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:
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!
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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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Do you process your own film? Here in Israel it’s difficult to find a professional film developer sadly so my lovely OM30 has to stay at home in the drawer.
You made really beautiful images 😉
Thank you for this post.
I like mine … and so I understand your appreciation of this camera.
I bought one of these (OM1) when I was a student in 1978 and bought a second body (OM1n) when I’d started work. I confess neither have been used since 2008 when I acquired a digital camera, but I’m seriously thinking about getting them out again.
I found the 75-150 zoom lens to be surprisingly good for portraits when used with Ilford PAN F.
The only issue I had was when wearing glasses the light would enter from behind and skew the reading; a drawback with slide film with 1/2 stop underexposure a risk.
What a looker!!
Out with mine today with a roll of Ektachrome #believeinfilm https://t.co/dcAxAkzQP9
I have a lovely black OM-2n. It’s difficult to criticise Olympus SLRs they are so good.
The old Olympus’s are sharp looking cameras.
Pure mechanical excellence!!
Moi aussi j’ai plusieurs Olympus OM1n deux OM2n (noir et argent) et un OM10,objectif 1:1.4x50mm,1:1:18x50mm et 1 1:4 x 200mm que j’emploi souvent.
Great article, and some fab shots – love your style, you’ve got a great eye for composition. I love my OM2N – it is one of the most beautiful cameras, very stylish and easy to use (also love the matrix pattern on the shutter curtain – functional and beautiful!). I must say it is criminally underutilised simply because I amassed a good collection of lenses for my Canon digital cameras over the years and so, naturally, the Canon EOS film cameras have become my workhorses. None of them has the charm of the OM2N – if only i’d started off with film and with Olympus!
That’s been the camera I’ve used for the last two years!! Amazing camera 🙂 thanks for tagging me Robert Jones
@givemeabiscuit Excellent blog post. I love my OM-2, and have neglected it a bit lately, so will be putting a film in it now.
I’ve owned and used most of the OM1-4 derivatives (except for the OM3) down the years. I used to shoot weddings and portraits with them in the late 70’s / early 80’s as a supplement to my main job. Never once did my OM1n or OM2n let me down. The OM2SP and OM4 tend to chew batteries more than other models – though they are great cameras.
If you’ve got a battery re-calibrated and CLA’d model, then keep hold of it. If you ever want a second body (I used to have B&W in a black bodied OM1n and colour in a chrome OM2n – to tell them apart easily if in a hurry) then I can recommend an OM2n. The main difference is that the OM2n has aperture priority automation and, arguably, a slightly more advanced meter – though I never struggled with either.
Lenses can be variable – given their age. For some reason, I tended to like the OM “silver-nose” variety (earlier model with chrome rims) but I have no scientific reason for that opinion. If you can get one, the 85mm f2 is a great portrait lens – but still pricey. The 100mm f2.8 is a good second choice. I never liked OM zooms other than the 35-70 f3.6 (the f3.6 model is widely regarded as the best version of that focal length). The 24mm f2.8 is also excellent, as is the 21mm f3.5 – but neither is cheap.
As I rarely used flash, |I removed and kept the accessory shoe safe – they have a tendency to crack easily when locking them in place and if you “catch” them on your bag
All in all, the OM / Zuiko system still stands up well compared to the competition. I eventually swapped to Canon (a friend was happy to share some “L” lenses with me) but I’ve spent most of my life using Nikon – purely because of reliability and the huge range / availability of inter-compatible lenses. If you’re ever tempted, the sort of equivalent bodies I’d look at would be the FM2n and FM3A.
I still have an OM2n but the “Auto” mode is a bit wonky – though it works perfectly on Manual. I might have Sendean take a look as I work in the City and I don’t think there’s many companies that will touch OM’s these days.
A place called Sendean cameras in Clerkenwell/Farringdon area. They did the camera & lens. I have no problem with the work they carried out it was great but in hindsight I picked them as an over eager novice and they were near to my office, thus they were not cheap & I probably should have shopped around. Flipside its an investment getting the CLA and I have a camera I trust
Great camera. Where did you get yours cla’d?