Back in early December, OM Digital (now OM System but formerly Olympus, for those still keeping track) indicated its online camera stores would go dark from mid-December through mid-January. It seemed odd at the time that any sort of web store infrastructure switch would take a month. Typically, pre-planned transitions occur almost instantly, unless distribution rights or other contract matters intervene. The planned schedule would have meant the OM System store opening a few days ago, but it hasn’t yet.
[UPDATE 1/31/22: A retail store in Japan indicated OM Digital will start shipping in mid-February after having moved warehouses.]
Olympus Europe appears to still offer cameras online under the old corporate structure, as pictured at left.
Olympus cameras are typically sold via retailers, and there does not appear to be any supply issues with online retailers currently.
It is hard to determine whether the nondescript branding of OM System is a deliberate placeholder in the intervening months and years before the assets are sold to another company, or whether it is merely the product of the double-whammy of engineering culture and a Japanese corporate culture. Our bet is that it is the product of a combination of unnecessarily-restrictive obligations inserted in spin-off contract language and the added factor of the new company’s running by the seat of their pants.
Attention to the odd branding decisions isn’t just industry gossip. The use of the word “system” among camera manufacturers typically connotes a specific mount. For the Olympus camera division to call itself the OM System and produce only Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras is a bit like Google calling a new version of its Chrome browser the Chrome Markup Language Viewer. It suggests an ownership.
It would be hard to come up with a company that would be eager to purchase OM System. Panasonic might benefit from eliminating its main MFT mount competition, but an acquisition seems like a tall order for a company looking to shed assets – and particularly ones that aren’t producing significant profit, like its camera division. This brings up the notion that perhaps a spin-off of Panasonic’s MFT range could be combined with the Olympus equivalent.
That could even explain some of Panasonic’s own perplexing moves, like releasing a thoroughly-useless GH5 Mark II while on the same day indicating a “real” successor would be coming soon.
OM has been building buzz for a “wow camera,” for some months, and has positioned itself as a provider of new, innovative tech. The MFT ecosystem appears to be at a crossroads. If Panasonic finally launches a real successor to its GH5, and OM “wows” with a new launch, it would breathe new life into the mount. If they did so in concert, it would truly wow the market. But – probably more likely – they’ll continue to hobble down their different roads, like the geriatric race we’ve been seeing for the past two years.