The writing on the wall has been painfully obvious since inception of Micro Four Thirds. The alliance between Panasonic and Olympus failed to deliver truly intercompatible lenses from the beginning. Third party developers never jumped Micro Four Thirds platform. Micro Four Thirds remained a small niche for enthusiast budget photographers lured by small size and weight of the Micro Four Thirds system. Now the budget camera segment is being obliterated by assault of highly capable multilens smartphones powered with AI-assisted computational photography processors. Industry giants like Canon, Nikon and Sony are in ferocious fight for upper segment of the photography market. Fujifilm has found its niche in the medium high resolution camera segment, Panasonic is focusing efforts on L-mount Alliance.
What is there for Olympus? Nothing but losses and more losses. Photography business has never been a significant part of Olympus corporate holding portfolio. Olympus will not be participating in Photokina 2020. Recently announced financials of Olympus imaging division show a 17% year on year decrease in revenue and continued operating losses. End of the road, easier to divest than to fix.
Applying the Boston Matrix model to the digital camera market gives us a pretty clear answer why Olympus is beyond salvation:
Sony (both full frame and ASP-C) lines, Fujifilm medium format
Canon and Nikon (both in DSLR and mirrorless segments)
Fujifilm ASP-C line and Panasonic L-mount line
Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds
Theoretically the micro four thirds format could get a second chance if a company with strong computational photography background, like Apple, Google, Sony or Samsung, would have decided to adapt Micro Four Thirds format for mobile image sensors but that seems just as unlikely as a notion of Olympus undertaking the switch of concept on its own.
So, what options are open for Olympus?
1. Increase innovation rate, massively invest in R&D. Adopt high resolution sensors in the range of 30-100 MP and AI=powered processing to compensate loss of light per pixel. Highly unlikely for a niche company in the shrinking market, it’s just not a way to go, that’s not how a corporate mind works. Still if Olympus will play high resolution card that would be a game changing event for entire industry.
2. Cut costs, stall, procrastinate, make appearance of innovation by introducing new models with minor cosmetic changes in the hope of better times and to minimize inventory. Canon and Nikon, as well as Olympus played this game for years. The most likely course of action that probably will lead to closure anyway in a couple of years.
3. Sell camera business altogether. Highly unlikely option, we just don’t see the buyers.