OLYMPUS SLR SYSTEM CAMERAS
olympus ftl - the forgotten slr
The FTL has always fascinated me. Historically sandwiched between two landmark cameras, the Pen F series and the OM line I suppose it was never going to be a winner. It always seems like a stopgap camera; only there because the new offering from the great Maitani was not quite ready. And yet the more I’ve studied it the more fond I’ve become and the more I realise that someone at Olympus - or elsewhere - must have spent considerable time and resources developing the FTL.
Introduced in July 1971, with a short production run of some seven months the FTL was deleted in January 1972 to make way for the mighty M(OM)1. Its immediate SLR predecessor, the Pen FT was deleted in May 1971 having been in production for 8 years, being the pinnacle of the half-frame format cameras, but comparatively, not achieving huge commercial success. It is said that Mr. Maitani’s latest project, the full frame SLR M(OM)1 was expected to be announced at Photokina in Germany in the autumn of 1971 but hit some last minute technical issues and was inevitably delayed. If true, and I think it so, the FTL must have been in a well developed state to be put into production at such short notice. Was the strategic management at Olympus caught out by the M (OM) delay?
I must admit to always thinking the FTL was simply a camera made by one of the many other Japanese camera makers of the period and simply re-badged by Olympus. It could be from any of the more common stables as it is so much like the Canon FP/FT; Minolta SR; Ricoh TLS; Topcon UniRex; Yashica J3 etc; I’m sure you could name more. However, to my everlasting shame for thinking such a thought, no lesser mortal than Mr. Maitani put me right on this matter.
Mr MAITANI'S COMMENTS ABOUT FTL:
In response to my question about the FTL’s heritage he confirmed "I did not design it, nor do I know who did." And in response to my question as to who manufactured the FTL he replied "We manufactured the camera and lenses (ourselves)." I have been quite happy with this version of events for several years but just recently I stumbled on a report of an interview with Mr. Maitani in 1976 about the OM system where there is mention of the FTL:
“Interviewer: After the discontinuation of the Pen cameras, there is a full frame SLR called FTL prior to the OM cameras. Do the lenses for the OM cameras still use the design of the FTL lenses?"
Maitani: "Actually, the FTL is not a design of Olympus. It is bought from another company to fill the production vacuum between the Pen and OM cameras. The OM camera was released in 1972 after five years of design, research and improvement. All the lenses are of the latest design. They are completely different from the FTL lenses and also the Pen lenses.”
I admit to a little confusion as I had my version from the horses mouth, so to speak. But after re-reading the interview it seems both versions can sit together happily. Previous experience with the Japanese language has taught me that it is very accurate with little room for misinterpretation. With this in mind the key phrase is “not a design of Olympus, and bought in.” To me this means the design was bought in but the manufacture of camera bodies and lenses was undertaken by the Olympus factory. This means that both versions of FTL heritage can comfortably sit together. For all its ‘stopgap’ nature Olympus could not know how long the M (OM) system was going to take to bring to fruition so they had little choice but to throw some significant resources into the FTL. For the sake of the company’s image if it was to offer a 35mm SLR it had to also offer a 35mm SLR system.
WHAT MAKES THE FTL SPECIAL?
The FTL icon - nothing particularly inspiring but attractive enough with a touch of 3D.
So, what, if anything, makes this camera special? Very little in the sense of world beating technological advances, size, weight, or design. To me it is special because it has one feature that makes it unique within Olympus and that is its use of M42 thread (special) Zuiko lenses. All previous interchangeable lenses had a claw or bayonet mount exclusively designed for Olympus cameras - Ace Rangefinder and Pen F for example - but the FTL uses a slightly modified M42 mount. With this adaptability came the opportunity to accept the ubiquitous M42 lenses produced by so many companies. Does this stem from Pen F which boasted 6 adapters to fit other lens types to its body? Or was it more strategic; designed to make up for an inherently small system by allowing easy access to other systems?
The illustration below shows how the lens design relies on the new lens locking mechanism to hold the screw lens in exactly the right position so the aperture nipple drops into the transfer slider built into the camera lens mount, thus passing aperture information to the internal meter. This odd feature, not especially remarkable but for the way it’s achieved, allows full TTL metering using the 'Zuiko thread' lenses. And, of course, herein lies the sting - you can only use full aperture TTL metering properly with the Zuiko M42 thread lenses; other M42’s lack the aperture nipple on the mount that tells the meter the lens setting.
The FTL body with its unique modified M42 bayonet that enables information to be 'sent' to the meter.
The large body weighs in at 810gm with the standard 1.8 lens - that’s well over a pound and a half and increases further if fitted with the optional 50mm x f=1.4 lens. Compared to the Pen FT it is a heavy lump indeed. There’s no doubt about it, the FTL is a big, heavy and ‘clumpy’ SLR that seems a million miles away from the sylphlike Pen. However, in its own way, it too is a landmark camera. It is the first full-frame SLR from the company. To build on the FTL’s SLR capabilities Olympus had to offer some FTL ‘system’ benefits like a choice of lenses etc. And this was duly done with a modest selection of six lenses and a range of accessories (16 total). LENSES: G Zuiko 28mm x 3.5 Auto W; G Zuiko 35mm x 2.8 Auto W; F Zuiko 50mm x 1.8 Auto S; G Zuiko 50mm x 1.4 Auto S; E Zuiko 135mm x 3.5 Auto T; E Zuiko 200mm x 4.0 Auto T.
Thus committed to the FTL, for however long or short a period, Olympus set about making it as commercially acceptable as it could. Compared to Pen F beforehand and OM afterwards this is a pretty limited show. But FTL had its own icon and branding and also remember each piece had to be designed and tested before manufacture so there was a fair amount of corporate resources being poured into a ‘stopgap’ system. The whole FTL line had to be created. It’s not just the cameras and accessories; it’s all the other stuff, the boxes and packing, the instruction booklets and leaflets, advertising, pricing structure, wholesale chains, warranty, the list goes on. It’s remarkable all this was set up for a ‘system’ that would be available for 7 months only.
THE FTL SYSTEM:
Let’s have a brief look at the FTL system. The FTL Icon is pretty uninspiring and typical of the late 60's early 70's styling. All system boxes are primarily black with monochrome printing and all bear the FTL icon. As with Pen F system instruction booklets are high quality glossy printed but instruction sheets are flimsy single sheets (about 20 gsm). Each carries a date code. Interestingly the body instructions I have are dated August 1970, the majority of accessory instructions are dated October 1970 and the latest (the Magnifier) is dated June 1971. The dates on the instructions offer us an insight into the time frame Olympus were operating in. They were printing FTL Instruction booklets as early as August 1970 and yet the Pen F(T) system stuff was being produced as late as December 1971! From this I think it safe to assume the FTL was ‘in the corporate mind’ as early as January 1970. This rather adds weight to my belief that the M (OM) system was over running its delivery timetable significantly - so much so that the strategic managers had sufficient time to make adequate provision for this ‘stopgap’ camera system. It would be a mystery solved if we knew from which company the design was bought! And I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Maitani had anything to do with the selection of the FTL design? It would be ironic if he did. It is known that Mr. Maitani turned his attention from Pen F to the M (OM) system around September 1967 - so it took a full five years to bring it about. Donning our hindsight spectacles we can forgive a year or so delay, but it must have caused some headaches at Headquarters. I digress!
I have a copy of a Ponder & Best, Inc., (US based wholesaler) catalogue dated August 1971 featuring the FTL system. The prices quoted in the remainder of this article are taken from this. Of note is later in the catalogue a memorandum dated 12th June 1972 announcing the upcoming M-System and the arrangements for delivery and pricing structure for the FTL once the M-System is available. Interestingly, both cameras will be sold side by side though the FTL price is to be lowered significantly. In addition a further slightly apologetic memo thanking FTL dealers for their support over the recent past months selling Olympus SLR products.
In addition to the two standard 50mm's there are two wide-angle Zuiko M42; 28mm x 3.5, (£79.99) and 35mm x 2.8, (£69.99). Both display typical Olympus lens atributes, producing sharp and quite contrasty images. From a collector’s perspective I found the 35mm the hardest to find - it took around 8 years to find one.
Both of the wide angle FTL fit Zuiko's are quite rare.
In addition there are two telephoto lenses. Here is the a 135mm - an E Zuiko 135 x f=3.5 with inbuilt sliding hood.
I've seen a few of the 135mm over the years. Quite Rare.
And the longer reach telephoto. This is the 200mm - again an E Zuiko 200mm x f=4.0 with inbuilt sliding hood.
The 200mm, along with the 35mm is a rare find.
Bellows; Slide Copier; Camera Slider; Reversing Ring; Extension Ring Set (3 rings); Straight Magnifier; Angle Finder; Rubber Eye-cup; Clamp-On Hood for 35mm and both 50mm’s; Microscope Adapter; Case & Lens Cases, Body Cap, Lens Front & Back caps; Assortment of Filters. Some of the accessories are incredibly difficult to find reflecting a short lived and unpopular system. A great challenge for the determined collector.
Here are images of some of the FTL system accessories:
Perfectly usable today having the M42 fitting. I still use mine on occassions.
Seems a little adventurous as no dedicated FTL macro lens was made. I suppose there are plenty of M42 macro lenses that would benefit from an angled magnifier. The straight magnifier seems a complete waste of time.
I've only seen three sets of extension rings in my many years. The reverse ring is the only one I've ever seen.
There are two body variants that I’ve seen and are only differentiated by looking through the viewfinder; slightly different meters have been used and one has a quite thick needle, the other is very fine. I do not know how they fall in the production periods. As to numbers made I can only hazard an educated guess based on several years of observation and these figures are for general guidance only - not definitive;
Bodies: Approx. 26,000 - Value Mint £65; Less than £40-60
Lenses: Total system lenses made approx. 41,000
28mm x 3.5 approx. 1,500 - Value Mint £45; Less than £25-35
35mm x 2.8 approx. 3,500 - Value Mint £40; Less than £20-30
50mm x 1.8 approx. 24,000 Value Mint £25; Less than £15-20
50mm x 1.4 approx. 7,500 -Value Mint £50; Less than £35-45
135mm x 3.5 approx. 3,500 - Value mint £40; Less than £25-35
200mm x 4.0 approx. 1,500 - Value Mint £50; Less than £35-40
I don’t usually value accessories as they tend to be the rarest pieces and much depends (obviously) on current demand. If you are up against a determined collector who is adding the last piece to his collection you might find the price paid is out of all proportion to any perceived worth.
Literature & Advertising Material: I have seen only two pieces of commercial advertising and these were in the collection of another Olympus fan. I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any contemporary glossy advertising pamphlets or brochures - perhaps you could scan them and donate it to the TOC archives? Handbooks are less common and accessory data sheets are rare.
Here's a typical commercial image of the FTL:
CONCLUSION: So, there we have the FTL system in most of its glory. It represents a great challenge for any collector as it takes some determined searching and when complete it fills only one shelf. As a useable camera it is very heavy but capable of excellent results. I once loaned my outfit to a sem-pro friend to copy one of his clients WW2 Air Force slides for presentation to the British War Museum (his OM was being serviced). The results were admirable and both he and his client were delighted at the quality the FTL delivered.
Olympus FTL’s are still in regular use; there are several members of TOC who use them as their first camera. There are a couple more who are dedicated collectors too, searching for those elusive pieces to complete their collections.
© John Foster, 2006 & The Olympus Circle
|Posted March 2006||Copyright © 2006 John Foster|