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OLYMPUS | This is the Olympus History History of Cameras

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Olympus Flex I
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.

Type,
Launch date,
Price
Picture
Viewing Lens,
Taking Lens
Shutter
Self-timer
Synchro,
Socket system
Commentary and features
Type I

August 1952

Y52,000

Zuiko
75mm f2.8

F Zuiko
75mm f2.8

Seiko #0
B, 1 – 1/400

Self-timer

F contact point

Kodak type socket

This rare first model has a mirror inside the top window, which hinges down to 45º to allow horizontal eye level viewing through a lens in the back of the viewing hood.
Serial no format is <No. *******>.
Type B

February 1953

Y48,000

Zuiko
75mm f2.8

F Zuiko
75mm f2.8

Seiko #0
B, 1 – 1/400

Self-timer

F contact point

Kodak type socket

As I understand it, this dropped the eye level mirror viewer due to patent action by Rollei, using a basic sports viewer through the back/front of the hood as the eye level alternative to reflex viewing.
Serial number format is simply <*******>.
Type B-II

October 1953

Y43,000

Zuiko
75mm f2.8

F Zuiko
75mm f2.8

Seiko #0
B, 1 – 1/400

Self-timer

X contact point

Kodak type socket

Compared to the B the hood was simplified and the socket became the German system. I think this model saw the shift from finely spaced knurling on the focus/wind knobs to the later coarse knurling.
Type A 3.5

November 1954

Y23,000

Zuiko
75mm f3.5

D Zuiko
75mm f3.5

Seiko #00
B, 1 – 1/500

No self-timer

X contact point

German type socket

This cut-price model abandoned Rollei-type bayonet filter/hood – making it distinctive. The Rolleiflex-type setting wheels disappeared in favour of cheaper setting levers on the side of the taking lens escutcheon. The lens drops from six- to four-element design.
Type A 2.8

November 1955

Y23,000

Zuiko
75mm f2.8

D Zuiko
75mm f2.8

Seiko #0
B, 1 – 1/400

Self-timer

X contact point

German type socket

Keeps the general design of the 3.5 A, but Bay-1 filter fitting and self-timer return, with a bigger 2.8 lens at cut price. Costs seem to have been shaved by using the 1/400 Seikosha shutter. As for the 3.5, the “D Zuiko” 2.8 lens with only four elements is deployed.
Type A-II 3.5

June 1956

Y29,000

Zuiko
75mm f3.5

D Zuiko
75mm f3.5

Seiko #00
B, 1 – 1/500

No self-timer

M, F and X contact point

German type socket

The last of the line. The big distinction here is the M-F-X setting lever at the bottom of the lens escutcheon. The self-timer disappears again, but the better Seikosha 1/500 shutter is used again. The price is interestingly higher than the 2.8 model A.

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

    Source: http://www.tlr-cameras.com/japanese/Olympus.html

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