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|Launched in 1952, the Olympus Flex I was the first twin-lens reflex camera manufactured by Olympus. It was developed in response to a sudden rise in the popularity of twin-lens reflex cameras in postwar Japan. Though Olympus modeled the Flex I on the Rollei Flex, it targeted an even higher level of performance, and the camera incorporated numerous unique Olympus features. A typical starting wage at this time was ¥7,000 yen a month, so the ¥47,000 yen price tag was equivalent to over six months’ income for an average worker.|
via OLYMPUS | This is the Olympus History History of Cameras.
With a long history starting in 1919, Olympus was a relatively strong manufacturer in postwar Japan and by the start of the 1950s, when it turned its hand to a TLR, the product was not just the common rather basic copy of the Rolleicord. It had several new features, notably a spectacular six-element lens (for the Type I and B models). However, its strength was not only in innovation, but in an exceptionally high build quality.
There aren’t many around. I was lucky to pick up my original rare Type I up from a US webstore. I sourced another direct from Japan in 2005. The A-II came up via eBay in Honolulu and is also one of only a couple I’ve seen outside captivity (and very nice too).
Olympus Flexes aren’t exactly common in public collections either – the British National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (in Bradford) doesn’t even possess one in its stored collection, although there is an example of each of the Types B and A in the French camera museum in Bievres (the town where the famous annual camera fair is held). I don’t think they are in quite such a good condition as mine, but there you are…
Below the camera details is a table derived from the research of Mr E Suzuki, which sets out the typology of Olympus Flex models in detail. One useful piece of information: Olympus named their Zuiko lens types by a letter of the alphabet corresponding to the number of elements used. Thus a “D Zuiko” is a four-element one, and an “F Zuiko” has six. I know, incidentally that the SLR lens range went up to the extreme wide-angle “L Zuiko” – you work it out!
The Olympus website catalogues the main Olympusflex dates as:
1952 Olympus Flex – Top Japanese-made twin-lens reflex camera, fitted with F2.8 lens
1953 Olympus Flex BII – Synchro contacts on Olympus Flex B updated from F to X type contacts with German-type plug
1954 Olympus Flex A3.5 – Entry-level twin-lens reflex camera with F3.5 lens