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Olympus' Legacy: Tracing the Evolution from the Six to OM Digital

submitted on 21 November 2023 by

A Brief History of Olympus Cameras

Picture this: the year is 1936. The air is thick with the smoke of 50,000 chimneys in Tokyo, a city that still used horse-drawn carriages to navigate its teeming streets. In this industrial hellscape, a company called Olympus Optical Co., Ltd. was born. That's right, my friends, today we're talking about the history of Olympus cameras, a tale filled with twists, turns, and just a hint of technological innovation.

The Six: Olympus' First Camera

In the early years of Olympus, the focus was on microscopes and other scientific instruments, but in 1948, the company decided to dabble in the camera game. And thus, the Olympus Six was born. It was a medium format folding camera that used 120 roll film, and was marketed as the "pinnacle of camera technology."Now, I'm not sure what the state of camera technology was in post-WWII Japan, but I'm willing to bet that the Olympus Six was a far cry from a Leica. But hey, you've got to start somewhere, right? And start they did – the Olympus Six was the first of 12 generations of folding cameras produced by Olympus.

The Pen Series: Olympus Goes Compact

In 1959, Olympus engineer Yoshihisa Maitani was tasked with creating a camera that would be affordable, easy to use, and more compact than the folding cameras of yore. And thus, the Pen series was born. These cameras were half-frame, meaning they used half of the standard 35mm film frame, making them smaller and cheaper to produce. They were also downright adorable, with a design that was equal parts chic and utilitarian.
  • The original Pen was a simple viewfinder camera
  • The Pen S added a selenium meter, a rare element that gives you superpowers
  • The Pen D had a built-in meter and a faster lens, for all you speed demons out there
  • The Pen F was a half-frame SLR with interchangeable lenses that looked like it belonged in a 1960s spy movie
The Pen series was wildly popular, selling over 17 million units by the time production ceased in 1983. If you were a swinging hipster in the 60s and 70s, chances are you had (or wanted) a Pen camera.

The OM Series: Olympus Enters the Pro Market

In 1972, Olympus decided it was time to get serious. Like, really serious. Enter the OM-1, an all-new, all-professional SLR camera designed to compete with the likes of Nikon and Canon. The OM-1 was the first in a long line of OM cameras that would come to define Olympus' place in the pro market. These cameras were rugged, reliable, and packed with features that made them perfect for the discerning photographer.
  • The OM-2 introduced a new automatic exposure system, taking the guesswork out of getting the perfect shot
  • The OM-3 and OM-4 were mechanical marvels, offering both manual and automatic exposure modes
  • The OM-10 was a more affordable option for the budget-conscious photographer, or as I like to call them, "everyone"
While the OM-series cameras were a commercial success, they were also heavy, clunky, and prone to malfunctions. It was clear that the future of photography would be digital, and Olympus knew they needed to adapt or die.

The OM-D Series: Olympus Goes Digital

In 2012, Olympus released the OM-D E-M5, a digital mirrorless camera with the soul of an OM. The OM-D series brought the classic design of the OM series into the modern era, with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a digital camera.
  • The OM-D E-M1 was a true game-changer, with a revolutionary 5-axis image stabilization system that made blurry photos a thing of the past
  • The OM-D E-M10 and E-M10 Mark II were more affordable options, perfect for the budding photographer or the seasoned pro looking for a backup camera
  • The OM-D E-M5 Mark III brought the series full circle, with a design that harkened back to the classic OM cameras of the past
Today, Olympus continues to innovate in the world of digital photography, with a focus on compact, powerful cameras that challenge the status quo. And with a legacy that stretches back over 80 years, it's clear that Olympus is a force to be reckoned with in the world of photography.

Conclusion: Olympus' Legacy Lives On

From humble beginnings with the Olympus Six, to the revolutionary Pen series, to the professional-grade OM and OM-D cameras, Olympus has left an indelible mark on the world of photography. While the company's future may be uncertain, its legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of photographers everywhere. So, the next time you snap a photo with your trusty Olympus camera, take a moment to appreciate the storied history of this iconic brand. After all, without Olympus, the world of photography might be a very different place.
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