Cameras On Display at the Tokyo Olympics

I mentioned this briefly at the end of a previous article, but since I found myself following up with lots of folk on what were essentially two sentences, it's probably worth bringing my thoughts out into a full article of its own.

The Summer Olympics will be in Tokyo in 2020. 

For the camera companies, that means that they're playing a "home game." 

We've already heard plenty on the video side, with virtually everyone already talking about 8K video (and VR and Ultra HD and a bunch of other stuff). 4K is going to be the minimum broadcast standard, basically, with new technologies on display in every possible way the Japanese video companies can think of. We've already gotten previews and discussions of this at the big trade shows, such as NAB, so we know video is going to be a monster in Japan in 2020. 

But what about still cameras? 

A few years ago you'd just predict this as being "just another Olympics, with new Canon and Nikon DSLRs duking it out." We'd expect counts of white lenses versus black and counts of how many lenses and bodies CPS and NPS have in the loaner rooms. 

But there's much more on the line this time, and it's a home game. No excuses for not showing up (I'm looking at you, Olympus). 

Sony has already thrown out a challenge, the A9. Silent, 20 fps, no blackout viewfinder, smaller and cheaper than the established favorites. The optics needed out to 200mm are in place (or about to be). Sony has three years to make the camera even better and produce the 300mm+ optics that are needed. Think they won't? Think again. 

But this is just the sidelines of the Olympics. There's only about 6000 accreditations for the sideline sports photographer at the Olympics. So Canon, Nikon, and Sony are fighting over basically 6000 shooters. I will say this: Nikon has their work cut out for them in terms of visibility: both Canon and Sony use white lenses for their telephoto range. Any incursion by Sony into Nikon's usual sideline presence is going to reinforce how small Nikon's presence is. White is the new Black. And if you see a lot of white when looking at the photographer pools while viewing the Tokyo Olympics on your telly, this is a negative marketing point for Nikon. 

But there are two other aspects to cameras that will be interesting to watch at the Tokyo Olympics: (1) what visitors bring, and (2) what visitors see in camera stores. Let's assume that the Tokyo Olympics work out to be about the same size as the Beijing Olympics: about 7m tickets, 11,000 athletes, 100,000 volunteers, 18,000 other media: a lot of extra people wandering around Tokyo. And don't forget the Paralympic Games that follow the main event.

If those Olympic attendees bring any sophisticated camera with them as they visit Tokyo for the Olympics, what will that be? A clunky DSLR or a smaller and more portable mirrorless? It's a given that smartphones will be shooting everywhere, but what will the dedicated camera situation look like? 

Well, if those visitors are Japanese—and a lot of them will be—Olympus should look like a winner (or at least a medalist). They sell quite well in the home market, and they make lots of the small-type gear that the Japanese prefer. The foreign visitors will be sure to note that, as well as what the rest of the foreigners are using.

Meanwhile, if you brought a camera to the Tokyo Olympics, how are you not going to go to at least Akihabara, but more likely one of the big camera shops around town, such as those in Shinjuku? What are those curious folk going to see? I'm told that one of the stores I frequent when in Tokyo now has about as much Sony camera presence and devoted space as Nikon. Will that change by 2020? 

All this is "marketing" of a subtle, but persuasive nature. We're herd animals to a degree. If the herd is showing all white, maybe we should be shooting white lenses? If the herd is all carrying mirrorless cameras, maybe we should be shooting mirrorless? If the herd is all talking about 8K video and looking at huge, impressive screens as they walk around, maybe our living room should go 8K? 

The total wild card in the camera game is this: Canon should have a 1DxIII and Nikon a D6 just before the event. The previous versions of those beasts have been the workhorse at the Olympics. Neither company wants to be caught dead without a new workhorse that pulls out all the stops for the home game. Design work has already begun on both. Sony has already showed their hand with the A9, and you can be certain they're targeting an A9II for 2020. 

The good news is—at least at the very top end of still cameras—we should have a massive initiative to impress us with innovation and new gear from the Big Three. Only 1165 days (or less) until we know what that is and how it fares.

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