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the Semi-Olympus I - the Pen Series

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The Olympus Pen goes onto the market, and I see one in use.
In those days camera manufacturers measured their output in hundreds of units per month, with the average being 200 or 300. Olympus had a hit product called the Olympus Wide, and we were wondering if production would hit 1,000 units per month. Once we got past the 1,000 mark, we could use conveyor belts.

I was allowed to attend and speak at the planning meeting held when the Olympus Pen went into production. Someone asked me how many I expected to sell. Statistics had just been published showing that there were 7 million cameras in all of Japan, including those tucked away in the bottoms of drawers. I thought that half the number, say 3 million, would be replaced by half-sized cameras, and that Olympus could capture half of that market, so I replied that we could sell 1.5 million units. Everyone was astonished and laughed out loud. Eventually we decided on a monthly production figure of 5,000, which was unprecedented. But the Pen sold so quickly that production couldn't keep up with demand, and soon sales staff were demanding to know when we could send more stock.

Olympus Pen S
Olympus Pen S
When we developed the Pen S, we priced it at 7,000 yen. The factory manager who had refused to produce the Pen now begged to be allowed to make this camera. I felt that I had at last earned recognition within the company, and that I had finally broken through the barrier of accepted wisdom. This was due in part to the support of my superiors, who were able to see beyond the barrier, but another factor was the support of the countless users who bought the camera after it was released.

In those days, almost all camera buyers were men: men accounted for about 98% of the market, and women around 2%. Men like machines. They dream of Harley-Davidsons. That's why we made cameras with so many controls. The accepted wisdom was that real cameras had to have lots of controls.

However, a month after Olympus launched the Pen, I happened to see a mother photographing her little boy while I was on my way to work. She was using a Pen. I was so excited to see someone using the camera that I'd designed. But after I watched her for a few seconds I started to worry. I wanted to warn her that the picture would be out of focus with those settings.

It was then that I decided to design a camera that a woman like that would use. There would be no difficult controls. It would be so simple that the user would just have to push a single button. Yet this concept was the exact opposite of the cameras that were selling well on the market. The sales staff told me that it wouldn't be a proper camera, and I later heard that a conference of branch managers had also concluded that my design would not be a real camera. The head of the sales division came to see me in person and tried to persuade me to abandon the idea. I'd only been with Olympus for about three years, and it was only a year since I'd returned to the design department after my training in the factory. I was just a youngster. And yet this executive came to see me. He sat down with me and begged me to give up my idea. I impudently countered each of his arguments, and we continued to argue from morning until the end of the day. However, a junior employee cannot expect to win an argument with a division chief.

I realized that the barrier of accepted wisdom was about to prevent my idea from becoming reality, so I asked him to wait until the next day, when the prototype would be ready. I worked all through that night, and the next day I showed him the camera. He played with it in silence for about 30 minutes. Finally he looked at me and said, “Maitani, let's do it!” As the proverb says, a wise man will change his opinion, a fool never. I was filled with admiration, and wondered if I would have been able to change my mind like that if our roles had been reversed. It's not easy. And so we decided to manufacture the new camera.
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