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

Oh, snap

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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 separate point-and-shoot camera when their cellphones can snap good-enough or high-quality images and enhance them immediately with software.

As smartphone cameras improved, Olympus tried to switch tactics and focus on high-end digital cameras with superior lenses. Alas, its market share continued to dwindle, and it reported consecutive losses over the past three years. Today, Olympus makes the majority of its money selling medical and scientific equipment, like microscopes and endoscopes.

The first Olympus camera was the Semi Olympus folding camera, which had a Zuiko 75mm lens and went on sale in 1936. It was capable of capturing 16 shots on a roll of film. Olympus grew to be a massive player in the camera industry, building light, high-spec'ed kit for professionals and amateurs.

The rise of digital cameras wasn't thought to be a problem at first, though eventually the tech overtook it. And then was the financial scandal. In 2011, Olympus hired its first non-Japanese CEO, British 30-year veteran of the company Michael Woodford. Two weeks later he was fired after pointing out financial irregularities. The camera maker was later fined millions.

JIP will continue to develop the company’s OM-D camera series and its Zuiko lenses. “We believe this is the right step to preserve the legacy of the brand, the value of the technologies and the outstanding products,” Olympus said in a statement.

“Olympus sees this transfer as an opportunity to enable its imaging business to continue providing value to longtime and new customers, fans and photography enthusiasts.” ®

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