Having just published our 1000th post, there was bound to be significant news! Although, we were hoping for something truly exciting to coincide with this milestone, current times are wreaking havoc across all industries. Most are expected to fully recover within the next year or two, yet the camera industry was already battered when the pandemic started, so casualties were eminent. Cellphones have been steadily overtaking cameras and chipping away at the camera industry for over 10 years now!
Today, Olympus published a press release announcing the intent to sell their imaging business to JIP, a Japanese Conglomerate. The crucial factor highlighted in the release is that Olympus recorded losses for 3 consecutive quarters. Furthermore, camera sales are currently critically lower compared to those previously-disclosed quarters, so the next one is expected to be in the deep red. It is unusual for a company to announce this type of news with that much advance notice but offers an opportunity for Olympus to say that customer support and some operations are expected to continue, at least immediately after the handover. This is never good news though, so be ready to see most Olympus products phased out during the two years that follow.
It is very sad when a veteran of the industry falls. Olympus has been in the business for 84 years and even seemed to be keeping up the pace better than many of their peers. They co-launched the Micro Four-Thirds platform with Panasonic and a number of other companies that have yet to actually produce any useful cameras. As the longest-living mirrorless platform, Micro Four-Thirds is extremely versatile and delivers the most compact system still in production. Olympus recently updated their high-end OM-D series with third-generation cameras and launched an ultra-high-end Olympus OM-D E-M1X reviewed here last year that brought unprecedented performance to the mirrorless world. They consistently expanded the Zuiko brand of lenses with innovative products that continue to leverage the uniqueness of mirrorless technology.
This is even more worrisome for other brands that produce far fewer than Olympus for much smaller markets. Pentax is clearly the most likely to exist the business next. They lack a current mirrorless strategy and their latest DSLR that has not been refreshed for two years now. The foreshadowing of this came as they added only a few lenses to their lineup and most were rebranded models from low-grade third-party manufacturers. Hasselblad and Leica are producing even less yet they still have originality on their side. Leica in particular has a strong alliance with Panasonic which will help grow the L-system that can stretch the near-term survival of Leica.
For consumers though, having the Micro Four-Thirds platform shared by Panasonic, a much larger company than Olympus, makes it highly likely that the platform will live on and they native lenses will be usable on new bodies as Panasonic introduces new models.
Original article edited for clarity – 2020.06.24 @ 23:40 DST