Olympus OM-1 vs. Olympus OM-2

Olympus OM-1 vs. Olympus OM-2

Black Olympus OM-2n on the left and a chrome OM-1 on the right.

Here’s a very short comparison of the Olympus OM-1 and OM-2 cameras. I currently own both models. OM-1 has been one of my favourite cameras for over a year now and last autumn I purchased the OM-2 as too after becoming a total vintage Olympus fanboy. Both are amazing, well built and small SLR cameras. Pretty too. The cameras look very much alike, but they provide surprisingly different shooting experience compared to each other. It would be a very hard decision to say which one is better, because they are both so fantastic in their own way! I wish I could shoot them both all the time.  

(As a background note, I have the OM-1 MD and OM-2n MD models and I’m writing the comparison purely from that perspective.)

Mechanics and functions

OM-1 is a mechanical camera and OM-2 has an electronically controlled shutter, much like a Canon AE-1. It doesn’t function without a battery. OM-1 on the other hand has the battery only for the light meter and works otherwise perfectly without power. 

OM-1 is fully manual camera and OM-2 has an aperture priority mode for automatic exposures. Automatic exposure mode can potentially make your shooting much faster if you’re into that kind of stuff. All you need to do is to set the aperture and the OM-2 will select the shutter speed for you. So far the light meter in both cameras has proven to be really accurate, even in mind bending lighting situations. OM-1 doesn’t have any kind of automation which means you’ll need to set the shutter speed and aperture yourself each time. 

OM-1 has a big ISO dial right next to the shutter button, which is one of the biggest exterior and user interface differences.

OM-2n doesn’t have a similar kind ISO dial as OM-1. Instead it has been replaced with a handy, but not so nice looking exposure compensation dial.

OM-1’s light meter needle inside the viewfinder. As simple as it gets. It doesn’t show your settings (shutter speed or aperture), but you get this handy needle that you need to adjust between the plus and minus marks.

OM-2n has this kind light meter view, when the auto exposure mode is engaged. It’ll select the right shutter speed for you and let’s you know the intended speed with an indicator located inside the viewfinder.

Shooting experience

Even though these are very similar cameras, I think they provide very different kind of shooting experience. OM-1 feels like, in my opinion, more classical and involving than OM-2. The automatic exposure mode makes the OM-2 feel a bit point-and-shooty, which is awesome, when I want to just shoot something quick and dirty. OM-1 is my camera for slowing down and purposefully making everything difficult for myself. 

OM-2’s aperture priority mode can be a bit frustrating sometimes too, even though most of the times, it is really practical. This may sound obvious, but you’ll need to turn the camera on, which is something you don’t need to remember when shooting with the mechanical OM-1. OM-2 has a separate on/off switch, which is really easy to forget to switch back on. The light meter is not activated with half-pressing the shutter, which perhaps could be a better usability solution. If OM-2 turned off, it will fire at the default shutter speed. I can’t remember what speed it’s using, but it’s something like 1/60.

CORRECTION: I was pointed out that OM-2 doesn’t have a default mechanical shutter speed and will indeed fire at automatic exposure mode, even when turned off — which is nice! How ever the shutter speed range will be limited only to the fast shutter speeds (1/30 and faster) which actually is very clever. The shutter speed chart won’t be visible in the viewfinder in OFF mode and the meter needle doesn’t move, but it will still take the metering while firing and setting the shutter speed for you.   

Because OM-2 has an aperture priority mode, it also comes with an exposure compensation dial, which could potentially come very handy. I’ve personally never used it. If the lighting situation looks too tricky for the auto exposure mode, or if I just want to make my own mind, I’ve shot the scene on manual mode instead , which functions exactly the same as in OM-1.  

Battery

OM-1 used to take 1.35V mercury batteries, which can be replaced with almost anything — contrary to the common belief. Many people are turned off by the battery issue, but replacing the mercury batteries is far easier than usually lead to believe. I’ve used 1.55V and 1.45V silver oxide and zinc-air batteries for hearing aid devices with no problem. It doesn’t even matter if the shape of the battery is different. You can quickly mend an adapter ring from sticky putty or a piece of tape. Slightly higher voltage will give a marginal over exposure, which I’ve not usually even bothered to compensate. But if compensation is needed, the light meter can be set to a slightly lower ISO. Totally no need to reject OM-1’s because battery issues. Much lesser annoyance than many of us believe. OM-1 doesn’t take much power. I’ve once ran out of the silver oxide battery and even the zinc-air batteries last rather months than weeks. All the replacement batteries I’ve used, have been really affordable too.    

OM-2 on the other hand uses modern SR-44 or LR-44 batteries which can be found at any market that sells button batteries. The battery life should be really good. I’ve not run out of batteries yet, and I’ve let myself to believe that one set of SR-44’s should last about a year. 

The exteriors

OM-1 was the first model in the OM lineup. The shape of the body is excellent even though many criticise the placement of the shutter speed dial, which is located at the base of the lens mount. I think it’s a brilliant design and OM-2 shares the same feature alongside with the rest of the body size and dimensions. The cameras are exactly the same size and shape. 

Olympus OM-2 and OM-1 side by side. Both are extremely nice looking cameras.

 

Shutter speeds and aperture are both controlled from around the lens.

View from the back side.

Externally my OM-2 has seen it’s better days, but it ages really well. The black paint wears out nicely and creates a dignified brassing.

Build quality

Both cameras are extremely well made and put together. My OM-1 came with a broken light meter and the prism needed to be changed. (As far as I know, it is a typical fault.) After I got it serviced, it functions like a brand new one. All vintage cameras are more than likely to have something wrong with them after 45 years of existence. Bearing that in mind, there are surprisingly small amount of failures with these cameras. They withstand the test of time really well. Both cameras have a metal body and chassis and are really solid.

Sound

My OM-2 sounds a bit nicer than my OM-1. As far as can remember, my OM-1 sounded a bit different before it was overhauled. My OM-1 has a slightly bouncy sounding mirror slap, which sometimes drives me nuts. I’m pretty sure it had a smoother operating sound before it was serviced, so this could be purely individual difference. With cameras as old as these, there are probably much variation on how they sound, depending on what kind of wear and tear they’ve experienced, and how they are treaded and serviced. 

OM-2 sounds a bit tighter and mechanically more pleasing imho. Both are somewhat quiet cameras for SLR’s. They are not as quiet as Leicas of course, but not so clanky as Canon AE-1. 

Conclusion

Super nice cameras! Totally recommended. I probably forgot to mention something essential, but here’s at least a short little list for a quick comparison. If you’re trying to decide which one to get, I hope this article was any help to you.

Pekka

Graphic designer and a 35mm film photography enthusiast. I enjoy straight photography on natural/available light and in-camera techniques. I'm inspired by early and mid-1900's classic photojournalism, street photography and documentary photography. Currently shooting mainly with Leica M6, and Olympus OM-4.

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