Olympus goes out of the camera business

After a year of rumors, denials, and setbacks, it’s finally official: Olympus is going out of the camera business after an 84-year career as one of the world’s most recognized brands in the industry.

In a notice published today on its website, Olympus announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding to sell its camera division to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP), the same investment company that acquired Sony’s VAIO PC business in 2014.

Olympus and JIP aim to sign a legally binding agreement by September 30.

Olympus first entered the camera industry in 1939 by launching the Semi-Olympus I using the first Zuiko lens. Over the following decades, the company would launch popular camera models, including the Pen in 1959 and the OM 35mm SLR system that competed against Canon and Nikon.

An Olympus Pen (left) and Olympus OM (right). Photos from Hiyotada and s58y and licensed CC BY 2.0.

But in recent years, camera makers like Olympus have struggled to remain profitable, as the rise of smartphone cameras has brought down the market for independent cameras. As its camera business faltered, Olympus became increasingly dependent and focused on its medical device business.

And it didn’t help that in 2011, the fired Olympus CEO-turned-whistleblower revealed that the company had used acquisitions to hide decades of losses, sparking a major corporate scandal that tarnished the name brand.

A digital Olympus PEN-F (left) and OM-D E-M5 Mark III (right).

“Olympus has implemented measures to cope with the extremely severe digital camera market, due, among others, to the rapid market decline caused by the evolution of smartphones,” says Olympus. “Olympus has improved the cost structure by restructuring manufacturing bases and focusing on high value-added interchangeable products
lenses, with the goal of rectifying the income structure to those who can continue to generate profits even when sales decline. “

In the end, his efforts to attract more photographers to his camera and lens lines failed to capitalize on the business.

“Despite all these efforts, Olympus’ Imaging business recorded operating losses for 3 consecutive fiscal years until the end of March 2020,” says the company.

Olympus says JIP can make the Olympus camera business more “compact, efficient and agile” for “self-sustainable and continuous growth.”

The OM-D and ZUIKO will live through this sale, and the new company owned and operated by JIP will be responsible for all research, development, and manufacturing of the cameras and lenses.

The financial terms of this agreement have not been released. Olympus says it will continue its regular business until the deal closes, and that new products planned for 2020 will still be released on schedule.