There is a press release from Olympus posted over on the DPReview.com website. Go there to read it if you want the details. The TL:DR is that Olympus is "carving out" its camera division and selling it to a Japanese holding company which plans to "operate" the concern with the intention of continuing to make cameras, lenses and accessories. But I think we've all seen how this kind of corporate move plays out. It's more of an exercise in salvage than anything else.
I know many folks will rush to blame Olympus management but it's good to be rational and admit that the whole camera sector is being beaten like scrambled eggs right now and Olympus is a small enough player which makes the beating so much harder. Even before the pandemic camera sales in nearly every category have been falling, year-over-year. Now, with massive unemployment growing in every corner of the globe the ability and desire on the part of most consumers to rush out and buy more cameras seem like fantasy.
The Olympus cameras have always been alluring. From the compact but potent size of the bodies to the flashes of sheer brilliance in lens design Olympus offered a fun and highly competent alternate option to all the homogenous cameras that Canon and Nikon pumped out into the digital markets over the last 20 years. Olympus has also been at the forefront of innovation with things like industry leading image stabilization.
My first brush with Olympus cameras was playing with my wife's OM-1 film camera back when we were dating in the college years. It was the perfect camera for her smaller hands and logical way of operating. Later, when I was working in an ad agency I discovered the amazing world of Olympus Pen F, half frame film cameras. Olympus designed (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) and built an entire professional system around the idea of the half frame camera. A camera that would take 72 shots on a roll of 35mm film. It featured a rotary, titanium shutter that sync'd with flash at all shutter speeds. Right up to the top speed of 1/500th of a second. The camera used interchangeable lenses, many of which were brilliant and beautiful optical tools. I still have a collection of my favorite lenses from that era (1970's) and still use them, with adapters, on current micro four thirds cameras. They are also a good match for Sony a6x00 series cameras and most of the lenses amply cover the APS-C sensors.
It was fun to use the very robust and solid Olympus digital bridge cameras, the E-10 and E-20. We did solid, commercial work with those 4 and 5 megapixels, all-in-one cameras over the course of a year. In fact, it was this line of cameras that helped transition thousands of former film photographers into digital photographers.
The E-1 camera (pictured above with Amy) was a magnificent camera but probably one that led the company down the path to where they find themselves now. In the early part of this century the costliest part of every digital camera, by far, was the sensor. The bigger the sensor the more astronomical the price. I don't think Olympus did a good job at predicting how quickly sensor prices would drop. They went all in on the smaller sensor and designed all of their new lenses around the geometry of a sensor that is a quarter the size of a traditional, 35mm type sensor. But over time the majority of camera buyers pined for the "full frame" they had become used to in the film days.
The lenses for the Olympus DSLRs were/are so cool. My favorite was the 35-100mm f2.0 zoom lens. It was a heavy beast but it was sharp wide open and so much fun to play with. Their lens line-up for their conventional DSLR m4:3 cameras was ambitious. It was also built on three tiers. There was a consumer line which was mostly slower zoom lenses. A step up line that featured good glass and better build quality. And then there was a professional line of lenses that were, for the most part, uncompromising. Looking back one can see that their 7-14mm lens was a game changer for the industry. Super-wide and super sharp.
Olympus was so far ahead of their bigger competitors that they, along with partner Panasonic, killed off their first interchangeable DSLR systems and made the switch to a mirrorless concept years ahead of any other camera company. It was a brilliant move and opened up the modern, digital camera world to the use of legacy lenses from a vast range of system on a modern camera. I loved the ability to use old Pen F lenses, Leica lenses, Nikon lenses and so many other on the system.
For a while I was all the way into the Olympus system and found a remarkably good value in the second generation of the OMD EM-5 camera, the OMD EM-5ii. The image stabilization was, at the time, like science fiction. The video capabilities of the camera were highly underrated as well. My friend, James and I used multiple EM-5ii cameras and a box full of lenses to make this video:
https://vimeo.com/137964319 In the five years since we did this newer cameras have launched featuring 4K video files and some improvements but the files from that time frame, out of the EM-5ii never stop impressing me when I re-visit the video...
Olympus have always had a loyal following for their cameras and lenses. Even after I moved on from the camera bodies I still had a love affair with the lenses. The one Olympus lens I really regretted selling was the 12-100mm f4.0 Pro series lens which I used extensively on Panasonic G9 cameras. It is a superb lens. Absolutely wonderful. And the 40-150mm f2.8 was/is...perfect.
I'd like to be optimistic and hold out hope that the new company will take the ball from Olympus and run for some new and worthwhile goals. I'd hate to see the choice of Olympus's alternative vision removed from the marketplace. They have consistently made wonderful and inventive products and produced them at a very high level.
If they fall into the same Hell as Polaroid then who will Sony steal new innovations from?
I have no way of predicting the outcome. I have no idea if the products currently on the market will see a run up in price and a rush to hoard them against some future shortage. Or, when the direction of the new company becomes obvious will these jewel-like cameras hit the wall causing a sell off of orphaned system parts?
Sad either way. The long shot hope is the new camera company rising like a Phoenix and mounting a dramatic comeback. We can always hope.
Photos from the EP-2 taken on a trip to West Texas in 2010.