Olympus, once one of the world’s largest camera brands, is selling that part of its business after 84 years.
The firm said that despite its best efforts, the “extremely severe digital camera market” was no longer profitable.
The arrival of smartphones, which had narrowed the market for separate cameras, was a major factor, he said.
He had recorded losses for the past three years.
The Japanese company made its first camera in 1936 after years of microscope manufacturing. The Semi-Olympus I featured an accordion-shaped drop-down camera bellows, and it cost over a month’s salary in Japan.
The company continued to develop the camera business over the decades, becoming one of the top companies by market share.
“There is a great deal of affection for Olympus coming back,” says Nigel Atherton, editor of Amateur Photographer magazine.
The 1970s was a highlight, with its cameras advertised on television by famous photographers like David Bailey and Lord Litchfield.
“Those cameras were revolutionary: they were very small, very light, they were very well designed, they had very good quality lenses,” adds Atherton.
A cult follower stuck with the company, despite initial problems with new technologies like autofocus, Atherton says. But the company had a second wave with digital cameras, where they were the first to adopt.
But they targeted their later range of mirrorless cameras at an intermediate market: “People who weren’t serious photographers wanted something better than a point-and-shoot camera, but they didn’t want a DSLR camera.”
“That market was quickly absorbed by smartphones and it turned out that it didn’t exist.”
The independent camera market has fallen dramatically: According to one estimate, it fell 84% between 2010 and 2018.
“Olympus I find a very frustrating company,” says Atherton. “Continuously for the past few years, they constantly made mistakes, made wrong decisions, made wrong decisions, and fell into dead ends.”
One example he cited was the lack of progress in video performance, where rivals have advanced.
The company also faced a major financial scandal that involved top executives in 2011.
Olympus is now seeking an agreement to remove the camera part of its business so that its brands, such as Zuiko lenses, can be used in new products by another company, Japan Industrial Partners.
In a statement, the Japanese company said that until then it was business as usual.
“We believe this is the right step to preserve the brand’s legacy,” the statement said.
However, on social media, his UK team agreed that fans “may have a lot of questions.”
“We ask for your patience … Olympus sees this potential transfer as an opportunity to allow our imaging business to grow and delight both new and old photography enthusiasts,” he said.
Olympus Corporation, however, will continue.
The company never stopped manufacturing microscopes, and has converted its optical technology to other scientific and medical equipment such as endoscopes.