Notes about the Olympus Om1

Having recently bought an OM2, my head was recently turned by the Olympus OM1, a classic 1970's film SLR camera which offers a complete manual experience, made famous by such classic film photographers as Jane Bown.

Jane Bown worked almost all of her photographic career with one, shooting some of the most iconic portrait photographs for the Observer newspaper almost always in black and white and mainly with Kodak Tri-X film.

Olympus OM1
Olympus OM1

What really drew me to the OM1 is the fact it's an all metal, mechanical 35mm SLR offering the most basic controls for taking photographs. Set the aperture, set the shutter speed based on the ISO of the film and in the viewfinder a needle with an up or down arrow shows if you're in the range for a correct exposure.

The battery required runs just the meter meaning the camera works perfectly without power if you can guess the required exposure.

What’s special about it?

It’s Small & Light All Metal Body Beautiful Looks Fully Mechanical Basic controls to take great pictures

With regards to similarities to the OM2 the viewfinder found in the OM1 is big, in fact it's huge and bright too. It offers a 97% coverage view on what you're capturing. Even compared to many modern digital SLR's the OM1 viewfinder provides a big, bright, airy feel. In addition the mirror features a lock up option making it ideal for astro or macro photography.

Olympus OM1 Top Plate
Olympus OM1 Top Plate

In real terms the OM2 provides all these features, along with the option of aperture priority shooting. It built on the success of the OM1, however there is something special about shooting a fully mechanical camera that makes you think more about the photographs you want.

The drawbacks to owning an OM1 today are minimal, but still present. Some models suffer from the top prism foam breaking down over time, bearing in mind many OM1's are 30-40 years old, leading to particles dropping into the camera body and viewfinder area and requires replacement of the prism. As with any old film camera attention needs to be paid to the light seals which may require attention, but is a relatively simple DIY job.

The battery required to run the meter is an old Mercury cell battery, long since discontinued, meaning you rely on batteries such as costly wein cell batteries which can prove expensive or look for a conversion by a specialist allowing the camera to run on easily obtainable SR44 batteries. Personally I favour the latter option meaning once done, it's a forget option.

Olympus OM1 Front On
Olympus OM1 Front On

Allied to owning an OM1 is the big selection of Olympus lenses available for the OM1. Most OM1's shipped with the excellent 50mm f/1.8, and on top of this a wide range of lenses all providing high quality optics are available at little cost in comparison to today's latest digital lenses.

There's certainly a resurgence in film photography at present, and the OM1 is more sought after than ever before. Finding a good working example isn't difficult and with that in mind you have the basics for an excellent film camera body capable of offering high quality results.