Some designers produce items which are just about ‘perfect’. One such designer was Yoshihisa Maitani who worked for Olympus from the mid 1950’s through to the 1990’s. Influenced by Leica , he designed many superb cameras, amongst them the 1/2 frame PEN cameras, but my particular favourite is the OM1N, my first ‘proper’ camera, and still in active use 35 years later. It’s still by far the best designed camera I’ve used – here’s a brief description.
What’s so special about it? It’s a small, light, all metal mechanical 35mm SLR with only the most basic controls required to take great pictures with the minimal of fuss. The viewfinder image is huge and bright, especially compared to most DSLR’s. The exposure control is manual only – a match needle system indicates the ‘correct’ exposure’. The battery powers only the meter so the camera works perfectly well without any power if you’re happy to guess the exposure.
In addition there’s a mirror lock up for macro or astro photography and access to the huge range of OM accessories – autowinders and motordrives, bulk film backs, an electronic flash system and 14 easily interchangeable focussing screens! The Olympus OM system provided at it’s peak top notch lenses from 8mm to 1000mm in focal length – almost all of them prime lenses. The depth of field preview button is placed on all the lenses at the lower right of the barrel.
In use its amazingly simple and makes you wonder why modern DSLRs are so complex. Exposure is set by changing the shutter speed (round the lens mount throat) and the aperture (in front of the focussing ring) until the needle in the lower left of the viewfinder is in the centre of the bracket. The nice thing is that as you gain experience, you set any anticipated exposure compensation as part of this process – not on a separate dial. All the exposure and focus controls are operated by one hand as part of a fluid, simple process.
Focus precision is achieved with the central split image centre/microprism collar. If you’d like a depth of field preview just press the button on the lower left of any Zuiko lens and the aperture will close to the selected aperture. Shutter speeds (the shutter blinds are made of rubberised silk!) run from 1000th to 1 second plus ‘bulb’ (open as long as you like).
As a camera to learn photography with it’s brilliant – nothing to distract you from the basics as there is nothing but basics….. Most people who’ve borrowed it for a day don’t want to give it back!
Well the battery type is one, which is the now banned 1.35V mercury oxide (E)PX625 battery. However the camera can be converted either by a service engineer (if you can find one) or by using a battery insert which wraps around a 386/301 silver oxide battery and has worked beautifully for me. Batteries last 1 year or more.
The depth of field preview isn’t that useful at smaller apertures as the viewfinder darkens so much but that’s inevitable.
The light seals around the film chamber will have deteriorated over 30 years and will need replacing but this is a very simple and cheap job. Foam around the pentaprism can also deteriorate leading to a blotchy/dark viewfinder – this is more serious and needs some more expensive attention.
Finally of course, the OM system is now no longer in production, which means getting to grips with the second-hand market where some items are rare and expensive, or not available at all. The upside is that a ‘new’ chrome OM1N is around £80 (black ones are more expensive) so even if your old one packs up, picking up a working one isn’t that difficult.
The superb OM lenses go from mid £30 up to £hundreds depending on their rarity, but a working setup with a 28, 50 and 135mm lens, or a few zooms should be around £250 – cheaper than a digital compact! You can use them on your DSLR too with an adaptor with some restrictions (no AF, stop down aperture metering).
All in all, a camera for that ‘pure’ photographic experience – rugged, minimalistic and simple producing great results with no fuss. I’d recommend one to anyone hoping to improve their photography or those wanting try something radically different to a DSLR.
There – I’ve always wanted to do a camera review – hope you like it and thanks for looking.
Very interesting post. I’d love to collect some old cameras. I think my Dad has a few tucked away in the attic somewhere. Smashing images.
Hello Chillbrook – you could do a lot worse than the OM1N – mine’s still in use and shots go to the agency for publishing.
I have this camera, and it produces some of my favorite film photos. Its basically my grab and go film camera, but does wonders.
Hello Lexymeliss – good to hear it – amazing that a piece of 40 year old technology does just as well as the latest cameras!
Not to mention its a beauty to look at 😉
I have an OM-1 that my father-in-law passed down to me. I love it! The match needle meter system is so nice and the viewfinder is huge. Am also a huge fan of the, shutter sound. It just sounds/feels like butter.
That shutter sound is magic! Mine needs the mirror dampener foam replacing so it’s not quite as silky smooth as it was… You’ve reminded me to get that fixed!
A very great camera, nice to shoot with.
Thanks Derek – certainly my favourite – OM2N is a close second place. I might do a quick review of that camera too one day.
Reblogged this on filmcamera999.
I have an OM-1 and I agree it’s a fine camera. It does however take second place in the shooting stakes to my beloved Pentax Me Super.
Each to his own… My brother in law has one and swears by it! The film load mechanism is especially good.
i had an OM-1 back in the day and loved it and still think its one of the best designed
camera’s of all time. i currently use the EP 3, my favorite digital camera, just hoping that
they will come out with a 4
My wife is shooting with one of these at the moment. She really loves it, it has meant her RC35 has taken a bit of a back seat for the minute.
Hello Aware of the Void – glad she’s enjoying it – it’s one of the best (if not the best!)
My first and favorite SLR (or DSLR). I look forward to using it again soon as another digital has died on me. Shooting with the OM1 has always been more fun than digital and based on my last couple of digitals may be cheaper in the long run. Thanks for the review.
I agree completely – much cheaper in the long run. I use my OM gear along with digital kit and it seems to work really well. The OM1 always takes me back to a ‘proper’ photographic experience and keeps my skills sharp!
that’s most interesting, thanks, Bob. My OM-1 is now 38yrs old from new, still functioning. Yes, the body seals have been done, the old foam rotting onto the pentaprism problem has left some marks, but otherwise working, the meter is still OK. Will be hard to find a technician next time nowadays.
I’ve penned a wee piece about my “old trusty” on my Dark Lantern Owen blog page, you might enjoy:
Good to hear from a fellow OM1 user. Mine is starting to develop a ‘jumpy’ meter so it’s off for a service. Found one place in the UK which still does a service – ‘Newton Ellis http://www.newtonellis.com/ so it’s being posted off there in a week or so for complete overhaul. It probably deserves one after 32 years!
Are there any repairers in NZ?
Thanks Owen – nice article. They do look good in black.
Yes there are some film camera repairers down here, however getting scarce now. The chap I have used, has now retired but has kindly attended to my OM-1 recently at his home! (The winding jammed up & also supplied with an old type battery – I haven’t done the batt mod yet.)
Hi Bob – further on the battery issue – I see the following drop-in battery equivalents advertised – have you heard anything about these? http://www.micro-tools.com/store/P-MRB625/Battery-Wein-Cell-Px625-Replacement.aspx
I presume that you use the CRIS adapter – http://www.criscam.com/mercury_battery_adapters.php
The Wein cells didn’t last too long when I tried them, so I went for a battery converter instead (that CRIS adaptor looks just like it). I’m working up to sending the OM1 off for a service where they also convert to use current batteries but I’m reluctant to post it!
Oh that’s interesting, thanks Bob – looks like the adapter is the go then – do you know of other sources aside from CRIS? Cheers, Owen (PS. I’m gradually putting up more OM shots on my page.)
I think I got mine from The Small Battery Company (they still sell them – http://www.smallbattery.company.org.uk/sbc_mr9_adapter.htm). Quite pricy but it’s cheaper than buying endless Wein cells!
very nice review. Thanks a lot!
I picked up a very good OM1n quite by chance, really going for the 28/2,8 lens attached to it.
Took the camera to the OM-Doktor Frank Timman, who checked the times, and found a 1.5V Battery perfectly compensating the 30% tolerance that Olympus found acceptable for their OM1 shutterspeeds.(None of my 6 OM cameras ever shot too fast, ecxecuting 1000/s around 759-850/s)
Well done on finding a good one. That’s some detailed testing, checking the shutter speed! I always hoped the film’s exposure latitude would make up for any inaccuracies on my 34 year old one. Looking forward to seeing some shots (the 28mm f2.8 is a very good lens by all accounts).
the really detailed stuff actually was synchronizing the curtains, wich Mr.Timmann did on the fly. Amazing!
He’s been a professional repairman with Olympus, and is well eqipped with every tool needed for OM and Pen.(Well really all the analog camera stuff from 1970ties to ´80+.)
Curtain synch. can’t be made up by film latitude, and I found all my OM’s out of synch at 1000/s so far, which is quite annoying since you will get a an over/under exposed part in the picture.
The 28mm will have to wait for action until my summer vacation in Austria.
I’m hoping to get some really nice Mountain views.
Meanwhile I’m shooting a daily project with a 50/3,5 Macro: Apple from spring to fall.
By the way: would you share some insight considering favourite film?
The most detailed I found(that’s what I need right now) modern film is Kodak Ektar100.
Agfa vista100 (from Agfa-Gevaert !! expired 2002) is my hot favourite. If stored correctly, this is all I need.
Purely a personal opinion – Ektar is certainly one of the best current films and the only colour film I use these days, preferring to shoot black and white using Rollei Blackbird, Adox (CMS20 or Silvermax) or Ilford PAN F. With b/w I can easily develop the film myself and have complete control from exposure to scan. The surviving C41 processing labs are highly variable in their quality control and I’ve been let down a few times, so for colour photography it’s digital, post processed in DXO Film Pack which is pretty good, if a bit prone to exaggerate film characteristics.
I guess I’m lucky with my old OM1N as I haven’t had any exposure problems, but you have reminded me to get it serviced!
The ‘apple project’ sounds really good (the 50 f3.5 is one of my favourites) – are the results posted anywhere? I’m particularly interested in timelapse at the moment as I’m shooting a two hour timelapse which spans all four seasons at a nearby English Heritage monument.
Hello.i agree its a beautifully engineered camera.silky smooth shutter extra large and crisp viewfinder.its a shame you can no longer get mercury battries for the older cameras.all in all a beautifull camera designed by a master craftsman.
Hi Rob again & m.a.khokhar – indeed, I am considering a new digital presently & the viewfinder experience is disappointing, after yrs being spoilt by an OM1. For me anyway, a good VF is key to ‘engaging’ intuitively when shooting. Cheers, Owen
Good Point Owen,
I’ve just subjectively compared the old OM1N viewfinder with a mighty Canon 5d Mk2, and the Oly is a bit brighter at f4, brighter and larger – the 5D’s viewfinder looks to be around four fifths the size of the older camera. The 6D is around 2/3 the size. Looks like there are still a few things the older cameras do better!
Have been seriously considering the OM-Ds – the EVFs are not bad, definitely an ‘electronic’ image, VF size is just OK (E-M10) to quite good (E-M1). There are some EVF advantages I believe however….Getting off topic sorry 🙂
Agreed! The Om1/2/3/4 were some of the best cameras ever made.
OM 1 is the camera I always regret not having bought in the old times …
Hello Robert – they’re still very good second hand (and cheap too!).
Nice write up. Brought back fond memories of my OM system. I have two Pen Fs which I still use today, a Leica M2, Hasselblad 500CM and a Yashica Matt 124G. All still in action.
The point about the batteries though, you can get fully compatible 1.35v Wein cells from http://www.smallbattery.company.org.uk No messing about!
Love the blog, same theme as mine, great minds and all that. lol.
Hello Chris – looking at your pictures reminds me of time spent walking in the Lakes and Wales 25 years ago – fantastic places.
‘Great minds’ – I’ll have to agree!
Thanks for the comment.
I had 2 wonderful cameras, an OM-1n and an OM2-n in excellent shape, and I unfortunately had to sell them some months back for financial / personal reasons.
Now I absolutely want one again and I wonder if you could tell me a trustworthy source for a good OM-1(n), preferably CLA’d.
I bought some cameras from Ffordes, and had good results, but I don’t want to take any risk.
Thanks and keep up the good work with your site!
Sorry for the late reply – as you may have noticed this blog has become rather dormant lately due to other more pressing projects.
I always buy second hand equipment from Ffordes in Scotland. Everything is checked before sale and there’s a six months guarantee (best check that!). My most used OM2N was from them and works faultlessly. They don’t do CLA but E+ or E++ rated kit has always been excellent. At around £80 for a body it’s not that much of a risk – I’ve paid that for a 77mm filter in the past!
Hope you find a good OM1/OM2.
I guess I’ll but one from them…. Unless…. They have a very clean Canon A1 for the moment….
The FD lenses are cheaper, but I prefer the OM1 or 2
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