Olympus Eye 44

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The Olympus Eye 44 (オリンパス・アイ44) or Olympus Eye Flex (オリンパス・アイフレックス)[1] is a 4×4cm TLR camera with automatic exposure, made by Olympus as a prototype in 1959, in two versions.



The release of the Baby Rolleiflex in 1957 and that of various 4×4cm Brownie models created a brief vogue for 4×4cm cameras. Auto-exposure cameras in that format appeared in the US in 1958–59, with the Bell & Howell Electric Eye 127, Revere Eye-Matic EE 127 and Kodak Brownie Starmatic.

In that context, Japanese manufacturers undertook research on similar auto-exposure cameras. Yashica announced the Future 127 4×4cm prototype in March 1959, and Olympus followed with the Eye 44 TLR a few months later. At the period, the 4×4cm camera boom was already coming to an end, and both the Yashica and Olympus were shelved. The experience gained with the Eye 44 was used for later Olympus auto-exposure models, such as the 1960 Olympus Auto Eye and 1961 Olympus Pen EE.

Development and announcement

The Olympus Eye 44 was developed from 1958 by Satō Masaaki (佐藤正昭)[2].[3] The external design was reportedly drawn by Toyoguchi Katsuhei (豊口克平)[2] of the Industrial Products Institute (製品科学研究所) of the AIST (工業技術院, Agency of Industrial Science and Technology), who was occasionally working for Olympus as a consultant.[4]

The camera was presented to the press on May 6, 1959 in the Shiseidō Kaikan building, the same day as the Olympus Pen,[5][6] It was featured in the June issue of various Japanese magazines;[7] the column published that month in Shashin Kōgyō, reproduced above, says that the name "Olympus Eye 44" was provisional only.[8] The July issue of the same magazine has various articles devoted to 4×4cm cameras, again featuring the Eye 44;[9] and the July issue of Olympus Photography has an article on the camera too.[10] The Eye 44 was no longer mentioned after that date.

It is said that none of the two versions was ready for production and that the camera was in need of further development, whereas the market for 4×4cm cameras was dwindling, leading to the abandon of the project.[11] According to Maitani Yoshihisa[2], who developed the Olympus Pen that was announced the same day, the Eye 44 project was already abandoned when it was shown to the press, but was nonetheless presented "as a last bloom",[12] certainly to stir attention and test the reaction of the public before releasing the Auto Eye and Pen EE.

General description

The Olympus Eye 44 has the typical TLR shape. The lenses are contained in a fairing, and are moved back and forth for focusing by turning a knob on the photographer's left. The shutter is cocked simultaneously with the film advance,[10] and released by a button at the bottom, tripped by the right finger. The rest of the front plate above the viewing lens is occupied by a large honeycomb window for the selenium meter. The viewing hood contains a magnifying lens and can be turned into a sports finder by raising a flap, engraved EYE FLEX OLYMPUS. There are strap attachments on both sides, under the hood.

The film runs from top to bottom, a configuration that was deemed better for film flatness[8][13] — this issue was particularly important for a camera using 127 film, prone to severe curling because of its narrow spools. The pressure plate is made of glass, for the same reason.[14] The L-shaped back is hinged to the top, and contains a red window. It is opened by turning a small knob on the left side, towards the bottom, next to the focus knob.[14] The tripod thread is at the front, in the main body casting.[15]

Eye 44 f/3.5, shown to the press

The prototype shown to the press is sometimes described as the Eye 44 A. This name was not used in the press at the time, but was used in an article by Sakurai Eiichi (桜井栄一)[2] in the early 1980s;[10] it was perhaps used as an internal code by the company.

The Eye 44 A has a C.Zuiko 60/3.2 viewing lens and a D.Zuiko 60/3.5 taking lens[16] — the letters "C" and "D" indicating that the lenses respectively have three and four elements. The film is advanced by a knob, and the advance control is fully manual, via a red window.[10][17]

The shutter is a Seikosha-SLV, clearly labelled as such under the taking lens. It provides B, 1–500 speeds, freely selected by the user and are displayed inside a window above the viewing lens.[8] The position of the speed control is unclear: it might correspond to the index visible next to the taking lens, the lever visible underside the lens casing being perhaps used for manual shutter reset (see below).

The film sensitivity is selected from ASA 10 to 800[8] at the bottom, opposite the release button. The accessory shoe and flash socket are on the camera's left side, near the focus knob. There is an M/X/V selector for flash synchronization and control of the self-timer, on the side of the taking lens, above the ASA sensitivity control.

The taking aperture is automatically selected by the camera. The mechanism relies on a single meter coil, placed at the bottom.[18] When the shutter is wound, the diaphragm is closed to the minimum f/16 aperture, and a spring is charged at the same time.[18] Before tripping the shutter, the photographer must press a button situated on the left of the lens casing, in front of the focus knob, to release the spring-powered diaphragm mechanism.[8][18][19] The movement of the blades is slowed by a gear train, producing a distinct whirring sound, and stopped by the meter needle; the diaphragm is thus opened to the correct aperture.[19][18] The release button is blocked if no appropriate aperture can be selected because of insufficient or excessive light.[8] In that case, the user has to reset the shutter by hand before using the diaphragm control again.[8]

After its original presentation to the press, the Eye 44 A has never surfaced again, and its current fate is unknown. At least one picture shows taking lens number 100012 or 100013,[20] perhaps indicating that a dozen lenses were made to the same specifications. This may lead to speculation that more than one prototype was built, though this is yet unconfirmed.

Eye 44 f/2.8, surviving prototype

The other prototype was never announced to the public, but remains in the collection of the Olympus company. It is sometimes called Eye 44 B, after the same article by Sakurai Eiichi.[10] Pictures of the camera were first published in an article by Shirai Tatsuo in the late 1970s,[21] and at least one colour picture is available on the website of the company. The body has a blue and silver finish, with gray leatherette on the sides — the trend for coloured 4×4cm cameras was set by the Baby Rolleiflex, and the Minolta Miniflex is another example of a 4×4 TLR with an innovative two-tone design.

The Eye 44 B has four-element D.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 lenses, with serial number 100001 for the taking lens and 100002 for the viewing lens;[22] these were certainly the only two lenses produced to these specifications.

The film is advanced by a lever on the right, and film advance is semi-automatic,[17][23] The first exposure is set via a start mark,[10] but the back nonetheless has a red window, either because the part is common to the Eye 44 A,[24] or to use as an exposure counter. A rather large roller is visible inside the camera under the exposure chamber, perhaps to control the auto-stop mechanism.

The shutter is a Seikosha-S giving B, 1–500 speeds in geometric progression. The camera can work both in shutter-priority automatic or in manual mode. The speed and aperture are selected by two indexes, symmetrically placed on the sides of the taking lens. The aperture scale, placed on the left as viewed from the front, goes from 2.8 to 16 and has an AUTO position past the minimum setting. The ASA sensitivity is selected by a small index at the bottom, and is displayed in a small window under the taking lens. There is a window above the viewing lens, that contains a needle indicating the aperture in manual mode.[18]

There is a rotating ring concentric to the taking lens, used as a flash exposure calculator. It has a distance scale from 1 to 10m, placed along the aperture scale and indicating the correct aperture at a given distance for flash photography. This scale is properly positioned by the photographer via a yellow scale of guide numbers, from 7 to 80, according to the flash unit and film sensitivity. The shutter name SEIKOSHA–S is inscribed at the bottom of the rotating ring, and the M/X synch selector is placed next to it. The synch post itself is placed on the front plate at the bottom right, opposite the shutter release.

The auto-exposure mechanism of the Eye 44 B is very different from that of the model A. It has a two-blade diaphragm and two different meter coils, at the top and bottom, each directly coupled to one of the diaphragm blades.[25] This system is similar to that used on the low range American "Electric Eye" still and movie cameras.[19][17] The selected speed and ASA sensitivity are electrically transmitted to the coils, by variable resistors.[14] The needle placed above the viewing lens and used for manual aperture control is directly attached to the top meter coil and diaphragm blade.[25]

The Eye 44 B has a curious combination of advanced features — f/2.8 lenses and manual mode — with a rather backward auto-exposure mechanism. This explains why it was not shown to the public,[26] and might indicate that it was made slightly before the other model.


  1. The name "Olympus Eye 44" was used in the original press release, notably in Shashin Kōgyō June 1959, p.594, where it was presented as a provisional name. Sakurai, p.104 of Zuikō yawa says that the camera was called "Olympus Eye 44" and its provisional name was "Olympus Eye Flex", which is also the name engraved on the viewing hood. The camera was never released anyway, and no definitive commercial name was ever applied.
  2. The name is given in the Japanese order, with family name followed by the given name.
  3. Shirai, p.100 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte, quoting Maitani Yoshihisa.
  4. Shirai, p.105 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  5. Shirai, p.98 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  6. The chronology of the Olympus official website says 1958 by mistake.
  7. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.380.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Column in Shashin Kōgyō June 1959, p.594.
  9. Kitano, pp.63–4 of Shashin Kōgyō July 1959, and Matsuda, pp.68–71 of the same.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Sakurai, p.104 of Zuikō yawa.
  11. Sakurai, p.104 of Zuikō yawa.
  12. Shirai, pp.104–5 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  13. Sakurai, pp.104–5 of Zuikō yawa.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Shirai, p.106 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  15. The configuration of the back and bottom sides is well known for the f/2.8 camera only; no picture is available for the f/3.5 model. The column in Shashin Kōgyō June 1959, p.594, confirms the position of the tripod thread on the f/3.5 camera.
  16. Column in Shashin Kōgyō June 1959, p.594. The available pictures confirm the name C.Zuiko and f/3.2 maximal aperture for the viewing lens (the most legible reproduction is in Tanaka, p.16). The mention of two D.Zuiko 60/3.5 lenses in Shirai, p.101 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte, in Sakurai, p.105 of Zuikō yawa, and in various other sources is a mistake.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Shirai, p.101 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Shirai, p.102 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Sakurai, p.106 of Zuikō yawa.
  20. Picture reproduced in Tanaka, p.16.
  21. Shirai, p.97–106 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  22. The numbers are notably visible in the pictures in Francesch, p.79.
  23. Column on p.59 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.20.
  24. This is suggested in Shirai, p.106 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Shirai, pp.101–2 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte.
  26. Sakurai, pp.106–7 of Zuikō yawa.


Original documents

  • Kitano Kunio (北野邦雄). "44-han fushin no gen'in" (44判不振の原因, Reasons for the little success of 4×4cm format). In Shashin Kōgyō no.87, July 1959. Pp.63–4.
  • Matsuda Fumirō (松田二三郎). "Kokusan 44 kamera o kentō suru" (国産44カメラを検討する, Investigating Japanese 4×4cm cameras). In Shashin Kōgyō no.87, July 1959. Pp.68–71.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.86, June 1959. "Orinpasu Ai 44 (kashō)" (オリンパス・アイ44[仮称], Olympus Eye 44 [provisional name]). P.594.

Older historical account

  • Sakurai Eiichi (桜井栄一). Zuikō yawa: Orinpasu kamera gaishi (ズイコー夜話・オリンパスカメラ外史, Zuiko night talks: Unofficial history of Olympus cameras). Gendai Kamera Shinsho (現代カメラ新書) 86. Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1979. ISBN 4-257-08086-8. Pp.98–110.

Recent sources

  • Asahi Camera (アサヒカメラ) editorial staff. Shōwa 10–40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10–40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935–1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7. Item 1168.
  • Francesch, Dominique and Jean-Paul. Histoire de l'appareil photographique Olympus de 1936 à 1983. Paris: Dessain et Tolra, 1985. ISBN 2-249-27679-X. Pp.43–4 and 77–9.
  • Lewis, Gordon, ed. The History of the Japanese Camera. Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography & Film, 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1 (paper), 0-935398-16-3 (hard). Pp.98–9.
  • "Orinpasu kamera shisakuki 2-shu" (オリンパスカメラ試作機2種, "Two experimental Olympus cameras"). Anonymous column about the Olympus Standard and Olympus Eye Flex. Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no. 20, 25 March 1992. No ISBN number. Orinpasu no subete (オリンパスのすべて, special issue on Olympus). P.59.
  • Orinpasu-ten — oputo-dejitaru-tekunolojī no kiseki (オリンパス展・オプトデジタルテクノロジーの軌跡, Olympus exhibition, the tracks of opto-digital technology). Tokyo: JCII Camera Museum, 2005. (Exhibition catalogue, no ISBN number.) P.24.
  • Shirai Tatsuo (白井達男). "Orinpasu Ai 44" (オリンパス・アイ44, Olympus Eye 44). Pp.97–106 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte (幻のカメラを追って, Pursuing phantom cameras). Gendai Kamera Shinsho (現代カメラ新書). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1982. ISBN 4-257-08077-9. (First published in Kamera Rebyū / Camera Review. no.5, May 1980.)
  • Tanaka Masao (田中政雄). Nigan-refu no hanashi (zenpen)" (二眼レフのはなし[前編], TLR stories [first part]). Gendai Kamera Shinsho (現代カメラ新書) no.68. Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1980. No ISBN number. P.16. (Shows a better than average picture of the Eye 44 A.)
  • Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Item 2206.


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