Shocking! Olympus has fallen! Did it really? What is the truth?
On June 24, 2020, Olympus announced signing a memorandum of sale for their Imaging division to JIP (Japan Industrial Partners). The Press Release continues that JIP will endeavour to develop new products in the m43 format and that the transfer is inclusive of both Olympus brands the OM-D and ZUIKO. (Read the full text of the Olympus Press Release here). I wrote the following lines mainly because I’ve been receiving a number of questions on this topic and I’d like to state my position on this. There can be countless different scenarios. Just as 10 million football coaches have turned into 10 million epidemiologists since the March Covid-19 Pandemic who know exactly what and how, there are now 10 million experts who “know exactly how everything really is, because they see into everything”. Personally, I am far from predicting what will happen. Naturally, there are several options here, neither of them either black or pink. Let’s have a look at them closely below.
What do you think? Will you now sell everything or will you be buying (finally) a full frame?
Personally, I don’t plan any of the above. Let me explain why. Olympus selling off their camera business is of course quite sad news. First and foremost, every technology provider aims to prosper, so that they can keep innovating and expanding new products giving us something we all wish to buy one day. My existing equipment was bought because of my desire to take good photographs, not to prove to others that I have something better than them. I decided this absolutely voluntarily after a thorough market research and, contrary to what others might believe, I am extremely satisfied with my choice. Olympus’ new products that I’ve had the privilege to test over the past few years make complete sense to me as they bring a lot of creative possibilities. Photos taken over the last three years with my Olympus camera have won many more international awards than in my entire era with other brands. What does it mean? Nothing at all about whether Olympus is better or worse than other brands. (In fact, I don’t really understand why anyone is still trying to categorise this). The only thing it truly tells us is that Olympus is a full-fledged system with no limits to prevail even the most prestigious competitions in the world. My existing Olympus setup covers practically everything I want to take pictures off in the foreseeable future, and the only limit, at the moment, is my imagination and technical skills, (which, honestly, the full frame won’t solve for me).
EVOLUTION OF CAMERAS AND SMARTPHONES (1951 – 2019)
Source: Instagram @Statistics_Data_Facts
HOW DOES THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD OF PHOTOGRAPHY FARES?
Olympus has been on the market for 100 years and has been manufacturing cameras for 84 years. However, business doesn’t ask about history, it lives here and now. If you look at the data above comparing the sales of the cameras vs. the sales of smartphones, you can see “two rockets fired to the Moon”. The first was caused by the advent of digital technology. Everyone wanted to have a camera. It was no longer for only a few chosen weirdos. Anyone could have it allowing them to produce photos of anything and “for free” (I mean the cost of developing them vs. downloading photos to a PC). The second rocket was “fired” by the arrival of smartphones. And while the second rocket is rising steeply, the first one (full of cameras) has begun a rapid descent back to Earth at a pace that no one expected. Nothing surprising there as the same group of people, who previously needed a compact, suddenly only needs their mobile phone that they constantly have on them anyway. And the world slowly turns back to the old days – the classic camera is again more or less owned by a few. Long-term decline in revenue is threatening practically all traditional brands. Then the Covid-19 hit, cancelling all photographic events instead, which was planned by no marketer. The graph below clearly shows a sinking market to unknown depths during a traditionally top-selling period. And Olympus is the first in line to be faced with the unflattering financial results. However, I am afraid that we may soon hear something similar from other traditional manufacturers of photo equipment. [/testimonial]
CAMERA SALES IN THE YEARS 2018 – 2020, SOURCE: CIPA
What happens next?
Who today knows what happens next, let him cast the first … lens. Why do I see it as a symbol of hope in all this? Because the aforementioned Press Release does not say that at the end of the year, Olympus will remotely deactivate my shutter. If I understand the PR correctly, my current Olympus products will continue to be supported. The Olympus Corporation could have also done what the tabloid headlines relay – announce the end. The management could have met and concluded that this is it. That they no longer want to deal with the losses, announce the end and draw a thick red line. Then the headlines would be right. But, of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, in order to enable the continuity of production, the management agreed to sell the Imaging division including all the R&D and manufacturing functions. And the one who puts their money on the line (JIP) promises that in addition to the necessary restructuring, they want to provide continuous support for development and production, including the OM-D and ZUIKO brands (I assume that this is to ensure a return on investment of some sorts). And that’s a pretty different scenario (whether you believe it or not). Of course, it may not work out, but the huge difference is that, compared to a plain announcement of ceasing production, it may actually work out.
What can happen next and how will I react to it?
Scenario 1. Everything will work out – from the user’s point of view, practically nothing will change. The brand will continue to exist under a different owner; thanks to the streamlining of the organisational structure and processes, we may witness even greater acceleration of new cameras and lenses.
+ Okay, I’ll keep saving every penny in my piggy bank thinking that I really need it all. If all goes well, I will simply continue using Olympus products as if nothing happened. With regard to the traditional supply of new products from the E-M1 series – after investing in the series for about 3-4 years – I’m covered (with new E-M1 III). (“Haha, do you still reckon that Olympus is the best? Better than a full frame? Better than Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji?” – “I’ve never said anything like that and in all honesty, I don’t know what’s best for others. But yes, for me, Olympus is still the best solution on the market today”).
Scenario 2. Partial success – production will slow down significantly, but it will not be terminated.
+ Okay, the same applies, I’m covered for 3-4 years and who knows what will happen then (who knew last June that the world will stop spinning because of Covid?). I still reckon that everything will become more clear after a few years, not in a matter of months.
Scenario 3. It will not work – after several years of stagnation, camera production will cease.
+ Fine, but again, I’m convinced that I will not significantly need to change my gear for at least 3-4 years. And if it comes to this sad end, by the time my current gear expires, I will look at the existing market and get what will be closest to my heart (and budget) and start taking pictures with something else.
Scenario 4. Anything else happens.
+ I will adapt myself accordingly as mentioned above.
Fingers crossed …
In short, although the divestiture of Olympus Imaging Business is inherently unexpected and surprising to many, it may not be altogether bad news. At the moment, I don’t feel that this should impact my photography in any way. The future development is clouded by so many options that, at the moment, I do not feel the pressure to hastily get rid of my gear and look for other solutions. This would have to be fuelled by my photography work itself. My priority is to convey to people the beauty we have around us through Nature Photography and current Olympus technology does not prevent me from doing so. And so, I will keep my fingers crossed for the new investor and their plans so that we can continue to enjoy all the amazing features for which the Olympus cameras are famous. Similarly, I wish all the other brand users that their beloved toys survive the current uncertainties so that they don’t have to solder at night (from fragments collected in the dumps of digital history) a new camera themselves.
Thanks for an honest write-up on this (unlike some others). I’m also hoping this is potentially a good thing for Olympus. I’ve read JIP exists to support struggling iconic Japanese companies and protect them from foreign ownership. I love my Olympus gear, and no other camera tech excites me at the moment. Sony have some amazing bodies but man those telephoto lenses are HUUGEE and insanely EXPENSIVE!! Also, your photography is extremely inspiring! Following your blog and gallery has really improved my own wildlife photography. Thanks again.