The origins of Olympus camera began in 1919 with the founding of the company by Takeshi Yamashita. During this time, their sole goal was to produce domestic microscopes and thermometers.
During the early 1900s, Japan imported all of its microscopes and other medical instrumentation from other countries, most notably Germany. Yamashita set off with clear ambition to rival the quality of these foreign manufacturers, and, ultimately, eliminate outsourcing. And it’s during this time they establish their later acclaim as a research and medical instrumentation manufacturer.
In 1921 they registered Olympus as their trademark name. And it’s also during this year they release their first microscope under the Tokiwa brand. In 1931 they established the Olympus Tokyo logo.
During this time, they also begin to sell camera lenses, though with little success, as they sold them separately without accompanying camera bodies. So, instead, they later decided to make a camera around the lenses they manufactured, now under the name of Olympus. This choice departed from the conventional thinking of the time, as many Japanese manufacturers built cameras replicating German designs.
Nevertheless, they go forth, and in 1936, they launched their first camera, the Semi-Olympus. It’s also at this point they established the development of Zuiko photographic lenses. In 1948, the Olympus 35 launched as their first 35mm film camera, and the first sold in the Japanese market. Olympus developed this camera to meet two essential requirements, speed and compactness. Its small form but quick successive shooting made the camera immediately famous. The following year they renamed the company to Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.
And in 1952, a breakthrough camera comes with the release of the Olympus Flex. The Flex was their first twin-lens reflex camera, developed in response to the rise of the twin-reflex movement in the postwar Japanese market.
In 1955 they released the Olympus wide, a 35V variant designed specifically for wide-angle photography. This camera proved to be yet another highly popular release, which fueled the subsequent wide-angle camera explosion. This was the camera that finally made taking wide-angle photographs possible and not something available to those who could afford expensive exchangeable lens cameras.
In 1958, they launched the Olympus PEN, their first and only innovative half-frame camera. The PEN is acclaimed, even today, for its compact and sleek lines, which at the time were revolutionary. Not only that, it could take 72 shots without the need for reloading a 35mm cassette. This release set yet another trend, and many companies immediately began to follow suit to produce half-frame cameras of their own. In 1963, they released the PEN F, their first half-frame SLR system, now with the support of a 20 exchangeable lens ecosystem.
And in 1968, they had another breakthrough with establishing the Olympus Corporation of America in the United States. During this year, they also released the TRIP 35, a compact camera that combined ease of use, with performance at a low price. And the TRIP 35 ultimately remains their best-selling camera for the following two decades.
In 1971, they released the Olympus 35DC, which featured the first programmable automatic exposure and automatic flash system, helping new photographers achieve precise exposure automatically. The following year they experience yet another breakthrough release with the launch of the OM-1, a compact SLR. And the next year, we see the launch of their OM 35mm SLR film system.
The combination of these two releases proved to challenge the Nikon F, the workhorse camera for professional photographers at the time. The OM system was revolutionary because it showed that performance could accompany a small form factor. It quickly rose as the world’s smallest and lightest 35mm SLR, and a highly valued camera today. In 1975, we saw the release of the OM-2, the first camera to feature a TTL metering system. In 1983, they released the Olympus AFL, the first camera powered by a lithium battery and the first 35mm camera to support flash sync at all shutter speeds.
This same year they released the OM-4, the first camera equipped with Multi-Spot metering to achieve balanced exposures when shooting in high contrast scenes. In 1986, they released the Olympus Infinity, the world’s first fully automatic compact camera. In 1997, they released the CAMEDIA C-1400L, the first affordable digital camera to feature a 1.41-megapixel progressive CCD sensor. 2003, they rename the company to Olympus Corporation and launch the E-1, a digital SLR camera now with interchangeable lenses.
The release of the E-1 pioneered the Four Thirds System we hear of today, and allow them to design subsequent bodies and lenses specifically for the digital age. This same year they also released the μ-10 Digital, the world’s first weatherproof compact digital camera. In 2006, they released the E-330, the first camera to pioneer Live View, allowing users to compose using the LCD, thus eliminating the need for a viewfinder.
This feature, combined with its tilting screen, allowed for superior high or low angle shooting. Shortly after that, they created the Micro Four-Thirds system we know today. And from there, in 2009, they launched the PEN E-P1, their first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, and later launched the OM-D mirrorless lineup. And it is from this point that we now know Olympus as we know them today.