I love my rangefinder cameras because they’re generally compact and pack great glass. This made them very popular in the 1950s and into the 1960s – but that popularity began to wane in 1959 when Nikon introduced the F, a fine single-lens reflex camera. It swung the pendulum hard and persistently toward SLRs.
But unlike the once-popular rangefinder, the F and the many other SLRs it inspired were big, heavy, and noisy. Olympus set out to make a quieter SLR of rangefinder proportions, and thus was born the OM-1. Released in 1972, it blazed a trail that many other camera makers, including Nikon, would soon follow. OM-series cameras were produced for the next 30 years and retained a loyal following for a long time, even as the digital SLR grew in popularity. These cameras still have a cult following today.
Two OM-1s joined my collection this year thanks to my friend Alice. (Check out her Web site!) Her father gave her all of his gear several years ago, but she never got around to using it. So she placed it all on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Camera Collection. The first OM-1 has a silver top. The standard F.Zuiko Auto-S 50 mm f/1.8 lens is attached.
Alice’s dad also kept an all-black OM-1 in his camera bag. I attached the Promaster 28 mm f/2.8 lens to it for this shot.
These cameras came with several other lenses, including a Vivitar 70-150 mm f/3.8 Close Focusing Auto Zoom (below), a Zuiko 5 mm f/3.5 Auto Macro, a Portragon 100 mm f/4, and a big Spiratone 500 mm f/8 Mintel-M mirror lens. The bag also contained a Vivitar electronic flash, some lens extenders, a bunch of filters, and other accessories. I’m set for bear.
Looking at the camera from the top, it’s easy to see that its curtain shutter operates up to 1/1,000 sec and that it can be set to use film up to ISO 1,000.
While the OM-1 is a mechanical camera, it does contain two CdS light meters inside the lens and they don’t work without a battery. It was designed to use the dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery. Fortunately I found two in the bag and they both still worked. When they die I’ll just buy Wein cells in that size and get back to shooting.
The light meters don’t drive the OM-1, however. When you look through the viewfinder, a small needle appears near the lower left corner. When you’ve set the aperture and shutter speed for a good exposure, the needle is horizontal, smack dab between the + and – symbols. North of there the photo would be overexposed; south of there, underexposed. On some other OM-series cameras, the meter set the shutter speed for you against your chosen aperture, but of course a photographer needed to cough up extra dough for the privilege.
I didn’t miss aperture-priority shooting very much when I loaded a roll of Fujicolor 200 into the silver-topped OM-1. It was plenty easy to twist the shutter-speed ring on the camera and the aperture ring on the lens until the needle lined up, even with my eye planted firmly against the viewfinder. I attached the F.Zuiko 50 mm f/1.8 lens to start, and took this self-portrait in my car’s rear-view mirror.
Of course, it’s not a camera post in 2011 without a shot of my petunias. The little golden smudge near the top left is my dog.
My friend Debbie came to visit, and we went to the zoo. I attached the Vivitar zoom lens to the OM-1 and off we went. The monkeys were active.
This guy appeared to be deep in thought.
After all these years I’ve been collecting and using vintage cameras, I’m finally starting to think of myself as a photographer. I look at photographs others have taken that I like and am trying to learn from them. I study my own photos and think about ways I could have made them better. One of my big bugaboos is seeing the subject but not the background. I meant to capture the three meerkats in front, but utterly failed to notice the guy standing up in back. Had I noticed him, I would have moved up a little to avoid cutting off his head – and he would have made the shot.
The one time I did wish the OM-1 offered more help was in photographing this bear. Just as I’d get exposure and focus set he’d move quickly away and I’d have to set everything again. This was the only shot I got of him that didn’t have him exiting the frame. I had my Canon PowerShot S95 along too, and though it lacked the deep zoom my OM-1 packed, its auto-everything mode readily captured this active bear.
Only in Indianapolis would the zoo post checkered flags at its entrance.
In the end, I’m thrilled to own these OM-1s with all these lenses and all this gear. I plan to use one with the stock 50 mm lens just for the pleasure of it and as a means for learning how to take better pictures.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out the rest of my collection!