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Straightening out Olympus's m4/3 lineup

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by dhazeghi, May 23, 2014.

  1. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    As I noted in Ray's Olympus Outlook thread, one of the major problems Olympus seems to be dealing with is unsold inventory - half a year's worth of m4/3 bodies at this point. There are lots of possible explanations for why that would happen, but my theory is that they're having a difficult time forecasting the relative popularity of different models/colors/kits and that the poor differentiation in terms of price and features results in certain models (e.g. the E-P5 and E-PL5) selling in much lower quantities than others.

    I think a lineup like the following would be both easier to market and balanced enough to avoid the sort of inventory build-up that we've seen to date.

    Basic: E-PL7. $500 w/14-42 kit. A camera for people upgrading from point-and-shoots or looking for the smallest possible camera with some controls, stabilization and good (better than P&S) quality. Take the E-PL5, give it a 3:2 screen, WiFi, and an electronic shutter. Also integrate the flash. This fixes the current mess where the E-PL5 is basically an E-PM2 with 2 additional features, but for $200 more. Also, a small camera needs an appropriately small lens, so they really should replace the 14-42 II R with the 14-42 EZ, or better yet something like Panasonic's 12-32 which doesn't slow startup and shutdown.

    Enthusiast: E-M10s. $800 w/12-50 kit. Basically the E-M10, plus decent focus tracking. If Sony can get good C-AF in their $700 A6000, m4/3 can have it in a sub-$1400 body. This is for folks who want the performance and handling of a small DSLR, but without the bulk and weight. The controls, EVF and C-AF are the major selling points over the lower-end model, and the AF in particular would help differentiate against the older (presumably discontinued) E-M5.

    Semi-pro: E-P7. $1000 no kit. The E-P5 was a poor seller largely due to the fact that it included no EVF, but was priced as high or higher than cameras which did (GX7, E-M5). So Olympus needs to get with the program and integrate the VF4's EVF into their 'Pro' Pen. Clearly it can be done without significantly enlarging the camera (again, see the GX7). Beyond the EVF, they need to improve C-AF (as with the E-M10s). A top-grade EVF combined with the E-P5's other perks and styling make it a clear upgrade from the lower-end models.

    Pro: E-M1s. $1200 no kit. Why $1200? Because no matter how good it is, people are going to compare it against the Canon 70D/Nikon D7100/Pentax K3 class of cameras where the list price is ~$1200. Barring availability of a newer (and better) sensor, the E-M1's primary needs are cross-point PDAF sensors (at least 9), and good quality 1080p60 video. Weather-sealing, grip, video, and AF (with good S-AF and C-AF for m4/3 and 4/3 lenses) are its distinguishing features.

    Colors: another thing that Olympus can do to simplify is the body colors. Move to either an all-black or all-silver lineup, but design the bodies to accept skins, similar to the Aki-asahi ones. The trick is to make them pressure fit, rather than using an adhesive (some type of slightly stretchy material), or if that can't be done, to install them for customers in the stores. They can sell the skins for $10 or $20. The big advantage is that they no longer have 3 or 4 SKUs for each body and skins are cheaper (and much faster) to produce than colored bodies. Bottom line - they won't end up with a bunch of hard-to-sell bodies at the end of a production cycle due to their unpopular colors (red E-PM2 anybody?), nor will they have shortages in one color body and surpluses in another at the beginning (think black vs. silver E-M5).

    Scheduling: replacement cycles on Olympus bodies have traditionally been all over the map. Consistent, longer cycles make marketing easier, and minimize the frequency (and necessity) of blowing out inventory at the end of the cycle. Replacing items every 12 months, unless there are truly major changes to introduce, is not a great way to do things. Look at Nikon and their D3200/D3300/D5200/D5300 mess. An 18-24 month cycle would be a good compromise.

    Feature migration: consistency is important. Remember when the E-P3 was selling alongside the E-PL5? The best way to avoid that is to start at the top and move down, pushing features from the top to the bottom as costs decrease and the feature is streamlined. Firmware updates can help to keep older (in-production) products from lagging on the software end, as with the recent 0-second antishock addition. New generation features should first be made available in the top-end models. The situation where a lower-end model noticeably outperforms a higher-end one should be avoided.

    Bargains: much as I enjoy hunting for bargains on the Olympus online store, they would really benefit from a more measured approach to sales and rebates. If an item is not selling in appropriate quantities at the listed price, either the price or the expectations need to be adjusted on a long-term basis. Trying to goose sales with temporary price drops hurts resale value and smaller camera stores. Aside from major holidays and clearing out soon-to-be-discontinued items, prices should not be changing week-to-week.

    Anyhow, those are my thoughts. I look forward to hearing yours!
    • Like Like x 14
  2. D7k1

    D7k1 Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Nov 18, 2013
    Once you've trained a customer base to expect deep discounts it is hard to break that expectation. However perhaps a strong niche marketing effort could work. I think the m1/m10 and the EPL7/P7 would be great (premium and semi-premium products). I for one think that adding a view finder has to be carefully done as I find the flash on the Ep5 a useful tool and would not like to lose it nor the very beautiful design of the P cameras. A longer cycle with firmware updates is a good solid plan. But even more so is to finding a way to target Boomers. We have the money and these cameras are the perfect match of size and performance for most Boomers. Size for me is the key benefit of the MFT. I have expectations of performance and size of system, but MFT meets those. I'm in my 60's and 10 years from now MFT will be even more important to me. MFT could get very healthy by focusing on the type of customer who buys MFT's currently with a focus on Boomers IMHO. We buy premium products and often are opinion leaders in our families. Right now, as with the general public, MFT has very poor recognition in the US, building recognition for its benefits vs consumer needs is key I think to MFT succeeding in the long run.
  3. Jonathan F/2

    Jonathan F/2 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 10, 2011
    Los Angeles, USA
    I have a feeling this is Olympus' long term strategy. I can see the 14-42 EZ as competitor to Sony's 16-50, and with Panasonic going 4K, I have a feeling Olympus will start offering 24p/60i in their video, while Panasonic will go mainly all 4K. The E-M5 was a stop gap for the E-M1, so the E-M10 is definitely a better suited camera for it's price point. I'm really not a fan of the 16:9 ratio screens on the Pen minis so hopefully the E-PL7 gets the E-M10 screen. I have a feeling a good portion of your recommendations will come through.
  4. Itchybiscuit

    Itchybiscuit Photon Mangler

    Dec 10, 2013
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Well, being a Panasonic user (I have nothing against Olympus - one of my favourite cameras is their OM10) I thank you for this fine body of work. I've always found it almost impossible to work out which model does what and for which level of user. You've laid it all out clearly and logically so I'm going to vote for this to be 'stickied'.

    Now, if some good person could do the same for the Panasonic range, I'd be a happy chappy. :2thumbs:
  5. broody

    broody Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 8, 2013
    I've imagined Oly offering a lineup akin to Nikon's FF offerings with their 3 OM-D lines.
    EM-10: The entry-level enthusiast model, similar to the D600.
    EM-5(mkII): A high-res solution with 24+ megapixels (a mini D800)
    EM-1: The action camera.

    This approach could be quite successful. As for the PEN line, I think they're in real problems. Everyone else offers similar form factors with built-in EVFs. How can the EPL7 compete with the A6000?
  6. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    You've basically outlined my thoughts, but offered a DSLR 'like' body for the enthusiast line-up, which is probably a better idea. Given how poorly some models are selling, Olympus really does need to revise their selection of cameras. No market has ever really succeeded where there is too much consumer choice regarding models. Surely they must realise this by now.
  7. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Fortunately, it's not the whole customer base, it's mainly the sorts of folks who hang out here! But even for those of us who hop from camera to camera frequently, I think it'll be a net gain. No need to spend to bargain hunting or 'waiting for the next sale' and I think resale value will go up significantly. For Olympus it's also a gain though because it makes it easier for them to get their products into smaller stores, and it simplifies accounting.

    Targeted marketing is definitely something they need to work on. I think the retro appeal of the Pen should definitely help it along there - just look at Fuji's X series - but there also needs to be some recognition that sports/action etc. capabilities are necessary to get people to consider them in the first place.

    Exactly. Honestly, I think 4K video is at least 5 years out from making it into common usage, but it's a nice way for Panasonic to differentiate themselves as being ahead of the curve, and the quality of their 1080p output is really remarkable. I don't expect Olympus to spend nearly as much emphasis on HD video - they don't have the background in it - but if they can match the G6, it will at least cease to be a weak point for the camera.

    Thanks! Most of the ideas aren't all that original, but I thought it would be handy to put them all in one place. And as you say, the current arrangement is pretty far from obvious.

    I'd like to see that too. My experience with Panasonic is much more limited, but they also seem to be in the position of wanting to consolidate and rationalize their lineup. Would be interesting to see how that could be done...

    Actually, I'm not sure I'd take Nikon as an example of how to do things right. They basically have 5 FF DSLRs - the D4s, D800E, D800, Df and D600, and there's still a very vocal contingent of D700 users who are unhappy that their camera doesn't have sensible upgrade (moderate price, high frame rate, etc). The main reason Nikon used a different sensor in the D800 and D4 was that they couldn't support the high frame rates with the large sensor, nor were they able to come up with a binning mode to make files acceptable photojournalists. I don't see m4/3 having that problem (the 24MP Sony A6000 can do 11fps).

    Now personally, your camera would be perfect for me, but from Olympus's perspective, if they're going to introduce a new sensor, they'd better do it at the top first, otherwise they're diverting potential sales from their pro model and accepting lower margins for their newest tech.

    I don't think it should. m4/3 needs an inexpensive, small entry-level body, and that means no EVF. The EPL-7 should be competing against the NEX-5. The E-M10 despite the 16mm hump on top, is the competition to the A6000, and I think with improved C-AF, it'd be a pretty strong one. The Sony after all has no 5-axis stabilization and no inexpensive lightweight telephoto lenses.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    The E-M1 should most definitely not be devoted to action. It will be a long time, if ever, that it would be accepted by even a small proportion of photographers as a sports camera; Nikon/Canon have that sown up. It needs to be a highly capable, rugged, go anywhere, do anything camera, without the bulk of equivalent Nikon/Canon bodies.
  9. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    I went back and forth on this. Basically, they need a competent camera with an EVF for enthusiasts. It can either be a Pen with a built-in VF, or a DSLR-like camera. The advantage to the Pen-with-an-EVF approach is that they can compete straight on against Sony's A6000 and I will finally get my small E-M5 backup with a built-in EVF! The downside is that it requires ditching the E-M10 which is their newest model, and it mucks up their top-Pen-as-a-luxury-model advertising.
  10. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    That's the conundrum, do you have a low and high end Pen, and a low and high end O-MD, or what you suggested? I keep swinging between both ideas. And by low end, I don't mean trashy, just more affordable for the masses, with the low end O-MD being slightly more sophisticated than the low end Pen, but not the high end Pen. Both options have merit and could be debated, but I really think Olympus should offer a Pen with EVF, maybe that being in the high end Pen. But at the end of the day, I believe that Olympus only needs four cameras.
  11. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2012
    David Dornblaser
    I think that lack of EVF is a big issue for Olympus to attract buyers who also consume lenses. Reading the past threads there were lots of us who asked for a built-in EVF on the PEN series. And, look at the pictures of the forum members PENS with detachable EVFs attached. With the E-M10 being so small and, relatively, inexpensive the PENS will be under even more pressure.

    I think the 4K is already here. Not with TV units but with computer monitors. There are a lot of sub $1,000 monitors, even $500 4K monitors on the market already. Indie filmmakers are already shooting films in 4K and you can even watch them on boring old YouTube. Folks have already figured out that you do not need a 4K monitor to edit 4K footage and that 4K films, arguably, look better in 1080. 4K is here, but it has started on the internet and not the TV set.

    As to the other points, I agree that a four camera line-up for Olympus makes sense. As does a more logical upgrade schedule. I will also agree that if the top of the line PEN does not have a built-in EVF it will not sell well. If Olympus wants to sell cameras to folks who purchase multiple lenses, there are only two colors that matter for the body: silver and black.
  12. RevBob

    RevBob Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Jun 4, 2011
    NorthWestern PA
    I have an E-P1 and an E-P3 (and once owned an E-P2) - I do NOT want an EVF on an E-Px - ever! I have absolutely zero need for an EVF. The only thing stopping me from buying an E-P5 is price. When it drops to the $425 range I will snap one up.
    I owned Canon DSLRs and grew up using cameras like the venerable Pentax k-1000 but I found that I like and very much prefer a rear screen to any type of viewfinder. Just my personal preference - but it has kept me from buying a used EM-5 in favor of waiting for an E-P5.
  13. CiaranCReilly

    CiaranCReilly Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 18, 2012
    Ciaran Reilly
    The EVF on the Sony RX100 III looks really cool - it pops up like a flash so that you don't even know it's there until you want to use it. I'd love to see this on the E-P6 or E-P7 as I love the size and handling of this class of camera. Went for a GX7 over an E-P5 simply because of the lack of built in EVF - I hate the idea of carrying accessories

    Sent from my iPhone using Mu-43
    • Like Like x 1
  14. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2012
    David Dornblaser
    I can appreciate that viewpoint; however, I still suspect the "market" is asking for an EVF. Since viewfinders are now electrical and not optical, I assume that the cost of adding them has fallen greatly.
  15. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    You may well be right. I see two main problems for widespread 4K use. One is that many things will look worse in HD - slight errors in focusing, imperfections, etc. That will eventually be dealt with, at least by the professionals, but its going to take time. The other challenge at least in the US is internet access. Broadband is not especially fast in most places, and ISPs are doing their best to enact bandwidth caps. But we shall see soon enough!

    You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I think you'll find you're a distinct minority on this question. And from Olympus's perspective the question is how many buyers will the EVF (and the associated changes to design/price) attract vs. lose. My strong suspicion is that they lose a lot more users by omitting the EVF than they gain, even if the EVF made the camera slightly larger and added $100 to the price (though I suspect in practice both size and price changes will be much smaller than that).

    It's a clever design. But I think that on a camera the size of the E-P5, the Fuji X-E2/Sony NEX 6 approach would work just as well, and require less complexity and cost.
    • Like Like x 1
  16. PatrickNSF

    PatrickNSF Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 30, 2011
    San Francisco, CA
    I'll have to see how it works in person, but the pop-up viewfinder looks awkward to use from the few "hands on" previews I've seen. First you press a button to pop it up, then you have to pull it forward to use it. I'm a big fan of the RX100 – I had it since it's launch in June 2012 – but I'd much prefer a fixed built-in viewfinder that just adds a bit of extra space to the camera.

    As for the E-P5, I would have bought one last year before the E-M10, and instead of the NEX 6/7, had it offered a proper built-in viewfinder. That was a "must have" for me for that caliber of camera.
  17. Reflector

    Reflector Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 31, 2013
    Just no.

    I come from the Nikon side of things. You want to know what actual Nikon users want?
    A D400 (High FPS, pro level AF, 16MP D7000 sensor). The D300 users already lost hope and they're dispersing to other systems looking for a D400 like camera.
    A (real) D700 successor. No D810(E) II with a mere 6 FPS. No 36MP sensor, they want the D4(s) sensor.
    A D4x. Not a D810E. No, just a D4X so the pros can have a D4s and D4x they can share the batteries inbetween and have everything setup identically.
    A non gimped, properly designed Df closer to the Fuji X-T1 that actually isn't just a D610 in a new body targeted as a lame cash grab for the middle aged nostalgic crowd in Japan.
    A 1 series that's competitive against everything else instead of being another overpriced cash grab that rips off specific features from other mirrorless systems and at most can only talk about its PDAF which is head to head with the Alpha 6000 at best and only has the advantage of being able to adapt over Nikon telephotos with AF.
    Something that actually lets them have options against the RX100 and RX100M2

    What Nikon users don't want:
    Another D3400/5400 thing
    A D810E that has barely any improvements except higher shutter rate, this caters only to a very specific crowd (And said crowd will run over to Sony the moment an A9R with a 100MP sensor comes out, even if the camera will shutter shock at everything below 1/1000s and can't do anything except ISO5-400.)
    D600 shutter fiasco
    Coolpix A
    Another cash grab release like the Df that ignores the demand for a proper implementation ("X-T1 as a Df MK2")

    If you look at this from the Canon and Nikon body perspective, you see a little more of this placement:

    1Dmk# / D# = E-M1 (Pro body, AF and framerate)
    7D / D#00 (# = 1, 2, 3, 7) = E-M5 (Semi pro body, good all around characteristics)
    #0D, Rebels / D#0, D7#00 (Entry level body, small size, well featured)

    So far Olympus has the OM-D line down. The only thing I can nitpick is that the E-M10 doesn't have battery compatibility with the E-M1 and E-M5 ("Oh well")
    • Like Like x 2
  18. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2012
    David Dornblaser
    Hmmm, I did not think of the broadband implications, good catch. However, all of the major markets have access to decent broadband. I can't wait until some of the super fast fiber networks are in place.

    As to imperfections, I don't know why creative folks dumb down their pics, etc., on the internet.
  19. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 27, 2013
    People are more discriminating buyers than ever. Olympus has been a very poor seller because the competition is that much sexier. Camera manufacturers who lack innovations, performance and appeal get swallowed. The market is overflowing and the global market is in recession as is most nothern country. New economics are growing and are the next market to aim, but lets not forget photography at the top end level always been a luxury market (pro aside).
    What Olympus need to do is to concentrate in making top notch video, but I fear they lost the battle long ago. I mean to produce a body with good video will cost them millions and won't be available right now or even in 2015... They made bad strategic choices in the last few years... Maximum f1.8? They don't care about video? The market has an answer to your growth question Oly.
  20. Evan614

    Evan614 Mu-43 Regular

    May 6, 2014
    Their solution: Marketing, Marketing, Marketing.
    Olympus is an old name (ie not seen as fresh modern lineup) with neutral reputation (from the general public point of view). Making Olympus cool to own & use is very important for saturation into the general public. I think if they created a new labeled camera (ie remove Olympus and put on a new name) with modern design, cheeky features, and slick technology... they could plow a new path. With that said I don't think they could ever accomplish that.
    Well what do they need to do? Gain more ground on specs. Solid glass with a fast shutter (no shutter lag) with dead on focus, accurate color and lack of noisy image at the highest of high ISO is the key. This will get them solid reviews. Those solid reviews get enthusiasts buying.
    P&S market is shrinking as quality of cellphones and iPad images go up. So this lineup needs to be attractive and powerful.
    one other thing: Olympus needs to trim their line up and create company focus.. perhaps making 15 distinct cameras vs 40.

    my 2 cents
    • Like Like x 1
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