I'm Not Sure I Get It

With the product announcement now come and gone, it's time to consider how the new camera fits in.

I get the E-P5 in one sense: take all the OM-D E-M5 goodness and put it into a refreshed E-P# body and you have another new camera to launch, the E-P5. What I'm not seeing is the real benefit to users in doing so. Do we really need a EVF-less version of the OM-D E-M5 that has an optional EVF?

Olympus appears to be trying to cram a lot of camera choices into a fairly narrow space, and ones that don't make a lot of sense to me as a "line" of cameras. If everything is 16mp, has basically the same performance and menu/feature list at the core, then you really have to distinguish in the externals. Let's see how they're doing that (tongue partially planted in cheek):

  • E-PM2 — few external controls, fixed LCD — US$450 body
  • E-PL5 — more controls, tilting LCD — US$550 body
  • E-P5 — more controls, add WiFi — US$1000 body
  • E-M5 — built in EVF instead of an option, weatherproof but no flash — US$1000 body

Worse still, we have that giant VF-4 option for the new E-P5 and we get a, well, we get a OM-D E-M5 that's a bit ugly and even taller, but has a better EVF, but costs more.

My question is this: who's been waiting for the E-P5? Not me. I was an early E-P1 purchaser and upgraded right up to the eventual OM-D E-M5. An E-P5 would be a step backwards, as far as I'm concerned. I'd also have to assume that the few new features we see in the E-P5 (focus peaking, WiFi, etc.) will make their way to the inevitable OM-D E-M6. So I'm good to go. But would someone buy into the E-P5 insteadof an OM-D E-M5? That seems debatable.

Where's the value proposition for the consumer?

It's actually pretty easy to recommend the Olympus cameras at the moment: entry level buy the E-PL5, top level buy the OM-D E-M5. In the case of the former, the extra US$100 buys you a lot of very functional additions, as the E-PM2 is basically a "stripper" (as they say in the automobile industry). In the case of the latter, the E-P5 just doesn't make any real sense to me at the same price as the E-M5 (and actually, you can get an E-M5 for less with the current discounts).

Personally, I'd like to see some real differentiation in Olympus' lineup, or perhaps a more logical pricing ladder.

Update: some have suggested, and I'm perfectly aware of this, that Olympus may be picking up some sales they wouldn't otherwise get with a twocamera line up (e.g. truly cost conscious folk at the bottom might buy the E-PM2 or nothing at all). I'm well aware of that. I'm not suggesting a two product line, I'm suggesting that the differentiation and the pricing be more considered. None of the camera companies are great at this partly because it requires a real product marketing group that's well connected to the user base. My basic point in this article is that the E-P5 and E-M5 are as close together as the difference in alphabet suggests, and priced the same, as well. While several of you writing me have tried, I personally can't make a case for the E-P5 over the E-M5. The best point has been that the E-P5 has a low-power built-in flash, but I just don't see that as a big deal.

As I've noted on bythom.com, we're getting dangerously close to Last Camera Syndrome now. The market is quite mature for cameras, and differentiating features and performance are getting more and more difficult to establish. That doesn't mean you should punt on that and just do some marginal differentiation, though.

My sense, especially given the "50 years after the Pen F" line, is that Olympus' ego is showing more than their product marketing skills. They've absolutely paid homage to the Pen F with the E-P5 design. One might even say that it was mostly an effort to make an E-M5 look like a slightly more modern Pen F. There are more CADCAM changes between the E-P5 and E-M5 than real ones, essentially.

The camera industry is already a tough place to stay competitive. It's going to get tougher. Spending engineering resources on marginal change won't really cut into the Canikon duopoly.

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