Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus OM-1

Butterfly

Why have I not used my Olympus OM-1 more? This is such a wonderful camera — compact, precise, capable. It sparked the SLR fever that has so heavily influenced my collection. Could my subsequent SLR promiscuity simply have kept me from loving this camera fully?

Olympus OM-1

Probably. But I also know I’ve hedged on using it because I never got used to setting shutter speed on the lens barrel. What a wealth of great gear I have that this one little thing led me to favor other SLRs. But really, this is my only gripe. The OM-1 otherwise feels like a luxury item in my hands. Everything about this camera oozes excellence.

Peppy Grill

I own two OM-1 bodies, this minty silver-topped body (review here) and a slightly worn all-black body (review here). I made the above shot with the silver top on Kodak BW400CN, and the shot below with the black top on Fujicolor 200, both with the 50mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko lens.

Schwinn Collegiate

While I shot the silver-topped one this time, I’m including both bodies in this evaluation. They both stay or they both go. These cameras came to me with a bunch of lenses from the father of a dear friend, and I want his whole kit to be a single unit. With that, I mounted the close-focusing 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens that came with the kit, dropped in some Kodak Gold 200, and went looking for little flowers to shoot. I don’t know why this little blue chicory flower came out purple, but I don’t care, I love the photo.

Chicory

I made these photos as summer was ending. There were plenty of little flowers left to photograph.

Fall flowers

I even moved in close to this railroad spike on some abandoned tracks. I love the colors this lens picked up in the blurred background. I’m not sure my Pentax or Nikon lenses would have seen them.

Rail nail

You can use a macro lens for normal work, too. This one acquitted itself well.

L O V E

The 50/1.8 and the 50/3.5 Auto Macro were the only Olympus Zuiko lenses in the kit. He also owned a 70-150mm f/3.8 Vivitar Close Focusing Auto Zoom, a 100mm f/4 Portragon, and a big 500mm f/8 Spiratone Mintel-M mirror lens. I’d never shot some of these lenses, so I tried them this time on a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. First, here’s a big green highway sign that is about a half mile away from where I was standing. I had to put the camera on a tripod to steady it enough for this shot, which shows the 500mm Spiratone’s resolving power. Which is only okay, by the way. But in its day it was an inexpensive way to get a long lens.

East

Spiratone was a mail-order house for inexpensive photographic accessories. The 100mm Portragon lens is also a Spiratone product. It was meant for portraits, obviously, but I didn’t have anybody handy so I just shot stuff with it. It created an out-of-focus effect around the center of the image. The best of my Portragon shots was of this Subie’s snout.

Subie snout

I finished off the roll with the 50/1.8. I placed the OM-1 on my tripod, set the self-timer, and got this photo of me in our front yard.

Posed under the tree

Finally, I moved in close to these blue seed balls for one last 50/1.8 photo.

Blue ballies

To see more work from this camera, check out my Olympus OM-1 gallery.

The OM-1 almost makes up for its awkward shutter-speed ring by placing a rewind release on the camera’s front. You turn it to the side and then crank to rewind. Most SLRs place a release button on the camera bottom, and in most cases you have to hold that button in the entire time you’re rewinding. It’s awkward. The OM-1’s system is so easy in contrast.

While I’m going to focus the SLR portion of my collection on Pentax and Nikon, I won’t part with my OM-1s. I feel like I’m this kit’s chosen steward. And they’re just so lovely to use, weird shutter-speed ring notwithstanding. And so this gear stays in my collection.

Verdict: Keep

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31 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus OM-1

  1. That Peppy Grill shot really shows why the Olympus lenses find so much favor with photographers. I have several of the ultra-compact Olympus cameras which I greatly value, but have never found my way to the OM line. I guess the main reason for that is that they are seldom available at the low prices I am willing to pay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the OMs are not inexpensive. I would not own one were this pair of bodies (with all those lenses) not gifted to me.

      That Peppy Grill shot really does show this lens’s abilities. Such a nice shot. Also shows how good the BW400CN film could be.

      Like

  2. Some lovely photographs Jim, especially with the 50s.

    I’ve never had an OM1, the only OM I had was a 40, which was pretty impressive in all aspects. I sold it on when I moved away from Olympus kit (having originally bought the 50/1.8 to use with my Sony NEX) and focused on other mounts, mostly Pentax and M42. You rarely hear anything bad about the single digit OMs though.

    By the way, does your bike have a rear coaster brake? Confused me that you only have one brake lever, and then that’s on the wrong side (all the bikes I’ve had have the left brake lever operate the back brake, the right one the front brake).

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    • This OM-1 is a real jewel. If you ever get a chance, shoot one.

      My 1986 Schwinn Collegiate does indeed have a rear coaster brake and front handbrake, with the brake lever on the left. Schwinn did things their own way. This is probably my forever bike. It’s not great in any measure but it fits and I love to ride it. I had it mechanically restored about … well, I’ve lost track of how many years ago. 8 maybe. Here’s the post I wrote just after I bought it.

      https://blog.jimgrey.net/2009/07/20/legs-of-steel/

      Like

  3. My Olympus OM-2s was my camera love. I had owned other cameras before it and many other after, but none matched the OM-2s. Unfortunately, I left it in my car when it died on I-465. When I went to pick up the car after it was towed away, the camera was gone. All the good things you said about the OM-1 I found true in the OM-2s, except I didn’t mind the shutter ring as quirky as it was.

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  4. Puh, … I’m glad you kept it … you made me worry!

    Those single digit OMs are really wonderful pieces of camera technology / history and they are still today … keepers ;)

    Used an OM-2sp and the OM-4ti so far.

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  5. Great images Jim. So glad you have decided to keep the OM’s. I bought my first one (OM2n) secondhand in 1990 just before my first visit to the USA. Soon got used to the shutter speed setting, probably a bit easier on the OM2n. Must lookout for a 50mm Macro.

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  6. I used the Olympus OM system in my business as a commercial and documentary photographer from 1979 to 1992. Did several books with them, and from 1988 to 1992 carried them to 27 countries on five continents doing documentary photography for missions and humanitarian organizations. Definitely the best years of my life.

    The Olympus system is still my all-time favorite system, and the OM2n is my all-time favorite camera. I still have two of them. Unfortunately, by the early ’90s aging eyes made it necessary to switch to an autofocus system. I held on to my Olympi,in hope that they would develop a professional-level autofocus system, but ultimately and reluctantly had to switch to Canon.

    Like

    • I worry a lot about my middle-aged eyes, already not what they were a few years ago, deteriorating to the point where I can’t use my manual-focus cameras anymore. Fortunately, I have a Nikon N90s autofocus camera that is really wonderful, and could be my go-to camera after my eyes do peter out too much for manual focus.

      I’ve got to try an OM2n!

      Like

  7. jon campo says:

    Good call Jim. I have a lot of fun with my OM’s I have had one OM-1 since my college photography class in 1982, and have only had it serviced once. The lenses though I have had more trouble with. You got some very nice pictures there, The shot of the berries is my favorite.

    Like

  8. Hi Jim:

    I too like the OMs–even the double-digit ones (the OM-40 is underrated in my estimation). The macro lens is almost worth the price of admission alone (I have one as well).

    Two small points to add to yours. One, the rewind release is especially appreciated if you use a tripod a lot–you don’t have to take the camera off your tripod to change the film. Second, there’s a certain logic to having the shutter speed where it is–one hand operates the shutter and aperture settings, the other the film advance and shutter release. I kind of like it myself.

    Good write up!
    Gary

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  9. windswept007 says:

    I sold mine, and the om2. I decided to keep the om4 and my contax slrs. My om1 and 2 were just sitting there staring at me. I didn’t want them seizing up, so gave them up.

    Like

    • That’s a real thing. These cameras aren’t made to sit on the shelf. That’s a worry I have about all the gear I own — too much, far too much, to use enough to keep running.

      Like

      • windswept007 says:

        That’s what ultimately prompted my sales. I just wonder how far to go. There are some I don’t use, but don’t want to give up…am I allowing them to sit and rot.

        Like

  10. The OM’s were another series I admired in my younger days but could never afford. When I was looking for an A priority camera to complement my FM2 I was very tempted by the OM4 but then my XD turned up. I’m still tempted when I see them popping up for sale but I can;t really justify another SLR and another lens mount. Maybe if I sell a couple of the rangefinders I might persuade myself that it’s okay.

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  11. I’m actually kind of surprised you kept this Jim! First time I’ve been stumped! I think we share the same feelings on the OM-1. To me it also feels “luxury” as you say, almost too “perfect” a creation so I don’t use it as much, not because I feel it’s fragile or anything but because I gravitate towards the oddballs in my collection haha! But the OM-1 is no doubt a classic.

    Like

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