So after over 80 years of making excellent cameras and superb lenses the Olympus Image Division is being sold to Japanese Industrial Partners (JIP), a private equity fund. At the moment Olympus are saying it is not a finalized deal but everyone is certain it is going to happen. One media commentator has said that he knows that all of the Olympus reps for North America have been let go.
The reasons for the sale are obvious. The smartphone has crippled the user market for small pocketable cameras and this leaves a much smaller slice of the market for the interchangable lens cameras. Olympus feel that they can no longer afford the losses.
So what will JIP do with the business? There are some pundits who think that JIP are more concerned with the value of Olympus’ not inconsiderable patent portfolio, obviously worth millions. Other point out that even if the Olympus name continues under JIP, the acquisition of Sony’s VAIO laptop business in 2014 and it’s subsequent rebirth under JIP did not mean the quality continued. Indeed the general opinion on the range of VAIO laptops since JIP took over is not good. The Olympus name has always stood for quality and Zuiko lenses have an enviable reputation for build quality and sharpness.
Will any new cameras be called Olympus? It is possible but unlikely. When JIP purchased VAIO, they obviously could not use Sony and this may be the case here. Cameras may well still be called OM-D and PEN but without the prefix Olympus. There is also a question about R&D in that JIP may not be willing to invest in such expansive research as Olympus did for new products. There are some in the industry who think that JIP/Olympus will concentrate on the enthusiast side of the business such as the OM-D E-M5 rather than the professional OM-D E-M1 III
So if you are an Olympus user, what do you do? Once JIP take over, will the range of cameras and lenses continue? Will there still be an international system of repair and warranty outlets? If the cameras and lenses continue, what will the quality be like? As with Gibson guitars where people talk of pre-Norlin acquisition, will people talk of pre-JIP acquisition in terms of quality?
For Olympus users, many who have stayed with the marque through decades there are some choices:
- Sell up now and move to another camera manufacture
- Stick with Olympus and buy a spare camera (there are some good second-hand deals around at the moment)
- Stay with Olympus until bodies or lenses need repair and then move to another marque.
- Stay with Olympus and support the JIP take over of the company by buying the products.