Why Did Olympus Fail?

In January 2021, OM Digital Solutions acquired the Olympus Imaging Division, and though the cameras and lenses live on, the original iconic company was gone in some sense. So, what caused the downfall of one of the most respected and oldest photography companies on the planet? This interesting video takes a look at the history of the Olympus Imaging Division, where things started to go awry, and why it led to its ultimate failure. 

Coming to you from Robin Wong, this fascinating video takes a look at what led to Olympus' failure that led to it eventually being acquired by OM Digital Solutions. I was very glad when the Olympus Imaging Division was acquired and hopeful for a resurgence, as the company always produced some of the most innovative cameras out there. They were well known for having the best image stabilization available, and features like Live ND and Live Composite were truly useful and unique tools that were not just gee-whiz gimmicks. And improving sensor technology has helped to offset some of the disadvantages of the smaller micro four thirds sensor, making them worthwhile tools still to this day. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Wong. 

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Lee Morris's picture

I've never been a huge gear/spec guy but I never heard anyone excited about any Olympus cameras or features. Every other camera brand had some exciting new features that made me consider switching. Every other brand had fanboys. Not Olympus.

Christopher Lloyd's picture

Really? There's loads of Olympus fans out there from the sensible to the obsessive. As for features to get excited about, again there's lots: live composite pro capture, in camera focus stacking and world beating IBIS for a start.

Lee Morris's picture

When I was a professional wedding photographer I knew probably around 40 others in town. Almost everyone was Canon or Nikon but I knew a few that shot Leica and a few that shot film. In my entire career, I've only known one person to shoot Olympus and he was mostly a hobbyist. I'm sure there are some big Olympus fans out there, I just don't recall ever meeting them.

Jan Steinman's picture

"Every other camera brand had some exciting new features that made me consider switching… Not Olympus."

You're going to the wrong websites!


Weston Edwards's picture

Huh, and all this time I thought it was the fraud and accounting sandal that had been going on for over a decade that brought about the downfall of Olympus.


M M's picture

My favorite cameras to use were Olympus and Pentax. As far as Olympus goes, I believe they took themselves out of the larger market by sticking to micro four thirds. I think if they had embraced full frame some years ago they may have had a good chance. Another problem was that their legacy lenses wouldn't have worked with full frame.

Christopher Lloyd's picture

I see your point, perhaps they could have produced an L-mount range like Panasonic or even gone medium format but M4/3 was a sort of usp, being a major factor behind the size and cost advantages.
I think a part of it was marketing: a failure to counter the 'you really need full frame' narrative. Realistically the vast majority of photographers just don't - or at least hardly ever.
Several years ago I did the only comparative test I've tried. Identical shots with settings as near identical as possible with a Canon 5Dii (FF 20mp) and an Olympus E3 (4/3 10mp) - SooC JPEGs. Printed to A3 (slight cropping of the Olympus to fit) and put them up in the office, unlabelled, for comment. Every singke person thought the E3 shot was significaltly sharper and clearer.
They are both old cameras now but while things have changed, I doubt they have changed enough to reverse things.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

They do make great cameras with excellent IQ and IS. However, they should have tried something like Fujifilm's 40 MB sensor instead of sticking with 20MB. I am not saying that makes a difference but people expect bigger sensors these days.

Jan Steinman's picture

I went on a photo club shoot to a wildfowl refuge a while back. I had a belt-bag with my Olympus E-M1 Mark II, and a half-dozen lenses — in a belt bag!

A couple guys were lugging huge Canikon cameras with 300mm ƒ/2.8 lenses, and huge tripods. They were each carrying a huge camera backpack, as well.

The wildfowl were not cooperating. There were a couple ducks halfway across the bay. I took my slim, lightweight OM Zuiko 500mm ƒ/8 Reflex out of my belt-bag, and with 1,000mm reach, the ducks filled the frame well enough to make a composition, instead of just a large body of water with some dots on it. With Olympus's industry-leading IBIS, I could easily hand-hold without a tripod.

These guys set up their heavy tripods, and were shooting like crazy at the ducks. I knew they couldn't be seeing more than 1/4th to 1/3rd of what I could see.

"They're sorta far away," I said, "Are you getting anything useful?"

"No problem!" one replied, "I'll crop it in post!"

So there lies the "big lie" in more megapixels: These guys spent 3-4 times as much as I did for those extra megapixels, and carried as least four times the weight and bulk as I did, then they go home and spend ten times the amount of computer time as I did, THROWING AWAY 3/4th OF THEIR EXPENSIVE, HEAVY MEGAPIXELS!

I'm really, really happy with 20 megapixels. Get it right in the viewfinder, and you don't need more megapixels! µ4/3rds helps you get the *right* pixels.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

I agree with you - I think a lot of cameras are sold to people who brag about their gear rather than the photographs they take.