35mm SLRs had become the defacto standard “good camera” by the early 1970s. But by and large they were big and heavy.
Olympus set out to make a smaller, lighter SLR, and thus was born the OM-1. Released in 1972, it blazed a trail that many other camera makers would soon follow. OM-series cameras were produced for the next 30 years and retained a loyal following for a long time. These cameras still have a cult following today.
Deservedly so. Even this many decades after their debut, an OM-1 feels sleek and modern. One in good condition, as mine is, operates with smooth precision. With the standard 50 mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S attached, this is still a formidable kit.
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 1,600.
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. I use 625 alkaline cells in mine. The voltage isn’t quite the same, but they work well enough.
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.
By the way, if you like compact SLRs like the OM-1, also check out my reviews of the Pentax ME (here) and the Nikon FA (here). Not quite as compact but still on the small side are the Canon AE-1 Program (here) and the Minolta XG 1 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.
I didn’t miss aperture-priority shooting very much when I loaded a roll of Fujicolor 200. 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. With the F.Zuiko 50 mm f/1.8 lens mounted I took this self-portrait in my car’s side mirror.
This gem of a lens does nice work up close. The little golden smudge near the top left is my dog.
My friend Debbie came to visit, and we went to the zoo. My OM-1 came with an ugly beast of a zoom lens, a Vivitar 70-150 mm f/3.8 Close Focusing Auto Zoom. This guy seemed deep in thought.
The lens did its basic job of letting me zoom in close to the distant animals. It’s decently sharp and captures good detail, but I’m not wowed by the way it rendered color onto the Fujicolor 200. The 50mm F.Zuiko lens is brilliant in this regard.
The OM-1 calls my name every so often and I must go out with it. Once I took it and the 50/1.8 to the Indiana State Fair and photographed people. It’s not exactly the kind of inconspicuous camera best for street work.
But it handles easily, and that 50mm lens surely loves Fujicolor 200.
Another day I walked around Fountain Square, a hip Indianapolis neighborhood, with the OM-1, the 50/1.8, and Kodak’s BW400CN film loaded. That film’s main advantage was that it was developed in C-41 color chemistry at any drug store. But drug stores don’t develop film anymore, and so BW400CN is no more.
The OM-1 truly fulfills its mission: so light and easy to carry, feels so good to use, gives such outstanding results. I can sling it over my shoulder all day and barely notice it’s there.
If I have a complaint about the OM-1 it’s that the shutter-speed control is a ring around the lens mount, rather than a dial atop the camera as with most SLRs. It takes me half a roll of film to adjust to it each time I pick up the camera. Here we’re back to Fujicolor 200. This is my bike, a 1986 Schwinn Collegiate three speed.
But that’s not a dealbreaker. Even though I’ve focused my SLR collection on my Pentaxes and Nikons, I keep my OM-1 because it’s so brilliant.
My OM-1 also came with a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro lens — it focuses down to just a few inches. I shot some Kodak Gold 200 with it.
Finally, I was in the right place at the right time to capture this butterfly as it paused.
To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus OM-1 gallery.
The OM-1 is a gem, full stop.