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I: To sell the camera at 6,000Yen, the cost of production was about 2,000Yen?

M: Hmm, I don't remember the cost of production. At that time, the lowest line Olympus 35 was 23,000Yen. If it was reduced to half price, it was about 12,000Yen. I think 10 or 20% off the price is usual. But to my surprise, he ordered me to quarter the price! Yes, he was absurd to order that, moreover I was absurd to accept it.

I: Why did you give such an order?

S: I did?

M: Yes, you did. You were the Manager of Design Section at that time.

S: TLR camera market was gradually declining, the Olympus Six was outdated. Though the 35mm format became the mainstream, any other makers were able to develop a camera like the Olympus 35. We were pressed to break through the situation by something original. In 1955, Matsuzaki was a member of Design Section, but he was concerned with the improvement of the Olympus Six. Then I ordered Masaaki Sato to design a camera like Agfa’s rangefinder camera, which was the first camera equipped with a film advance lever. It was the Olympus 35S.

I: Was the Olympus Wide the first camera with a fixed wide angle lens?

S: Yes, it was. The sales of Olympus Six was falling down. We were at a loss. But Matsuzaki presented a 35mm camera specialized for wide angle lens. I approved and urged the idea.

I: I thought the Olympus Wide was a sophisticated one.

S: The design of the front of the camera looks like cross-eyed...

I: Yes, wide angle camera became popular after that. And other makers started to develop wide angle cameras.

S: After that, Matsuzaki designed the Olympus Wide Super with H. Zuiko 35mm/F2 lens.


I: By the way, why did you order Mr. Maitani to develop the 6,000yen camera?

S: They were busy with those jobs. Once we tried to design a 35mm SLR, but it was too big and the plan was ended in failure. On such occasion, Matsuzaki told me, "Let's make a camera of the "half"."

I: What is the "half"?

S: It's a half frame format camera, as known as a single frame format camera. We privately discussed about the idea.

I: But there were many half frame format cameras in the market, for example Mercury.

S: Mercury was not good enough, it was too big. Small size is one of the characteristics of half frame camera. Then, his idea seemed interesting and I was going to designate him to...

I: Why was it 6,000Yen? Half price because it was half frame?

M: No, it's quarter(laughs).

S: You designer thought it was quarter price, but sales side would never be moved unless there was a quarter price impact. Because it was a new kind of camera, I asked the Sales Department to find a market of 5,000 units per month for the 6,000Yen camera. Mr. Ikebe, who is now a Managing Director, belonged to the Sales Department at that time. He answered that the 6,000Yen camera would be sold at about 3,000 units a month. And they could accept the camera if it was 5,000Yen. But I told him we couldn't make it less than 6,000Yen, and besides, our Daiichi Suwa factory claimed they couldn't meet the 5,000 units per month output. There was no other way but to start with a subcontract factory.

I: You invented so many unique ideas through the development of the Olympus Pen. For example, rear wheel film advancing or detachable backdoor and bottom plate that come clean off from the camera body. Are those for miniaturization?

M: Yes, and also for cutting costs. When I was developing the low-priced 6,000Yen camera, the big problem was a large number of gears. The popular camera Olympus 35S was assembled from an awesome large number of gears. We were deeply troubled, so I wanted to develop a camera that has no gears..."zero gear". I also researched about synthetic resin of plastic. This was for the purpose of cutting costs. Generally, miniaturization and cutting costs are opposed.

I: Well, why did you make the detaching backdoor and bottom plate?

S: Hinge type backdoor was generally believed to be unable to shorten the camera height. Leica camera's backdoor was not the hinge type.

M: I used to using Leica camera. Conceptually, I would never want to make a camera taller than Leica camera. The spool of film cartridge interfered with ordinary camera's fixed bottom plate when I tried to shorten the height, whereas Leica camera's bottom plate was detachable. The width of half frame format camera is surely shortened, but the height remains. It would be a poor design. I wanted to shorten the height to make a better body shape. That's why I designed the detaching backdoor and bottom plate like Leica camera.

I: But the design caused light leakage?

M: Yes, it was very hard.

I: That's why you put something like wool into the inside of the camera?

M: That was a desperate measure. Anyhow, I couldn’t find the cause of light leakage. I confined myself to a darkroom day after day, and put a miniature bulb into the camera to find out the cause of light leakage. At long last, I put the woolen light seal into the inside of the camera.

I: I was surprised at the wool (laughs). Well, that aside, the lens quality was wonderful. Pen camera was sold very well.


M: Although it was a low-priced 6,000Yen camera, I would never want to compromise on lens quality. It's not worth discussing about a defective lens...

I: Was it F4.5?

M: No, it was F3.5, Tesser type lens.

E: When I hold the Pen camera normally, the view is vertical...

M: I didn't care about it. Vertical or horizontal, those are usual aspects for photographers. I did nothing special for the directions of viewfinder. But I wanted to ensure easy operation in both vertical and horizontal positions. I designed the oblong shutter release button that can be pressed easily in vertical position.

To speak of the lens, a triplet type lens that extends the front element in focusing was generally equipped in cheap cameras. Even I took off the gear, I never wanted to compromise on lens quality. I adopted the Tesser type lens that extends the whole lens groups with helicoid for the first Pen model. Most of the development cost went toward the lens. And I couldn't distribute much expense for other components.

I: Even so, the viewfinder has bright frame. You didn't compromise on it.

M: Certainly, bright frame was specified, but I compromised on material. The cover itself was monocoque, which is now called plastic mold, and the viewfinder lens was made of plastic. I economized on viewfinder components, because I had spent most of the expense. But plastic lens had not been invented at that time. We researched various materials, and got an idea to ask a synthetic resin parts supplier that produced shirt buttons. I learned about the process of making plastic button.

The plastic viewfinder was used in the initial production. But the technology had not been improved enough at that time, therefore the plastic lenses were of poor quality. Moreover we couldn't ensure consistent quality. The wastage caused an increase in production cost. We eventually changed to glass lens for the viewfinder part.

I: Was the soft case included in the price?

M: No, it did not include the soft case for tax avoidance.

I: How much was it?

M: It was 1,000Yen.

I: It was well made for its price.

M: The soft case was specially made for the Pen. Ordinary case was not good enough for the Pen unless it was softened. Years later, Sony asked us about the soft case, because it was fit for their Walkman. Then we introduced it to Sony and they adopted it for their Walkman.

I: Mr. Sakurai, what did you think about this camera for the first time?

S: Mmm, I thought it would be sold very well. After all, the Pen is Souichi Oya's (a famous Japanese journalist) favorite.

I: By the way, Olympus stubbornly called it "Pen Size (Pen Format)", though others called it "half frame format" or "single frame format"...

M: Not others but you, Mr.Saeki. You called it in different ways, right?

I: No, I did not (laughs). Because various makers called it by their trade name. I was troubled so much and unified it with "half frame format".

S: That is not half. Really, Leica format is doubled frame format. Half of double is single.

M: If you used the name "single frame format", the industry might adopt it instead.

I: But there're many cameras which had "half" in part of their name.

M: Because you called it first.

I: Mmm, it was decided at a conference of journalists.

S: Is that so? The press didn't know about the history.

I: We were very much troubled at that time. Each maker had its own way of naming a product.

By the way, Mr. Maitani started his career at the half frame format camera.


M: I remember an impressive occasion at the process of design.

"Industrial design" emerged from the late 1940's. Olympus quickly introduced industrial design into work from the late 40's as a camera maker. Surely, I asked an outside industrial designer to design the Pen. But I didn't like the result. The design was like a toy camera, because the designer knew it was a low-priced 6,000Yen camera. Then I told this to Mr. Sakurai, and he answered, "If you don't like the design, do it yourself". After that, I designed the exterior by myself, and presented the sketch to the Design Manager Mr. Sakurai, who sat at a big desk in a back room. He said, "Oh, this must be popular!" Just as he took a glance, he envisioned the great popularity.

I: Why the Pen camera is a gray-colored camera?

M: It grounds on why camera must be black? I decided the gray color at the first phase of design.

I: Was the gray color intended for women?

M: Yes, that is part of the reason, the main reason is why there is nothing but black cameras.

And I remember that my boss never refused the gray color.

E: How about the variation of focal length? 28mm, 25mm and 30mm.

M: 28mm is standard lens by calculation, 25mm is wide angle, and 30mm is for large aperture lens. We couldn't produce large aperture lens in 28mm.

I: Olympus Auto Eye was the first Japanese auto exposure camera. Why shutter speed priority auto exposure was used?

S: It was Matsuzaki's work. I guess he designed it with the traditional way of thinking.

M: At that time, Programmed AE had not been invented.

While shutter unit is too heavy to be automated. The small diaphragm blade is light. And the idea of AE occurred to me from a movie camera. Movie camera sequentially exposes in average speed and synchronously controls the diaphragm. I made the auto variable diaphragm according to those two ideas.

The Pen series incorporated two concepts. The first one was as a secondary camera, as I did with a Leica camera. And the other was the spreading of camera to the general people, especially to women. The former concept aside, I thought the traditional way of photography which I learned in the past did not stand up for the latter concept, I ran toward the idea of a "Button Camera". "Button Camera", which I invented, meant auto exposure. I automated not only diaphragm but also shutter speeds. In that way, Programmed AE was invented. Pen EE was the first Programmed AE camera in the world.

I: Other makers were starting to release 35mm SLRs at the time of the Pen. Why Olympus did not develop SLR?

S: We surely had a plan. But the result was too big and the internal mechanism was too complex. That won't be successful, then we abandoned. And we were busy enough just to develop the Pen camera.

We discussed "Olympus must become Olympus". If we develop a SLR, we have to improve the Pen", the result was the Pen-F.



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Last updated on 25 December, 2002
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