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You are hereHome > History > Olympus

Brief History of Olympus Cameras

    Olympus Semi I, 1936 Olympus Pen, 1959 Olympus OM-1, 1972

It was early 1970. Leica was widely recognized as producing the best 35mm rangefinder cameras; Nikon and Canon were battling it out to claim SLR supremacy; and Minolta, Yashica, Contax, and Rollei were serious contenders right behind the top dogs.

It is in this hugely competitive mix that a small SLR was introduced. The introduction of the Olympus M-1 (later renamed OM-1), with its compact size, full lens system and uncompromising quality, turned the world of 35mm cameras upside down. Overnight, there was a new contender -- and it created a space all its own. The other camera manufacturers scrambled to come up with viable competition, but it would be some years before they would catch up.

The Olympus OM-1 was (about 35%) smaller and lighter, and simply beautiful. It also came with a full lens system rivalling that of Nikon and Canon. Overnight, the Olympus legend was born.

Here is a brief pictorial history of some of the most popular Olympus cameras:

1919, 1921

Olympus started out as Takachiho Seisakusho in 1919 intent on producing Japan's first microscope, a feat which it accomplished in one year.

The brand name Olympus started to be used extensively in 1921.

Semi I, 1936-1937

Six I, 1939

35 I, 1948

Seiko Shutter

Flex B II, 1953

Wide, 1955


Wide E, 1956


Photoelectric Cell Light Meter

S II 1.8, 1957


Auto, 1958


Pen, 1959



Pen EE, 1961


Selenium light meter around lens

Pen F, 1963


Half-frame SLR, F1.8

Pen FT, 1966



Trip 35, 1968


35mm version of Pen EES

35 DC, 1971


M-1, 1972


The legend is born

pictures courtesy of Olympus Japan

Visual History of Olympus PEN

If you have any anecdote about any of the above cameras that you think might be interesting to share with other readers, please send them to us.

Source: Olympus Japan (translated by Babel Fish)
  Official Olympus History | Pen Series
  The Olympus OM SLR System by John Lind
  Maintani Fan Page by Chris Lee
And now to the present: Olympus Digital Cameras


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