History Spells the DSLR’s Demise - chapter IV - 1970s to 1990s – The age of innovation
© Copyright Khen Lim, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
1970s to 1990s – The age of innovation
By the start of the Seventies, the 35mm SLR had already edged out the roll-film cameras, pushing them to a niche segment where their larger film size worked to the advantage of studio and commercial photographers. This was where the weight and size penalties were not important since often such cameras were already mounted on tripods.
For the general masse looking to exploit the advantages offered by the 35mm SLR, many found benefits beyond just the compact size and luggability. They also discovered a whole new world of accessories that went beyond what the camera makers offered. Third-party providers jumped into the bandwagon and enlarged the offerings that helped consumers and pro photographers shape their camera kits with unprecedented ease and flexibility and to also do it more cost effectively.
At the same time, rangefinder cameras were fighting for a similar market share with a new generation of point-and-shoot (PS) compact cameras. To do so, some degree of manual controls was shed to make way for simpler automatic conveniences courtesy of inroads made by advanced electronics. On the other hand, the plastic-cladded PS cameras were lighter again and introduced new features that forced newer rangefinder cameras to also adopt. They included the built-in flash, zone focusing and easy film loading, all of which improved usability (user friendliness). And all of these meant that cameras like the Olympus 35-series, as well as Canonets and even the Minolta CL were beginning to have a used-by date.
Olympus OM-1, 1972 Copyright www.heise.de
By the time Olympus’ OM-1 was launched in 1972, the rangefinder had just about lost its battle and the reign of the PS compact camera had finally arrived. Three years later, the OM-2 (1975) was released. Both of these cameras once more forced major changes to the 35mm SLR form factor, bringing untold dividends to the industry and market.
If the original 35mm SLR showed up the largeness and ungainly weight of the archetypal roll-film camera, the OM-1/2 pair revealed far more could still be done to further pare size and heft. By comparison the OM-1 was up to 25 percent smaller and lighter than the contemporary 35mm SLR at that time and yet its features were fully fleshed out. If further conviction was needed, the OM-1’s viewfinder remains till today one of the largest and brightest in the industry. A novel touch was the ability to interchange focusing screens via the lens throat thus making it unnecessary to make the finder removable. This way, Olympus could make the OM-1 more solid and robust.
Exploded view of the Olympus OM-2 (1975) and the groundbreaking TTL OTF technology Images courtesy of Olympus Imaging Corporation
The arrival of the OM-2 three years later was the second shock to the industry. The OM-1’s size was retained while the weight was marginally different. However an auto exposure mode was added and there was greater expanse of electronics used, much of it was for a game-changing feature called Through-The-Lens Off-The-Film (TTL OTF) flash metering, which introduced a new era of convenient and accurate flash operation. To help all these along, the OM-2 sported a pair of Silicon Blue Cells (SBC), which was in many ways, an improvement of the original Fujica ST701’s (1971) use of the silicon photo diode (SPD).
Around the same time, the 35mm SLR had already cemented its place with the following market-shifting changes:
|Flash syncing hotshoe (Canon FTb)
|Lens multicoating (Asahi Takumar SMC)
|LED-based viewfinder info display (Fujica ST801)
|Pro-grade zoom lens (Vivitar S1 70-210mm f3.5)
|Microprocessor electronic controls (Canon AE-1)
|Standard zoom lens kit (Fujica AZ-1)
|Dual auto mode (Minolta XD11/XD7)
|Plastic body panels and moulded body (Olympus OM10)
|Built-in auto advance motordrive (Konica FS-1)
|Built-in electronic flash (Hanimex Reflex Flash 35)
|Dedicated AF lens (AF-Rikenon 50mm f2)
|1/4000th sec top speed, 1/200th sec flash sync (Nikon FM2)
|1/250th sec flash sync, titanium shutter blades (Nikon FE2)
|External LCD display (Pentax Super-A)
|Multi-spot metering (Olympus OM-3 and OM-4)
|Lithium battery (Olympus AFL Quickflash - not in SLR)
|1/2000th sec flash sync (Olympus OM-4Ti)
OM system Image courtesy of Olympus Optical Co.
go to next chapter: History Spells the DSLR’s Demise - chapter V - At the cusp of change