With thanks to John Foster and Maitani-Fan.com
During the design study of the OM-1, the Olympus design team led by Yoshihisa Maitani worked on a completely modular camera, similar to a 35mm Hasselblad. This camera was built as a prototype and was called the OM-X.
During the M-1 development days Maitani & team explored various ideas and innovations around the 35mm SLR concept. One of these was the OM-X, a modular and system camera with a medium-format feel to it, but 35mm. A single box (sans Hasselblad) made up from whatever pieces the user required and could ‘build’ whatever he wanted; viewfinder, back, lens and shutter, etc., he required for whatever it was he was photographing. Although wildly ambitious, it was seriously considered, but the company was restless for a full-frame follow-up to the PEN-F, and not the stop-gap FTL. So Maitani put together the best of each innovation – which just so happened to be the Olympus M-1. And so a star was born.
When it came to the OM-X, unfortunately the technical issues involved in melding all the separate elements of a camera with correct tolerances and combining functionalities at the user’s discretion proved to be insurmountable within the time-scale imposed. It is a beautiful looking machine, nonetheless.
Here you can see the modularity, mirror/exposure box, film back, viewfinder, lens and grip. There is no ‘body’ as such, it’s dependent on user choice which system bits they want to use. Once chosen and jointed, the viewfinder comes next, then the lens, until you have something that resembles a camera. MDN – M-System/Darkbox/Normal. What a machine. What did we miss out on? But compared to the bulk, weight and complexity of the MDN, the M1 wins by a short head. Compare this 1972 M1 production model to the antiquated FTL and it’s plain Olympus had a winner with the M1. Would the MDN have made Olympus as much money or kudos – personally I doubt it.
OM-X Interview with Yoshihisa Maitani by Kouichi Akagi
Found here. Featured in Asahi Camera magazine, March 2002
Akagi: When I talked with you before, you told me that the original OM System plan is more extensive and the OM-1 is merely the most popular style of it. What kind of system were you thinking of?
Maitani: The OMs are designed to be a system camera. OM-1, 2, 3… are only individual units in the system. Included in my plan is an idea that I should call the “OM-X” or something. This is rather the main concept of the system.
A: The OM-X? What is that?
M: Well, a camera is a tool to take pictures. It needs various functions. I try to take apart the camera into units by each function. Lens, body, film back, and a focal plane or lens shutter. The basic concept of the OM System is to enable the user to gather the components as necessary.
A: In the past, there was a block-shaped camera called Rollei SL2000F. Maybe its concept is different from yours, but the user can remove the film magazine.
M: I think the Hasselblad is closer to my ideal rather than the Rollei is.
A: Ah, yes, it is also provided with both a lens shutter and focal plane shutter. So, if such a camera is made, that becomes the OM-X.
M: Right. However, it is easy to take a camera apart by each mono-functions, but every mono-function modules should be flexible to be chosen on user’s demand. It is difficult to realize the flexible joint gimmick. When we started the development, technical difficulties impeded our progress.
A: You spent too much time.
M: The company could not wait that long, so I was requested to release something first. The OM-1 is a combination of the most popular functions.
A: So the OM-X was considered first. Surely, it really is a great plan.
M: I was still young in those days (laughs).
A: What kind of shape is the OM-X?
M: No particular shape. If you want to use it as a medical camera to take pictures inside a person’s mouth, you assemble it that way; if you want to use it as a gastrocamera, you will use a long rod-shaped attachment. You build it in a different form for snapshots, shooting still life, etc.
A: What about the basic body?
M: None. Therefore, the idea is completely unique (laughs). I know you want to say that a component camera needs a body and adapters, and you want to ask “what is the basic body?” Then, I want to say that the base is the entire system.
A: It may become a camera other than a SLR?
M: Surely possible. Although the fundamental form is a SLR to watch a subject image, a non-SLR form is possible. Looking back now, I can tell you everything frankly.
A: What happens to the OM-X after the OM-1?
M: Today, its concept is still evolving but has not been carried out yet (laughs). If I proceeded with the OM plan in the days of the Pen series, without doing the Pens, this plan may now have reached a further point.