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Olympus Flex TLRs

With a long history starting in 1919, Olympus was a relatively strong manufacturer in postwar Japan and by the start of the 1950s, when it turned its hand to a TLR, the product was not just the common rather basic copy of the Rolleicord. It had several new features, notably a spectacular six-element lens (for the Type I and B models). However, its strength was not only in innovation, but in an exceptionally high build quality.

There aren't many around. I was lucky to pick up my original rare Type I up from a US webstore. I sourced another direct from Japan in 2005. The A-II came up via eBay in Honolulu and is also one of only a couple I've seen outside captivity (and very nice too).

Olympus Flexes aren't exactly common in public collections either - the British National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (in Bradford) doesn't even possess one in its stored collection, although there is an example of each of the Types B and A in the French camera museum in Bievres (the town where the famous annual camera fair is held). I don't think they are in quite such a good condition as mine, but there you are...

Below the camera details is a table derived from the research of Mr E Suzuki, which sets out the typology of Olympus Flex models in detail. One useful piece of information: Olympus named their Zuiko lens types by a letter of the alphabet corresponding to the number of elements used. Thus a "D Zuiko" is a four-element one, and an "F Zuiko" has six. I know, incidentally that the SLR lens range went up to the extreme wide-angle "L Zuiko" - you work it out!

The Olympus website catalogues the main Olympusflex dates as:

  • 1952 Olympus Flex - Top Japanese-made twin-lens reflex camera, fitted with F2.8 lens

  • 1953 Olympus Flex BII - Synchro contacts on Olympus Flex B updated from F to X type contacts with German-type plug

  • 1954 Olympus Flex A3.5 - Entry-level twin-lens reflex camera with F3.5 lens

    If you find any errors on this page or have any camera I might be interested in, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. Click on the small "thumbnail pictures below to go to larger ones.


Olympus Flex 2.8 Type I

What Mr Suzuki (below) calls the Type I was the first Olympus Flex version from 1952, said to be the earliest Japanese TLR with a 2.8 taking lens. As the table below shows, there were two further B models from 1953, but they actually lacked one feature this has - the in-hood eye-level mirror viewer. Overall, it feels very nicely made, although I'm not sure I can see the value differential to justify a typical cost three or four times that of a Kalloflex (qv)! The superb six-element Zuiko lens is the primary justification - and very unusual for its time.
Taking lens is Olympus Zuiko 75mm f2.8
Shutter Seikosha Rapid 1 to 1/400

Olympus Flex A-II 3.5

The A-II was the last Olympus TLR, produced in 1956 and 1957. The A was a down-specced version of the original B, made from late 1954 in an attempt to make the camera more attractive to buyers by cutting the cost at a time when Rollei was resurgent in the vital US market. The wheel focus and aperture setting of the B was replaced by small levers bracketing the shutter housing. The lens - still Zuiko - on this one was a significantly cheaper 3.5, although there was a 2.8 model A. This is the only Olympus Flex with MFX flash synch.
Taking lens is Olympus D. Zuiko 75mm f3.5
Shutter Seikosha-MX 1 to 1/500

Olympus Flex Types Table

This table is reproduced from the work of Mr. E. Suzuki, a Japanese collector and researcher,
and member of the Olympus Photo Club of Japan, who researched the Olympus archives
to establish the model history. His excellent Olympus Flex website is at this link.

I have translated Mr Suzuki's original, and any mistakes are entirely mine.
Type,
Launch date,
Price
Picture
Viewing Lens,
Taking Lens
Shutter
Self-timer
Synchro,
Socket system
Commentary and features
Type I

August 1952

Y52,000
Zuiko
75mm f2.8

F Zuiko
75mm f2.8
Seiko #0
B, 1 - 1/400

Self-timer
F contact point

Kodak type socket
This rare first model has a mirror inside the top window, which hinges down to 45 to allow horizontal eye level viewing through a lens in the back of the viewing hood.
Serial no format is <No. *******>.

Type B

February 1953

Y48,000
Zuiko
75mm f2.8

F Zuiko
75mm f2.8
Seiko #0
B, 1 - 1/400

Self-timer
F contact point

Kodak type socket
As I understand it, this dropped the eye level mirror viewer due to patent action by Rollei, using a basic sports viewer through the back/front of the hood as the eye level alternative to reflex viewing.
Serial number format is simply <*******>.
Type B-II

October 1953

Y43,000
Zuiko
75mm f2.8

F Zuiko
75mm f2.8
Seiko #0
B, 1 - 1/400

Self-timer
X contact point

Kodak type socket
Compared to the B the hood was simplified and the socket became the German system. I think this model saw the shift from finely spaced knurling on the focus/wind knobs to the later coarse knurling.

Type A 3.5

November 1954

Y23,000
Zuiko
75mm f3.5

D Zuiko
75mm f3.5
Seiko #00
B, 1 - 1/500

No self-timer
X contact point

German type socket
This cut-price model abandoned Rollei-type bayonet filter/hood - making it distinctive. The Rolleiflex-type setting wheels disappeared in favour of cheaper setting levers on the side of the taking lens escutcheon. The lens drops from six- to four-element design.
Type A 2.8

November 1955

Y23,000
Zuiko
75mm f2.8

D Zuiko
75mm f2.8
Seiko #0
B, 1 - 1/400

Self-timer
X contact point

German type socket
Keeps the general design of the 3.5 A, but Bay-1 filter fitting and self-timer return, with a bigger 2.8 lens at cut price. Costs seem to have been shaved by using the 1/400 Seikosha shutter. As for the 3.5, the "D Zuiko" 2.8 lens with only four elements is deployed.
Type A-II 3.5

June 1956

Y29,000
Zuiko
75mm f3.5

D Zuiko
75mm f3.5
Seiko #00
B, 1 - 1/500

No self-timer
M, F and X contact point

German type socket
The last of the line. The big distinction here is the M-F-X setting lever at the bottom of the lens escutcheon. The self-timer disappears again, but the better Seikosha 1/500 shutter is used again. The price is interestingly higher than the 2.8 model A.