After 84 years in the camera business, the Japanese company has today announced that it is selling off the camera branch of its business.
Olympus has recorded losses for three years running, blaming the shrinking camera market and claiming it is simply no longer profitable for them. Olympus announced that it would be selling of the camera division of its business to investors, Japan Industrial Partners Inc (JIP).
Olympus first entered the camera market back in 1936. The first camera they released was the Semi-Olympus I, a premium medium format folding camera fitted with Zuiko lens. It typically retailed at over 100 Japanese Yen which was more than a months wages for the average worker at the time.
Over the decades, Olympus cemented their reputation as a quality camera manufacturer. By the 1970s, their cameras were endorsed by famed photographers from all over the world; even having secured an television advertising deal with David Bailey.
Olympus were somewhat pioneers when it came to photography in the digital age too. In 1996, they released CAMEDIA compact digital camera boasting a whopping 0.8 megapixels! Later the company co-created the Four Thirds lens system along with Eastman Kodak; and then the Micro Four Thirds system for mirrorless cameras in 2008. The Micro Four Thirds (MFT) sytems are still very much popular with photographers looking to lighten the load of travelling; MFT lenses are much more compact that APSC or full frame alternatives. The Micro Four Thirds systems will surely be Olympus’s lasting legacy in the world of digital photography.
Where did it go wrong?
Over the last decade the camera market has been slowly dying off. The need for consumer compact cameras is virtually non-existent with smartphone camera technology where it is at the moment. That leaves the “prosumer” cameras. Over the last few years Sony has been leading the way in full frame mirrorless systems, leaving big boys, Nikon and Canon, playing catch-up; them too concentrating efforts on developing full frame mirrorless systems which caused major ripples in the photography world. The reason why full frame sensors are often seen as preferable is because they usually have a higher resolution and better dynamic range. Even Panasonic have dispersed their efforts between full frame and MFT.
In fact, it was only Olympus and Fujifilm that didn’t hop onto the “mirrorless revolution” party bus. Fujifilm’s X System cameras are largely of a better quality than the equivalent Olympus models. Consumers that are buying based on sensor-size and opt for the smaller sensor tend to be going for Fujifilm (which seems to offer a good trade-off between sensor size and kit weight). Olympus’s decision to be 100% dependent on the MFT that they helped pioneer has turned out to be a fatal one.