Early in my career I wrote instruction manuals for software. Users would frequently call tech support to ask questions that could answer for themselves would they only Read The F$#@ing Manual, or RTFM. Despite this, I almost always put film into a new-to-me old camera without RTFM. I get away with it most of the time. I did not when I shot this Olympus OM-4T.
The OM-4T, known as the OM-4Ti in some markets, was the last of the professional-grade cameras in Olympus’s wonderful OM series. Olympus introduced it in 1986 and manufactured it through 2002, making it among the last manual-focus 35mm SLRs produced. It’s a terrific camera — after you RTFM to learn how to use it.
It’s solidly made with titanium top and bottom plates, yet it manages to be light and easy to carry. Like all OM-series cameras, it’s small. It’s well featured, beginning with an electronically controlled cloth focal plane shutter with a top speed of 1/2000 sec. and a slowest speed of 1 sec. in manual mode and up to 2 minutes in aperture-priority mode. It meters through the lens in center-weighted average and three spot modes. The viewfinder includes dioptric correction for those of us with aging eyes. An innovative new electronic flash control system allowed flash sync from 1/60 to 1/2000 sec.
The OM-4T takes films of ISO 6 to 3200. Here’s where it’s important to RTFM. Like many SLRs, the ISO setting is around the rewind knob. It only looks like the ISO selector on so many other SLRs — it doesn’t work like them. To select ISO, lift the collar on the outer knob and twist. But unlike every other SLR I’ve ever used the exposure compensation setting moves too. After you select ISO, lower the collar and twist the exposure compensation setting to where you want it. So nonstandard. So much need to RTFM.
I didn’t notice that the exposure compensation was at -2 and proceeded to underexpose my film by two stops. I loaded some ISO 200 color film and set ISO to 100 as this film looks good one stop overexposed. But because the exposure compensation was still at -2, I underexposed it by one stop. Ten frames into my third roll of film I finally RTFM and realized my error. Argh! Thank heavens for the good latitude of the films I shot.
To shoot, move the lever atop the camera to Auto for aperture-priority mode or Manual for manual exposure mode. An LCD display at the bottom of the viewfinder shows exposure information. In manual mode, you’ll see > | < and a row of dashes, along with your shutter speed. It works like a match-needle diaplay: for proper exposure, adjust shutter speed and aperture until the dashes line up with the |. In aperture-priority mode the LCD shows the range of shutter speeds and a row of dashes. Select aperture and press the shutter button down halfway to meter. The row of dashes moves to the shutter speed the OM-4T selects. If the shutter speed would need to be faster than 1/2000 sec, the display shows OVER and the camera beeps.
The star of the OM-4T show is its multi-spot exposure option. In short, you activate it with the SPOT button next to the shutter button. You can meter up to eight spots and the camera averages them. You can also spot meter for the highlights or for the shadows. The OM-4T then applies exposure compensation to bring out detail.
Two SR44/357 button cells power everything. Glory be, an old camera that takes batteries you can buy at any drug store! Without a battery, you can make a photo but only with a 1/60 sec. shutter.
If you like small 35mm SLRs, also check out my review of the original Olympus OM-1 here, of the OM-2n here, of the Nikon EM here, and of the Pentax ME here. If you’re an Olympus fan, see my reviews of the XA here, the XA2 here, the Stylus here, the Stylus Epic Zoom 80 here, and the mju Zoom 140 here. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
The first roll I shot in the OM-4T was my last roll of original Agfa APX 100, expired since November of 1998 but stored frozen until my film freezer died last summer. Not only did I shoot this two stops under, but I may have underdeveloped the film. I used Rodinal 1+50, which the Massive Dev Chart said needed 13 minutes at 20° C. That’s what I did, but later I learned that Agfa recommended 17 minutes for this developer and temperature. Argh! But my scanner pulled good things out of a handful of frames.
I made these images as Indiana was reopening from shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home during these times has let me ride my bike more, and I made most of these photos from the bike with the OM-4T slung over my shoulder and across my torso. The body is so light and small it was an easy companion on the bike.
The viewfinder is big and bright enough for me, even though some other reviewers compare it unfavorably to the OM-1 and OM-2 viewfinders. I found having to look down at the LCD panel to be less comfortable than the needle display on the left side of the OM-2n viewfinder. Also, the LCD was a little laggy. None of this is enough for me to pan the camera. I just liked the OM-2n’s needle better.
The camera has no on-off switch, by the way. Pressing the shutter button halfway activates the camera; the LCD wakes up and gives a reading. The camera turns itself off after a while.
My OM-4T came with a standard microprism/split-image focusing screen. As a system camera, you can swap in any number of other focusing screens if you have them. I prefer split image focusing so I was good go to.
I live in suburbia, but within five minutes on my bike I can be among the farm fields. This old farmhouse probably dates to as early as 1840.
I next shot two rolls of Fujicolor 200. I intended to shoot them at EI 100, but because I’d buggered up the exposure compensation setting I actually shot the first roll and ten frames of the second roll at EI 400. It’s a testament to this consumer-grade film that these images all turned out fine. Fulltone Photo did the developing and scanning.
I made most of these images on a beautiful morning I took off from work. I got on my bike and rode around on country roads four hours. I’ll write a separate post about the red bridge — it’s restored after being mangled by a too-large tractor.
Even though I’m a city boy through and through, I deeply enjoy riding out in the country. It’s peaceful, there’s almost no traffic to contend with, and you get to see lots of great old farmhouses.
I left the 40mm f/2 lens on for this ride. It focuses from 10 inches, making it almost a macro lens.
After I RTFMed and set ISO properly on this OM-4T, I mounted a 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko Auto-S lens and shot the rest of the roll on various bike rides over the next week or so. I can’t imagine riding with many of my other 35mm SLRs as they are so much larger and heavier.
Except for that laggy viewfinder LCD, the OM-4T handled beautifully. The controls all felt well-made and smooth under use.
Rewinding film on the OM-4T is a little different from on the OM-1 and OM-2. Press in the R button atop the camera next to the shutter button. Then unfold the rewind crank and rewind away.
See more from this camera in my Olympus OM-4T gallery.
I had a fine time with the Olympus OM-4T. Because I never fully took to the LCD display, it never disappeared in my hands like the OM-2n did. But this camera passes my litmus test: if it were the only one I could own, I’d shrug and get on with making beautiful images with it for the rest of my life.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.