When I first heard the news about Olympus’ intentions to sell its imaging division, I was pretty caught off-guard. Leading up to COVID-19, it was thought that the company was doing better. Olympus had just released the OM-D E-M1 Mark III — one of its flagship cameras — and for the most part I saw pretty positive reviews. Olympus seemed like it was on the up and up.
But the fact of the matter is, for the past three years, Olympus has lost significant revenue. By signifying their intention to sell to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP), Olympus waived the white flag. They needed help.
Understanding the decision
While only JIP can answer what’s next for Olympus beyond this year, it’s important to understand where Olympus is coming from with this. Despite some positive numbers in Japan, the imaging division had struggled for the past three years.
And when COVID-19 hit — like other camera manufacturers — sales were at a standstill.
Selling the imaging division makes the most sense for the future of Olympus as a corporation. While it’s not a done deal yet — negotiations are ongoing — it’s something that Olympus sees as a positive for the future of the imaging business.
What the future holds
In a statement to Photofocus, Olympus confirmed that its goal of selling is to strengthen the operation of the imaging division.
“First of all, we would like to stress and clarify that the sale of imaging division does not mean that we will withdraw from the imaging business. We will continue to offer unique and exciting products. Although there would be some changes in the management and transformation of the organizational structure after the transfer, these changes are intended to stabilize the business and to strengthen the organizational operation. Therefore, we believe this transfer will bring a positive effect to our imaging business.”
Once the transition does occur, there’s been some questions about what would happen next. One idea that a lot are eluding to is that Olympus could focus more on high-end products. This was alluded to in a DPReview interview with VP of Global Strategy Setsuya Kataoka. “We will focus on the high-end market more than ever,” he said. “High-end cameras and lenses in the ILC lineup. There may be some changes in the product lineup for strategic reasons, but we don’t plan simply to reduce the number of products.”
Additionally, in a joint statement by Olympus and JIP, the companies stated that “the new imaging company would assume and build growth strategy around the renowned Zuiko, OM and other brands, featuring optical and lens technologies developed and cultivated by Olympus over decades.” They go on to say that “the new imaging company would commit to deliver high quality and reliability products and services to the Olympus customers around the globe.
Finally, Olympus debunked two reports by 43rumors.com that stated all non-Japanese sales staff in Japan had been let go, and that the glazing kilns had been shut down. To both, Olympus stated, “There is no such fact.”
JIP is best known for purchasing Sony’s VAIO line of computers. In that case it stripped down the lineup to two laptops, and the company is still in business today. But why didn’t Olympus instead try to sell the imaging division to a company more familiar with the photo industry?
In a statement to Photofocus, Olympus focused on JIP’s success of spinning off a business and maximizing its potential as reasons to why it approached it.
“JIP is an investment fund engaged in a number of ‘strategic carve-outs’ that cut out businesses through spin-offs and maximize their growth potential. Based on the wealth of JIP’s knowledge, we believe that our Imaging business will be able to build a foundation for improving our profit structure and managing our business over the medium to long term as a new company, while accumulating innovative technologies and leveraging our solid brand position in the market.”
What to do as an Olympus user
This is where it can get a little complicated. For most, Olympus selling won’t mean much. The cameras will still work, and they’ll continue to be supported. You’ll be able to continue to open your RAW files in software made by Adobe, Capture One, Skylum and others. Cameras and lenses will continue to receive support by the company, and warranties will continue to be active.
“Customers can expect all the same service they’ve had in the past. We’re still manufacturing cameras and lenses, we’re going to be making some announcements coming up and we’re still repairing and providing service for products,” said Jennifer Colucci, manager of public relations.
The company is also committed to releasing the products it has announced already — including the lenses it announced a few weeks ago — even if the releases occur after the sale closes. Because of this, I wouldn’t expect major changes to the imaging division right away, even under new ownership. What Olympus has promised as coming will certainly be released at some point.
What if you’re a pro?
Again, not too much changes. If you’re a pro, you might want to think about the future a little more, though.
I’ve spoken with several photographers that are considering investing in a second brand, while keeping some of their Olympus gear around. Maybe you keep your Olympus gear for your travel and “fun” photography, while investing in a second brand for your professional work. It’s not unheard of to use multiple brands of cameras — it’s more common than you might think. Different cameras work better for different jobs.
What I think is next
I see the Olympus imaging division following the lead of VAIO. It’ll be a slow change over time, but I can see the company phasing out some product lines and instead focusing on those that have been most successful.
Others have also suggested that this might be the time that Olympus goes full-frame, or even APS-C. I don’t see that happening, though, as it goes against the brand’s core values, not to mention the fact that it would be a dramatic shift for an investment group like JIP to take on. I also don’t see JIP selling the imaging division for parts, as there’s just too much value.
So if you were thinking it was time to have a fire sale of all your Olympus gear, you might want to think again. In fact, if you’ve had your eyes on some new lenses or a new camera body, now might be the perfect time to buy. There will undoubtedly be those that will sell their gear and run, meaning you should be able to get some deals on used gear. Take advantage of that! Olympus’ PRO glass is some of the best in the business, and its cameras offer some amazing technology you won’t find anywhere else.
Lead photo courtesy of Mike Amico, technical sales executive for Olympus, highlighting an Olympus OM-1 film camera.