back to article After 84 years, Japan's Olympus shutters its camera biz, flogs it to private equity – smartphones are just too good

Japanese optics manufacturer Olympus is winding down its 84-year-old camera division and selling it off to private-equity firm Japan Industrial Partners (JIP). The venerable biz blamed [PDF] the move on the “rapid market shrink caused by the evolution of smartphones.” Now, there is little need for people to carry around a …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Unhappy

    Sorry to see them go...

    Some brands have a special resonance, and it's sad to see them go. Despite my never owing an Olympus camera, this is one of them. Saab was another.

    1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      I agree wholeheartedly. I went with Nikon myself in the end. It is shame to see that one of consequences of our collective actions is the end of a company that makes really good stuff that brings pleasure to many.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry to see them go...

        Indeed. I, too, went Nikon back around 2005, due to the selection of lenses and also image quality. The irony is, nowadays I'm finding the telephoto lenses and f/2.8 zooms too large and heavy to want to carry around, and if I were starting now, would have picked Olympus - their cameras and lenses are small and excellent. For me, camera phones are nowhere near useful, due to the lack of focal length and aperture control, coupled with poor auto-focus and ergonomics.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Sorry to see them go...

          At least the Olympus Micro 4/3rds lenses work with Panasonic 4/3rds cameras. Mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses are a popular category, with people finding the smaller size worth the lack of mirrorbox.

        2. DanPittPaloAlto

          Re: Sorry to see them go...

          I actually moved from Nikon to Olympus some years ago and never regretted it. Nikon was just too heavy to lug around. In recent years my son has taken my two OM-2 black bodies and all my lenses and still shoots film. In the last few years I have enjoyed many business trips to Tokyo, staying very near the Ginza, and visited many camera shops there to scoop up Zuiko lenses for him, including some real treasures like 35mm close focus and my favorite: 24mm f2.8.

          I still admire their elegant design, kind of like Lotus cars: "Simplify, then add lightness". What he and I would really like is a digital camera with the OM-1 controls.

          1. mechgru2

            Re: Sorry to see them go...

            And of course when Olympus sponsored Lotus 79 - one of the most innovative F1 cars ever.

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_79

    2. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      RIP Olympus - sorry to see you go.

      Such a shame that yet another well-known/loved brand goes down the drain - for whatever reason.

      The camera pictured in the equivalent article on the BBC web site was the same as the first camera I ever bought, and I've stuck with Olympus ever since. (A bit bad of me, not giving any others even a first thought, yet alone a second, but well... 'brand loyalty')

      1. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

        Re: Sorry to see them go...

        Come back! Smartphone cameras are crap!

        1. ICL1900-G3

          Re: Sorry to see them go...

          I agree entirely, but most people are happy with good enough.

          I carry a Sony RX100 everywhere and it's much, much better than a phone camera. Don't use the Nikon so much these days for reasons others have stated. It depends what you want - memories or photographs.

      2. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Sorry to see them go...

        Brand loyalty when they're consistently delivering quality is rational and a good camera isn't five minute bling with a grinning d-list schleb trying justify the badge.

    3. dak

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      My last film camera was an Olypmus APS - beautiful little piece of jewellery. I must have the last couple of rolls developed sometime.

      My Saab has just come out of lockdown to perform faultlessly on a 650 mile round trip. Reliability built in.

      1. aqk
        IT Angle

        Re: Sorry to see them go... HEY! old rolls of film?

        Migod! I have THREE rolls of film that I took on my old Nikon F1 about 30 years ago!

        What's on them? I have not the slightest remembrance. But-

        They are in a desk drawer. Waiting...waiting.. waiting...

        Can I still get them developed? Who does this now?

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Can I still get them developed? Who does this now?

          If they are standard B/W films, or color ones using the C-41 (negative) or E-6 (postive) processes it's still relatively easy to find labs to process them. If you live in a city large enough probably you can still find a shop which can help you, otherwise you can send them to a lab by courier or mail.

          If they are Kodachrome nobody process them anymore (but some just developing the layers as B/W images, AFAIK - the colors were added while developing the film). Some older processes are still handled by a few labs worldwide.

          After so many years color films will be quite probably yield color shifts, as the three layers may have aged differently. especially if the film was not kept refrigerated.

      2. ICL1900-G3

        Re: Sorry to see them go...

        Yay for the Saab!

        We have one and it will die with us, hopefully never to be replaced. WHY did they stop making them?

        1. CountCadaver Bronze badge

          Re: Sorry to see them go...

          I stupidly sold my 9-3 Sportwagon for want of a new turbo core, a clutch kit fitting and some driveshaft seals.....replaced it with a Dacia Sandero (hateful thing) to attempt to get better fuel economy (brochure 55-70mpg, reality 30-40mpg out on the road...Saab diesel did 38 around town and north of 50 out on the road....dog misses the Saab also, her ears prick up everytime she hears anything with the same engine....)

          Saab no more as GM were looking for cost savings and Saab was an easy choice...

    4. graeme leggett

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      Olympus binoculars (or even microscope) have been on my wishlist for a while

    5. Frans van Otten

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      Having owned both a Saab and multiple Olympus cameras, I agree.

    6. druck Silver badge

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      My first digit camera was an Olympus 1.3Mpix with a slide out lens cover, which took so long to start up you'd miss the photo, but an improvement on the previous bulky ones containing a floppy disk! My last Olympus was a SP-550UZ, very compact 18x stabilised zoom which was great for taking pictures when flying.

      My favourite though was the C-2100UZ which had one of the last CCD sensors before everyone went CMOS, it was only 2Mpix and ate batteries in minutes, but was more sensitive than anything I've had since, able to use fast shutter speeds even at the maximum 10x zoom in low light. I remember buying a 64MB Smartmedia card for it in Changi airport in a 2 hour stop off in Singapore on the way to my first trip to Australia. It cost a huge amount, although cheaper than 32MB in the UK. It increased my budget to an average of 6 photos per day for the month long holiday!

      Sadly they didn't have anything I liked last time, so I've now got a Fujifilm X-S1, a huge beast of a 26x zoom bridge camera, but the advantage of lots of external buttons to go straight to a feature, rather than spending ages navigating menus. It enables you to get much more out of the camera.

    7. simonlb

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      Yeah, remember when I was kid David Bailey advertising the Olympus Trip. End of an era.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry to see them go...

        "David who?"

        1. Pat Att

          Re: Sorry to see them go...

          I think the downvoters must have never seen the adverts.

    8. HildyJ Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      I owned a brilliantly designed Olympus Pen FT, a film 35mm half frame (two pictures per normal frame) camera. It was an SLR with interchangeable lenses but significantly smaller and lighter than other SLRs.

      I'm sorry to see them go but I understand it since I no longer own any SLRs and I don't remember the last time I used my DSLR (Nikon).

    9. David Hicklin

      Re: Sorry to see them go...

      Still got my OM10 up on the shelf, not used it for a very long time but very nostalgic, good solid quality unlike today.

      Amazingly the hot shoe flash still works after putting some new batteries in.

  2. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    What a shame. I use (almost daily) an OMD-1 (a successor to the OM1), a lovely bit of kit with great lenses. Of course, phones are ubiquitous as well as being pretty decent. They still don't come close for what I like to do (and I do use my mobile as a pikki capture device as well. Given the cost of high-end mobile phones, I know that I would rather have a cheap and cheerful mobile and spend the cash on a decent SLR. But the paying public are speaking sigh.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      There's still good choice and value available in the dedicated camera market, with cameras becoming more capable every year.

      I'm paying public, but my personal preference has been for a camera that can fit in my jacket pocket. But hey, during lockdown I've been more appreciative of our feathered friends - and I know that if I wished to photograph them I would need a bigger camera and lens system.

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Lenses

        Certainly the phone has completely killed the market for snapshot cameras and now dedicated digital cameras are an expensive niche, but secure because a phone isn't going to have larger sensors, larger lenses (much larger anyway), a good range of interchangeable lenses, decent ergonomics (wrong shape) and a secure tripod mount for time-lapse or tracking exposures. I used to be fairly serious about photography and had a wide range of cameras (still have some), the last being an OM10 and big selection of lenses. I can't afford/justify film and processing for it, though in 1990s we had Photo CDs (not to be confused with seriously poor Picture CDs.) done at the lab from film, no prints, for our business. Yet I can't justify a decent digital camera and lenses. If the light is poor or the object needs a telephoto lens the phone camera is useless. Lack of a viewfinder on a phone also means accurate pointing in bright sunshine is impossible.

        1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

          Re: Lenses

          Certainly the phone has completely killed the market for snapshot cameras and now dedicated digital cameras are an expensive niche, but secure because a phone isn't going to have larger sensors, larger lenses (much larger anyway), a good range of interchangeable lenses, decent ergonomics (wrong shape) and a secure tripod mount for time-lapse or tracking exposures.

          Smartphone cameras are basically taking the job that the Kodak Instamatic used to fill. They were also useful for servicable, quick pictures, and sometimes gems would arise from the clay. Same with smartphones now. But then as now, if you wanted any better capability, you moved up to better equipment.

      2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        I'm with you here: after working up to decent slide cameras (Leica IIIb,then a Pentax Spotmatic F) I bought a Pentax K100D because it uses my Spotmatic's lens collection. Its an excellent camera apart from bulk and its ability to destroy NiMH rechargeables in about 2 charge cycles. After that I got a Pentax WG1 Optio for convenience - this was an object lesson in lens quality vs MPixels: with 14MB its resolution is around 3 times worse than the K100D with its half-size 6MP sensor.

        Most recent purchase is a Panasonic TZ70, bought for a visit to India: I knew the Optio's rear screen would be unusable in Rajasthani sunlight and it has an electronic viewfinder. It has become my main camera due to small size, electronic viewfinder and surprisingly good low light performance - Taj Mahal by moonlight, anybody?

  3. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    A good chunk of the problem was also the incumbant's desire to not move with a changing world.

    First, most of them denied that digital photography was happening, and that it would ever be a thread because of the difference in quality between the first digital cameras and even basic film cameras - they just couldn't seem to grasp that the quality would improve and that's before other things like convenience and the many advantages in being able to see largely the exact picture that was being taken - lighting and ISO effects all included.

    The incumbant camera manufacturers could have worked hard to link their cameras into phones, using open standards and open applications. They didn't, instead they either tried to ignore the incoming digital market or create their own very poor walled garden substitute for it.

    1. Greybearded old scrote
      Unhappy

      Nah

      Honestly, you're not describing Olympus.

      They were pretty early into digital, and they still have a terrific range. I have three, from their low end, and I really enjoy them. Some of my club mates have the top of the range model and never stop raving about it.

      That reference to the club shows the problem. The phones have the "Kodak (pronounced Instagram) Moment" market and the Pro/Big Boy's Toys sector is quite small.

      There are still about 5 companies chasing us control freaks, and in a few more years I expect two at most. My money is on Canon and Sony for the last ones standing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nah

        I'd go for the last two mainstream marques being Canon and Nikon.

        Sony bought into the market with Minolta (early Sony cameras were OK but soon outdated). I've still got Minolta film kit in the attic but my main camera kit nowadays is Canon - their early entry into autofocus drew me across as I started to struggle focusing my Minolta once I needed to wear glasses. If I hadn't switched then, I'd probably be using Sony now as they build good kit. However, I've found Sony have a track record of poor support of older kit, and even dropping out of markets. My Vaio laptops were good but Sony didn't release drivers for Windows 8/10; anyone remember the Clie PDA - ahead of the rest but suddenly dropped. Perhaps they saw the market shrinking a few years ahead but they stopped and lost sutlers who might have formed a strong starting base for their phones. So it wouldn't surprise me if Sony get bored in the camera market in a few years.

        Whilst I have Canon "pro" kit, most of my photo/video work nowadays is on my iPhone as it's always with me. The Canon kit only comes out when the phone just won't do the job (long reach, shallow DoF, macro, etc. - or much higher resolution for big enlargement).

        1. Greybearded old scrote

          Re: Nah

          A few years ago I'd have agreed about Nikon, but they appear to be gasping in the diminishing pond. The only reason I don't think they are next is that Pentax have it worse. :-(

          I dislike Sony as a company, not least for their frequently adversarial attitude to their own customers. They are having a lot of success with their full frame range though. If I ever opt for full frame it will probably be a used Sony.

          1. graeme leggett

            Re: Nah

            I guess all those flat earth, Apollo deniers buying the Nikon P1000 to take out-of-focus shots of the planets etc isn't going to be enough to keep them going.

        2. Blank Reg Silver badge

          Re: Nah

          I expect it will be Canon and Sony that are left standing. though Nikon will likely be the last of the rest to go.

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Nah

            I want a Nikon DSLR.

            Why?

            Nikon lenses and Sony sensors.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Nah

        "Honestly, you're not describing Olympus."

        Unfortunately he was describing Leica. Several nice R lenses, no digital camera to take them

        1. Greybearded old scrote

          Re: Nah

          They have some lovely L bodies, at the same eye-watering prices as the L series film cameras. The R series was never their main line, and mirrorless digital looks remarkably similar to those old rangefinders.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Nah

            Maybe I should try some more recent cameras but (a) an LCD screen on the back of the camera is a nuisance as I can't focus that close without taking my glasses off (b) I find it difficult focussing on the horrible LCD eye-level viewfinder and (b) too often any action shot is missed by the time autofocus has cone its thing. What I really need is a digital SLR camera - a real SLR, not one of those faux SLRs - that takes my existing lenses but not at L-series prices. It looks as if I have to write off the investment in Leica lenses.

            1. Stork Silver badge

              Re: Nah

              If it is Leica you just may get money for them. The faux SLR's (I assume you mean high end mirrorless) have quite good AF these days. Thom Hogan shoots sport with some.

              If you don't care about being behind the curve, pick up a slightly older model DSLR and you get a lot for your money. I have done basketball with mine and it copes well.

              The advantage of mirrorless is less weight and bulk. You can even pick up an Olympus OM-D on firesale + lenses and be happy for years.

              1. overunder Silver badge

                Re: Nah

                Yeh, if they are expensive Leica's sell them immediately.

                No matter the brand, you still wind up paying out the ass in lenses. I love portrait. I have a Nikon D850 with what I consider a complete and perfect collection of portrait lenses. That is 10 lenses. If I loved sports, I'd probably only have 4 lenses, but each lens would cost 2.5x as much... so still out the ass.

                If you're young and can wait long enough, these digital MF cameras are starting to make ground. The latest sub $10,000 models don't yet hit official MF sizes, but it looks like in 1 or 2 more generations they will finally be in the low MF range. That said, if you had $10k, the Fuji GFX 100 looks like the ultimate mirrorless "SLR" (for portrait at least).

                It's always a serious decision, because once you're in that camp, you're buying those lenses.

      3. tfb Silver badge

        Re: Nah

        I think you're right. Canon & Sony both make extremely good cameras but also a lot of other things & so can weather the market: Canon will survive because there will continue to be a market for pro DSLRs, Nikon won't survive because we don't need two makers of the things. Sony, well perhaps they won't survive as a camera maker, as I can't think of a compelling reason why they should, but I think they will.

        I'd bet at least one micro-4/3 maker will survive as well, but I might be wrong.

        Leica also, because there's a market for expensive gadgets for rich people.

      4. Stork Silver badge

        Re: Nah

        I would not write Nikon off - their move to high end mirrorless seems much more clued up than Canon's. You can use the same lenses on both APS-C and full frame to start with.

        Panasonic seems to target video with a bit of still in m4/3, Fujifilm is struggling in spite of good products, and Pentax is to all effects not there. Leica will probably go on because, well, it is a different business.

        The problem is that the total market for interchangeable lens cameras has been in serious decline for years, and all makes have plenty of old but still very capable models in shops and at online dealers. For APS-C, you don't find a much better sensor than what is in my 5 year old Nikon D5300. AF is not bad either. If you need to improve in quality, get better glass (the kit lens is even decent) or a tripod.

        And as pointed out, the quality from phones is for many Good Enough, and it is much easier to share the pictures.

        To read more detailed comments, try www.bythom.com

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: Nah

          Using an APS-C lens on a FF camera has to be a pretty niche requirement? As in, something probably only even contemplated in an emergency...

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: Nah

            More FF on aps-c. That's possible with Nikon's mirrorless, not with Canon's.

            1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

              Re: Nah

              If you pretend that the EF-EOS M mount adaptor doen't exist, sure...

        2. Hugh McIntyre

          Re: Nah

          Indeed. The Canon 10D was arguably the first "good" DSLR in 2003 which resulted in most of the photographers I know switching from film to digital. Canon was also the first to introduce a widely adopted full frame DSLR (5D) IIRC. Probably lots of people on Canon based on this, so can't blame Canon for trying to ignore digital.

          The question going forwards may be whether those people buying DSLRs stick with 35mm formats (good for Canon) or go with something else such as micro-4/3 in order to get a lighter camera and lower cost. Maybe also which of these companies can share the semiconductor R&D across enough sales because of the complexity being higher than film.

          It does seem that the non-Canon companies are trying to bet on non-35mm formats. But even for micro-4/3 Olympus seemed to be more expensive than Panasonic or other options, so maybe this prevented them getting enough traction.

          (Speaking as someone with Panasonic/Leica micro-4/3 gear because the Olympus OM1-D was too expensive, and Canon DSLR gear no longer heavily used because it's too heavy for travel and too expensive to justify a new full-frame body.)

      5. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. LDS Silver badge

      No, the problem is just the market is shrinking and there are space for fewer and fewer players. Canon, Sony and Nikon have now most of the market share. They have all been riding the "digital market" for many years now, well before people started to use phones.

      Nobody really cares about "open standard and open applications" but probably some of the 4% of Linux users.

      Adobe still have the lion's share of digital photo processing, and it's far from being "open". Many photographers are Apple's customers. and it's far from being "open" too.

      Like it or not, photographers usually don't really care about open standards - just look at all the proprietary lens mounts - any attempt to make a standard one failed. Nor Adobe DNG gained much support over proprietary RAW formats.

      And when you're handling your camera you can't really use a phone at the same time. Moreover a good camera can last several years (of course a professional will need to replace them more often) - what is the average life of a phone and its apps? How long before the new shiny-shiny phone no longer works with a camera bought five years before?

      1. Stork Silver badge

        It depends what the pro is shooting. For many purposes, a 5 year old high end body is still just fine. Some pros rarely leave the studio.

        It is a pity there has been so poor integration with smartphones though. To be it would be obvious to use the GPS on the phone via Bluetooth, and do integration with Instagram or similar.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Yes, it depend on the pro, and what kind of work he's doing. Those working on location and shooting non-repeatable events (even down to marriages) can't risk to have a faulty camera. Others have far less issues and often work with far older cameras.

          More and more cameras have GPS built in and that allow to use the compass to record even the direction the camera was pointed to - something you can't do with an external GPS. And more and more cameras can be connected to phones to be used to share images on social or the like, using bluetooth and WiFi. But rarely that's a killer features for many photographers, especially those who shoot RAW and need time to process the photos, albeit Adobe is porting its tools to tablets and phones too. But while you can edit well enough on a iPad, it's not as good on a phone.

          Pros needing to publish an image quickly usually have a "back office" ready to ingest, process and publish the images sent to them via FTP or HTTP - high-end cameras have specific transmitters to allow that over WiFi or even Ethernet.

          One issue is that many "apps" made by camera manufacturer are far from being good - they see them as a cost that doesn't bring in much revenues. Probably it's better if they just implement the image transfer part, and let other better tools kick-in for editing.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Sadness...

    There goes an era - I still have, and used until a spring broke[1] a couple of years ago - an OM-1 and I have a couple of other film Olympuses; I still have an electric TTL reflex Olympus in general use. There is something about the format of the early OMs that really appealed to me as a user.

    These days, film photography for me is large format - and while I do use the camera on my phone it's only if I have nothing better to hand. The ergonomics of a phone camera are dreadful...

    [1] So the camera still works, but the shutter only closes if the camera is upside down. I should get it fixed; seems a shame not to, after forty-odd years.

    1. Bowlers

      Re: Sadness...

      How good would the camera on a phone have to be to be still in use after forty years?

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Sadness...

        I suspect that my main objection to a camera phone, after the ridiculous ergonomics of the thing, is the tiny sensor and lens - mandated by the thickness of the phone, of course - and the addition of auxillary lenses and sensors and 'AI' to try and make up for the limitations thereof - guesswork bokeh, guesswork depth of field, and the like.

        No-one's changed the laws of optics, and forty year old lenses work just as well as they did when they were made (and some of my lenses are over a hundred years old). I'm not saying the results can't be good, but I think that the tool itself is no longer understood by the user.

        Maybe I'm just an old Luddite.

        1. tfb Silver badge
          Terminator

          Re: Sadness...

          And I quote from a bit of paper I found, dated 1925:

          I suspect that my main objection to the Leica after the ridiculous ergonomics of the thing, is the tiny film and lens - mandated by the thickness of the camera, of course - and the addition of auxillary lenses and [...] guesswork bokeh, guesswork depth of field, and the like.

          All these things were just as true then as they are now. It didn't matter then, it doesn't matter now.

          (And before someone gets all up in arms: I own and regularly use a camera made substantially of wood which is a modern descendent of the cameras that the Leica displaced in many markets.)

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: Sadness...

            The "tiny film" was the same already used for cinema, where no one complained about it being too tiny (and cinema used it vertically, with smaller frames....) - and their lenses too.

            Anyway it was true 35mm rangefinder had less control on the image - Cartier-Bresson and Capa could take photos previously not possible (a viewfinder makes the camera far faster to use), but Weston or Adams could not have worked with 35mm rangefinders. Some issue were solved only when SLRs became available.

            About ergonomics, the large format cameras of the time, and even the medium ones, were not examples of ergonomic design - whatever needed to be activated was where it was simpler to put it (it's still that way).

            Some actual DSLR are excellent examples of ergonomics - it's just a pity the savings of touch display will mean dials and buttons will be replaced with on screen widgets far less practical and quick to use.

            1. tfb Silver badge

              Re: Sadness...

              35mm film was seriously shitty compared to large, or even to medium format. It got better later on but it was never really good, and it's not really good today. (And, again, in case it's not obvious, the last 35mm neg I printed was early March this year: and that's only because of CV19 as I can't get to the darkroom currently). My fairly old phone has significantly better technical image quality than any practical 35mm film (Kodachrome 25 might be better, and some very slow B/W films still might be).

              If you've used a pre-M Leica (I have, in fact I own one) you would probably not be saying that LF cameras have worse ergonomics, because the Barnack Leicas are, well, what they are. I use mine with a really lovely 50mm 1:1 finder (made by Voigtländer, aka Cosina, not Leica), as a scale-focus camera: if I had to use its terrible viewfinder and even worse rangefinder I probably would never use it at all. It took them until the M3 to make a camera which was even faintly pleasant to use. I much prefer using my 5x4 to it (but I much prefer using the Minolta CLE to either – although it doesn't compare to the 5x4 really, it's the nicest camera I have ever used).

              Anyway my point is: the Leica was this horrid thing with crappy technical image quality ... which, in 1925, no-one even noticed you were using (while today everyone notices if you use a Leica). And people like HCB exploited that to great effect. Today, the equivalent to what the Leica once was ... is a phone.

              1. LDS Silver badge

                Re: Sadness...

                The 35mm film required good lenses both for recording and printing. It was a time when large format prints were usually contact prints only, while 70mm required small enlargements. Many camera lenses were very simple designs, and thus cheaper, but often slow - and not good at all to produce images needed to be enlarged. I'm not saying medium and large format films have inherent advantages, but 35mm was still large enough (going below ended in several failures)

                Film was back then probably already ahead of lenses, in terms of resolution. But cinema required already good lenses to shoot quick enough well enough on small films.

                Leica could create a usable 35mm camera because it had the expertise to create the required lenses. Quickly it also created versatile camera with interchangeable lenses and a rangefinder for precise enough focusing, which otherwise required a fixed camera and a ground glass.

                I'm sure many camera makers of the time were terrified by the need to compete with Leica and Zeiss in lens designs. Not surprisingly, both of them weren't born to make camera lenses but scientific instruments.

                Today phone makers believe they can use software to bend not light rays, but the law of physics. Let's see....

                I'm not sure today a phone is quick enough to frame and shoot the HCB way. Surely Capa would need something more versatile.

        2. hoola Bronze badge

          Re: Sadness...

          That is the crux of it, for 95% of people they could not care less about the physics.

          The phone camera is used to take snaps and videos that are consumed on a small screen where the actual quality is pretty much irrelevant now. Being able to upload compressed images quickly is of greater importance than the last smidgen of colour gamut or focus.

          Software (lovingly labelled as "AI") can so all sorts of things to make these images more appealing to the eye and the devices they are being viewed on.

          I do some astro-photography and for that I need the RAW images. I happen to have a Canon 1100D that has had the IR cut filter removed as these were easier to convert. Generally Canon and some Nikon are used in this field, I don't think Olympus comes up that much but it is very niche anyway.

  5. Flak

    Exposing nostalgia

    I had an Olympus XA1 some 30 years ago and loved it. Very compact, great picture quality, detachable flash, nice looking, well made.

    Went from there to a Canon DSLR which was much bigger and enjoyed that for years.

    Even that is hardly coming out now thanks to the incredible quality of mobile phone cameras today (for ad hoc photos anyway).

    While there is progress with digital photography in so many aspects, I sometimes feel a sense of loss where an old, damaged photo of yesteryear outweighs in value a crisp, cropped and photoshopped image of today.

    1. jtaylor

      Re: Exposing nostalgia

      I love my Olympus XA. It's a rangefinder with Aperture Priority, made to carry in a pocket.

      There are so many wonderful little details: the shutter is a magnetic reed switch, so there's no "kick" from the shutter button. The timer is set with a little lever that, not at all by coincidence, swings out to stabilize the camera if you place it on a flat surface. The lens is quite nice even at f/2.8.

      You can tell it was made for Real Photographers to carry everywhere and Make Images.

      I just don't shoot much film any more.

  6. Fading Silver badge
    Unhappy

    SP-600UZ owner here

    Nice little bridge camera from about 10 years ago. Whilst on paper its specifications don't compare well to a decent mid range phone it still takes better pictures (IMHO) . Of course I don't take as many photos with it as a phone is much more convenient but the ones I do take tend not to get deleted (unlike the majority of phone pics).

    The other advantage of a camera with a sizeable lens is I have fewer pictures of my thumb......

  7. macjules Silver badge

    Who do you think you are? David Bailey?

    Amazing cameras, especially the Olympus MJU 2. Went from owning one of those to buying my first SLR (a Nikon) and then back after I realised that point-and-click was much easier with the Olympus.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Who do you think you are? David Bailey?

      Beer for the memory.

  8. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Interesting that of the remaining camera vendors, Sony and Panasonic came from a camcorder background and not a traditional camera background.

    For a few years now Sony's RX100 series has been ruling the 'best image quality you can fit in your inside jacket pocket' category, and Sony also having a strong presence in the bridge camera category (albeit expensive) and the Medium Format category.

    Panasonic have had a strong presence in the pocket sized long zoom category (TZ series) which do what camera phones can't, and in the high image quality pocket size (LX series). Panasonic are also strong in the EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens, aka mirrorless) category with their Micro 4/3rds cameras. Micro 4/3rds is a standard users by several camera and lens makers.

    Nikon still have strong presence in professional SLRs, but their entries in other categories haven't stood out.

    1. DrBobK

      If you have deepish pockets in both literal and metaphorical senses then the RX1R II wins the best image quality in jacket pocket stakes hands-down. Full frame sensor, good Zeiss lens specifically designed for a small package. Amazing camera (I own a second-hand one).

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Sony bought Minolta camera business

      The Sony camera business have its roots in Minolta. Sure, Sony was able to bring in its expertise with digital sensors, but it got a strong camera design background from Minolta.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Surprising that JVC did not bother as they had a good video camera in the tube and seperates era I wanted one but could not afford one, I had a second hand Sony tube camera which was good but not as good as the JVC. But the Sony recorder was the best one on the market.

      The late tube cameras were often pretty good.

      But mix and match disappeared with the camcorder. Later the Video 8 backers took the market.

      I ran my seperates until the camera tube failed then went to DV, later HDV.

      I have managed to compare footage from early video kit and found the following.

      Early 8mm footage can be soft. Some early cameras were junk, Sony tube cameras were low on features but good on picture quality. Until Hi8 the Sony portable VCR was still best.

      And yes it was assembling footage from multiple sources into one video using a PC, then burning to DVD.

      DV and HDV cameras often have a still frame option using memory cards, quality is interesting. Resolution is not that high (video pickup chip) but lens quality is really good.

      Phones only got good when Nokia gave it a go.

  9. Greybearded old scrote

    Sensor format

    I don't think it's helped that Olympus focused — excuse the pun — on micro 4/3rds format (sensor half the size of 35mm film) just as full frame (same as the film) became relatively affordable. A good big 'un still beats a good little 'un. They were visibly going for the traditional Olympus territory of 'really good but also compact.' Somehow the top model turned out just as big and heavy as the large sensor competition.

    Panasonic, their partner in MFT, have a parallel range of full frame models. I guess they saw where the trend was going.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Sensor format

      I remember APS and it failed attempt to unseat 35mm.

      They claimed they would use a better film than 35mm, to get equivalent quality.

      The killer was simple.

      Which film company would be prepared to kill itself by not putting this better filmi nto 35mm cannisters?

    2. fpx

      Re: Sensor format

      For me the sensor size is an advantage, because the glass scales with sensor size. There is little difference between full frame, APS-C and µ4/3 mirrorless body sizes these days, but plenty of size and weight difference in lenses.

      Bigger is not always better. I do not need 50 megapixels or ISO 100.000. WIth the pancake 14-42 lens, my OM10 is almost pocket sized. With the 14-150 and a spare battery, it is still well below 1kg, good enough to carry around all day without a dedicated camera rucksack. And my pictures are still pretty when printed as an 80x60 poster.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Sensor format

        The problem for Olympus is that "mirrorless" cameras and their lenses can be made quite small still using bigger sensors. You look at Fuji, for example, or some Sony and Canon (the M line) cameras.

        Many lenses for "35mm" are huge because they need retrofocus designs to allow for the mirrorbox space. Remove it and you can use far smaller lenses keeping the same aperture. After all the rangefinder cameras were compact and still using 35mm film.

      2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Sensor format

        the glass scales with sensor size

        Yes and no... If you maintain the same f-number then angle of view halves, field depth doubles and the amount of light collected decreases by 75%. To take the same photo on 4/3 as say a FF camera with an 85/1.4, you need two more stops, or a 43/0.7. That would be a bulky and very expensive lens if it existed. The 35-100/2 weighs (and when it was available, cost) twice as much as the FF equivalent 70-200/4, for example.

        The system is perfectly fine, if you accept these compromises. FF (and larger) is still the answer if you need or want to gather as much light as possible.

  10. demon driver

    The smartphone is not the problem...

    The smartphone is not the main problem. Ok, it destroyed most of the compact camera market. But all in all, the smartphone just accelerated everything a bit. The main problem is that sales drop when a product has finally matured (the digital camera) and everyone finally has such a mature specimen. The better the cameras have become over time, the less people feel the need to replace and upgrade theirs. Virtually all digital cameras of lately are excellent, no matter which brand. They have already become more expensive, though, because the manufacturers already had to compensate for the shrinking quantities, making that upgrade even less attractive...

    Olympus made mistakes, but no big mistakes (except perhaps, literally, the E-M1X). Its problem – like everyone else's in the industry, hardly any manufacturer is still healthy – is that the cameras they sold were too good. And that there is no new key technology in sight that could initiate a new era of cameras, like AF in the eighties or digital around the turn of the century.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: The smartphone is not the problem...

      I kept hold of my Canon S60 for ages, it may have only taken 5MP pictures but it took really good 5MP pictures and had enough controls to keep me amused. I'm not a photographer and it was pretty expensive for its class, there was no real reason for me to need a new one until it broke. I now have a Sony Rx100 V3 and there is no reason for me to upgrade it, I'm sure the new model is better in many ways, but for someone like me it's not enough to justify another $1000 for casual use.

    2. Lomax

      Re: The smartphone is not the problem...

      > The main problem is that sales drop when a product has finally matured

      Perhaps. Though arguably the 35mm SLR was mature by 1970 - yet continued to sell for another 30 years. Cost cutting / profit maximising / shareholder dividending might be a bigger problem; we just don't make things as expensively as we used to. Case in point, the Nikon FM3A which launched in 2001. It was supposed to be a "classic" 35mm SLR revival camera in the vein of the venerable FM and FE series. I owned one though, and it felt like a cheap piece of tat compared to the FM/FE bodies - complete with a painted plastic prism housing (imagine what that looked like after a few years days on the road...) Another one: the much lauded Canon 5/6D, which everyone and their dog seems to use these days - even for cinema production. Despite whatever its optical/digital qualities may be I cannot overcome the disgust I feel whenever I handle one; the thing is built like a child's plastic toy! No joy whatsoever - and even less so after smattering away 30,000 frames with three way bracketing; what am I supposed to do with them all!? Laptops are the same; not long ago we were happy to pay £3k for an IBM ThinkPad which had the build quality of an Apollo Programme device; today we have to be content with a cheap imitation from Lenovo at half the price (despite inflation!), which has the build quality (and ergonomics) of a Fisher Price product.

      </rant>

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: The smartphone is not the problem...

        The SLR became mature at the end of '70s, when it added full aperture metering, replaced unreliable and delicate meters with silicon ones, and shutters became metallic and vertically operated.

        Sorry, the 6D is a cheaper build, but the 5D line is very well built, and has a magnesium-alloy body, although covered by paint and rubber because the camera is "weather-sealed". it doesn't make me regret my old T90 (nicknamed "the tank"), and doesn't feel like a plastic toy (unless you used this: https://shop.usa.canon.com/shop/en/catalog/miniature-5d-mark-iv-model-camera).

        And not the 5D alone - comparable models of other brands are built more or less the same.

        Sure, they are no longer made of stainless steel, lead, wood and leather...

        1. Lomax

          Re: The smartphone is not the problem...

          > The SLR became mature at the end of '70s, when it added full aperture metering, replaced unreliable and delicate meters with silicon ones, and shutters became metallic and vertically operated.

          The OM-2 has all of those apart from the metal shutter and was introduced in 1975. Still syncs at 1/60 with a horizontal fabric shutter. And despite being smaller and lighter you could use it to grind a 6D into a pile of plastic granules while suffering little more than a few scratches.

    3. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: The smartphone is not the problem...

      I think the Smartphone is the main problem for the camera manufacturers.

      Personally, I like photography and prefer carrying around a decent camera to a smartphone for better photos. However, undeniably the smartphone is "good enough" for most users which relegates "real" cameras to an increasingly high end niche. This scares people away from using them; many kids today have never actually owned or even handled a real camera and wouldn't consider buying one.

      1. jtaylor

        Re: The smartphone is not the problem...

        "This scares people away from using them; many kids today have never actually owned or even handled a real camera and wouldn't consider buying one."

        I don't blame them. "Real" SLR and prosumer cameras are covered with buttons, dials, and levers. My first experience was like trying to use a Rubik's cube: a little clueless fiddling could get you lost for days. Hold down this button, spin that dial, and exposure compensation is -3.0. Try to fix it and now flash is set to front-curtain sync. But hey, at least you didn't make the lens fall off like last time.

        I struggle to explain how to use an SLR. "Here's the Auto mode setting. Keep it there until you want to learn theory." Aperture Priority if they want to get creative. And then if they ask, I talk about catching light in a bucket.

  11. Mr Dogshit

    "shutters"

    I see what you did there

  12. Greybearded old scrote
    Trollface

    Funny thing

    We're all writing as if Olympus cameras are dead, when officially they've just changed ownership. Anyone would think that we pronounce "private equity company" as, "asset stripper."

    Unlike some other types of stripper, that's never a pretty thing to watch.

    1. John Gamble

      Re: Funny thing

      "Anyone would think that we pronounce 'private equity company' as, 'asset stripper.'"

      Because we've been in this business long enough to know that that's exactly what happens.

      I realize that it's not guaranteed, and that you're also using the troll icon, but I've seen this in manufacturing, software, newspapers, and theater companies, and I fully expect it to happen here as well.

  13. TheProf Silver badge
    Unhappy

    OM1

    My favourite camera brand gone to the great darkroom in the sky. *sob*.

    I can still remember holding an OM1 in a camera shop in the early 1970's. Compared to the Exakta RTL1000 I was toting around the OM was like a tiny jewel. I didn't get an OM1 because by the time I'd saved up the OM2 was out and that became my first OM.

    (I did get an OM1 a few years back from the Tat-Market. It was sold as for spares because the mirror was jammed up. Not jammed but the mirror lock switch had been turned and was performing as it should. )

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: OM1

      As a kid I saved and got myself a used OM10 to replace my Zenit E. I was so proud of my Olympus, even though I could only afford the one lens I took it everywhere, though in those days I had to be economic with my use because of the cost of film and processing. I'm sure I still have the OM10, the best entry-level SLR at the time.

      1. albaleo

        Re: OM1

        Thanks for that. It stirred memories. I also got an OM10 to replace a Zenit (forget the model). I couldn't afford on OM1. I eventually added a 100mm lens. Then I decided to move to Japan and sold the camera to pay for the air fare. But I held on to the extra lens. In Japan, after my second-or-so pay cheque, I bought an OM2. 40 years later, my son is still using that OM2 and the 100mm lens.

  14. MJI Silver badge

    My Dad had Olympus stuff

    OM1 something may be 10 but was quite a long time ago.

    Really nice kit, he tried Praktica for a few years (I got given his old Miranda body) but didn't get on with it.

    I got the Tamrons when he went Olympus.

  15. Lomax
    Unhappy

    Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

    Sad news indeed! My first "proper" camera was an OM-2, and despite having owned several Nikons, two Hasselblads, and a bunch of other nice cameras, it's still my favourite. Supremely well made, smaller and more compact than any competitor, with excellent ergonomics - and one of the first to have TTL flash control. I had the winder and a selection of lovely Zuiko lenses, which similarly to the body had a compactness that belied their quality; 135mm f/3.5, 50mm f/1.4 and 28mm f/2.8 IIRC. The 135mm had a built in telescoping lens shade which I haven't seen on any other lens - very handy. To me, the sound of the OM-2 fabric shutter still defines how a camera should sound. Out of the 10 best photos I ever took, about half were taken with the OM-2. Post digital I kinda lost interest in photography, though I had a brief medium format revival a few years ago. There's not the same joy in taking pictures with a computer. Nowadays I exclusively take photos for documentation purposes, with a Ricoh GX200 (another legendary company btw).

    Digital killed the photography star.

    1. Stork Silver badge

      Re: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

      My OM-2 was my least favourite camera. It several times got some sort of electronic error where the shutter opened and - that was it.

      I gave up and bought a Nikon FA

      1. Lomax

        Re: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

        This would happen if the battery got low. You could release the mirror by turning the shutter speed ring to "B" (also marked as "reset" bottom right IIRC). But if you were out & about without a spare battery you were SOL; all speeds were electronically controlled with no mechanical fall-back. Just another area where Olympus were way ahead of everyone else :D

        Not that I would kick an FA out of the bed. I had an FM2 for many years and loved it. Eventually went digital with a D200, then bought the FM3A, then went medium format. TBH, I am was more of a Nikonian than an Olympian. In terms of £££ spent probably a Hasslian?

        1. TheProf Silver badge

          Re: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

          "no mechanical fall-back"

          Of course the intrepid OMographer would know to carry spare SR44s.

    2. jtaylor

      Re: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

      "There's not the same joy in taking pictures with a computer."

      Indeed. For me it's a mental thing. With my FTb, ASA 200 film, and a prime lens, a photo happens in my mind and my body before I press the shutter. With my D200 and super-zoom, I can just take a forgettable photo and delete it later.

      But you know, DSLR and a basic lens, see what I get in 24 shots, no chimping, and the magic is back.

  16. The Central Scrutinizer

    Truly sad to see Olympus go. I've always been a Nikon guy, but those OM1s and 2s were beautiful film cameras.

    I absolutely hate phone cameras. Farnarkeling around trying to hold the damn phone steady with your arms outstretched. Good for snapshots but blech.

    Hopefully we still get real cameras for a long time to come.

  17. Dunstan Vavasour
    Unhappy

    Brand Debasement

    I just hope the brand doesn't get sold off and slapped on tat. Thinking of "Polariod", which was slapped on all sorts of cheapo electronics before it was bought by The Impossible Project and put on their worthy range of instant cameras.

    But then as long as Olympus are making medical optical instruments they'll probably keep the name. My appreciation of the brand was further enhanced when one of their instruments was used to remove a pre-cancerous polyp from my bowel the year before last.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brand Debasement

      Olympus heavily protect their brand, the corporate identity manual was huge. The consumer division has been a loss making marketing exercise for many years. Although it's sentimentally sad, the loss of stills cameras will not affect Olympus as a whole. At least not financially, maybe psychologically. The medial business is massive and very profitable, at least it was back when I worked for them.

    2. Pacman9

      Re: Brand Debasement

      So Olympus have literally saved your ar$e?

  18. briesmith

    What were they reading?

    Xerox, Polaroid, Kodak, Walkmans (men?), unsmartphones (Nokias basically). The writing was on the wall although I am a little surprised because I always thought that Olympus favoured the professional/motivated amateur photographer as opposed to the consumer sector? Clearly they were in the prosumer market?

    And their audio products (dictation, handheld recorders etc) market is also under pressure. Sell Olympus I suppose is the smart, obvious?, move.

  19. MJI Silver badge

    Imaging and stuff

    I have long been a fan of decent optics I rely on them all the time.

    My current glasses are junk compared to my previous pair wth Nikon lenses - optically excellent.

    The USP of cameras though now is the optics.

    Phone cameras are generally not very good, totally lacking in flexibility compared to SLRs. Mind you an old Nokia was good as a point and shoot compared to any others I have had.

    I just want a good quality DSLR where a 50mm lens is a 50mm normal use lens. Any 35mm user will know what I mean.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Smartypantz

    Former Olympus 10 owner

    Took the best pictures of my life on my journey through east Africa in '95!! with the Olympus 10 (OM-10? cant remember :-) )

    Eventually had to sell the thing to survive in Nairobi until the plain-ticket kicked in ;-D

    I guess we (me and my buddy) lived on french fried potatoes and the cheapest hotel room in Nairobi for ten days for the money that thing got us at the local pawn shop.

    Good times, finally got friendly with the hookers, safari pushers and street life in general. Only possible because they knew we had no money!

  22. Androgynous Cow Herd

    Sad but not unexpected

    When I shot film, I was an Olympus guy, professionally. Optics of the Zuiko lenses were really the superior product (IMO only second to Leitz) and it was a system that was every bit as extensive as Nikon. Still have a pile of OM bodies and Zuiko glass...OM-1n, OM-2, OM-4 and the OM3-T because I didn't sell them when they were worth anything. When I switched to digital (a bit late) I tried to stay in Olympus but the 4:3 format and lens incompatibility with my quiver of glass mean't I would have to rebuy it all anyway. I switched to Canon full frame since I had to re-buy the glass anyway and haven't looked back.

    The process of choosing a camera platform is completely different from the film days...An OM-1 was just a mechanical light tight box with a shutter, an OM-3 or OM-4 is the same light tight box with a better light meter...but you changed the "Sensor" with every roll of film, and so the investment was in the glass.

    Now, the sensor is generally fixed in the camera (excepting pro stuff like Phase One). And, yeah, for the consumer market, there are silly good digital cameras built into most cell phones so why even bother with a point and shoot? Olympus really never even entered the digital pro market - OM-D is OK at best compared to competitive systems, and so, there's no real product other than something pro-sumer.

    The medical imaging and other optical stuff is apparently doesn't go with this spin off...I hope whatever is left of Olympus continues to thrive but they're been personally irrelevant to me for years.

  23. Gene Cash Silver badge

    C-3000Zoom owner here

    And it still works. It's got excellent low-light performance, better than anything I have now, and a very intuitive user interface.

    I haven't been able to find anything Olympus in the shops for at least 5-6 years.

  24. Alan_P

    My first ever “real” camera was an OM-10 from 1970 something. Loved that camera.

  25. DanceMan

    Olympus were special

    For me it was not in the way pretty much everyone here has written about. I went from Miranda to budget Nikon in SLR in the years I developed and printed my own B&W but I bought an Olympus 35RC to have a compact camera I could keep with me, and later the wonderful Olympus Stylus. Full frame 35mm in a small package that had no competition now has understandably been wiped out by camera phones. Technology has destroyed their niche.

    1. Bubba Von Braun

      Re: Olympus were special

      Same here.. Started shooting Auto-racing as a teen with my Trip35, and got some shots that the then pro's were impressed (while shit caning the camera ;-)) Fond memories, and then when I re-entered in the Digital era think its was '99 got my hand on a little E100-RS. Talk about a wicked little camera.. optics were awesome for the size and MP of 1.8 well it limited you, but had this pre-capture system that removed the whole issue of shuttle/photographer lag, push the shutter button and the previous 5 frames are in the card for you at 20 FPS. Continued my investment with an E1 and then an E3, along with a decent collection of lens (50-500mm and lots in between). However I saw the writing on the wall just before the shift to micro 4/3rds.. Then it became a choice between Cannon/Nikon, the latter has won out and the D850 is a cherished family member.

      And why do some of us think Olympus is done as a camera brand. You only have to look at what PE did to Kodak, Polaroid etc.. slash/burn and then whore the brand around.

      Olympus will always have a special place its where I started and the lessons learned have served me well.

      BvB

  26. LeeColes_WeSprinkle

    Sad to see the leave the market.

    As a professional photographer who has been using Olympus cameras from the early days. I am sad to see them go.

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