Engadget Japan

This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.

On June 25, 2020, it was reported that Olympus, known for its Micro Four Thirds, will exit the camera business and sell it to an investment fund.

Today Olympus is almost entirely a medical device manufacturer, but it's still a shock to see the curtain being drawn on the company's 80-plus year history of cameras, following Casio's withdrawal from the digital camera business in 2018.

Here, we'd like to take a quick look back at some of Olympus's greatest cameras of all time and consider the background to their withdrawal.

The Olympus Pen that is close to the people

The history of Olympus as a camera manufacturer began in 1936 with the "Semi-Olympus I" bellows camera, but it is the OLYMPUS PEN, a long series of half-size cameras sold since 1959, that made the Olympus name known to the world.

OLYMPUS PEN EES-2, a member of the PEN series, released in 1963

Half-size is a method of shooting using half of a standard 35mm film, which is a 24-frame With film, you could take 48 pictures. At a time when both cameras and film were still a luxury for the average person, the low-cost, cost-effective half-camera was a great way to get the most out of your camera. It became a big hit. Because only half the film was used, the standard composition of the camera was vertical, but it was a good choice for snapping people. All of my childhood photos were taken with an OLYMPUS PEN.

Following the great success of the OLYMPUS PEN, the OLYMPUS PEN F was developed a half-camera with interchangeable lenses. It is a product comparable to the invention of the mirrorless camera nowadays. It's amazing that it was released the year I was born.

OLYMPUS PEN F, released in 1963

The half-size boom continued throughout the 1960s, but in the 1970s, full-size cameras were the mainstream. The OM-1 was introduced in this situation. It was during this time that the OM-1 was introduced. The OM-1 was the shortest SLR camera of its time, and its condensed form is still cool enough to look at today! OM one-digit were the high-end models, and OM two-digit were the popular models. It was a series that survived the film era.

The short and sleek OLYMPUS OM-1

The XA full-size compact camera was introduced after the shift to the OM series capital. Compact cameras are not uncommon nowadays, but this small camera had a built-in rangefinder and a manual This is a masterpiece of a camera that can also be used as a sub-camera by professionals.

The compact yet mechanical XA

I'm sure you know what I'm trying to say by now. Speaking of Olympus, the company has achieved a level of miniaturization that was unheard of at the time. It was also a manufacturer with a peculiar design. The "O-Product", which was manufactured only 20,000 limited units, was an exquisite retro yet new I think many people are still struck by the balance.

OLYMPUS O-Product, a design that still works well today

Compact digital cameras to dominate the era, but...

Olympus was also a pioneer in the digital camera era. In 1996, the "C-800L" and two other models were developed as the CAMEDIA series, and as expected of a camera manufacturer in terms of image quality.

Subsequently, the CAMEDIA series was steadily expanded, and all of the large so-called "Neo SLR" class cameras were also developed in the CAMEDIA series. In addition, the shift to digital technology in the 35mm film compact μ series led to internal competition between the two brands in the field of compact digital cameras, and the first half of 2000 was a time when consumers were increasingly confused. However, this was also a time when the digitalization of images was in full swing. It was a time when we were all fumbling around in the dark, but it was also a time of great enthusiasm.

In 2003, the first Four Thirds-standard "E-1" was released. Initially, it was introduced as a proprietary standard for SLRs, but later Panasonic joined in and improved it. It became Micro Four Thirds in 2008. This system, which has a short flange back and opened the door to mirrorless cameras, is an Olympus specialty. It was a design where miniaturization technology was alive.

The first mirrorless camera to use the Micro Four-Size format was the 2009 OLYMPUS PEN

E-P1. When the half-camera PEN name and the "E" synonymous with Four Thirds live together, we can feel the company's enthusiasm. The perception among camera fans was that this was a digital version of the PEN F. However, the manufacturer's image was that this was an easy, low-priced model like the rangefinder PEN. Later, the OLYMPUS PEN-F, a digital version of the Pen F, was released, and I think that the gap between the awareness of consumers and manufacturers gradually became apparent from this point on.

In 2012, the OM-D E-M5 was launched as a mirrorless system camera. The digital version of the OM series will be welcomed with great joy by the old Olympus fans. The OM-D E-M1, released the following year, announced that Micro Four Thirds, not Four Thirds, would be the flagship model from now on, marking the dawn of a new era.

My only concern was the concern that they were relying too much on the names of the great machines of the past. The lens has inherited some technology, but the camera body is a completely different product with a very different technical background. Old fans would be happy with it, I felt that it would be impossible to carry on the concept...

One of the reasons why Olympus's cameras have been unable to survive is that the once promising compact market has been eaten up by smartphones. But that's a story that's already been told for 10 years, and it's nothing new.

In my opinion, it's probably because we neglected to support video too much. In response to the rapidly advancing video trend from 4K to HDR and then to H.265, I got the impression that Olympus wasn't riding the wave well. Ever since the Canon EOS 5D Mark II became a smash hit in 2008 as a video camera, the idea that a camera is primarily for photos and video is a bonus has become outdated. Not that they buy it as a video camera, but I think I was a little slow to realize that we're in an era where you can't buy a video camera unless it's of a quality that's worthy of the camera. Not that people will buy it as a video camera, but I think Olympus was a little slow to realize that we can't buy a camera unless the quality is worthy of the video camera.

The position of Olympus is that it has always been a force to be reckoned with. After the compact digital camera became unsustainable, it gradually became a stubborn company. It's a pity, really, that there were so many wonderful technologies and human resources, but in the end it seems to have collapsed because it leaned too heavily on the knowledge of the genius designer, Mr. Yoshihisa Maitani.

Nevertheless, the many revolutions demonstrated by Olympus must have had a great impact on future engineers. I'd like to think that the spirit of Olympus will never die.

This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.