100 Years of Photographic History for Olympus

100 Years of Photographic History for Olympus

This past weekend, The Olympus Corporation turned 100 years old. A review of Olympus' history is eye opening. I didn't realize that Olympus was originally a healthcare company, and it remains a leader in certain healthcare fields today.

Olympus recently released a fun info-graphic covering their century long history. Take a moment to check out their timeline.

Of note, Olympus was making microscopes and other medical equipment for 17 years before they released their first camera in 1936. Initially, Olympus only wanted to manufacture and sell lenses, but it seemed nobody was interested in purchasing lenses without an accompanying camera. So, Olympus designed and built the Semi-Olympus.

It's interesting to note that, at the time, most of the Japanese camera manufacturers were building cameras based on German designs. Instead, Olympus designed its own camera. In the words of Eiichi Sakurai, Olympus' design engineer, to make cameras the same as the others was not interesting. I didn't realize it, but did you know that name brand for Olympus' lenses, Zuiko, translates into light of the gods? What a great name.

In my research rabbit hole, I also discovered that Sakurai was an amateur photographer whose work was exhibited at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Eiichi Sakurai, Art Institue Chicago, Public Domain

To make cameras the same as the others was not interesting.

Although Olympus never did manage to wrestle control of the market from Nikon and Canon, it's OM line did have its adherents, including London's official photographer of the swinging 60s, David Bailey. 


There was a bit of a rocky period for Olympus in the 2010s in respect of their accounting methods and potential involvement in organized crime. The accounting scandal ended up reducing Olympus' value by 75%. However, the company is currently going strong, holding 70% of the $2.5 billion endoscope market. 

Even if its photographic business isn't the driving engine of its success, Olympus' commitment to cameras seems to be in no danger with money coming in from other enterprises.

I simply can't leave this article without sharing another ad with David Bailey, James Hunt, and Eric Idle...

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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The OM-1 is one of my favorite SLRs, an absolute joy to use. Beautiful classic design by Yoshihisa Maitani. At the time of its release, it was a small revolution because it was much more compact than the competition. Also, the Zuiko lenses are awesome. I especially like the 28mm/2.8.

I was never an Olympus user, but, I always appreciated their design. It’s only recently I’ve started to look into who the designers were and what their design philosophies were. Interesting stuff.

Olympus is still, primarily, a health care company. The camera division is more of an expensive, unprofitable hobby at this point.

How the hell did they get that $3000 behemoth so wrong?
When all the big dogs were in the meeting and rhey were talking about it, did no one raise his hand in disagreement or do they send the worker out for sepukku if he disagrees?

Congratulations Olympus. Happy Olympus user since 2010 and planning to stay that way for a long time.

Happy Birthday Olympus, I hope you find your way back home and start building compact cameras again.

Happy Birthday Olympus! I'm a Panasonic shooter, and have the Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro, great lens. Hope you and micro 4/3 are around for a hundred more.

The article was very interesting to me, as I am a current Olympus user ever since 1979 when I got my first OM-1. At this time, I have about a dozen Olympus OM film cameras and a dozen of various digital models of Olympus cameras. I should be a spokeperson, however it's not the only camera brand I've shot with. I've also enjoyed shooting Nikon 35mm SLR's and Mamiya meduim format cameras. Those cameras were on loan or I've since sold them. Having many extra back up cameras became a thing for me when shooting weddings. I've done a lot of photography in 40 years! ;)

Image is of Randi, one of the first models I shot with back in 1980 with my OM-1.

What a great career!