10.21.2016

Orphaned systems.


It's odd to make an investment in a system and then have that system go away. The earliest I knew of this was back in the film days when Canon changed their lens mount from the FD mount to the EOS mount. They bit the bullet and made the change because the Canon engineers were convinced that the narrow diameter of their camera's FD mount would restrict their ability to design fast and long lenses. Rather than compromise on optical performance they instead pissed off the legions of photographers who had made vast investments in bodies and lenses. And they gave Nikon (same basic mount for the last 10,000 years) a goldmine filled with marketing ammunition.

In the long run it proved to be a prescient move as it allowed them a free hand in lens design and allowed for a flexible electronic interface that made their transition from film to digital that much easier.

More recently Olympus orphaned their Four Thirds cameras (the ones with traditional moving mirrors) in favor of a Micro Four Thirds mount, a move necessitated by the change in the way the cameras auto focused and the amount of space between the back of the lenses and the actual sensor. I can't imagine you were a happy camper if you had just migrated to the older system right before the switch and had just sunk significant money into a couple of E-5 bodies and some lenses like the 7-14mm f2.8, the 14-35mm f2.0 and the 35-100mm f2.0. All incredibly good lenses that never worked as well (focusing) with adapters and the newer EM cameras.

While the lenses would likely last for decades and give the same ultra high quality performance you would be stuck with whatever the final and most advanced camera in the system might be. In the case of Olympus it was the E-5 with a 12 megapixel sensor and a few glitches, like a penchant for back and front focusing. If you were hellbent on staying with your system I guess your short term workaround would be to go out and buy as many remaindered cameras bodies as you could so you would always have a workable candidate to put behind the lenses. But you would never be able to take advantage of the advances in sensor design that have occurred since that camera's tenure in the market. Still, if you are willing to deal with manually focusing the lens you could upgrade to the EM-1 family and still use the optics in which you've invested. So, not really a totally orphaned system.

I was an enthusiastic Contax user in the film days and when they finally closed out the Contax RTS iii and it was apparent that no further development of that mount would occur I was stuck with the choice of trying to soldier onward or take my losses and change systems (again). It would be nearly a decade and a half later when those gem like Contax, Zeiss lenses could be used once again on a camera. In this case a Sony A7rii. But even before the end of film snuffed out the Contax line they also changed mounts in mid-stream, from the Y/C mount (Yashica/Contax) to the Contax N mount. Another engineering move to a wider diameter mount.

The latest (and I think most egregious) brand abandonment came last year from Samsung. As recently as 2012 they talked about becoming the number one or two best selling camera company in the world. About two years ago they introduced their flagship camera, the NX-1, along with an assortment of lenses aimed squarely at professionals and hard core hobbyists. They induced thousands of people to trade in their existing (working) cameras as partial trade up to the new system. They spoke in terms of fleshing out the line and going after the "big guys." There were a few stumbles with the NX-1. It used a new video codec that was a real computer basher. Had they stuck with a conventional codec it's entirely possible that they could have given Panasonic's GH4 a real run for the money with video people. In the purely still photography realm the camera, by most accounts, was a stellar performer. The sensor was detailed and relatively low noise. It also boasted dynamic range that was close (but not equal ) to the Sony sensors, and delivered higher resolution.

I worked with a previous generation of Samsung cameras and found their best lenses to be rivals to the very best optics from Canon and Nikon. The two lenses that they delivered with the NX1 camera initially were very well reviewed. So, right up until the day they decided to pull the plug on the whole camera system they were pushing hard to get people to convert. Their campaign "Ditch the DSLR" was a call to move to mirrorless.  And then, country by country, they pulled the plug. No more shipments of cameras but at the same time no official announcements. No one outside of Samsung (and perhaps their advertising affiliates) had any idea whether this was just a pause, a retrenchment or what. It turns out that they just made a decision to walk away from the serious camera market and did it in a most disingenuous way. Like a girlfriend of boyfriend who never breaks up with you but never returns your phone calls. Were they kidnapped? Did they perish in a plane crash? Or were they just never that into you?

So, thousands of people bought into the system and invested only to be left at the altar. Now they have a camera which is only useful with proprietary lenses and a group of lenses that is only useful with a proprietary lens mount. I doubt there will be another firmware upgrade for either body or lenses. And all the interchangeable lens bodies below the flagship are also vanishing.

Samsung obviously didn't go out of business. They still sell cellphones and refrigerators and lots of other stuff all over the world. I'm fairly certain that they looked at the trending numbers for the interchangeable lens camera market worldwide and realized that they had just, with much bluster, entered a declining, perhaps dying, market and they made an executive decision to bail early rather than late.

The sad thing is that with the introduction of the NX1 they just seemed to finally get how to make a usable camera. Something ultimately fun to shoot. Of all the events in the last two years that point most vigorously to the death of the camera market overall Samsung's decision to cut and run is probably the most visible.

I understand Samsung's exit. If I could look at all the future marketing numbers and see that in two years the total pie for all interchangeable lens cameras would shrink by over half I think I would also bail, if I weren't one of the two or three front runners. But I think I could have made a much more graceful and less painful exit. And perhaps I would have figured out a way to make the exit less painful for the consumers who had decided to believe in my company and my sales talk.

I was part of an earlier group of Samsung product testers and users in a program called, Imageloggers. I resigned from the program about six months before the NX1 hit the market. I had lost confidence that Samsung understood cameras from a photographer's point of view. Their focus was about interconnectivity ( which should have made one or two other pundits ecstatic....) and less about the traditional attention to haptics and responsiveness that real camera users demand.

Now, they are just another story line about orphaned camera systems. A sad one too. Perhaps the exploding Note 7 phones are just a bit of Karmic revenge...

12 comments:

Peter Ziegler said...

Kirk,

It looks like autocorrect replaced "Yashica" with "Yeshiva" in Paragraph 5. In fact it just did it now as I was typing.

Peter

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Peter. I fixed it. I hope it stays fixed.

HR said...

Just a correction, albeit an important correction. You wrote this about Olympus:

"Still, if you are willing to deal with manually focusing the lens you could upgrade to the EM-1 family and still use the optics in which you've invested."

Actually, that is not correct. The Olympus MMF-3 adaptor gives full AF with Olympus m4/3 bodies and with the E-M1 and soon E-M1II it gives good speed since they have both CDAF and PDAF. Here is an article about using 4/3 lenses on the E-M1 using the MMF-3 adapter -- note that he is using the 1.0 firmware in 2013, but the current firmware is 4.0. There have been improvements in the AF since the article was written:

https://robinwong.blogspot.jp/2013/09/olympus-om-d-e-m1-review-shooting-with.html

It is expected that the E-M1II will be do even better for people who have old 4/3 lenses. By the way, here in Japan they still sell the lenses new at the stores such as Yodobashi and Bic Camera. Some of those 4/3 lenses sure are big. I was holding the 35-100mm f2 and others yesterday. Nice though, but not for me. :-)

HR said...

Oh, one more thing. You didn't mention Minolta in the 1980s. They also dropped their manual focus lens mount and changed to a new AF lens mount. Just like Canon they annoyed lots of their customers.

Craig said...

The Minolta/Sony A-mount probably isn't long for this world either, with Sony putting most of their effort at this point into their mirrorless E-mount system.

I think Canon and Minolta both did the right thing for the long term by dropping backward compatibility. It annoyed their users at the time, but it freed them to create a completely electronic interface without having to worry about legacy mechanical signaling, and in Canon's case it also let them drop the breech-lock mount and switch to a bayonet. (The "New FD" lenses used the entire outer body of the lens as the breech-lock ring, which made it seem more bayonet-like, but it was still a breech-lock mount.) I still own a working Canon A-1 and several FD lenses, and I find the breech-lock much more awkward to use than a bayonet, so I'm glad they got rid of it.

Nikon, by contrast, preserved backward compatibility, but the question "Does this Nikon lens work on that Nikon camera?" is still a pain to answer in some cases. With Canon, it's much simpler: FD lenses work on FD cameras, EF lenses work on EOS cameras. (in the digital era, we now have two minor complications: EF-S lenses only work on APS-C cameras, and EF-M lenses only work on the mirrorless cameras -- but that's still much simpler than figuring out whether a given Nikon lens will mount and meter correctly on your camera.)

Also, Olympus has dropped not only the original Four Thirds, but also the older OM system, which never had any compatibility problems because it never evolved. It started around 1970 as a manual-focus SLR system and it remained exactly that up until they discontinued it. It was very good for what it was, but by the 1990s the lack of auto-focus made it uncompetitive.

Anonymous said...

Adding to HR's comment. The Olympus CDAF Compliant lenses (some HQ and consumer grade lenses) with an adapter will auto focus on any Micro Four Thirds body (although the 70-300 requires much patience.) I bought both the Sigma 150mm macro and the Olympus 50-200mm lens after owning the M1 and all focus quickly enough for what I do with them. ..... I also note that B&H still advertises an almost complete set of new Four Thirds lenses at MSRP with warranty. I don't know if they are cleaning out the remaining inventory or if Olympus still supplies some of these. …. GetOlympus also advertises a set of Four Thirds lenses so are they really abandoned or do Olympus and their users simply accept the M1 with adapter as the latest Four Thirds camera – I do .....

James Pilcher said...

I was one of those who was completely into the 4/3 camera system. From E-1 in 2004, through E-620, E-3, and E-5, I stuck with the system. By the time I acquired the E-5, I thought I was riding high with my ZD 35-100mm f/2, among others. Even today, that is a stunning zoom in the 70-200mm class.

I jettisoned 4/3 and switched to µ4/3 when the E-5 displayed the traits you mention: consistent front focus and back focus. When using live view, that expensive zoom was incredibly good. In normal shooting, a crisp shot was a random experience, even under controlled conditions. When shooting at f/2, the E-5 was a seriously flawed body that Olympus USA itself admitted to me they could not fix. Olympus actually refunded my money after months of service attempts.

I'm not sure I agree with your comment that manual focus on the E-M1 is the only/best way going forward to use those excellent SHG (super high grade) 4/3 lenses. Everything I've read indicates that those lenses actually perform AF somewhat better on the E-M1 with adapter than they ever did in the 4/3 era. They were essentially rescued from the E-5. Focusing on-sensor was their savior. Yes, the wait was several years for the rescue, but it did happen.

I took a financial bath switching from a full 4/3 system to move to µ4/3 in 2011. That is something I do not want to do again in my life. On the other hand, I have re-learned a love of fast primes. The Pen bodies I now use are much closer in size to the OM series bodies I used in the '70s to '90s. The switch was, in the end, good for me.

The lure of FF is still there. I grew up with 35mm cameras, and I do envy some of the the things that FF can do better (DOF control, lower noise, better focus roll-off, richer color gradations) but the cost for a competent system to complement my µ4/3 kit is too high. I believe/hope µ4/3 will not be abandoned in the foreseeable future. I'm standing pat.

Now, a single body, single lens Fuji GFX "medium format" system might be fun to play with.

Carlo Santin said...

I was an early adopter of the Samsung NX line. The early cameras left a lot to be desired but the lenses were always rather good, some of them exceptional, so I had hope and stuck with it. Now I have a bunch of lenses and an old body that I don't know what to do with. I also have the Nikon 1 V1 with a few lenses. I really like the Nikon 1 line and I hope they don't drop it completely, though I suspect they already have and haven't bothered to tell their consumers. I am tired of getting burned like this, it's a good thing I have stuck with my Nikon F mount in film and digital.

Heidfirst said...

re. HR's comment about Minolta. Minolta didn't abandon the SR mount immediately when they introduced A-mount. They actually ran both for something like 15 years including introducing new SR mount bodies as late as 1990.
Of course if you wanted the advantage of AF you went with the change of mount as did Canon when they later went AF too. Where Canon got it right over Minolta was the choice to go with an electronically controlled aperture too which really came into it's own when video came along in DSLRs. Minolta had realised that by ~1999/2000 when they launched the RD3000 with V-mount (now that is a system that was orphaned).
,












i>is a system that was orphaned)

Anonymous said...

When Canon changed their FD mount I wanted to stay loyal to the brand since I had used solid F1 models for almost two decades with a lot of pleasure. But the first professional EOS1 camera was extremely ugly and bulky. I still remember the day when I was shocked seeing the first one in a shopwindow on a trip to Singapore. And the cheaper models let me down a few times on crucial moments. So I switched to Nikon half way the nineties.
Somehow history repeated itself when Nikon DSLR's (and all the others) became digital. Nothing but ugly and bulky bodies. Good for paparazzi and Formula 1 sports photographers perhaps, but I never enjoyed anyone of them. Nothing like a Canon F1 or Nikon FM2.
In the meantime I had a love affair with the Contax G system. I hoped that it would move smoothly from film to digital but sadly Kyocera decided to quit the photography business.

It is not only that systems stop to exist but also that they sometimes don’t evolve in a direction that you like.

I am betting on Micro 4/3 right now. Actually already since the beginning. So far so good. And that’s an understatement, because it really gave me back the pleasure I always had in photography.

Anonymous said...

"Me too! ..."

I had sold off most of my FourThirds system when I closed my photo business in 2010, keeping just the 'old' E-1, the 11-22mm and the 35 Macro. When the E-M1 arrived and I saw how well the FourThirds lenses performed with it, I quickly acquired another 50-200mm, EC-14, and EX-25. They focus quickly, accurately (more accurately than on the E-5 or E-1) and produce outstanding photo quality. The E-M1 is a better body to use with FourThirds SLR bodies than any of the actual SLR bodies were.

I'm very happy I kept my 11-22, and have no qualms about the 50-200 or other lenses I re-acquired. The E-M1 works brilliantly with them, and the E-M1 II will do even better if the reports are credible.

granitix said...

Still hanging in there with two NX300 bodies and a few decent small lenses. The on-chip PDAF and touchscreen are worth keeping for now, and resale value won't matter in any case.

I also shoot Pentax, which has clearly refused to orphan any M42/K lenses. A noble cause, but the lack of electronics has been hard on them in this digital era. The new electronic aperture has some users distressed, as even 2-year-old cameras cannot be updated to use that feature.