Concepts and overview
1972: The M-1 / OM-1
The prototype of the first Olympus OM System camera, the OM-1, was
introduced at the Photokina of 1972. Its preliminary name was the M-1 and the system was
supposed to be called the Olympus M System. However, Leitz (Leica) was not amused since
they also had (and still have) an M system. Olympus agreed that it would be confusing
(especially when their system would be evolving and the increasing body type numbers would
grow towards the current Leica line - the Olympus OM-4 would be called M-4...:-)... At the
last moment Olympus decided to change the name into OM (Olympus M) and so the camera
became the OM-1. It could not be helped that several M-1 bodies, M System lenses
and M System accessories had
already been produced. Today these units are true collectors items and are
worth several times more than their OM equivalents...
The (O)M-1 caused quite a sensation at the Photokina. Compared to the
cameras of the competitors the body was amazingly small and lightweight. Yet it was a
full-blown, all-mechanic, professional system camera. Reduction in size and weight,
not only of the bodies, but also of the system lenses and accessories, as far
as possible, was and still is the base concept of the Olympus OM System. This concept
appealed to a large group of photographers, and after a while other camera manufacturers
also started to develop smaller models. Thus Olympus became a trendsetter. Other striking
features of the (O)M-1 that were guaranteed to make the camera a big hit, were the silent
shutter and the bright and large focusing screen.
One of the tricks how the OM-1 was made more compact, was to
sink the pentaprism into the mirror housing
The term "professional system camera" is a keyword of any single
digit OM camera, meaning that it is built for heavy duty usage, not to fail the
photographer even when dozens of films are run through it daily with a motor drive
attached. It is also backed by a complete photographic system consisting of a large array
of lenses and accessories. The camera should be prepared for a wide range of different
photographic situations - portrait, photo journalism, sport photography, scientific
photography (medical photography, macrophotography, microphotography, astrophotography),
etc. This does not only make a large set of exchangeable lenses necessary, but also
interchangeable focusing screens, a high speed motor drive, an exchangeable camera back
and a wide array of accessories to link all the individual parts of the System. The
Olympus OM-1 and the Olympus OM System had all that. Olympus decided to decline from one
property the professional cameras of the competitors, like the Nikon F1 and the Canon F1
had: exchangeable finders; this was done to keep the body as small as possible.
The Olympus OM System is one of the biggest SLR systems in the world,
consisting of hundreds of units, some intended for general photography, others intended
for specialized scientific photography, like macro-, micro- and astro-photography.
Even this Group Photo from the first half of the eighties doesn't show every
unit that was made in 28 years.
Of course the complete OM System didn't fall out of the clear blue sky. It
must have taken at least five years of development. Maitani used ideas of another SLR he
developed for Olympus in the early sixties: the half-frame Pen F System. This system
already had much of the properties of the OM System: a large array of lenses and
accessories, including accessories for macro- and microphotography. You can read more
about the Pen F System at Stephen Gandy's
wonderful CameraQuest pages. Even before the Pen F
was introduced in 1963 Olympus had built a reputation as camera manufacturer specialized
in small cameras with their famous Pen camera (1959). This was a full frame 35mm camera
with fixed focal length lens. A whole range of small 35mm and half-frame cameras would
follow: the historical Pen W, Pen EE3, Pen EF, XA, Trip, 35RD and 35RC and the recent AF
Mini, Trip AF and Mju are just a few names...
The Olympus Pen F System
The Pen F system was discontinued after the OM System was introduced. The
same happened in 1973 to the Olympus FTL, a full frame 35mm SLR camera introduced in 1970
that never was backed up by a system, only by a few (P-threaded) lenses.
Even today, 28 years after its introduction, the OM-1 still is a
photographers camera rather than a collectors item. Its straight forward design,
compactness, lightness but probably in the first place it being a representative of a
dieing species: an all mechanical camera. Without its 1.35 mercury battery the OM-1 is
still capable of taking the picture - exposure information can come from a hand-held meter
or an exposure table. Also much appreciated by micro-, macro and astrophotographers is the
mirror-lockup option that helps to reduce vibration. Photography students will also find
an OM-1 to be very appealing; it is commonly adviced to start on a mechanical camera to
truly learn the basic rules of photography - the complete lack of auto exposure facilities
(other than the automatic link of the aperture and the exposure meter) helps to be more
involved in selecting apertures and shutter speeds. Besides OM-1 bodies and used Zuiko
lenses are widely available for reasonable prices.
After its change from M-1 to OM-1 (which only was a rebadge) the OM-1 was
patched twice: in 1973 motor drive capabilities were added; existing models could also be
modified to accept a motor drive. This patch is commonly reffered to as OM-1 MD because of
the small label 'MD' that was put on the front. In 1979 the camera was upgraded to become
the OM-1n. The main improvement was a better communication with the Olympus T Flash System
(it added a flash ready / flash ok signal in the viewfinder). It was discontinued in 1987.
This left a gap in the availability of a new mechanical OM camera, since the OM-3
(introduced in 1983) had already been discontinued in 1986, and the OM-3Ti did not appear
Yoshihisa Maitani, designer of the Olympus OM System
OM-System inside story (1)
Interview with Yoshihisa Maitani, published in the Japanese book 'All about Olympus',
"A camera is not designed or developed by
only one person. It's always a product of teamwork."
These are words frequently heard from especially Japanese camera manufacturer
engineers. No matter how unique the camera is, the name of its designer is
The Diamond-point Pen
Yoshihisa Maitani, advisor of Olympus today, is a designer himself symbolizing
the Olympus cameras. He designed the first half-format "Pen"
when he was only 24 years old. Since then he took charge of Olympus camera
projects such as the half-format SLR Pen series, the XA series (which became the
origin of the capsule type P&S cameras of today), and the SLR OM system.
There's a shining tool in Maitani's shirt pocket. At a glance it looks
like a common ball-point pen, but it has a precisely cut diamond point at the
tip. This is what called a diamond pen, usually used at factories for scribing
control numbers and markings on press moulds. A special tool not commonly
available at stationery stores in the town.
Maitani needs this pen when an eager Olympus user asks a favor of him. Maybe
Maitani is the only camera designer in Japan, or in the world, who is asked
while walking down the street "May I have your autograph on my
camera?" First he was using an almost hand-made diamond pen, but when
the OM system has been introduced, too many people began to ask him for his
autograph, so the factory workers presented this pen to him. Maitani has been
using this pen for 30 years.
Demands for an SLR System Development
Olympus Pen series, marketed from 1959, became the best seller and more than 17
million of them were sold in the succeeding 20 years. In the 1960s, almost
all camera manufacturers in Japan were selling half format cameras and many of
the new products were half format too. Then, why Olympus decided to develop such
a serious full format SLR system "OM" in those days? Maitani
says "Well, the reason was rather simple..."
Japan was in the middle of their highly growing economics period. Cameras
were one of the most expected products to earn foreign money. However, sales of
the Pen began to decrease in US, the largest market. The main reason was
the mount for half format slides. New color slide film was starting to take over
B&W film, but half format slide mounts were not made in USA. In Europe
and Japan, slide films were returned from development properly mounted in half
format mounts, but not in USA. Two frames were mounted in a full frame mount, or
the whole roll was returned unmounted with 36 full format mounts.
Other manufacturers such as Nikon and Pentax started to market new SLRs with
specs overcoming their former rangefinder cameras. Naturally, Olympus
needed their own SLR to sell too.
Maitani was born in 1933. As a
"prodigal son" of a soy sauce brewer, he was very fond of taking
pictures with his Leica from his childhood.
"Before I joined the company, I used my Leica IIIf very often. I spent
about 10 rolls per session. In those days I didn't use film in patrons (cartridges) but magazines instead. I didn't have enough film magazines, and
camera stores didn't stock them. I had to place an order through the importer
and wait for three months, so I did, just because I had to."
"Therefore, my basic attitude toward designing a camera has always
originated from the desire to take a picture. I'll look for the necessary
equipment, and if not available, make one myself. If a half format camera
already existed, I wouldn't planned one myself. If a camera suitable for
practical use was available somewhere, then I would rather go there and simply
buy it. But it wasn't available anywhere, so I made one myself. Today, people
say my ideas were unique, but I simply made what I needed but not existed
"Then, the export department desired a new product that can take over the
Pen (i.e. a full format SLR) to be developed as soon as possible. They even
didn't mind to buy cameras from somewhere else just to sell them. Today this is
commonly known as OEM, but in those days this idea rose a great
Heavy-thick-long-big vs. Light-thin-short-small
It is known that 5 years were spent for development of the OM system, but the
planning meetings started in January 1966, that was 6 years before the release.
The main condition or must was to "make a system camera". Olympus is a
comprehensive optics manufacturer who also makes microscopes and endoscopes. If
they are making an SLR, it should be capable of taking all kinds of photographs
through a wide variety of lenses and adapters. Nobody was against this concept.
The second must was to "make a unique camera, not available anywhere
else". The beauty points of Maitani's favorite Leica were its light weight,
small size, and the great fitting in the user's hands. SLRs in those days were
too big and heavy for Maitani.
However, nobody understood Maitani's new concept. "In those days, it
was important for a camera to be heavy, thick, long, and big. The phrase
"Light-thin-short-small" didn't exist yet. Small cameras were
considered as toys." Maitani called big, heavy and noisy the
"three BADs of an SLR" and tried to thoroughly get rid of them. But
people severely refuted "A new spec is required for a new product. A
product without something new is NOT a new product. Small size and light weight
are not advantages and rather DISadvantages."
Maitani says "In such mood we couldn't calmly discuss about the new product
and we didn't have any progress in our meetings for a long time. When I was
inquired "What's the new features?" I couldn't dare answer "Light
and small, but the specs are equivalent to a conventional SLR."
One day about six months later, an OM meeting started in the morning as usual.
When everybody left the room for lunch, Maitani scribbled a whole spec chart on
the blackboard. "When everybody came back and saw the specs, they said
'Looks good. Let's proceed with this plan.' and I almost succeeded to
persuade them." But those specs were just copied from an instruction book
of an other manufacturer's new camera. "I shouldn't have done that, but I
told everyone the truth and made the situation much worse than before."
Six more months have passed without any further progress, but at the last
meeting in December 1966, the design department manager finally gave up and just
said "Do it as you like." Decision has been given at last.
"So, the development of the OM system started in 1967 but for me, it
started in 1966."
At first the system was named "M system" and the first camera was
"M-1". What does the "M" mean? The outward consensus was
"The pronunciation of alphabets differs by country, but the letter M is the
same 'em' in German, French, English, and in most other countries. So let's use
the letter M." "But to tell the truth, it's my initial.
Everybody knew it but it was not mentioned. Among various ideas it was finally,
but easily decided as M-1".
A serious problem arose two months after the M system was born. The M-1 was
released first in Japan on July 20, 1972 and was introduced at the Photokina in
September. An Ernst Leitz (today's Leica) executive came to Olympus' booth and
said "We don't want you to use the letter M".
The letter M has been used for rangefinder Leicas since 1954. However, a
one letter name cannot be registered as a trademark. Olympus could refuse
to change the name of their system because it wasn't illegal. "But Olympus
was a company who always tried to avoid troubles with other companies.
This time also, right in front of the Leitz's person, we instantly decided to
add something before the M. Few ideas were suggested, but a name with three or
more letters needs registration. So we concluded to use the letter O for
This decision was made within an hour, but cameras with M-1 cover were already
in production and pamphlets were completed. So it was also immediately decided
to sell the completed bodies but trash the not yet mounted top covers.
Consequently, about 5,000 M-1s were sold and a few of them are still found in
used camera stores today.
The size of the OM bodies is very close to that of a Leica. Almost the same size
of a Barnack type Leica, and its volume is very close to that of an M Leica.
Is this because Maitani loved his Leica since he was a child?
"We didn't simply copy the Leica at the design stage. I think I should say,
it had to be that size." Since the OM system was assumed to support
all kinds of photography, the specs of the large sized lens mount was decided
first so it can accept even microscopes and telescopes. A large mirror was also
provided so it ended to be equipped with the largest mirror compartment in the
class. In the actual design process, systematizing the camera had priority over
minimizing its size.
"Effort of lots of people and a considerable amount of money is spent to
develop a product. Such a product is, so to say, a property of all human
beings. It's wasteful to make 'another thing alike'. If we're going to make
something, let's make something never existed before." Together with this
Maitani's policy, the
unique but steady concept of the OM system is certainly inherited today.
OM-5 ... ?
At the end of the interview, we asked Maitani about the "OM-5".
"Please understand that the OM-5 will not come out soon. As you know, our
investments are mainly oriented to digital cameras today. But demands are
always changing. If desired by the people, it may come out some day."
Thanks to Mr. Kazuya Matsumoto for this translation.
OM-System inside story (2)
Interview with Yoshihisa Maitani, published in
'Classic Camera', 2001
OM-1: A philosophy encapsulated in a small,
World-famous as the designer of the Pen, OM and XA series of cameras,
Yoshihisa Maitani describes his personal design philosophy: "The
cameras that our predecessors left are part of a technological world
heritage. That is important to recognize, but I never wanted just to make
imitations." By adhering to his philosophy of originality, Mr.
Maitani made the OM series succeed, despite its late start.
Classic Camera: Today I'd like to find out about the process that led
to the birth of the OM series. What were your first thoughts when the
company told you to design an SLR?
Yoshihisa Maitani: The business section requested an SLR camera to export.
Basically, they wanted a camera like the top-selling cameras of that time.
But I could never bear to make the same camera as another company. My
elders in the world of camera design had developed many different cameras.
In modern terms they are a part of world heritage, a treasure. Even though
that's true, there's no need to make the same thing twice. That's my basic
attitude, my philosophy as a designer.
CC: What kind of image did you have of the SLR?
YM: Compared with rangefinders, the strength and appeal of SLRs is in
close-up and telephoto photography. Previous manufacturers' functional
changes were improvements, but three problems - size, weight, and a loud
shutter - were not tackled. I had felt for a long time that, given my own
design opportunity, these three problems must be solved. But my opinion as
an individual user is not a sales-oriented opinion. At that time, small
and light meant cheap and toy-like, and the big and heavy cameras sold
expensively. My ideas differed from the market trends. So my first
proposal to the management was not for a small, light camera. It was for a
system camera. I suggested that we aim to make a camera that could be
attached to Olympus's microscopes and endoscopes, and to telescopes. Nobody opposed this. Then I thought of the "from the universe
to bacteria" slogan.
This slogan meant that even if minimizing size was a priority, the system
would not be sacrificed.
CC: The road to the start of the OM system's development wasn't easy,
was it? I heard that when the business department insisted that you decide
the specifications quickly, you copied the specs of a different company's
camera and presented them instead?
YM: The first suggestion that I make an SLR came at the end of 1967. In
the spring of 1968 meetings started, and the thing with the specs happened
that summer [laughs]. At the end of 1968 the managing director who was
chairman of the meeting became impatient and said "do whatever you
like." At that time I asked for five years to prepare the whole
system. One camera and one interchangeable lens had about the same number
of parts. With tens of lenses, motordrives and strobes, there were about
250 items altogether.
Designing 250 items takes about five years. I got the green light for my
CC: At the time the body was developed, how was the size decided?
YM: Engineers' attention to small detail means that 1mm difference makes
it the world's smallest camera, 1gm difference makes it the world's
lightest. But I was thinking about the user. The photographer has to take
the camera and *feel* that it's small and light. Someone taking a ruler to
it and saying "Wow, this is small" doesn't make it small. Then I
decided that the weight and volume should be half that of an ordinary SLR,
with a 30% cut in dimensions. Now that would feel small! Development
started from this basis.
CC. Initially you decided the overall goal. The next thing you had to
decide was each component.....
YM: First of all the mount. And because of "From the universe to
bacteria", first of all the universe. We had to make a mount that
didn't vignette when used on a telescope. Or on a microscope. Large
aperture lenses, for example f1.2, were designed and tested. The size of
the mount was decided so that vignetting did not occur with any of these
three. So I didn't even look at the mount on other company's cameras. Next
I decided the length of the mirror. For a mirror, the longer the better.
On the other hand, if it's too long it will hit the lens when it flips up,
so there are limits. But if it's too short there will be vignetting. The
third thing I decided was the interior dimensions of the mirror box. There
is a high risk of flare from a small mirror box with reflective inner
surfaces. Comparing four other companies' products, I made it as big as I
could. I decided these three things, the whole layout, and the size. And I
thought "OK, let's go with this."
CC: Big on the inside, but small on the outside was a very difficult
YM: The engineers were having fits trying to get everything in - their
territory kept getting smaller! It was only afterwards that we noticed
that the external size was the same as a Leica, we didn't notice at the
CC: Of course it's a small light camera that's easy to carry, but you
must have been concerned not to affect the handling. Can you talk about
YM: If you think of making a small, light camera, normally you would think
of reducing the size of the parts that are easy to make small. The result
of that is scales that are too small to read, levers that are too small to
operate, and a small viewfinder. Looking at it from the user's point of
view that's completely unacceptable. A small camera must still have big
controls. Technically that's an impossible demand [laughs].
CC: In the OM series, the shutter speed dial is set up as a ring on the
camera mount. I don't think this was linked to the effort to make the
camera smaller, so how did it come about?
YM: If you look at the camera's interior structure, the area around the
film advance lever is crammed with parts. Choosing the shutter speed,
advancing the film, pressing the shutter button, the main functions are
concentrated here. It's like the camera's capital city. To improve this
situation, I thought about redistributing some functions, rather like
relocating some functions of the capital city to outside Tokyo has been
discussed. The space under the mirror was completely empty: "Good,
I'll bring the main functions down here." But the film advance lever
and the shutter button can't be shifted, because of the manual film
advance. The shutter speed dial is what can be moved, so let's relocate
the shutter speed governor under the mirror, I thought. I could see that
if we did that, the camera would be smaller, but there was no such camera.
The shutter dial ends up on the bottom [laughs]. The mechanics could
relocate the governor, but how to control it? Using a lot of gears to move
it, the shutter drive is forced back on top. That doesn't make it small. I
was baffled. Then I put a big ring around the mount to turn the speed
governor underneath. At the beginning, everyone around me said I was crazy
[laughs]. In my style of photography, while supporting the lens you can
focus, check the depth of field, and change the shutter speed. That's
quite an improvement I think.
CC: The last of the three evils was the shutter noise, wasn't it?
Thanks to the air damper, the quiet sound of the OM-1 was unlike that of
YM: Until I found my way to the air damper, I experimented with springs,
oil, powder - all sorts of dampers, but none of them were any good. If the
damper is too effective, it's easy for the mirror to stop halfway. Then I
remembered a time when we were cleaning the house. A sliding paper door
fell down making a "swoosh" noise. That was air of course, and I
hit upon using that. The air damper is next to the mirror system - air
goes in and out of a cylinder and works as the damper. I bought a
sound-level meter and set a test standard of under so many decibels. No
other camera has had so much attention paid to its sound, or has an air
damper for its mirror.
CC: Finally, the OM series has no shutter lock button. I know there are
designers opposed to this, so what was the reason for the decision?
YM: When the camera went on sale, the camera magazines pointed this out
and severely criticized it. The counter-argument I wrote then was that you
might waste a frame because there's no shutter lock, but in my experience
sometimes you don't get two chances to take a photo. You miss that
unexpected photo opportunity. Whatever camera I'm carrying, I prefer to
have the shutter ready to fire immediately. For the same reason, I also
shortened the shutter timelag. More than anything else, a camera is for
capturing that "moment."
Thanks to Mr. William Green for this translation.
This next milestone in the development of the OM System came three years
after the introduction of the OM-1, that is, in 1975 (a prototype was shown at
the Photokina 1974). This was the electronic sister
camera of the mechanical OM-1, featuring aperture preferred automatic exposure while
remaining the option for manual exposure. Following the design concepts of the OM
System it had exactly the same dimensions of the OM-1 and almost the same weight. But what
caused even more sensation was the Off The Film (OTF) light measuring method that worked
both with available light and with the Quick Auto 310 flash. This method used additional
cells that measured reflected light from the film (for shorter shutter speeds reflection
from a pattern on the first curtain). It allowed very precise exposure, especially for
long shutter speeds and with macro extensions.
In 1979 the OM-2 was replaced by the OM-2n. Like the OM-1n, this camera also had better
communication with the T series flashes (it no longer supported TTL flash exposure with
the Quick Auto 310). Besides the long exposure limit was doubled to 120 sec. It was
discontinued in 1984. Two new cameras replaced it: the OM-2Sp and the OM-4.
The OM-2SP, OM-3(Ti), OM-4(Ti)
The main improvements of these cameras were a more modern
electronic design, like LEDs in the viewfinder instead of a needle, spot metering, and
compatibility with a new series
of extra bright focusing screens. The OM-2SP, OM-3 and OM-4 were more or less
introduced simultaneously in 1984. At this time the OM-2n was discontinued, but
the OM-1n was available until 1987.
The OM-2SP (Spot-Program) has single
spot metering which is only available in Manual Mode and which is also the only
kind of metering available in this mode. The camera measures average centre-weighted
in Auto Mode and in Program Mode. This last mode, which controls both shutter
speed and aperture, is intended for care-free amateur photography but has a side
drive performance is reduced from 5 to 3.5 frames / second. Other specifications
of this camera are very similar to the OM-2n: exchangeable back and focusing
screen, OTF measuring of available light and flash light, etcetera.
It filled a gap in price range between the non-system (amateur) models OM-10
& OM-20 (Hfl.750 / Hfl. 880), the professional mechanical OM-1n (Hfl.1020)
and the high-end professional models OM-3 and OM-4 (Hfl.2090): the OM-2SP sold
for Hfl.1320 (all list prices in 1985).
The OM-3, a mechanical shutter camera, and the OM-4, an electronic shutter camera, lack
program exposure but have an advanced multi spot meter (up to eight
points can be measured and automatically be averaged) with can be used together
with automatic highlight and shadow
compensation, and a 1/2000 sec. shutter speed.
The OM-4 adds a 60 minutes memory function for available light centre-weighted
average metering and for spot metering, and a long exposure limit of no less than 4
minutes (in combination with spot metering), which is even today a
world record. In Auto Mode it has OTF measuring of available light and flash
The OM-4 and OM-3 were upgraded to the OM-4Ti in 1987 and the OM-3Ti in 1995. These
new models have better electronics, a durable titanium top & bottom, and can provide flash
synchronisation up to 1/2000 sec. in combination with the F280 flash. The OM-3Ti, which is
the most recent professional OM body, also is the first mechanical camera that supports
The complete evolution line of the System Cameras is:
|Mechanical shutter cameras:
|| OM-1 MD
|Electronic shutter cameras:
In 1978 Olympus started a line of OM bodies that were targeted at the
consumer / amateur market, available at a lower price. These bodies are not built as
durable as the professional line. They all have a fixed focusing screen; their viewfinder
is not as large as the System Cameras and some models do not accept a Motor Drive or lack
support for OTF/TTL flash exposure. Most models have a fixed camera back; none of them
accept the 250 Film Back and only the Auto Focus / Power Focus models (707 and 101) accept
a special databack (the OM-10 QD is a special case since is has a fixed databack).
Furthermore not all lenses are supported, and because the focusing screen is fixed they
are also unsuitable for larger than life-size macrophotography, microphotography or
The first camera in this line was the OM-10. It was followed by the OM-10 QD (1980), OM-10
FC (1982, only US), OM-20 (1982; US: OM-G), OM-30 (1983; US: OM-F), OM-40 Program (1985;
US: OM-PC), OM-707 AF (1986; US: OM-77 AF), OM-101 PF (1988; US: OM-88 PF) and OM-2000 (1998).
From these models the OM-40 Program has the highest integration with the OM System
(support for Motor Drive and TTL flash) and the OM-2000, manufactured by Cosina, the least
(only supporting the OM lens mount and viewfinder accessories). For a quick view of the
various features supported by all OM bodies, check the Body
Group Main Features Table.
Whatever happened to autofocus?
One of the great mysteries in the professional branch of the OM System is
the lack of development for autofocus (AF), or any other form of modernisation. In 1983
the amateur line introduced an experimental AF system in the OM-30 in combination with one
special lens (an 35-70mm/F4 AF zoom with built in motor and battery compartment). In 1986
a real AF OM model was introduced together with 8 AF lenses: the OM-707. This model was clearly targeted at the amateur
market (it is lacking so many things essential for professional use: interchangeable
focusing screens, manual exposure, shutter speed info with non-AF Zuikos, exposure
compensation, DX override, and support for motor drive, TTL flash cable connector, lenses
longer than 400 mm and the Auto Bellows).
Rumours go that Olympus actually did design a professional AF body but
that they were too late and the competition (specifically Canon) had already taken over
the market, and therefore they did not put it in production. Maybe they were afraid it
would be a commercial flop, maybe the prototype was too bulky and did not fit in the OM
philosophy, or maybe they waited untill Leitz would produce an AF camera... ;-) Currently
Olympus and Leitz are the only two big camera manufacturers that have no AF SLR camera
model. At least Leitz is not so mysterious about the matter as Olympus: they just state
that an AF mechanism would derogate from the superiour lens quality Leitz brags about.
This sounds like a sophism - nobody is complaining about the lens quality of professional
Nikkor or Canon AF lenses. The true reason probably is that manual focus and mechanical
exposure operation, also referred to as the 'back to basics' principle is the only way
Olympus and Leica bodies can distinguish themselves from modern plastic 'wonderbricks'.
In an interview in 1999 Maitani, who is now retired as engineer but still
is associated with Olympus, admitted that he indeed had all the ideas for 'the final OM
model' that included everything from previous models. That suggests a professional AF
model with Program Mode, Manual Mode, Aperture Preferred AE, ESP and Multi Spot Metering.
But someone at the top of Olympus pulled the plug. 'Unfortunately it never happened', he
said. The chances that Olympus will change its course in this respect are close to
zero, despite what Maitani said in the interview from 2000.
The only thing we can all hope for is a digital SLR camera that accepts Zuiko lenses
and/or a digital back for OM cameras.
Meanwhile there are a few alternatives. The Zuiko 35-70mm/F4 AF lens can do its AF trick
on any OM body. However it is bulky, heavy and rather slow and does not work in
low light conditions. A more elegant lens is the Tamron
Adaptall 2 AF 70-210mm/F4 (IF) lens. Both lenses however have one big problem: they can't
focus in low light conditions.
Olympus did build various succesful AF non-OM cameras. Besides AF compact P&S cameras,
the AZ-300 Series (now discontinued) and the iS-Series
are well known. Some models from these series are P&S cameras, but the iS-3000 (1992;
US: iS-3) is a serious model that has most features any photographer would need in an SLR
AF model. Olympus was the only camera manufacturer that was really succesful with the
concept of the Bridge Camera - cameras filling the gap between P&S Compact cameras and
SLR cameras. Olympus called the concept ZLR - Zoom Lens Reflex. Olympus used the same
concept in their APS model Centurion and in some digital Camedia models. And of
course in the market for
digital cameras Olympus is one of the biggest.