The Olympus OM-1 was introduced in 1973 and was originally launched as the M-1, which relatively quickly had to be changed to the OM-1 as Leica felt it was too close to their M series. According to Olympus, it earned acclaim as the world’s smallest and lightest 35mm single-lens reflex camera…
…blah blah blah blah we can all google this background stuff, let me instead tell you why I chose this as my first ‘proper’ 35mm film camera and why I firmly believe it will remain my main goto 35mm film camera. Before I get too far in, here’s what’s covered in this review:
Table of contents
Here’s some background to give you the context on my decision making: at the time of writing I am relatively new to film photography, only starting some 18-24 months ago. I say the OM-1 (OM-1n to be precise), is my first proper film camera as back in the day, photography was not my thing. So, whilst I had cameras they were generally the standard point and shoot variety.
I started film photography, not just for the look of film, but because I felt that getting right back to basics with a film camera would help me learn to take better pictures.
So why did I end up with the OM-1n? My criteria for choosing a camera to start with was as follows:
- It had to be a manual SLR with as little automation as possible, as the point was I wanted to learn.
- It had to affordable as I could quite easily have hated film photography so I didn’t want to waste money.
- It had to be a system where there was still a plentiful supply of good accessories, again at a reasonable price.
- If I was going to buy one, it also had to look good.
- I also hate to carry more than I need (please note: does not apply to my waist-line) so a built-in meter was desirable.
I did some research on the web (yes I typed what film camera to buy in Google) and also looked at what cameras are recommended for students. My choice was narrowed down to either a Canon A-1 (or AE-1), Pentax K1000, Nikon FM10/FM2/FM3a or the Olympus OM-1n.
I discounted the Canon as when I handled one in a shop it seemed heavy to me. I discounted the Pentax for purely superficial reasons i.e. for me the name did not hold the same cachet as the others. I discounted the Nikons as the lenses, whilst fantastic, seemed to hold their value more.
I was already a fan of the way the Olympus looked and had read about photographers such as Jane Bown, who used an Olympus OM1 for the vast majority of her photography. I love her natural light portraits and thus, the camera was purchased from eBay — with a 50mm lens — and eventually sent away for a CLA.
Now, here is an important point about the OM-1n; the light meter is set to run on a 1.35v mercury battery. As you may be aware you can’t get these batteries anymore. There are a number of options that include the use of zinc-air batteries which are designed for hearing aids. In fact, I used these at first but as they lose voltage over time, the meter can become unreliable. It is also possible to use a Weincell but I never tried this.
When I had the camera CLA’d they calibrated it to run on a standard 1.5v battery. Now being no expert, I don’t know if this was the right thing or not. However, using the camera regularly, it seems to have done the trick. More importantly, I am learning more and more about how my camera meters, thus getting used to what the meter is telling me and interpreting it.
Living with the OM-1n
I love this camera and do truly believe it will be my 35mm camera system for life.
Being manual, the camera is simple to use. Load the film, set your desired ISO and away you go. When you press the shutter there is a reassuring click and it is quieter than other cameras I have heard. Bringing the camera up to my eye, my hands intuitively fall into the right place: right index finger over the shutter, left-hand on the lens barrel.
It’s very easy to feel where you are and thus change the aperture and/or shutter speed whilst holding the camera to my eye without confusing which dial is which. Interestingly, the OM-1n is one of only a few 35mm SLRs to have the shutter speed dial around the lens mount!
The lenses I have are (in my opinion), sharp and work well through their various apertures. The 50mm at f2.8 produces beautiful images with great subject separation.
I currently have two prime lenses in my system, a 50mm f/1.8 and a 28mm f/2.8. I did have a 135mm f/3.5 but sold it, as it was just a little bit too long for me. I’m not against longer lenses and am currently looking out for a 100mm. To me, the greatest advantage of the OM system is there are many lenses — prime, macro, tilt/shift and zooms — any they’re reasonably readily available at a good price. There is a fisheye lens, which is quite sought after but costs a lot!
I have also just purchased an original eyecup it can be difficult to see the light meter reading through the viewfinder in bright light.
Firstly there are a lot of duds out there. As with any purchase, do your research, know the price you want to pay and don’t rush…they are always coming onto the market.
With lenses, it is the standard advice — check for scratches, haze and fungus — but what I have noticed when looking for lenses is that there does seem to be more than usual amount with dust in the inner elements so look carefully.
When loading film (this could be relevant for all cameras and let’s face it, my error also), load it carefully. I have had more than a couple of rolls not loaded properly. More so, I have had a couple of rolls, get stuck mid-roll. This is normally preceded by me noticing that the film rewind lever is sticking out when it should not be. As an aside, when working correctly, the film rewinds smoothly with little effort and you can feel when it has fully wound back into the canister.
Other than these, I have not noticed any real downsides. It is a small, light and beautifully designed camera. It feels good in the hand and made to last. The viewfinder is large and bright. It is also one of the few early SLRs with mirror lock-up and there is a fantastic range of accessories still available out there.
Carrying the OM-1n
I purchased a Gordy wrist strap as I don’t like neck straps. It’s a great strap, looks good on the camera and I walk around with the camera hanging off my wrist all the time. Also as the camera is relatively small I can walk around with it on my wrist with the camera in my hand and most people don’t notice I have the camera with me.
The camera is my constant companion now as it looks great, it feels right and I have had no issues with lens quality. In hindsight should I have got an OM2/3/4 with the added advantage of upgrades such as spot/multi-spot metering, etc.
It’s possible a more advanced body would have made my journey into film photography a bit easier, however, the point was to learn and with this camera – aside from the powered meter – it works with no need for batteries.
The final clincher for me was when I bought a second OM1 body for those times I have loaded Fuji Velvia 50 in my camera and then realised I am in England so can’t shoot it more than one hour a year! It was as beautiful, I had it CLA’d and it worked like a charm but I was so taken with my original OM1 body I felt like I was cheating on it, which showed me how attached I had become to my OM-1n and how we were going to continue this journey together.
Now please don’t buy into the OM system as I don’t want the prices rising………
Olympus OM-1n technical details
|Camera name||Olympus OM-1n|
|Camera type||Interchangeable lens SLR|
|Manufacturer||Olympus Optical Co. Ltd (Japan)|
46mm flange distance
|Lenses||40+ covering 8-1000mm
Including prime, zoom, tilt/shift, macro and fisheye
All standard lenses have a closest focus of 45cm
x0.92 magnification / 97% coverage
14 interchangeable focus screens
|Shutter||Mechanical horizontal focal plane
1 sec - 1/1000th sec
Shutter release includes cable release thread
|Metering||TTL (CdS cell)
ASA 25 to 1600
Match needle in viewfinder
Meter shows +/-3 stops of exposure
|ISO / ASA||Manually set
ASA 25 - 1600
|Flash||X and FP-sync|
|Wind / Rewind||Single stroke - 150 degrees
Dual lock film back
Counter resets after black is closed
|Power||1.35v mercury battery or alternative|
|Finish||Silver with black leatherette|
|Weight||430g excluding lens|
(WxDxH - mm)
|136 x 83 x 50|
|Accessories||Optional motor drive (required factory alteration, or OM-1MD)
250 frame bulk load back
Various eyecups, diopter lenses and right angle attachments
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