l look back with both fondness and frustration at my time working for Olympus Optical in the UK for a short period in the mid 1980’s. Let me start with the fondness theme and a camera commonly called the OM-1.
Originally introduced as the M1 at Photokina 1972, it was the brain child of Yoshihisa Maitani the chief designer. He admired Leica range finder cameras, so choose them as the template for the concept of the Olympus OM (SLR) system. The cameras name was changed to OM1 in May 1973 to avoid any conflict with Leica product naming.
The series were mechanical cameras offering manual exposure control only. That was still the standard exposure technique at the time, and one I personally still use in most situations today
Centre Weighted metering was there as a guide to exposure, using a match needle design, powered by a PX 625 battery. But even without a battery, the mechanics still enabled the camera minus metering to operate.
Included in this was a cloth shutter travelling at speeds between a 1/1000th of a second and 1 second (in full steps_ along with a ‘Bulb’ setting.
Pick up many of the OM models and you will see the distinctive OM shutter speed ring around the lens throat. In creating a ‘SLR’ camera from a range-finder design, the logical place to put the shutter control mechanism was under the mirror box, with the shutter control ring adjacent to the lens mount. Still like it, and think Olympus missed a styling and handling strength in later digital cameras by not keeping it.
To this day I like the fact that OM system cameras allow with one hand control of the aperture, focus and shutter speeds, one behind the other starting at the front of a lens and moving back to the body. And while lookiing through the finder. With little practice, it became second nature. ASA control was placed where many other brands placed the shutter dial – on the top plate – and I thought it worked well there.
Flash synchronisation (sync speed), was a 1/60th of a second as standard. Respectable when you know that many cameras were at the time, still offering maximum sync speeds lower than that. Alongside, if you used flash bulbs (yes I still have some), it was with some combinations possible to synchronise up to a 1/1000th second. FP mode and high speed flash sync while enhanced by it, were not the only within the domain of modern tech.
Initially the camera did not have a motor drive, but this was rectified with the introduction of appropriate contacts on the cameras base, but the camera had to be returned to a workshop. In 1974 the OM1-MD with compatability from the off was introduced. Then In 1979 the camera was developed into the OM1-n, with among other small changes, a flash charge confirmation light inside the viewfinder – the “N” stood for new.
There was no Through The Lens (TTL) flash control that is such a standard today, (or as Olympus later introduced in the OM2 OFTTL), but a ready light when a dedictaed ‘T’ series flash was atatched did appear. If you used the auto flash control of the time – called eh – ‘Autoflash’, the light would then blink to indicate a probable ‘safe’ exposure after a shot was taken.
The camera was available in a chrome or black finish. I could never make my mind up which looked better? Usually most people find they prefer the look of one version more. Common to most brands the black finish always cost a little more though.
But it was the size of the camera – or lack of it – that also had a profound impact on other manufacturers. The cameras (OM-1n) dimensions were 136mm (W), 83mm (H) and 86mm (D). It was a paltry 720g when a 50mm F1.4 was attached. To put that into a needed perspective, other manufacturers were offering bigger, heavier and louder professional models.
But even with this small size, if you ever get a chance, look through the cameras viewfinder. The optical finder magnification is 0.92X (50mm lens focused at infinilty), an amazing large image to focus with and what a strength. I always preferred this, even though not all OM models kept such a high viewfinder magnification. Small camera, big viewfinder and simply beautiful to work with.
The OM1 models would always be in my cameras ‘hall of fame’, whereas some of its stable mates were really a poor option as further posts may discuss.
If you see an OM-1n they can be purchased for decent amounts today I think. And this was a flagship professional camera, with what developed into an amazing system of around 300 components behind it. Mechanical, manual exposure. Along with similar from other brands, real cameras, for real photographers in my book.
It was on the market for longer than many other cameras of the time or since. Testiment indeed to a truly classic camera.