If you follow this blog regularly you know I am a huge fan of the mirror-less cameras and micro four thirds in particular. I own and shoot with a significant Olympus OMD EM5 system (with almost every lens Olympus makes) and I also use a Fuji X100s. I love these cameras. I love the small form factor. I love the light weight and the image quality that you can wrangle out of them if you know what you are doing. I love the fact that they can produce professional-quality photos but don’t draw attention or intimidate subjects. But there is a dark cloud on the horizon and you might as well know about it.
Mirror-less and Micro Four Thirds cameras are not nearly as popular in the US as they are in Japan. And that spells a potentially huge problem for the camera manufacturers and possibly for the photographers who use those cameras.
The mirror-less segment is gaining huge ground in Japan, where it makes up about 10% of the camera market, according to the Camera & Imaging Products Association. Of the 1.8 million cameras shipped in the Americas (not just the USA) in April, a measly 38,843 of them were mirror-less 2% of the total.
Based on my experience, watching camera markets for four decades, if a Japanese camera doesn’t sell well in the USA, the manufacturers make a change. And that could spell trouble for those of us with big investments in these cameras.
And there is additional bad news. The scandal at Olympus may be over (executives were tried and punished for embezzlement under Japan’s odd legal system) but the company still required a sizable investment from Sony to stay afloat. The money mostly went to support Olympus’ medical optics division. So what happens to the camera division? Olympus never got back to me when I asked tough questions about their future. In fact, in my last conversation with them they denied the Sony investment was going to happen and nine months later it did.
There is still the matter of no professional support. If you rely on a mirror-less or Micro Four Thirds camera as a professional, and your camera goes down or your lens won’t work, there is still no CPS or NPS (Canon Professional Services and Nikon Professional Services) respectively. If you’re a working pro it’s a huge risk to rely on product that doesn’t receive professional support. Panasonic told me six months ago they were working on such a program but to date, not a peep has been heard from them on that front and I am doubtful they will get there quickly.
So as much as I hate to say it, because I do really love these cameras, if you’re a pro, (and only if you are a pro – relying on this gear to make your living,) you may want to invest in several bodies and accessories in case one goes down. Because it could be months, not weeks or days, before you can get service. I speak from experience. As someone who has a relatively high profile in the photo industry it took me more than 10 weeks to get my Olympus EP3 repaired when it broke. That is no big deal since it was just a test camera, but what if I’d relied on that camera to use in my business? None of the Japanese companies has a good track record when it comes to support for mirror-less/Micro Four Thirds cameras. I am hoping that changes, but worried it will not.
I am not saying you shouldn’t buy a mirror-less camera. I am actually rooting for these little guys. And for the record, I am still using mirror-less cameras. I plan to keep using them. But I am also pragmatic. I am saying if you are a pro, and you buy into MFT, you should do so with your expectations in check. I personally am a huge fan of these little gems, but I am also retiring from assignment shooting soon. If I were going to stay in the game, I’d probably either have lots of backups or expect to still use DSLRs somewhere in my mix. But thankfully, I don’t have to make that choice and most of you reading this don’t either.