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Olympus Corporation
Native name
Orinpasu Kabushiki-kaisha
TypePublic (K.K)
FoundedOctober 12, 1919; 102 years ago (1919-10-12) (as Takachiho Seisakusho)
FounderTakeshi Yamashita[1]
HeadquartersShinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Area served
Key people
Yasuo Takeuchi (President & CEO)
ProductsPrecision machinery and instruments, cameras, voice recorders, endoscopes and other medical devices, face cream, and plastic tableware

Olympus (formally Olympus Corporation) is a Japanese manufacturer of optics, reprography and medical products. The company was established in 1919, initially specializing in microscopes and thermometers. Its global headquarters are located in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Olympus sells products worldwide with over 20 international subsidiaries.

History[edit | edit source]

Olympus was founded as Takachiho Seisakusho on October 12, 1919 by Takeshi Yamashita and Shintaro Terada.[1] The company's name was inspired by Mount Takachiho, which was the home of the gods in Japanese mythology.[3] The company initially specialized in microscopes and thermometers, introducing the first commercial Japanese-made microscope, Asahi, in June of 1920.[1] Realizing that the Takachiho branding would have limited traction outside of Japan, in 1921 the company registered the Olympus trademark, which is a reference to the home of the Greek gods.[3][4]

The thermometer business was sold off in 1923 and the company refocused itself primarily on microscopes, which would cement the company's principle identity as an optics producer. The company's international goals obviously suffered a setback during World War II, but in 1942 the name was changed to Takachiho Optical Co., Ltd. to reflect the outfit's primary focus.[1] In 1949, the name was changed again, this time to Olympus Optical Co., Ltd.[1] By the late 1950s the company was once again expanding its worldwide distribution. Over the subsequent 40 years it would open over 20 international subsidiaries, with over 60 percent of revenue coming from outside Japan by the mid 1990s.[3] In 2003 the company adopted its current moniker, Olympus Corporation.[1]

Products[edit | edit source]

Consumer optics[edit | edit source]

Takachiho's initial consumer optical offerings took the form of aftermarket lenses, which they began selling in the 1920s. These lenses were not a major success as they relied on consumers buying or owning bodies from other (mostly German) companies to which the lenses could be attached.[5]

Roll film cameras[edit | edit source]

Takachiho introduced the first Olympus-branded camera in 1936, a medium format film camera with a bellows-type folding body which used 120 film and produced sixteen 4.5x6cm exposures per roll. It was among the first products to spring from the Optical Research Center the company had opened the previous year.[4]

Both the body and shutter mechanism of this initial offering were outsourced from other suppliers with the only part developed and produced in-house being the camera's four element 75mm lens, which was the first to sport the Zuiko brand.[6][7] This camera has come to be known as the Semi-Olympus I, although that name may not have been applied to it contemporaneously. The Semi-Olympus II with both body and lens produced by Olympus, followed in 1937.[8]

The Olympus Six replaced the Semi-Olympus II in 1940. Like its predecessor, the Six used 120 film, but as its name indicates the new model offered a 6x6cm square image format. The Six was produced with some revisions into and after the war period[8] with demand for the camera prompting the company to open two new plants in Nagano in the first four years of the decade.[4]

The Six was eventually replaced in 1948 by the Olympus Chrome Six which was a dual format folding camera capable of capturing either 4.5x6cm or 6x6cm images. Several iterations and variations of the Chrome Six were produced through 1956.[8]

In 1952, Olympus introduced the twin-lens reflex (TLR) Olympus Flex in 1952 at the height of a post-war Japanese craze for the TLR style.[5] The camera was clearly inspired by the segment-leading Rolleiflex, but with the Flex Olympus aimed for a higher level of performance than even its German competitor. This was reflected in the camera's price, which amounted to over six months salary for the average Japanese worker at the time.[9] Iterations of the Flex, including some simplified models, were produced into the mid-to-late 1950s. The Flex was the last camera using 120 film that Olympus would produce.[8]

The Eyeflex (also referred to as the Olympus Eye 44) was developed in 1958. This was a more compact TLR inspired by the Baby Rolleiflex offering auto-exposure and producing a square 4x4cm exposure using 127 film. Although the camera was presented to the press, the series was shelved prior to production.[8] This marked the end of Olympus's development or production of roll film cameras.

35mm film cameras[edit | edit source]

The Olympus 35, introduced in 1948, was the company's first camera using 135 film cartridges, commonly referred to as 35mm. It was also the first Japanese 35mm camera with a lens shutter system. It has subsequently come to be referred to as the "35 I" to differentiate it from its successors which were numbered using Roman numerals and, in some cases, letters.[4] It was a fixed-lens, viewfinder camera which was built for compactness and speed and earned the nickname "pickpocket camera" due to the rate at which it allowed one to capture images as fast a pickpocket could snatch ones wallet.[10] This trait made the camera a hit.[5] It had a 40mm f/3.5 Zuiko lens.[11] While the 35 initially captured an image measuring 24x32mm, its successors captured the full 24x36mm image of the 35mm format.[10] Those successors introduced over the subsequent seven years through 1955 included the 35 II (which existed only a prototype),[12] 35 III,[12] 35 IV,[13] 35 IVa,[14] 35 IVb,[15] 35 Va[16] and 35 Vb.[17][8]

The 35-S series was a line of fixed lens rangefinder cameras with 42mm or 48mm Zuiko lenses, introduced in 1955. The line featured lenses with increasingly larger maximum apertures as denoted by their model names: 35-S I 3.5 (1955),[18] 35-S II 2.8 (1957), 35-S II 2.0 (1957), 35-S II 1.8 (1957).[19] The 35-S series was capped by the 35-K (1957), which was a budget version.[20]

Olympus Wide (1955)

A variant of the 35 V with a wide-angle lens debuted in 1955 as the Olympus Wide. Along with the 35-S, which was its contemporary, the Wide was Olympus's first rangefinder camera with a natural light bright frame viewfinder. The Wide's Zuiko 35mm focal length f/3.5 lens offered a slightly wider field of view than the 35V's 40mm lens. Prior to this to get this wide a view one had to use more expensive interchangeable lens cameras. The popularity of the Wide ushered in a wide-angle camera boom, with relatively few subsequent fixed-lens cameras to this day offering a lens longer than the 35mm focal length.[21] The Wide was followed by the Wide E and Wide S — both of which were introduced in 1957 and featured a built-in light meter (although without auto-exposure functionality) — and the Wide II, which came out in 1958.[8]

Pen series
Olympus Pen (1959)

The next innovative camera line from Olympus was led by the Pen, which was launched in 1959. It was the first product designed for Olympus by Yoshihisa Maitani with a target of a highly capable camera that remained compact and portable like a pen, hence the name. To achieve that design goal, the Pen employed a new half-frame format, which allowed the user to capture seventy-two 18×24mm photographs on a standard 36-exposure 35mm film cassette,[22]. The Pen's D.Zuiko f/3.5 lens projects less than one centimeter from the front of the camera,[23]while its 28mm focal length yields a similar field of view to a 40mm full-frame lens. The Pen is also unusual in that it captures portrait format images when held in the usual way. While the initial Pens were built for Olympus by Sanko Shoji, due to the camera's popularity production of future models was brought in-house in 1960.[23]

Olympus Pen EED

Subsequent models in the Pen series included:

  • Pen S (1960–1964) which had a 30mm (43mm equivalent) lens;[24]
  • Pen EE (1961–1967) which added automatic exposure, EE="Electronic Eye";[25]
  • Pen EE S (1962–1968) with a 30mm lens and auto-exposure;[26]
  • Pen D (1962), D2 (1964) and D3 (1965) which had a light meter but no automatic-exposure;[27]
  • Pen W (1964) which is similar to the Pen S, but with a 28mm lens;[28]
  • Pen EM (1965–1966) with a motor to automate film winding;[29]
  • Pen EE-EL and EE S-EL (1966) which added an Easy Load film spool to the Pen EE and Pen EE S;[30]
  • Pen EED (1968) with a new body design, a light meter for fully automatic operation, and a fast f/1.7 F. Zuiko 32mm lens;[31]
  • Pen EE-2 (1968) with automatic exposure control and a 28mm lens;[32]
  • Pen EES-2 (1968) with automatic exposure control and a 30mm lens;[33]
  • Pen EE-3 (1973) a redesign of the Pen EE;[34]
  • Pen EF (1981) adding a built-in electronic flash[35]

The Pen series was discontinued in 1983 ending a remarkable twenty-four year run. It pioneered a new half-frame format, with many competitors introducing similar designs in the years immediately following its introduction.[5] However, the popularity of the format was dented in the mid-1960s with the introduction of miniature full-frame cameras such as the Rollei 35, which nearly matched the Pen in terms of size. While innovations continued, the series never again reached the apogee of popularity it enjoyed in the early 1960s.

Pen F series
Olympus Pen F with 40mm f/1.4 Zuiko lens

The Pen F, released in 1963, was a compact SLR with interchangeable lenses built around the half-frame format of the fixed-lens Pen line. It included several innovations such as its porro-prism viewfinder and the focal plane rotary shutter system made from titanium which combined speed with durability while allowing electronic flash synchronization at any shutter speed.[36] The design maintains its svelte proportions in part by employing a sideways-tilting mirror, thus eliminating the characteristic prism bulge atop most SLRs.[37]

The smaller image circle needed to cover the reduced dimensions of half-frame film also allows for significantly more compact lenses compared to full-frame SLRs. Lenses were attached via a bayonet mount. The available lens selection for the Pen F ecosystem eventually grew to include 17 Olympus Zuiko lenses,[38] with several others produced by third-party suppliers. In addition, since the Pen F's flange focal distance was shorter than any other system available at the time, lenses from other systems could be attached to the Pen F by way of mount adapters. This meant that the lens options for Pen F system shooters were nearly limitless.[39]

Olympus Pen FT and 38mm f/1.8 Zuiko lens

The models in the Pen F lineage are:

  • Pen F (released September 1963) — instantly identifiable by the large script "F" engraved on the front, came with either an E.Zuiko 1:1.8/38 mm lens or a faster G. Zuiko 1:1.4/40mm;[40]
  • Pen FT (released October 1966) — adds a built-in light meter and requires only a single lever stroke to advance the film and reset the shutter (the original required two strokes);[41]
  • Pen FV (released February 1967) — a simpler version of the FT without the light meter[42]

In addition, special models of the Pen F were produced for microscopic and medical applications.[43]

Development of the Pen F line was halted after the FV and the series was discontinued in 1970[8] as the Olympus engineers and marketers got to work on their next challenge.

OM system
Olympus OM-1 with 50mm f/1.8 lens

Mr. Maitani and his design team introduced the OM system in 1972 with the release of the M-1. The "M" in the name of the new camera was a tribute to Mr. Maitani's long-term contribution to Olympus design. However, Leitz lodged a complaint that the name was too similar to its Leica M1. In response, Olympus agreed to change the name to OM-1, adding the "O" from the corporate name, thus cementing the name of the "Olympus Maitani" (OM) system.

Olympus OM Zuiko Lenses

The OM line is a full-frame professional 35mm SLR system which was designed to compete head-on with the established segment leaders Nikon and Canon. As with the Pen and Pen F, one of the major design goals for the OM system was to minimize the size of the cameras and lenses. The OM system introduced a new trend towards more compact cameras and lenses, while also including innovative design features such as off-the-film (OTF) flash automation and metering. Eventually the system grew to include fourteen bodies, over sixty Zuiko-branded lenses, and numerous accessories.

Digital cameras[edit | edit source]

Camedia C-800 L

By the mid-1990s digital camera technology, with images being captured by a digital sensor rather than through a photochemical process, began to replace film. Tsuyoshi "Tom" Kikukawa, who would later become president of Olympus, championed the company's expansion into this new digital realm. Mr. Kikukawa efforts yielded the Camedia C-800L in 1996, an 810,000-pixel fixed-lens point-and-shoot camera priced competitively with competitor's offerings with less than half the resolution.[44][45] They followed that up with the following year with the Camedia C-1400L, with a 1.41 million pixel sensor and a 3x zoom lens.[46][44] By 2001, the focus on leading in digital yielded annual revenue from the segment in excess of ¥100 billion.[44]

Olympus OM-D E-M1 with an Olympus M.Zuiko Pro 12-40mm f2.8 lens

Similarly to the company's progression in film cameras, after starting with fixed-lens compacts, they soon began development of a higher end interchangeable lens system. This effort culminated in the Four Thirds system standard for digital single-lens reflex cameras. Olympus' Four-Thirds system flagship DSLR camera is the E-5, released in 2010. Olympus is also the largest manufacturer of Four-Thirds lenses, under the Zuiko Digital brand.

Olympus and Panasonic started a new development together, called the Micro Four Thirds system. After the introduction of the Micro Four Thirds system, and the growth of the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC) market, the Four Thirds system became an afterthought. In 2017, after three years without a new lens, and seven years without a new body, Olympus officially discontinued the legacy system[47]

Audio[edit | edit source]

Olympus developed the microcassette[48] and delivered the world's first microcassette recorder, the Zuiko Pearlcorder, in June 1969.[49] The microcassette recorder grew to become a near universal standard for use in many fields including journalism, legal and professional dictation with the Pearlcorder brand being almost synonymous with the format.

Although the microcassette has been mostly replaced by digital recording, the Pearlcorder brand continues to have a dominant position in the professional dictation market.

Medical and surgical[edit | edit source]

Olympus manufactures endoscopic, ultrasound, electrocautery, endotherapy, and cleaning and disinfection equipment. The first flexible Endoscope in the world was co-developed and manufactured by Olympus in Tokyo.[50] Through its comprehensive product range and its reactivity to market innovations, Olympus enjoys a virtual stranglehold of the world market in gastro-intestinal endoscopes. It has roughly 70% share of the global market whose estimated valued at US$2.5 billion.[51]

Scientific[edit | edit source]

Since the beginning, the company has been a manufacturer of microscopes and optics for specialised needs, such as medical use. Currently, Olympus is a worldwide renowned manufacturer of microscopes. Olympus offers a complete range of microscopes, which covers applications from education and routine studies up to state of the art research imaging systems, both in life science and materials science. [52]

Industrial[edit | edit source]

Olympus manufactures and sells industrial scanners, flaw detectors, probes and transducers, thickness gages, digital cameras, image analysis software, industrial videoscopes, fiberscopes, light sources, XRF and XRD analyzers, and high-speed video cameras for use in manufacturing and industrial capacities.[53]

Corporate affairs[edit | edit source]

Ownership[edit | edit source]

Shareholding in Olympus is dispersed, and the company's key institutional investors are largely passive.[54] On September 28, 2012, Olympus and Sony announced that Olympus would receive a 50 billion yen capital injection from Sony. On 22 February 2013, Sony became the largest shareholder (11.46%) of Olympus, later cutting that stake in half during one of its own restructurings and selling its remainging stake in 2019.[55]

2011 accounting scandal[edit | edit source]

In 2011, the company attracted worldwide media scrutiny when it fired its newly appointed British chief executive (CEO) Michael Woodford, a 30-year Olympus veteran, for probing into financial irregularities and unexplained payments totaling hundreds of millions of US dollars. Although the board initially dismissed Woodford's concerns via mass media as "disruptive" and Woodford himself as failing to grasp the local culture, the matter quickly snowballed into a corporate corruption scandal[56] concerning alleged concealment of more than ¥117.7 billion ($1.5 billion) in investment losses, kickbacks, and covert payments to criminal organizations dating back as far as the 1980s.[57][58][59][60] One of the longest-lasting accounting scandals in Japanese corporate history,[61] the incident wiped out over three-quarters of the company's valuation[62] and led much of the board to resign in disgrace. Investigations were launched across Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, culminating in the arrests of numerous corporate directors, senior managers, auditors, and bankers[63] and raising significant concerns over prevailing standards of corporate governance and transparency,[64] as well as the state of Japanese financial markets. Woodford himself, who stated he had received death threats for his role in exposing the cover-up,[60] was reportedly awarded £10 million ($16 million) in damages for defamation and wrongful dismissal.[62][65] In the wake of this turmoil, Olympus announced plans to shed 2,700 jobs (seven percent of its workforce)[66] and shutter 40 percent of its 30 manufacturing plants by 2015.[67]

As part of the fallout from the accounting scandal, the company announced in 2012 that both Sony and Fujifilm had offered partnership or capital alliances in the imaging segments. Rather than accepting these proposals, Olympus made a decision to retrench the money-losing consumer imaging segment which would include scaling back offerings in the compact camera space while focusing on the mirrorless segment.[68]

2016 bribery scandal[edit | edit source]

Between 2006 and 2011, Olympus sold over $7 billion of medical devices in the United States market. Almost $600 million of that amount was used for various kickbacks including grants, gifts, and other forms of bribes, according to US Attorney Paul Fishman. On 1 March 2016, Olympus agreed to pay $646 million of fines to US authorities to settle the case.[69]

Sale of consumer imaging division[edit | edit source]

On June 24, 2020, Olympus announced an agreement to sell its imaging division to the investment fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) by the end of 2020.[70][71][72] In October 2020, Olympus completed the transaction, moving its imaging division to the newly established OM Digital Solutions. On January 1, 2021, 95% of the shares in OM Digital Solutions were transferred to OJ Holdings, Ltd, a specially established subsidiary of JIP; Olympus retained ownership of the remaining 5%.[73]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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External links[edit | edit source]