Olympus rumors 2021
Of course, technically "Olympus rumors" are now "OM Digital Solutions rumors", following the official divestment of the imaging division (along with audio devices) from Olympus Corporation at the start of the year.
Still, OM Digital is keeping the Olympus brand for the time being, so we'll keep calling them "Olympus rumors". And at the moment those rumors consist of a lot of elliptic discussions, since OM Digital is keeping very tight lipped about what the future holds for the current crop of best Olympus cameras along with future announcements.
However, there have been plenty of official communications to interpret – and just as many rumors, requiring a pinch of salt. So what is the current skinny?
Olympus brand name will be kept (for now)
There has been endless speculation about how long OM Digital will keep using (or, indeed, is allowed to keep using) the Olympus brand name. Finally, at CP+ 2021, we got something resembling a proper answer; the brand will continue to be used "until Olympus fans are satisfied" that the new company is continuing the established traditions and products that Olympus is known for.
"We will continue to use the Olympus brand for the time being, as a way to communicate the message that our fundamental philosophies are not changing," said Setsuya Kataoka, OM Digital's chief technology officer. "Although I cannot comment on exactly how long we’ll be using the Olympus brand name, plans are to carry on the name until Olympus fans are satisfied that OM Digital Solutions is continuing with the development and sale of new products in existing brands, while being independent of Olympus."
Interestingly, in a comment not translated into English, Kataoka added: "After that, if we need that new attitude, we will change it accordingly… Since I have permission to use either one [Olympus or new name] for the time being, it is a policy to put the name of Olympus on the pentaprism."
This suggests that a new name to succeed the Olympus brand has already been decided, and that OM Digital Solutions will adopt this when it is ready to embrace a 'new attitude' and identity. Indeed, the company has registered the name "OM System"… could this be the future identity?
Olympus will partner with other companies
In a dramatic turn, OM Digital confirmed at CP+ 2021 that it will partner with other companies. "I’m interested in further exploring the potential of the optical technologies of cameras and lenses, as well as the audio technologies from IC recorder and other areas, exploring new avenues," said OM Digital's chief technology officer, Setsuya Kataoka.
At this point, he was asked by photographer Koichiro Saito, "In other words, there is a possibility of collaborating with other companies?"
"That’s correct," replied Kataoka. "Instead of just doing things on our own, we will work with other partners when necessary. I also want to actively engage in creating new value going forward."
While the prospect of running photography tours is a little left field, the idea of partnering with other companies makes a lot of sense. Hasselblad, for example, provides cameras for drones like the DJI Mavic 2 Pro (though of course, the former is owned by the latter), and Leica supplies the camera system for phones like the Huawei P40 Pro.
On a more fundamental level, is Kataoka suggesting that Olympus might even partner with another manufacturer on a camera? It seems farfetched, but we've already seen technology partnerships between rivals Samsung and Xiaomi on camera phones – so stranger things could happen!
Olympus x Samsung camera phones
Shortly after Kataoka announced that Olympus is looking to partner with other companies, rumors began to swirl that it is set to provide the cameras for upcoming Samsung phones – potentially including the Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 and Samsung Galaxy S22.
The South Korean giant already produces some of the best camera phones, so the addition of Olympus' camera expertise and technology could result in smartphone photography unlike anything we've ever seen before – particularly with reports that Olympus is set to provide its industry leading stabilization to Samsung handsets.
If this does come to fruition, Olympus could also learn some valuable new tricks from Samsung in the realm of computational photography, which it could bring back to the world of mirrorless cameras…
Olympus PEN and Tough cameras will continue
Given that the new company, OM Digital Solutions, literally takes its name from the OM-D product line (which stands for Olympus Maitani Digital, in honor of the brand's legendary lead designer), there have been enduring questions as to whether only the OM-D cameras would be continued while the PENs were dropped.
"Some may wonder if we are focusing only on the OM-D series," stated Setsuya Kataoka, OM Digital's chief technology officer, at CP+ 2021. "That is not the case. We will, of course, continue developing models in the Micro Four Thirds PEN series. The same goes for Tough compact digital cameras, Voice Trek and LS series IC recorders, and professional dictation products for some regions."
Olympus PEN-F II
The confirmation that PEN cameras will continue threw gasoline on the fire of Olympus PEN-F II rumors (or, perhaps, wishful thinking). The original Olympus PEN F was discontinued a few years ago, as it sold well but not quite enough, but it has always been a popular and coveted member of the Olympus family.
A camera created to embody sheer style and cool creativity, it's a very niche and premium priced product that may be difficult for OM Digital – which cannot afford to make any losses – to resurrect. However, it has been brought up publicly by company executives a number of times in recent discussions. Clearly the company is aware of the interest, if nothing else!
That said, the recent Olympus PEN E-P7 feels in many ways like a pocket-sized PEN-F successor. So if you're jonesing for that kind of style and substance, this would be a great alternative.
Olympus PEN E-PL11
Arguably more likely than the PEN F II is the release of another E-PL (Electronic PEN-Lite) camera. The line saw annual (if incremental) updates every year from 2016 to 2019, culminating in the Olympus PEN E-PL10 – so it feels like an obvious candidate for a new model.
However, the resurrection of E-P line (in the form of the Olympus PEN E-P7) does throw the future of the E-PL into question. Do we really need another smaller, EVF-free entry level camera?
Olympus Tough TG-7
With the Tough line confirmed to continue, we can obviously expect an Olympus Tough TG-7. In truth we don't see it being a whole lot different to the Olympus Tough TG-6, which is no bad thing as that is the best waterproof camera and one of the best travel cameras to boot.
That said, we wouldn't at all object to OM Digital putting the old 16MP sensor from the TG-4 back in – and combining it with a new TruePic processor to squeeze performance similar to the 12MP sensor in the TG-5 and 6.
No Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark IV?
Take this one with a big pinch of salt, as OM Digital was quick to disclaim this discussion as simply "chewing the fat". However, in a now deleted video discussion with an Olympus user group, the conversation turned to the successor to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III – and whether there will actually be one.
"Can I put in a request that the E-M5 range keeps going, and they don't just concentrate on E-M1s?" commented a member of the group.
"It's quite a hot topic, that one, because no-one can quite agree what the E-M5 is supposed to be, and we've had this conversation before haven't we – and we have it at TPS [The Photography Show] with everybody, every year as well," replied Mark Thackara, OM Digital's Content & Community Senior Manager EMEA/US/OZ.
"Because it's, a lot of people love it, but at the moment it's stuck in the product cycle where it really needs to wait for the next sensor to come out, and we need to get into a cycle where the flagship camera gets the new sensor and then the ones below that get one."
Perhaps it's just a case of having to delay the E-M5 release cycle, so that the next flagship camera hits the market before it, or perhaps it's a case where the E-M5 is now the odd man out. After all, the entry level E-M10 Mark IV now has a 20MP sensor and 5-axis IBIS (although neither are on a par with those in the E-M5 Mark III), so is there really a need for another model between that and the flagship Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and Olympus OM-D E-M1X?
Olympus bags, straps and photography tours
At CP+ 2021, OM Digital Solutions made the surprise statement that it is interested in exploring its newfound freedom of a controlling corporate structure by expanding its remit beyond producing the best Micro Four Thirds cameras and best Micro Four Thirds lenses.
"I believe we can provide value to the photography activities and culture of our customers in areas other than cameras and lenses," said OM Digital's chief technology officer, Setsuya Kataoka.
"As a manufacturer, we may be able to add value by providing a bag or a strap. Or maybe photography tours. Because now we are free to be involved in the culture of photography, I would like to try some new things."
Put your Olympus camera on an Olympus strap, in an Olympus bag, and take it on an Olympus photography tour… sounds like synergy to us!
The Olympus verdict
It's anyone's guess what happens to Olympus in 2021. Its future will very much be dictated by the next cameras it releases – and much as we love the PEN E-P7, a body that's not being released in North America doesn't seem like an obvious solution for an unprofitable business. With rumblings of a new "wow" camera coming next year, we hope that OM Digital pulls out all the stops rather than kitbashing the old sensor with new parts yet again. And who knows what will come of the rumored alliance with Samsung – could this be the start of Olympus providing cameras for other brands, whether it's drones or dashcams?