What to check before buying an Olympus OM-1?

Olympus OM-1 was my favourite camera for a long time. Once in a while I’m considering about buying one again. There are at least few tips that I’d give to myself before seriously purchasing one, based on my previous experience with it. 

As you know, camera reviews typically only revolve around specs and hype, but not very often they mention what can go wrong. I thought I’d take a step back, be a bit of buzz kill, and let you know at least few important faults to look out for. 

General precaution

First of all, I’d give the same advice as buying any 40-year old camera — just remember they’re old. Mechanical cameras are often praised for withstanding the test of time so well, but that doesn’t mean they’d necessarily still work. What it means, is that they most likely can be repaired and they may very well work after being buried in dust for decades. 

Depending on how you’ll acquire the camera, you may want to prepare for getting it serviced. If your OM-1 is a barn find, I’ll tell you what to expect from it, because there are some typical faults. If you want to avoid some headache, buy one that has been professionally overhauled or CLA’d.  

I’m listing these cautions based on my own experience, but of course there are a million additional ways a camera could fail. 

Olympus OM-1 — one seriously good film camera

1. Prism foam fail

Underneath the top plate, between the prism, and the brackets that hold it in place, there are strips of cushioning foam, that gets sticky over time (Much like old light seals.) This substance will damage the silver mirroring of the prism and make the viewfinder look like complete crap. A prism replacement is often required. 

A YouTube channel called Fix Old Cameras has an episode on cleaning the prism, that you may want to check out.

2. Failing light meter

Light meters are known to fail over time and OM-1 is no exception. Mine came with broken meter as well. It was repairable, but of course annoying none the less. Luckily the camera is completely mechanic so if you are planning to sunny 16, you can still shoot OM-1 without a functioning light meter.  

3. Full metal jammage

My OM-1 jammed sometimes pretty badly and I’ve heard several other users experiencing the same issue. Sometimes the camera jams altogether, which I found to have something to do with the motor drive port’s lid (which my camera featured). The lid, when closed, seems to sit too close to the underlying gear and if at all loose, may make contact with it, causing a gear jam. I taped my motor drive port shut, that it wouldn’t rattle and didn’t experience this jam again. 

4. Slipping film advance gear(s)

My camera might’ve had some loose gears, because sometimes the film advance slipped and didn’t actually advance the film as far as it should’ve have. That caused the shutter to not go off, as the film needs to be fully advanced. This didn’t always happen but often enough to be a bit annoying.

Both of these jams occurred ever after getting my camera CLA’d, which was a complete bummer. 

5. Light seals, batteries and all the usual stuff… 

Probably goes without saying, since many old cameras are prone to have failing light seals. OM-1 isn’t an exception and the original seals most likely will need to get replaced. 

Also, remember that Olympus OM-1 comes from the era of mercury batteries that are no longer available. Even though replacements can be found easily, it is worth bearing mind that you’ll be having sweats over wrong voltages and fiddling around with battery adapters. 

Like I mentioned, there are probably many ways an old camera can fail, but these are things I’d look for if I’d be buying Olympus OM-1 today, because they were big turn-offs for me, even though I otherwise greatly enjoyed this fantastic camera.