Olympus to quit camera business after 84 years

Olympus, which was once one of the biggest brands in Camera industry in the world, is selling off that part of its business after 84 years.

The company said that despite its best efforts, the “extremely severe digital camera market” was not profitable anymore.

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The arrival of smartphones, which had shrunk the marketplace for separate cameras, was one major factor, it said.

It had recorded losses for the last three years.

Olympus made its first camera in 1936 after years of microscope manufacture. The Semi-Olympus I featured an accordion-like fold-out camera bellows, and value over a month’s wages in Japan.

The company carried on with the development of the camera business over the decades, becoming one of the top companies by market share.

“There’s a huge amount of affection for Olympus, going right back,” says Nigel Atherton, editor of Amateur Photographer magazine.

The 1970s was a high point, with their cameras advertised on television by celebrity photographers such as David Bailey and Lord Lichfield.

“Those cameras were revolutionary – they were very small, very light, they were beautifully designed, had really nice quality lenses,” adds Atherton.

A cult following stayed with the firm, despite teething issues with new technologies such as autofocus, Atherton says. But the firm had a second wave with digital cameras, where they were early adopters.

But they targeted their later range of mirrorless cameras at a middle market – “people who weren’t serious photographers – they wanted something better than a point-and-shoot camera, but they didn’t want a DSLR camera”.

Olympus

“That market very very quickly got swallowed up by smartphones, and turned out not to exist.”

The market for standalone cameras has fallen dramatically – by one estimate, it dropped by 84% from 2010 to 2018.

“Olympus I find a very frustrating company,” Atherton says. “Continually over the last few years, they’ve constantly got it wrong, made wrong decisions, taken wrong turns, and gone down cul-de-sacs.”

One example he cited was the lack of progress in the performance of video, where strides have been made by the rivals.

The company also faced a significant financial scandal involving senior executives 9 years ago.

Olympus is now seeking to strike a deal to carve off the camera a part of its business so its brands – like Zuiko lenses – is used in new products by another company, Japan Industrial Partners.

In a statement, the Japanese company said that it absolutely was business as usual until then.

“We believe this is the right step to preserve the legacy of the brand,” the statement said.

On social media, however, its UK team accepted that fans “may have many questions”.

“We ask for your patience… Olympus sees this potential transfer as an opportunity to enable our imaging business to grow and delight both long-time and new photography enthusiasts,” it said.

Olympus Corporation, however, will carry on.

The company didnt stop making microscopes, and has turned its optical technology to other scientific and medical equipment for example- endoscopes.

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