Olympus OM-1 — the best compact 35mm film SLR in the world (imho)

I love this camera. I’ve almost stopped dreaming about Leicas after getting my hands on it.

I wouldn’t say that Olympus OM-1 is a typical film camera. I’ve had few Canons prior to OM-1, which are in my mind, pretty typical vintage (1970’s) SLR’s. Before OM-1, I shot with Canon AE-1 and Canon FTb. For the sake of argument, let’s say that they are the typical ones. Compared to them, OM-1 definitely is something else.

Because there are so much reviews already, I’m going to skip the technical specs and the other usual stuff, and point out the things I’ve found worth mentioning. Similar to what I did with my Canon Canonet QL17 GIII review.

I used to love my AE-1. In the back of my head though, I always thought that it felt somewhat big, clanky and somehow unsatisfying. But I didn’t complain, because I thought old film cameras are supposed to feel like that. Then came the day my cousin gave me the OM-1. My first impressions were that it was like any old SLR, but all the mentioned faults were removed. It is small, well engineered and machined, smooth operating, solid and mechanically very satisfying. Also very pretty.

I love that so much extra effort has gone into the design and build quality. I honestly didn’t know that such cameras even existed (other than Leica’s). Compact size is very important for me. That’s why I prefer mirrorless cameras over DSLR’s on the digital side. If the camera is big, I don’t tend to take it with me.  OM-1 feels very good in the hand. The small size is a problem for some people and yeah, you need to get used holding such a small camera, but what I mean actually is that it feels good in the hand, because it feels solid and well made. It engages you to use it. It is like the one ring — it wants you to use it. You will want to use it.

My usual camera bag loadout. OM-1 with the 50mm f1.8 as my main lens and a 28mm f3.5 lens, accompanied by couple extra rolls of sweet sweet Tri-x.

For me it is also just vintage enough. AE-1 has the fake leatherette (fake fake-leather), which is already too fake. OM-1 on the other hand has real leatherette glued to the body. It is a camera from that era, when they still did that thing. AE-1’s moulded, plastic leather emulation just doesn’t tickle my vintage tooth.

OM-1 is fully mechanical and I absolutely love it. Battery operates only the light meter, which I don’t even use half of the time, if I’m able to sunny 16 my photos. The camera is from the perfect era, when they were able to make really good fully mechanical cameras, before the 80’s came along with the electronically controlled shutters, like the AE-1’s and the ones alike. OM-1 comes from a chronological sweet spot of camera technology. It doesn’t feel outdated though. No sir. It still feels very crisp. I suppose all the gears, levers and other organs are made out of really good metallic materials and not plastics. I have the impression that the old Olympae can always be fixed.

The viewfinder is the shit. And by shit I of course mean awesome. It is big and bright. I have 50mm f1.8 lens as my primary work horse and at least with it, the focusing is super intuitive and easy. Smooth focusing ring combined with the excellent view finder is a really satisfying combination.

Shutter speed dial is on the collar of the lens, which is different than anything I’ve ever used. It was weird in the beginning, but now I actually like it very much.  It goes to the muscle memory of the finger tips.

Some people complain that the camera jams sometimes. I’ve noticed it too. If you don’t pull the film advance lever all the way, it might jam, but it is an easy thing to fix. Just push the lever a bit and it should un-jam it. I have the MD (motor drive) model, which means there is a port at the bottom plate, right next to the battery hatch. Sometimes the MD door gets loose and might as well jam the gear, which runs right under the hatch. At least, that was what I noticed. I taped the MD door shut and it seemed to stop the jamming.

The image quality really doesn’t need any further praises. It is as good as it gets.

All in all, OM-1 is a really, really good camera that I would totally recommend to anyone, who’s into old SLR’s. It is a very simple camera in a way. There aren’t any useless features. There are not even a hot shoe for a flash, which is also good, because I don’t like flashes at all. On my AE-1, it kinda bugs me that the flash socket cannot be removed, so it is there always whether you ever need it or not.

Even the light meter is simple enough. It is just a simple needle that you need to match between the two markings. All this leaves everything to your hands. As a photographer, you will need to figure out everything your self, and the camera doesn’t help you in any way. At least for me, that is a one step closer to pure photography and learning. It is satisfying to get good images with an instrument like this, which is simple, well made and sophisticated.

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  1. Pingback: Olympus OM2n film camera – Attempts at 35mm

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