whole handling actually, and the shutter sound is quite quiet and lovely. The size is just right, similar to my first camera “full frame” camera which happend to be a Canon AE-1 Program, back in the days.

    Yes it’s time to support your favorite camera brand, whichever it is. This is money better spent than for a newer smartphone model.

    • Ironically the spending on the newest smartphone model is precisely what has allowed them to develop so aggressively and seriously challenge (and IMO, for a lot of things, beat) compacts.

      Personally, I quite like the fact there was almost zero learning/adaptation curve between the D850 and Z7…

  22. I really hoping Nikon comes out the other end of this ok. Their Z system so far is incredible, and I wouldn’t be super excited about switching to Sony.

    I should be getting my 24-200/4-6.3 soon. If it’s good, I’ll sell off my 24-70/4. Early reports are very promising, but they’re preliminary at best so far.

    • Put me in the group of cautious optimists. Not had the chance to shoot properly with it yet, but testing suggests it’s at very least no worse than the 24-120/4 VR. As with a lot of multi-element complex zooms, it tends to weight macrocontrast over microcontrast, but this is at least fixable. Sharpness is already pretty good wide open, but doesn’t appear to improve that much – f8 is about it until you hit diffraction fairly soon after. You’re already at f6 by 70mm, though.

      • I love the 24-70/4 because it’s so compact and very good – I don’t normally like 24-70’s. 24-105 is kind of a minimum for me, 24-70 has always been too limited most of the time (either not wide enough, so I need the 14-30, or not long enough so I need the 70-200). But I’ve kept it because it’s compact as hell. If we can get at least very good performance (similar to the 24-120 would be great) from a 24-200, I’d be very happy. I won’t sell my 70-200/4 VR, but I’d dump the 24-70 for it.

        I get a little more leeway on diffraction because I have the Z6 (some day I’ll upgrade my D810 to a Z7ish but I’m waiting for the next generation). f6 at 70mm isn’t great, but with stabilization isn’t all that bad either.

        • You get double VR with in-lens and in-body, and a couple more usable stops with the Z6 over the Z7 – nothing not to like with the Z 24-200, IMO. It’s also not that much larger than the 24-70.

          • That’s really good to hear. I have my order already in, so hopefully it ships out by next week sometime!

            Really want the new 105 Macro (I’ll be interested in the 60 but I’m quite happy with my 60/2.8G already) and the pancake 28 and 40 lenses. Unfortunately COVID likely set all of those back.

      • I’m also really interested to hear how good the Z 24-200 is, I’m looking for a single lens to cary for hiking. (Weight is fine, but worried about the IQ – I’ve had mixed results with equivalent lenses from other brands.) Currently using Sony and Panasonic MFT, but as you say there’s not a huge amount of size savings any more with MFT, so thinking of getting a Z7 plus a 16-50 for travelling light, and ditching most of the MFT stuff I have. There are some Sony E lenses I like and want to keep (the Zeiss Batises, for example) but those will adapt to Nikon anyway.
        I still think there is an opportunity for the new olympus owners to make a genuinely small body – a replacement to the Panasonic GM5. That with a couple of carefully chosen primes would get my money.

        • Extended testing seems to suggest the lens is stronger at wide/middle and weaker at the long end. The corners aren’t bad need +1/2 stops down to hit peak. I think all in all it’s good, but of course there are going to be compromises given size and range covered…

  23. What are your thoughts about the immanent Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Lens, which as a close-up photographer looks useful to me because it has a close-focus distance of 1.64′ / 50 cm, making it more useful for my work than the F-mount FL version? I have a group of Voigtlander E-Mounts with TechArt adapters for the Z-Mount, including the 110mm and 65mm Macros, which are nice, but for careful focus-stacking have focus throws that IMO are too short? I find myself using the classic Voigtlander 125mm APO-Lanthar quite often on the Z-Mount (with FTZ adapter), for instance? Nikon has not produced a Z-Mount killer-Macro, for example. Others that I have been using on the Z-Mount with the FTZ or other adapters are the Leica 100mm APO Macro Elmarit-R, the Coastal Optics 60mm APO, and the Nikkor 55mm “O” CRT lens. I also have a copy of the new Noct 58mm S lens, which although perhaps a kind of specialty lens is wonderful.I too am collecting close-up and macro lenses.

    • It’s academic unless they actually release them in quantity, and manage to keep he system alive…on paper it looks good; I’m keeping my FL until there are teleconverters because more often than not I require reach and the option of speed.

      For focus stacking I user longer lenses for lighting/ reflection control and fix magnification and use a rail. Makes no sense to vary magnification as inevitably there are artefacts…

      • Which rail do you use Ming?

        • A pair of crossed Novoflex Castel XQs.

          • Doesn’t focus stacking by moving a camera and lens for/aft on a rail change the magnification?

            • To take advantage of how focus stacking softer is designed, the best methods of stacking are:

              WORST: Using a focus rail and moving camera and lens.

              BETTER: Using the helicoid on a lens.

              BEST: Using a bellows with the lens fixed and moving the read standard (and camera).

              It makes a big difference which is used.

              • Sorry, I don’t agree with this. There is no way to precisely move the focal plane by the same increment each time if you’re using the helicoid – it’s too easy to have missed ‘slices’. I’ve never had a successful stack using the helicoid, but I do routinely with a rail.

                • Well, these instructions came from Rik Littlefield, designer of Zerene Stacker software, so that is what he points out. Perhaps it is just for his software.

                  • It *might* be true if you have something with a calibrated helicoid that doesn’t use FL shortening tricks to increase magnification; this rules out pretty much every modern lens – especially fly by wire ones. The only way I’ve been able to get consistent results is by moving the rails – that said, bad rails won’t result in an aligned stack, either.

                    • I can say from actual prolonged experience that using a view camera with a fixed lens (front standard) and moving the camera with the rear standard produces a better result than a rail. I have stacked many hundreds of thousands of images and this works best. Of course, many of my favorite lenses do not work on a view camera. Yet, many “apochromatic” exotic lenses do and I use those.

                    • Agreed on the view camera – but it’s a non-starter for digital system cameras (and if you had a view camera, why not just use camera movements?)

                    • Here is an answer from Rik Littlefield: ”
                      Regarding ring-versus-rail, the best discussion I know is still my article at https://www.zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker/docs/troubleshooting/ringversusrail .

                      Quick answer is that “it depends”. What it depends on is some combination of magnification, exactly what optics are being used, and a horde of other factors, a few of which are subjective. Magnification is the most important factor. At low magnifications — a whole bouquet of flowers — helicoid is clearly better than rail and rear bellows is not much different from helicoid. At high magnifications — a single poppy seed — the rail is clearly best. Someplace in the middle — often around 1:1 — there’s typically a crossover where helicoid and rail are about equal and rear bellows is clearly better. But almost everywhere there are exceptions. I can set up special optics — telecentric on the object side — where even at 1:1 the rail is clearly best.

                      If I recall correctly, when you and I discussed this before you were mainly working in a low mag closeup regime where using a rail tends to produce artifacts due to change in perspective as the lens moves. In that regime it’s typical that the worst/better/best ordering is what your list shows.”

                    • Okay, I think we’re all on the same page then. I agree with “whole bouquet” the rail makes no sense – good luck even finding a rail long enough, for starters. I was thinking in the 1:2 to 2:1 regime I usually work in for watches; the rail is about perfect given system limits – and most small format lenses either being fly by wire or not constant FL. Interesting how this discussion went from the fate of Olympus to focus stacking…

            • No, magnification is determined by the lens – moving the whole assembly back and forth simply moves the focal plane.

  24. Danielvr says:

    (minor correction: the original E-M1 from 2013 has a 16, not 20 MP sensor)

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