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the Olympus OM-1 - the XA Series

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My philosophy was the source of my enthusiasm for development.
When I started to work on the OM, the world was already moving toward electronic shutters. Because Olympus was mainly producing Pen cameras, it had fallen behind in the development of SLRs.

I spoke earlier about the relocation of capital city functions to underutilized areas. At that time electronic shutter technology was still in its infancy, and there was a large electromagnet in the city center. Of course, this was the result of huge efforts, and I admire that hard work. However, it would have been easier to relocate functions to underutilized areas. With the OM-1 and OM-2, we all had this idea from the outset.

To understand what an electronic shutter does, let us imagine that we have a bucket here. The shutter opens, and light pours in and accumulates in the bucket. When the bucket is full, the shutter closes. The bucket is a capacitor, which converts light into electricity and stores it while the shutter is open. SLRs also collect light, but they can't pour into a bucket because the mirror flips up, causing everything to go dark. Really the shutter should remain open while light is being collected, but no light reaches the finder, which remains dark. So the amount of brightness before it goes dark is stored in the bucket, which is emptied after it becomes dark. This is known as a memory formula. You store the light before looking through the finder. The amount of energy is calculated, and the result is used to close the shutter. Pentax was the first to develop this system.

I thought that we could create an ideal electronic shutter by placing the bucket in a location that would be exposed to light when the mirror was raised for shooting. The brightness before the stored memory formula changed would be measured. This is easy to understand if you think about a strobe. Light is produced only in the instant in which the image is recorded, so you can't use a memory formula that measures the brightness before shooting. I wondered if there were any SLRs that could measure brightness even in strobe light, and I found that there were none on the market, so I decided to make one.

Where does the light go after the mirror is raised? It hits the film. I was trying to collect the light that hits the film directly into the bucket. It seems obvious now. If you use the light that is hitting the film, that's direct photometry. However, I was told that I would need to adjust all of the light hitting the film because film comes in various colors. So I collected film from around the world, and after examining perhaps 50 different types I realized that film is indeed produced in a wide variety of colors. However, when I measured the reflected light, the variation was only 0.1EV, which gave me confidence that we could succeed.

The opportunity to create a camera that was not available on the market was perfectly in tune with my philosophy. With direct photometry it was possible to measure even strobe light, and you can be as close to the subject as you like. With autofocus systems, you can't take close-up shots at 30 centimeters. The new system worked fine at 30 centimeters and even 10 centimeters. When we announced it at Photokina, there were around 300 journalists from around the world at the venue.

Before I went up to speak, there were about a dozen strobes lined up, and shutters were clicking. The strobes on both sides all flashed at the same time. The resulting images were clear all the way to the far background. This would have seemed impossible in those days, and everyone was impressed.

So I was always making odd cameras. This must have made life difficult for the sales people. When you're selling something that didn't previously exist, you need to start promoting it from scratch. Your message will reach some people and miss others. Some people will just say, “It's small. So what?”

I'm sure that the design staffs were annoyed by my unreasonable demand to reduce the size and weight by half. But repetitions of this process eventually led to the creation of something that photographers want, something that I wanted. If something is not available to buy, you have to make it yourself. If your way is obstructed by the technology barrier and the barrier of accepted wisdom, you have to find ways to break through those barriers. I believe that our efforts to do this have brought Olympus to the present stage in its history.
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