In a move that will surprise few watchers of the camera industry, Olympus is selling their camera business to Japan Industrial Partners, a private equity group that specializes in helping troubled companies spin off insolvent businesses. JIP is most famous for having bought the VAIO computer business from Sony in 2014, which it spun off as a separate company that sells computers mostly in Japan, although a few models have made it to niche markets in other countries. In the press release, Olympus and JIP claim that the business will continue to make and sell cameras. It is unclear whether or not the Olympus brand name will survive on cameras, or whether that will be retained exclusively by the much larger medical equipment division (Olympus Imaging is about 6% of Olympus, a maker of medical and scientific equipment). The Zuiko and OM-D brands are specifically mentioned in the press release as going to the new company (which has the placeholder name NewCo in the release).
Is what they’re calling NewCo in the press release viable? Can anyone run an independent camera company (that, oddly, also makes digital voice recorders) with annual sales of just under 50 billion Yen ($500 million)? It is the sixth largest player in the global interchangeable lens camera market, far behind Canon, Sony, Nikon and Fujifilm. Olympus’ camera business is about 10% the size of Canon’s or Sony’s by revenue, less than 15% the size of Nikon’s, and a little over 1/3 the size of Fujifilm’s. In fifth place just ahead of Olympus is probably Leica, which is comparable in annual camera revenue to Olympus, but relies on high-end collector cameras for a significant portion of its sales, and, unlike Olympus’ camera division, is either profitable now, or was prior to the coronavirus. The places below Olympus are occupied by Pentax (a little over 1/3 the size of Olympus, hard to see how it can survive, but see below), probably Panasonic (whose sales are hard to discern, but somewhere between Pentax and Olympus?), Hasselblad and Phase One.
It is hard to see how what was once Olympus can survive with the product line we have known. Keeping a full mirrorless system with professional-grade lenses going is an expensive proposition, and one that is probably not justified by Olympus’ sales. Sales of cameras we barely see in the West are relatively strong in Japan and some other parts of Asia. Olympus sells quite a few low-end, very compact Micro 4/3 cameras that outperform phones, but are more pocketable than anything that has significant sales in North America and Europe. Many Western observers don’t realize that the Olympus PEN line still exists, associating Olympus exclusively with the OM-D series. There are, in fact three current PEN models, of which the highest-end PEN-F is the only one that (briefly) attracted any notice in the American or European press. That’s also where a lot of Canon’s EOS-M sales are probably going, as well as the lowest-end Fujifilm products that don’t (or barely) make it to these shores.
Japan and Asia more generally transitioned to mirrorless well ahead of other parts of the world, and very pocketable electronics have always sold especially well in Asian markets. In the pre-smartphone era, there were tiny wonders of cell phones that existed only in Japan, and made a StarTAC look bulky by comparison. Some exist today, as much smaller alternatives to smartphones. The Japanese market has also featured a collection of sub 1-lb “laptops” for many years, very few of which officially make it overseas. Keeping some pocketable PEN cameras and a few compact lenses in the line for markets where they sell would be much easier than maintaining the OM-D line and the high-quality lenses they need to thrive. Another possibility that doesn’t require much effort is Olympus’ TOUGH compact camera line.
In addition to a few interchangeable-lens models for markets where compactness is prized, and possibly some specialized compact cameras, what else might JIP want from Olympus’ camera business? It would be a shame to see their class-leading image stabilization go away – could some other company license the technology? They also have better pixel-shift technology than anyone else (Olympus can assemble the shifted image in camera, and even claim a handheld pixel-shift mode). Some of their success with both stabilization and pixel shift is due to the small sensor, but they have excellent technology as well.
Thom Hogan also points out Olympus’ excellent optical design group. Some of those Zuiko Pro lenses are really beautiful designs. Any Japanese company trying to expand their lens lineup (which would mean Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm and possibly even Canon, although Canon has a very large internal capability) could benefit. The engineers could leave “NewCo”, either individually or as a group. The other possibility is that “NewCo” sells the optical design group to one of the major camera makers (or possibly a lensmaker), including patents and designs. For it to be attractive, many of the engineers would need to agree to come along. Sony’s lens group came from just such a transaction – they bought it with Konica-Minolta’s camera business. Konica-Minolta also still has a lens design group that does contract work, and Olympus could keep all or part of the lens design operation for themselves instead of selling it all to JIP (it’s one of the most likely parts of the business to be useful in their medical work). A lens design operation that remained within Olympus could certainly do contract work for “NewCo”, but there’s nothing keeping them from contracting with other camera firms, either
Another possibility is brand licensing – it is unclear if Japan Industrial Partners has control of the Olympus brand for camera products, but they do have the venerable Zuiko lens brand and the OM-D camera brand. Best case: Some Android phones with “Zuiko” lenses, just like some have “Leica” lenses. Worst case: Grand old Olympus branding applied to cheap Samyang/Rokinon type lenses for a variety of mounts, possibly other photographic products too (including things Olympus never actually made). Look at Vivitar now, or at Polaroid until the Impossible Project recently wrestled that trademark back from the junk dealers.
Probably the biggest loss as we lose at least the majority of Olympus’ product line is (by far) the cheapest and lightest true sports camera on the market. An E-M1 (any version) really was a baby Nikon D5 or Canon EOS-1Dx or Sony A9. They hadn’t had the money to keep up with the latest versions of the big sports cameras, but they were real sports cameras. Super high speeds, pound tent pegs and wash it with a hose durability – oh, and they happened to use lenses that were half as long as their full frame competitors. Subject isolation was always a problem, because they really needed lenses that were half as long, but two stops faster (which would be just as bulky as the lens needed on full-frame) – but if you were willing to live with that limitation, you could have a 15 fps, subject-tracking monster with a big lens for a lot less money and weight than anywhere else.
What’s the replacement? A Nikon D7500 with the 300mm f4 PF? That’s a capable body, not too big – and the PF lens is MUCH smaller than a 300mm f4 is supposed to be! A Z6 or Z50 with the same lens and the FTZ is also an option. The other possibility is a Canon body (EF or RF) with their version of a 300mm f4 – too bad it isn’t a DO lens. Nobody else really has the right lens – a Fujifilm X-T4 would be a great body, but what’s the lens? There’s the 55-200 f3.5-4.8, but that’s on the shorter and slower side, and not quite up to the rest of these lenses (or a Zuiko Pro lens) optically. There’s also the exotic 200mm f2, but that’s no longer a relatively reasonably priced setup for high school or small-college sports. Sony has some great bodies, led by the A7 III (this is supposed to be affordable, thus no A9) – but the lenses are all zooms that are going to be pretty slow (f5.6 or slower) by 300mm, until you get to the big exotics like the 400mmf2.8.
What if you own an Olympus system? It’s not going to stop working when they discontinue it, and they are claiming that repairs will continue to be available. Supposedly, “NewCo” is taking over Olympus service worldwide. In the short term, I believe it, until the last warranty obligations have expired and probably for some time beyond. In the longer term, who knows? If “NewCo” keeps marketing some cameras, in some parts of the world, they’ll probably be able to service others, maybe by sending them to a central service depot – at least until Olympus’ parts stocks run out. That’s a caveat with any modern digital camera – Nikon is almost certainly not making D3x sensor assemblies any more either, for example – they can service them because they have a bunch of stock, and when that stock runs out, the only way to service one is to grab the part from another camera with a different problem. There are generally quite a few years of stock around, but I’d be surprised if “NewCo” actually manufactures many spare parts – the supply is most likely whatever Olympus made.
In terms of expanding your system, my best guess is what you see on the market now is more or less what you get. There may be another lens or two that are very far along in development, perhaps even one last body? There will almost certainly never be a body that doesn’t use the Same Old Sensor – if there’s one more body in the pipeline, it’s likely to either be an upgrade of the PEN-F or a new E-M10. The PEN-F uses the old 20 MP sensor that has shown up on most higher-end Micro 4/3 bodies for years, while the E-M10 uses the even older 16 MP sensor. Astonishingly, Olympus has released two low-end PEN bodies in the last two years that use the ancient 16 MP sensor. What will happen to the 150-400mm f4.5 lens that is already announced? I’m not sure if it’ll ever see the light of day – and even if it did, I’d hesitate to buy such an expensive lens for a system that looks unlikely to maintain much support (a shame, because it’s a great focal length for the “light sports camera” use case).
Another thing to think about for dedicated Micro 4/3 shooters is Panasonic, and their likely future commitment to Micro 4/3. Panasonic’s still camera division is oddly tucked inside the appliance division of the much larger Panasonic conglomerate. It is nearly impossible to get any information on its actual size and profitability, although “not very big” and “not very profitable, likely losing money” are reasonable assumptions. What makes the situation more interesting is that Panasonic ALSO has a very well-respected video and digital cinema camera business in a completely different division of the company.
If the still and video businesses were merged, especially given many Panasonic still cameras’ video orientation, there might be a sensible business there. This raises the question “Micro 4/3, L-mount or both”. With Olympus gone or nearly so, and Sigma focusing their mirrorless efforts on full-frame lenses for L-mount and Sony FE, with the possibility of adding Canon RF, Nikon Z or both, there is actually an argument that the relatively new L-mount has more third-party support than the much more mature Micro 4/3. Nothing presently made by Panasonic’s pro video division uses either Micro 4/3 or L-mount (they used to make a couple of Micro 4/3 camcorders, but the replacements seem to be Canon EF mount, of all things). Micro 4/3 has some support among cinema cameras, but not from Panasonic, unless you count the GH series, which are made by the separate appliance division. The low-performing Same Old Sensor on the Micro 4/3 side is an argument for focusing on L-mount, where a diversity of better-performing full frame sensors is readily available.
Micro 4/3 in general is, if not extinct, definitely endangered. The Same Old Sensor (which just made its latest appearance in the new Panasonic G100) is holding back performance. Panasonic’s once-unique video capabilities, while still very good, are now no better than something like an X-T4 that has much higher still performance. There are two cameras scheduled to hit the market in the next month or so that will probably offer much higher end video capability than any Micro 4/3 camera, even the GH5. Canon has already announced that the new EOS-R5 will offer 8Kp30 and 4Kp120 video, with raw capability. Sony’s long-awaited A7sIII will probably offer 4Kp120, perhaps with raw or very high bitrates. 4Kp60, once unique to the GH5, is now available on a wide range of cameras. Olympus’ uniquely sturdy bodies are probably on the way out, and other companies are catching up to their image stabilization, although nobody is there yet.
There are fewer and fewer unique advantages to Micro 4/3, as both image stabilization and video performance have improved on larger formats. As sensors develop on larger formats, while the Same Old Sensor remains stuck in place, the sensor size disparity is actually increasing. The Same Old Sensor is not only smaller than any competitor, it is also a technological generation behind. Micro 4/3 sales are low enough, unlike either APS-C or full-frame, that there is little incentive for any sensor manufacturer to offer anything new. There is one important exception – if Panasonic themselves succeeds on any of the new-technology sensors they have been experimenting with, they may very well offer it in Micro 4/3. A breakthrough like an organic sensor or a really good multi-layer (Foveon-type) sensor could change the landscape (especially if it is difficult or expensive to manufacture in larger sizes).
Where goes Pentax? A whole generation of photographers learned on K-1000s… You want a slightly newer 50mm f2.0 (after 1985) to work best on your digital body.
Beyond Micro 4/3, what other camera companies are in danger? Pentax, of course – but their fate is not as obvious as one might think. Pentax is tiny, probably around a third the size of Olympus, and a few percent the size of the market leaders. It can’t be terribly profitable to make 100,000 or so cameras each year without Leica’s high prices. What may save Pentax is that it may not cost much, either. They don’t customize their sensors at all – every Pentax sensor is an off the shelf Sony design, presumably with similarly non-custom filtration. Their bodies have changed little over the past few generations, and any real innovation (a mirrorless Pentax, for example), would be really surprising. If their processors are general-purpose chips they’re buying somewhere, having a small team of people writing code and another small team making minor changes to buttons and dials could be surprisingly economical.
The lenses they are releasing now seem to be purchased designs, possibly from Tamron. The K-mount is similar enough to various other mounts, especially the equally venerable Nikon F, that small runs of K-mount lenses in a factory that makes the same lens for other mounts may be relatively economical. Remember that Sigma actually offers a mount conversion service among all popular DSLR mounts (including oddities Pentax and Sigma SA), and it starts at only $80 per lens. If it’s possible to convert lenses one at a time for $80, making a short run of lenses with an odd mount has to be much cheaper than that. Building a unique Pentax lens would, of course, be much more expensive – and I wouldn’t expect to see many (any?) of those going forward.
As of right now, Pentax is a small division of much larger Ricoh. Unless Ricoh sells the camera division (to whom?), or spins it off like Olympus has done, Ricoh is going to be servicing Pentax gear for the foreseeable future. Japanese law makes it hard to shed service obligations. Much more likely than losing service altogether is having to send gear, especially bodies, to Japan for service – Ricoh is not required by any law to maintain service facilities abroad, and could choose between selling parts to independent shops in various countries and centralizing service if it becomes too uneconomical to maintain their own service facilities around the world. There are plenty of shops capable of servicing a DSLR if parts are available, so Ricoh might very well choose the independent service route.
This is almost certainly not the time to buy into a Pentax system, unless you are looking for a special effect obtained with vintage Takumar lenses, probably as a second system. The outlook for current owners is probably better than for Micro 4/3, both because the sensors in current bodies are far superior, and because the only reason to use Pentax is 45 years of older lenses. That huge market in used lenses isn’t going anywhere. If you have old Pentax lenses you love, they aren’t going away if Ricoh stops making bodies. Counterintuitively, shortly after an Olympus-type announcement could be a time to buy a backup body if you’re happy with your lenses. There’s not a lot about a lens an independent shop can’t fix, and there’s nothing at all (short of shattering elements, which would likely ruin any lens) that can’t be fixed if you’re using an older manual focus Takumar. Having multiple bodies reduces the chances of being forced out of Pentax by an irreparable body.
The next group of potential market exits are the remaining niche players – Leica, Hasselblad and Phase One. Among the three of them, there are two historic mounts with large numbers of older manual-focus lenses and no autofocus. If you use and love either Leica M or Hasselblad V mount, I wouldn’t be especially concerned. There are a lot of lenses around and they’re easily repairable in most cases. Whether or not the maker is still around doesn’t have a lot to do with how long the lenses will last. Leica is likely to continue making bodies by hand, as they’ve always done. Even if Leica were to disappear, there are a lot of people who will be dedicated to keeping the M mount running. Hasselblad is a bit trickier, because the supply of V mount digital backs, especially the newer models, is smaller than the supply of M mount bodies (and they’re less likely to stay in production). If you’re using film, or willing to use film, I see no reason why people won’t be fixing the old V system (and Leica M) stuff for decades to come, possibly by 3-D printing parts – there are photographers making tintypes today, and some large-format photographers love Goerz Dagor lenses made nearly a century ago.
The more recent, “ modern” systems from Leica and Hasselblad are less secure. Hasselblad is owned by drone maker DJI, and it’s unclear how much interest DJI has in medium format. The X system is compact and elegant, especially the bodies – but is it enough to compete with Fujifilm? How does the H system compete with Phase One? Will DJI let Hasselblad do their own thing with the X and H systems, or do they own Hasselblad essentially for the name? Leica’s S medium format system seems to generate negligible sales, and is likely to be on the chopping block in the relatively near future. The L-mount depends heavily on Panasonic – even the combined efforts of Panasonic, Leica and Sigma seem to be producing a 5th place system in a market that may very well have room for four. Will the L-mount migrate into Panasonic’s video division where it might well find some more room to run, or will it languish in the appliance division? Leica may try to go it alone with the L-mount if Panasonic leaves the camera business, but how long can they last? One huge unknown is Leica’s collector business. What percentage of Leicas made are special editions that never leave their box? What percentage of Leica’s profit comes from those special editions? Most of those are M models, so they are more likely to keep the beloved M line alive than the “modern” lines.
I don’t even know where to start with Phase One. Even apart from Capture One, which is a big chunk of their sales – almost exclusively to users of other camera systems – many of their backs go to specialty applications. They have a large cultural heritage business, selling equipment to institutions digitizing books, art and other documents at high quality. They are also involved in equipment for aerial photography and mapping (and possibly for the related business of aerial espionage – those in that business don’t often talk about it). There is no public information showing how much of Phase One’s business is in these areas versus what most of us would call “photography”. There is also very little information showing how much R&D carries over – if they are going to build document cameras for cultural heritage, does it automatically mean the backs and bodies for untethered shooting also make sense?
Having considered all the niche players leads to the discussion that always goes around when someone leaves the camera business. Are we going to lose a big player – a mount that a lot of people care about? Apart from Micro 4/3, probably Pentax (but see the note about used lenses above) and maybe L-mount, my guess over the next three to five years is that the only major mount we are going to lose altogether is Sony A-mount (the old Minolta mount, NOT E-mount). I was very surprised to check B&H and discover that Sony still makes two APS-C A-mount bodies, and even one full-frame body. There are still a substantial number of lenses available, but that’s less surprising – lenses sell to photographers who already own cameras. The A-mount system is already a zombie – the most recent body introduction was in 2016, with no new lenses since 2015. Sony is probably just selling through stock, with no plans to produce anything new. Will they technically discontinue it? Anyone who owns valuable A-mount lenses should almost certainly be looking at a transition to FE mount (APS-C E-mount is not under terribly active development). There are good adapters available from Sony themselves.
The second most likely mount to go away is Canon M-mount, as Canon may turn to Nikon’s strategy of APS-C cameras using the full-frame mirrorless mount. The lens selection in M-mount is disappointing, primarily very slow beginner-friendly zooms, and it’s a dead end – neither bodies nor lenses are compatible with anything else. We could also lose some APS-C variants of viable full-frame mounts, or see very little development for them. I wouldn’t expect either Canon or Nikon to release a lot of new APS-C DSLR lenses, and as in the recent past, the few that do show up are likely to be mainly inexpensive kit zooms or long travel zooms. Both of them, especially Nikon, have traditionally neglected those lenses anyway, and they’re going to be busy with mirrorless lenses. Sony will probably keep APS-C E-mount on life support, saving their best body and lens development for full-frame. The number of non-Fujifilm, non-beginner-focused APS-C lenses released will likely be small, and could be zero. Nikon, unlike Canon and Sony, releases an official lens roadmap for Z-mount. In the latest update (February 2020), shows only one more DX (Nikonese for APS-C) lens in the pipeline, and it’s an 18-140mm travel zoom that is almost certainly slow.
Of the important mounts that remain (Nikon F and Z, Canon EF and RF, Sony FE, Fujifilm X and GFX), all will probably remain in production. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the rate of new lens introductions for the two DSLR mounts dwindle to near zero, and I suspect DSLR body introductions will be sharply limited, but most existing models should remain available, and service won’t be an issue. Most lens R&D will be concentrated on mirrorless. Hopefully, innovation in APS-C mirrorless won’t be limited to Fujifilm alone – some good, sharp compact lenses and some upper-end bodies in other systems would be most welcome.
For the most part, we are likely to continue to see three full-frame systems chasing advanced and professional photographers, with Canon and Nikon continuing to try and lure their loyal users from DSLR to mirrorless, where Sony’s userbase is already primarily mirrorless. On the lower end, Canon, Nikon and Sony are all trying to figure out how to bring smartphone photographers in through APS-C, and none have the collection of features quite right yet. We’re likely to see the pace of introductions slow, especially among lower-end cameras and lenses that are harder to make a profit on. Many lower-end introductions will continue to follow the pattern of “add something, take something away” that we’ve seen recently, with cost reduction a focus.
Fujifilm will continue to march to their own drummer, with the only full enthusiast to professional APS-C line on the market. Instead of having APS-C and full-frame cameras only a short distance apart, their second system uses a “superslide” size sensor (historically, that didn’t quite count as medium format). Both of their systems are excellent choices, they’re making a profit, they have a very enthusiastic user base, and I see no reason they won’t thrive. There is nothing more fun to shoot with than a good Fujifilm system, and the GFX 100, while not as well laid out as the APS-C cameras, has image quality rivaling 8×10” film.
We’ll also see more attempts to bring new users in through mirrorless, rather than DSLR. The Nikon Z50 is mostly a smart design in this regard since it gets entry users into the Z-mount system instead of off on a side system like Canon has done, but where’s the image stabilizer? Nikon would love to see users start with a Z50 and a kit lens, add some of the f1.8 primes or the 24-70mm f4, then move to a full-frame body, but that becomes a problem because the full-frame Z lenses aren’t stabilized, expecting a stabilized body, while the Z50 isn’t stabilized, expecting a stabilized lens… Despite its near-D7500 level performance, the Z50 may cost them less to make than a D3500?
Sony is essentially all mirrorless, but their APS-C system has a couple of issues. Most importantly, the lineup doesn’t make a lot of sense, with the A6000,A6100,A6400,A6500 and A6600 all available, all with the same sensor and many features in common. The low-end A5100 is better differentiated, but hard to sell with the A6000 available for another $50. All except the A6600 normally come with the execrable 16-50mm power zoom lens, while a comparable Fujifilm body will come with a little jewel of an 18-55mm f2.8-4 Fujinon. The A6600 with the 16-55mm f2.8 G is a great combination for an APS-C enthusiast camera, but for $2500, it’s more expensive than either a more capable Fujifilm X-T4 with a choice of excellent lenses OR Sony’s own full-frame A7 III.
I pretty clearly see room for Canon, Sony, Nikon and Fujifilm, even in a market of 4-5 million cameras/year (what film SLRs sold for years). I suspect the market is a little bigger than that, largely because there are more people who can afford a camera and some lenses, and might become interested in photography, than there were in the film era. If somebody can figure out how to make the right camera, there is also a huge untapped market among younger people who enjoy photography on their phone, but want better image quality, lens choice or more control. What seems hard for the manufacturers to realize is that they’ve lost the market of people documenting their lives to the phones – what’s left is the substantial number of people who love the art and craft of photography (including many who discovered that love on a phone).
Any of the four could be acquired, most likely Sony or Nikon, because Canon’s and Fujifilm’s camera businesses are part of companies with broad portfolios that would be less likely acquisitions – there are simply fewer companies who would fit with all that they do. Anyone acquiring Nikon would be looking for a camera company, and would keep the camera business going. Sony has a special situation that could lead to a variety of outcomes, many of them fine or even better than the status quo, but a few of them are not good for the camera business.
Sony as a camera company faces a unique situation that has nothing to do with the camera business itself. Sony Imaging has done almost everything right, and is probably in the strongest position of the big four. At a time when the market is tipping farther and farther toward serious photographers, they were the first to market (by several years) with a serious-photographer-friendly full-frame mirrorless system. They have responded aggressively to an initial lack of lenses and quality concerns about some of the first lenses with rapid introductions, many of them excellent. They have been redesigning their bodies in response to photographer feedback, gradually fixing early ergonomic and durability issues. Although their APS-C user interfaces have been all over the place, their full-frame bodies have been very consistent – they’ve built an “it works like a Sony” control scheme, and (apart from the menus), it’s a good one.
The problem is that the camera business is a relatively small portion (about 6% between still and video) of a large company that has a much larger business that is an extremely valuable acquisition target, attractive to companies who might not care about cameras. Just over half of Sony is an entertainment content company (Sony Pictures (movies), Sony Music and PlayStation) that could attract one of the largest tech companies in the world, which are content-hungry. PlayStation alone is just over ¼ of the Sony Group. Rumors have linked both Apple and Amazon to potential acquisitions of Sony, driven by the content businesses. The articles about the possibility of a takeover comment extensively on the fate of Spider-Man, never mentioning cameras. What a tech giant interested in the content businesses would do with the remainder of Sony is an open question. In addition to the valuable entertainment businesses, an acquirer would get a bank and life insurance company, a consumer electronics company, a semiconductor company, and a camera company.
Would a tech giant try to strip out just some or all of the three content businesses, buying only the parts of Sony they want? Would they buy all of Sony, then try and resell the parts they were less interested in? Would Apple (in particular) operate the remaining businesses? Apple has expertise in everything Sony does, except for the bank and life insurance company and the camera company. Apple could potentially have a strong interest in cameras – they make an enormous amount of money off of photography, but have no upgrade plan for people who have outgrown their iPhone’s camera. Would they be interested in integrating the Sony (or Nikon, which they could buy with pocket change) line of cameras into the Apple ecosystem?
Amazon has no interest in expensive cameras – they only make hardware when it’s a vehicle to sell content or Prime subscriptions, or as a vehicle for Alexa. They would almost certainly try to resell Sony Imaging, or buy only part of Sony to avoid the businesses they weren’t interested in.
The only risk to Sony Imaging comes in a fragmented acquisition. If Sony remains independent, the camera business is FINE. It’s profitable, it’s a prestige business, it’s a showcase for Sony technologies – that’s not going anywhere. If Sony is bought by someone with an interest in the camera business, it’s also fine. If a company (Apple?) with an interest in photography buys a market-leading camera company (even if they got it as part of a larger deal) – that’s fine, they’ll take care of it, and might even innovate in some especially interesting ways.
If a tech giant buys only Sony Pictures, or some combination of Sony Pictures, Sony Music and PlayStation, that’s also fine. That’s might actually be the best possible world for the camera business – Sony Imaging would become a more important part of a smaller, more electronics-focused company. It gets Sony closer to Canon’s or Fujifilm’s situation, where photography-related businesses are 15-25% of the company. Depending on what’s included, the one concern is that the remaining company is pulled down by the low-margin TV hardware business, or by a financial crisis at the bank.
The one case where it gets tricky for Sony Imaging is if a much larger company like Amazon buys all of Sony as a way to get the three content businesses, then tries to resell what they’re not interested in. In the resale, Sony Imaging could wind up independent, which is probably fine – Imaging is in a good enough place that it’s probably not dependent on Sony Group for survival. It could wind up as part of a larger company that included Sony Semiconductor, which would be especially interesting – a camera maker whose other division makes image sensors. It could wind up purchased by another major electronics company (Samsung?), which is also probably OK. The concern is that it could wind up private-equity owned and stripped for pieces, or purchased as a package with Sony Semiconductor by someone who was interested in cell phone and automotive image sensors, but not cameras.