Olympus is leaving the camera business.
After three years of financial struggle, the company has decided to sell its camera division to Japanese Industrial Partners (JIP), a firm known for its ability to successfully restructure unprofitable businesses.
In recent years, Olympus has become more heavily invested in other aspects of its business, and while the company attempted to keep its camera division moving forward, it has struggled to compete with players on either end of the spectrum. Smartphones have eaten into profits generated by hobbyist cameras, while APS-C and full-frame cameras have maintained an edge against Olympus’s semi-professional and professional models.
Then, last fall, rumors of an Olympus camera division shutdown were denied by the CEO, though it’s clear that the company was on a firm downward trajectory; as indicated in the official announcement, Olympus was hit hard by an “extremely severe digital camera market, due to, amongst others, rapid market shrink caused by the evolution of smartphones.”
And while Olympus’s mirrorless lineups were praised for their compactness and sharp lenses, the company struggled to find a habitable niche, especially as “small-but-powerful” became a common refrain of Google Pixels, iPhones, and more. And the release of higher-end bodies such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark III and the OM-D E-M1X wasn’t enough to pull more serious photographers away from leading brands such as Nikon, Canon, and Sony.
So what comes next?
JIP plans to take over the Olympus camera brands by the end of 2020. The announcement indicates that a “definitive agreement” will be signed by September 30th, with the two companies aiming to “close the transaction by December 31, 2020.”
JIP will then “succeed and maintain the research and development functions and manufacturing functions globally…to continue to offer high-quality, highly reliable products.”
This is technically good news for Olympus photographers. JIP will at least attempt to rebuild Olympus’s camera division in the interests of its current consumers. But if the camera market continues to bleed, it may be impossible for JIP to turn things around, leading to a more permanent end for the brand.
And here’s another important question:
What does this mean for the camera industry as a whole? Is Olympus an anomaly? Or is the first of many? At present, even leading camera companies are struggling to find footing, which makes me wonder whether we might witness the fall of at least a few more camera brands before the market stabilizes.
Now over to you:
What do you think about Olympus’s decision? Will it impact Olympus consumers? And will we see the decline of other major camera brands? Share your thoughts in the comments!