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.

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4 Comments

  • Paulo Moreira
    Posted April 8, 2018 at 11:46 am 0Likes

    Thank you for your article, very interesting to read your point of view. I have a different point of view on this pair! The OM-1, styling apart, is a very orthdox camera, it has a horizontal running cloth shutter, pedestrian shutter speeds and flash synch and a classic metering system. There isn’t one iota of innovation in its internals, opposite to its exerior.

    The OM-2 is just not electronic, it is about what changes with that engineering schoice. The camera is specifically designed to work in aperture priority. The metering system is OTF, with the metering cells located at the mirror chamber and taking a reading directly Off The Film and in a continuous way. This was breakground innovation in terms of metering and the OM-2 is still a very efficient camera in the metering department. However, choose manual mode and another set of “stupid” cells spring into action in the prism, taking a reading like an old SLR (read OM-1) and losing the benefits of its sophisticated metering system. So, there is a phylosophical choice between the two of them, accepting the auto mode (aperture priority).

    As far build is concern, there we disagree, the OM-1 was well built but not over-engineered like a Nikon or a Spotmatic. The camera is strong enough for normal use but not abuse. You are right in saying that there aren’t reliability issues with the OM-1. However, the OM-2 is a different sory. The model is very well known for its problems, like battery drainage (supposedly corrected in the N model), the elecronics seem to fail at a higher rate than other models from other brands. The purchase of an OM-2 must be carefuly thought out, as the risk of failure is quite real.

    One another note, I am puzzled, none of my OM-2 has a mechanical shutter speed, no battery, mirror up and that’s it. May I ask which model do you have?

    • Pekka
      Posted April 8, 2018 at 2:40 pm 0Likes

      Thank you very much! You game me a LOT of new information. You clearly know a lot about OM’s. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of these cameras so it is very interesting to learn more about their workings. I actually didn’t know half of that about the OM-2’s metering… that it’s specifically designed to be shot at aperture priority mode. I’m not a very technically oriented shooter and while writing about gear, it’s usually very user experience oriented approach.

      I have the OM-2n, which I apparently forgot to specify — I’ll edit that into the article! Thanks for pointing that out.

      Thanks again for taking the time to write such an informative and comprehensive comment!

  • Joona Sipi
    Posted April 8, 2018 at 6:09 pm 0Likes

    The OM-2n does not fire only ”default” shutter speed when the meter is turned off. It will use it’s automatic exposure fuction.

    However, the exposure time is limited to 1/30s or faster to not deplete the battery of the camera when the shutter is triggered in a camerabag or so. The OM-2 will otherwise keep on exposing for at least 2 minutes esting the battery. Fun fact: The factory specifies the auto exposure to go up to 2 minutes. Actually there are individual differences between the OM-2 bodies. Some units can auto expose for much much longer! Great cameras for light painting etc.

    Maitani was very kern to desing the cameras so that they are always ready for a fast shot. Thus OMs don’t have shutter locks. Same goes for auto exposure. No need to put the meter on, just snap your shot and the camera will get you the right exposure 🙂

    • Pekka
      Posted April 9, 2018 at 5:27 am 0Likes

      Very nice! If this is the case, half of my problems with the OM-2n are practically solved, because I was under the impression that it has the default mechanical shutter speed for when it’s turned of. Thanks!

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