The Olympus OM-1 was a revolutionary camera that changed the single-lens reflex (SLR) camera market by offering impressive image quality in a compact, reliable form factor with (relatively) small, high-quality lenses to boot. While its design shaped the industry for decades to come, it almost didn’t take on the form factor we now look back on.

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In a recent article on Kosmo Foto, Stephen Dowling explains how the OM-1 was a far different design than what Olympus had originally intended when it showed off a prototype camera dubbed the Olympus OM-X, a modular 35mm SLR camera that looked more like a Hasselblad 500 series medium format camera than the 35mm SLR design we’re now accustomed to seeing.

Much like Hasselblad’s 500 series cameras, the OM-X was modular in that it would’ve allowed users to swap out various parts, including the lens, pentaprism viewfinder, shutter and film back. While we never saw the OM-X leave the prototype stage, late Olympus designer Yoshihisa Maitani, who passed away in 2009, shared the history of the camera in an interview with Asahi Camera back in 2002.

While it’s worth reading the interview in its entirety, here’s a quote from Maitani regarding how he approached the design of the OM-X prototype:

‘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 […] You build it in a different form for snapshots, shooting still life, etc.’

Unfortunately, this concept proved difficult to produce, due to various ‘technical difficulties.’ Since Olympus didn’t want to wait to release the camera, Maitani says he ‘was requested to release something first,’ which ended up being the OM-1, which he describes as ‘a combination of the most popular functions.’

You can read the full article on Kosmo Foto, below:

This is what the Olympus OM-1 could have looked like

About Film Fridays: We recently launched an analog forum and in a continuing effort to promote the fun of the medium, we'll be sharing film-related content on Fridays, including articles from our friends at 35mmc and Kosmo Foto.