Olympus began its journey as a company manufacturing thermometers, and then microscopes and medical equipment – and turned to the “pop” market for consumer equipment, namely cameras, only in the late 1930s in search of more profit. It is ironic that Olympus ultimately refuses this market, once again focusing on medical and scientific technology. So the direction of photographic equipment could be called a kind of experiment and an internal startup. An 84-year-old startup, during which Olympus proved to be one of the most original-minded companies that did not shy away from non-standard solutions that led to both serious success and a dead end.
But the sale of the camera design and manufacturing business that followed three unprofitable years contract, did not become the result of unsuccessful and incorrect decisions – this was primarily caused by a sharp reduction in the market, “killed” by smartphones. To stay on it further, Olympus simply did not have enough resources. We hope that Japan Industrial Partners, to which the business will move towards the end of the year, will be able to keep it afloat, but the fate of laptops under the VAIO brand (in my time Sony sold this business precisely JIP) does not inspire optimism.
Well, plunge into the story. Maybe she will have a serious continuation, but for now it is hard to believe in it.
⇡ # Semi Olympus II
The second camera in the history of Olympus, a medium format device. The first, Semi Olympus I, released in 1936, of course, has even greater historical significance, but it was not the full Olympus camera: the shutter was made by the German company Auto Compur, the body was made by The Proud. Like cars of that time – filling from one manufacturer, a body – from another. The authorship of Takachiho Seisakusho (the company was then called) belonged, in fact, only to the Zuiko 75mm f / 4.5 lens.
Semi Olympus II, released in 1938, was the first camera developed by the Japanese company from and to. Not just this, but generally any Japanese company – before that, all the cameras manufactured in Japan carried foreign components. The lens in it was the same, and on the whole the design was not much different from the Semi Olympus I, but on the other hand, everything was different.
⇡ # Olympus 35I
The first 35 mm Olympus camera and the first 35 mm camera sold in the Japanese market. Came out in 1948. Already in it, the company showed its craving for a non-standard solution – this rangefinder model received a 32 × 24 mm frame format, slightly smaller than the standard 35 mm format. And yes, the frame format turned out to be close to 4: 3 – very symbolic, given the development of events in the “digital era”.
This camera received a Zuiko 40mm f / 3.5 lens with … a built-in shutter. The camera was very successful due to its small size and fast operation. Later on, camera modifications with a standard frame size (36 × 24 mm) were produced, but the idea of a shutter inside the lens did not go away. Also, the Olympus 35 I was the last camera released by Takachiho Seisakusho – in a year it will take on a modern name.
⇡ # Olympus Flex I
Medium format dual lens camera. It was released in 1952. One of the latest mid-range devices released by Olympus. This model looks like an actual replica of the famous German Rollei Flex, but stuffed with various branded chips. And very expensive – for the medium format, this is generally characteristic. It cost 47,000 yen with an average Japanese salary (at that time) of 7,000 yen.
In 1955, Olympus will release the Chrome Six RIIA model and close the medium-sized page on it.
⇡ # Olympus Pen F
SLR camera, released in 1963. In a good way, they must be considered together with the very first Olympus Pen of 1959, in which the unusual 24 × 18 mm format debuted, which made it possible to shoot twice as many frames on a regular 35 mm film. In combination with the compact dimensions of the device itself, this led to a resounding success.
But it was Pen F that became the icon – probably the most popular Olympus camera, with various enhancements that lasted until 1981. She received a rotary shutter, 20 interchangeable lenses, an infinite number of accessories, including adapters, the share of third-party optics. And all this – in a very small and very beautiful case.
⇡ # Olympus OM-I
A traditional 35mm camera. It was released in 1972. Despite the standard frame format, OM-I continued the tradition of the Pen-series, becoming the smallest and lightest full-frame DSLR of its time. A very reliable shutter that has withstood more than 100,000 operations, an air shock absorber of shutter vibrations, a metal case, an integrated TTL exposure meter …
The combination of lightness and reliability made OM-I the next big Olympus hit (and again led to a huge expansion of the accessories park), giving rise to the series that lasted until the 21st century. And this is without taking into account OM-D digital cameras, which we will discuss separately.
⇡ # Olympus XA
One of the smallest full-frame rangefinder cameras. Released in 1979. At XA Olympus continued the tradition begun with Pen to do everything “the most compact” – and achieve success in this.
Built-in rangefinder, auto exposure in aperture priority mode, a flash mounted on the side, the Zuiko 35 mm f / 2.8 lens – the Olympus XA was literally packed with various innovations and fresh solutions, and this once again made the camera very popular. Reliable and traditional moves are not always successful – and Olympus has always eschewed the beaten track.
⇡ # Olympus AF-1
The world’s first waterproof compact camera. It was released in 1986. This is finally not the “smallest”, but simply some other “very” among the little ones. Before it, only professional models were equipped with moisture protection, compact owners had to protect themselves from rain.
By the time the AF-1 was released, Olympus had noticeably lost its position in the professional camera market, lagging behind competitors in autofocus systems; OM-707 became the first autofocus camera of the OM series, released only in the same 1986. But the compacts kept Olympus afloat until the digital age, when the company’s business went uphill again on all fronts.
⇡ # Olympus E-1
The first Olympus digital SLR camera with interchangeable lenses. It was released in 2003. A professional DSLR, which, as Olympus did, made a significant bet on compactness. The CCD matrix of the 4/3 standard, developed jointly with Kodak, had dimensions of 18 × 13.5 mm – the crop was almost twice as large as the 35 mm standard.
As a result, the E series turned out to be quite successful – at first the compact and light SLR cameras were not much inferior in quality to the larger brothers, and the reduced focal length also made it possible to make smaller optics with a very high resolution. But the series lasted only seven years.
⇡ # Olympus PEN E-P1
The first Olympus mirrorless digital camera Micro Four Thirds – and generally the first mirrorless (along with the Panasonic Lumix G1) in history. Released in 2009. Developed jointly by Olympus and Panasonic, the Micro Four Thirds system (a sensor from the 4/3 system, but a new bayonet mount with a very short working distance), combined with the absence of a mirror, was supposed to provide the cameras of these companies with the same advantage on which Olympus, in general, made the name is compactness.
PEN E-P1 was not positioned as a professional camera, but released at the end of the “mirror boom”, it was supposed to attract the attention of amateurs who were looking for a compromise between compactness and shooting quality. Branded filters, 12-megapixel sensor, video recording in 720p, three-inch screen. There was still a year before the first mirrorless cameras with the APS-C sensor came out (they were Samsung NX). Despite the snobbery of the “mirror”, the series still became popular and gave rise to the era of mirrorless – now photographers snorting at “frivolous” cameras without a pentaprism, there were almost no more.
⇡ # Olympus OM-D E-M1
The first Olympus mirrorless digital camera with interchangeable lenses, aimed at professionals. Released in 2013. A 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, an amazingly effective 5-axis stabilizer, shooting speed of 10 frames per second, phase-detection autofocus on the matrix, compact dimensions … OM-D E-M1 looks very attractive even seven years after the release. But she still did not succeed in becoming a serious competitor to full-frame DSLRs with a sensor twice the diagonal, everything ran into the range of working ISOs.
Olympus first revived the PEN series, then the OM series, releasing very interesting and successful models within their framework, but not gaining its former popularity – compactness in the digital era did not mean as much as before, especially in connection with the frantic progress of smartphones. There was nothing more to revive.
⇡ # Bonus. O-product
The experimental film camera, released in 1988 with a circulation of 20,000 copies, seemed to consist of randomly assembled aluminum circles and squares. Compact, unusual and challenging generally accepted standards, it nevertheless does not seem like a hairpin to public taste, but something strange, but not without grace and beauty. It is in the O-product, in my opinion, that you can see the essence of Olympus cameras – they do not always fit into the context, but often change the context in their direction.
Naturally, Olympus had a lot more than ten iconic cameras, but we chose this format of material, and you won’t tell about everything. Which cameras of this company do you remember in the first place? Maybe you have your own Olympus related stories? Write in the comments.
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