Home Feature Articles OM System: Old memories, optical masterpieces and obscure mistakes

OM System: Old memories, optical masterpieces and obscure mistakes


The photography brand which was formerly known as Olympus has now been transformed into OM Systems. This is because the still-extant corporation, Olympus, sold its photo division, but without including the benefit of the brand name. Let us take a look both into the past and the future.

The rebranding to OM Systems is a good opportunity to look at the legacy of OM cameras which featured ground-breaking innovations until Olympus started to get things wrong. And there even are some very interesting connections to Leica.

It was at Photokina in 1972 that an Ernst Leitz representative approached the booth of a Japanese camera manufacturer called Olympus. It was no insignificant company even then. Olympus had seen success with the half-frame SLR system called PEN, and it was known that the company had been working on something new for quite some time.

The company’s activities were taken seriously. But how dare Olympus to call their new, rather cute single-lens reflex camera system the M? M, that was Leitz’s designation for its venerable rangefinder camera system. The model M4, following the M3 and M2, had been launched five years before.

First, they wanted to call it M-system

Perhaps to avoid a legal war, Olympus decided to rename their line of products. The first camera of the new system was re-labelled from M-1 to OM-1. Allegedly, the choice of M was intended to honour the Olympus designer Yoshihisa Maitani, but maybe it was also just a provocation. However, the system name was changed into OM which could have stood for Olympus Maitani.

Small size as a design principle

So, the camera that was launched was marketed as OM-1. It was the smallest and lightest 35mm SLR of its time, and Franz Pangerl in his book published to coincide with the launch wrote, appropriately: Rückkehr zum Ideal der Kleinbildkamera (return to the ideal of the miniature camera).

Alongside the camera came an ambitious line-up of lenses with almost all important focal lengths covered by a duo—one outstandingly small choice and one remarkably fast alternative.

Conservative evolution—or just too slow to innovate

From 1975 onwards, the OM-2 followed with its revolutionary auto-dynamic off-the-film automatic exposure control in several iterations. It made TTL flash control possible and maintained at the same time the tiny size of the body. In 1978, the first two-digit model was launched, the OM-10. It was an entry-level camera with slightly limited system compatibility.

The Eighties saw the OM-3, again a fully mechanical model with improved exposure measurement (probably the best to this day, with an incredibly elegant multi-spot metering), and its electronic sister, the OM-4. The latter came as OM-4 Ti in a titanium body (not titanium finish as Leica did, crucial parts were really made from titanium oxide).

The last real OM camera to be launched was the OM-3 Ti in 1995, intended to honour the OM designer, Maitini. The official discontinuation of the system was announced in 2002.

Great ergonomics, but one inexcusable shortcoming

All one-digit OM cameras had some design features in common. Most notably, it is the setting for the aperture speed (mechanical in the OM-1/3, electronic in the OM-2/4) by means of a control wheel around the bayonet flange. If you ever use it, it will convince you. So much nicer than the hard-to-reach wheel on the camera’s right shoulder.

The cameras featured exchangeable matte screens (but no exchangeable viewfinder/prism), flash control via a screw-on (in the beginning, to make the camera even smaller) or a built-in flash hot shoe. None of the cameras was able to show the aperture setting in the viewfinder, because the aperture ring was on the front of almost all lenses (Leica style) to keep it away from the exposure time setting.

A slow cloth shutter and its limitations

The early models had 1/1000 of a second as the fastest exposure time, the last ones achieved 1/2000. This was behind the competition from the Eighties onwards. And even worse, the flash sync time was only 1/60. Clever Olympus engineers steered around this by inventing FP flash with an extra-long firing time. But by then, Nikons and others had 1/250 flash sync making daylight fill-in so much easier. Leica users know all this—the slowness of the shutter is caused by its principle. It has, horizontally travelling, a long distance to cover, and the textile material set further limitations.

No convincing answer to the auto-focus revolution

Conservative market assessments broke the OM system’s neck from 1985 onwards. Minolta released the Dynax 7000, the first SLR with integrated AF and motorised film advance. At Olympus, they fiddled with a terrible AF zoom and made an attempt with an AF camera (OM-707) that was not able to succeed, mainly because it seemed to be made from really cheap plastic, but also because it lacked manual control when used with designated AF lenses.

Everyone expected a serious OM-5 which never came. I heard from dealers that some Olympus people believed that photographers who were worthy of a real Olympus SLR could of course focus manually and would not want to be bossed by electronics. This story is also familiar to us Leica photographers.

The lenses were designed to be small, lightweight, sharp and beautiful

The design principle for the bodies—small, lightweight, ergonomic, and beautiful(!)—was also used for the lenses. And if you take a well-kept OM lens from the 1970s in your hand, you could well experience a Leica moment. The optics are remarkably small and extremely well manufactured.

All the lenses feel very dense, have a clean and unmistakable exterior design and frequently use separately designed lens hoods (screw-on or clip-on). All this was quite conservative but definitely elegant, and one wonders if Leica lenses were one of the paragons.

Much light and little shadow in the lens performance

By today’s standards, the lens line-up will be assessed from a different perspective. Some of the early designs, such as the 50/1.8, the 50/3.5 Macro, the 21/3.5 or the 85/2, were landmark achievements. Others appear to be rather average.

The line-up saw some interesting additions in the 1980s. One example is the Shift 24/3.5 from 1984, another is the 100/2 with ED, high refractive glass and floating elements (the fast wide angles have them, too), let alone the superfast tele lenses 250/2 and 350/2.8.

All of these were daring designs, to say the least. Many lenses were produced more or less unchanged (the laurels, again!) over a very long time. A few were discontinued long before the system’s death. Others were available new, even after the official end, from some special sources.

Unbelievable macro possibilities

In its heyday, the OM system was remarkable in many ways. Early in the Eighties, they played in the same league as Nikon or Canon. However, instead of catering for the professional market, Olympus addressed the interesting niche of the discerning amateur photographer. Unfortunately, this brought less fame and seemed to trigger some kind of inferiority complex.

A special mention is deserved for the excellent macro components with unique variable extension tubes, a great variety of TTL flashes and more accessories for scientific or special-interest photography.

How did things go wrong for Olympus?

Jumping back to the 1972 Photokina event, when Olympus was seen as a threat to Leica, one might ask what has gone wrong since then. Leica is stronger than ever, Olympus lost its faith in its photo business and sold it. I do not know of any other company that messed it up so often when it came to defending a deserved number one.

Better listen to your customers

Back in the early Seventies, Olympus had the camera that everyone wanted. Small, well-built, easy to use, later leading flash technology — a huge advantage over the then competition. But the company rested on its laurels and did not listen to customers. Photographers wanted autofocus while Olympus wanted to educate them that they didn’t need it.

When Olympus finally understood, they offered an autofocus camera and some lenses but in a half-hearted manner. They had no success, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Customers wanted fast shutter speeds and, even more urgently, faster flash synchro speed — Olympus stuck to cloth shutter curtains which are beautiful, quiet, have low vibration but which were utterly outdated when compared to the competition’s fast metal-blade shutters.

Four Thirds – another pioneering achievement and another dead end

And, tragically, history does repeat itself. In the early part of this century, Olympus had the digital products that everyone wanted. Small, affordable digital cameras. Sturdy semi-pro cameras with excellent build quality and great optics such as the C5060. Cameras for professional use such as the E-10.

Then came the Four Thirds system, the new first camera system of the digital age and without compromise from the film days, with both amateur and pro cameras. It was Olympus sowed the digital seeds in co-introducing the concept of the mirrorless camera with the Micro Four Thirds system ten years ago. Yet it is Sony, Canon and Nikon which are bringing in the bulk of the harvest now. Olympus received great public acclaim; the idea of a small camera lives on, but Olympus’ market share is small.

You can only wonder why they did not have more success

Maybe it was because the photo division was always only a small part of the big Olympus corporation. Maybe they were too slow in R&D or, more likely, in strategic business decision making. Maybe marketing really was always underfunded. Maybe they were not good enough at telling their story. And maybe they just did not develop their customers into fans the way other brands managed to, most notably Leica.

The current Olympus line-up features several great products

Despite all this, Olympus never gave up. They kept going at their own pace, and they released great products. The OM-D E-M5 (how did they come to choose such a clumsy name) was a pioneering product, and many of the OM-D cameras featured real innovations.

Olympus products were and are at their best when they play the compact card. The 40-150/2.8 is an 80-300/2.8 equivalent tele zoom of immaculate optical quality and makes a brilliant kit with the equally excellent 12-40. The OM-D E-M5iii is packed with technology yet is still very small. Even for professional nature and wildlife photographers the (not so small) flagship cameras and the new 150-400/4.5 are serious options, especially if you have to carry your gear or if you are working under harsh conditions.

What’s not lacking in the resurrection of the OM brand is pathos

Right now, we see a small resurrection of the OM brand. The first lens of the OM System has just been released. It is a sensible 20/1.4 optic that appears to tick many boxes and might be quite popular. I do hope the OM System people succeed with this lens and more future products (new cameras are due). Times could hardly be more difficult for this undertaking, with the market shrinking and cluttered by far too many camera models, systems, and players.

Hopefully, the OM System people take pride and energy from such a brand name and its legacy. What I have seen so far in this respect appears more theatric than inspiring to me, but probably I am just a sober old Teuton.


One of the more significant analogue projects I shot with Olympus OM cameras was a four-week study journey through the South of England back in 1995. This was an important time for me in many respects. Also, as a tribute to the England-based Macfilos blog and its editor, I am happy to share a few images from back then. The colour photos are digitised slides, the black and whites are scans from 5×7 inch prints that I processed in my own darkroom all those years ago.

First loves never really die. True?

So I personally will cherish my old Olympus gear, exchange the occasional lens with other enthusiasts, and shoot a roll every now and then. I esteem the film OM cameras and their lenses as design icons. I will also continue to work with my digital Olympus OM-D outfit in certain conditions and enjoy the small size, quality and ease of this system and remember that a small sensor is no obstacle to taking great pictures.

OM is alive, and let’s finish with this good news.

What memories of Olympus OM film cameras do you have? Ever owned one? Or dreamed of one? Or always despised them for being outdated and toyish-looking? Did you ever systematically try out the old Zuiko lenses on modern mirrorless full-frame cameras? Or is the whole retro thing just an embarrassment in times when so many excellent new autofocus aspherical APO ED glass lenses are widely available? Join the discussion!

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Read more from Jörg-Peter Rau

Explore the M Files with Jörg-Peter


  1. Shutter speed around the throat of the camera was an ergonomically smart move by Olympus. It took no time at all to realize you could adjust shutter speed, Aperture and focus without moving your left hand from supporting the camera.

    I suspect these days bad market research would have killed that idea at birth before it got a chance to shine…

  2. Jörg-Peter, I had a Nikkormat FTn between 1973 and 1977, and like you found it simple to make adjustments, using same fingers to adjust speed, aperture and focus. But once the Nikkormat was stolen and I began to use Nikons with the traditional shutter speed dial, I never thought much about it until reading your article.

  3. “Unusual, but great to use: The exposure time setting around the bayonet flange is an OM speciality. It is far more ergonomic than the common solution on the top of the body but it remained exotic”

    Don’t forget the Nikkormats / Nikomats that had this feature from 1965 to 1978.

    • Thanks, Martin, I was not really aware of that, but you are right of course. I still do not understand why this practical solution could not prevail. One more reason to cherish my good old OM-1 that works flawlessly to this day. And it looks to gorgeous… JP

  4. The OM707 / OM77 miserably failed because, madly, it combined unbelievable technology (all-speed flash sync to 1/2000 with the F280 flash) with a failure to be any more than a program-exposure camera!!!

    Other sudden mid 1980s Olympus brain explosions included the AFL compact camera, with a characteristically brilliant lens (38/2.8) but a NON-USER-INTERCHANGEABLE battery requiring a trip to a regional Olympus service centre to replace!!!! Anyone know a better definition of designer insanity?

    Olympus OM lenses haven’t just become reusable on mirrorless. Since simple adapters became a thing in the 1990s, they were a prime optical option on Canon EOS (EF mount – the only modern SLR mount with film register distance short enough to allow simple glassless adaptation of vintage lenses such as OM) cameras – film and then digital. The indifferent quality of Canon EOS very wide angles allowed plenty of scope for “upgrades” to adapted OM wides in particular. And not just, most famously, the OM 24/3.5 Shift – which beat the EOS 24/3.5 L TS-E lens hands down, optically.

  5. Lovely to see an article about the Olympus OM system on here. My first SLR was an OM-20, bought secondhand from a friend. As a backup / portable system I have an Olympus OM-D E-M10 today, which replaced a compact camera. It was a bit of a heart over head decision (my main requirement was supposed to be something that fitted in my pocket!) but I convinced myself that the added flexibility of a system camera and interchangeable lenses justified a little extra bulk. Even so, it’s very practical as a discreet camera for street and travel photography and you can carry several lenses around and not need a large or heavy bag. I hope the line lives on under the new owners for some years to come.

    • Dear Toby, I am really impressed to read of so many Macfilos users who have some kind of an Olympus past. It’s great that you are also contributing to all these shared memories. The OM-D E-M10 (why the … did they invent such horrible names of late?) is a beautiful and small camera and fits into a decent pocket for sure either with the small pancake zoom (which is slow) or the very nice 17/1.8 which is a great and fast lens. And to correct a mistake in an earlier reply (November 21) it equals 35mm in FF of course, but I don’t have to tell you this. By the way: The not-excellent low light abilites of older Olympus MFT cameras are compensated by their outstanding in-body stabilization in my personal view. Yes, let’s hope the new OM Systems brand will have the success they have earned. JP

  6. Dear JP. Thank you for an article which was not only an immersive read but lush with memorable and striking images. Your affection for Olympus is truly justified when I reached the end of the article. Is one lifetime too short to use multiple cameras or too short to only use 1 camera ? I suppose when one has attained the best options for one’s needs perhaps making pictures without a care for any other gear is all that remains. I confess I must be the person with the least photographic experience here. My initial foray into film photography 5 months ago started with me using a Olympus OM-1. It is indeed a handsome camera with it’s design being an example in minimalism eschewing needless dials and trappings. Jane Bown notably took many of her portraits using the OM-1 with ambient light at 1/60 or so I have read. Thank you again for a wonderful article. You have outdone yourself.

    • Thanks, Gireesh, for your ever kind and thoghtful feedback. I have no idea if one life is too short to shoot with just one camera or not long enogh to really masterly use any single one. I quite like the technical challenge that lies in working with a new camera, but my speed to hopping around has become very moderate. For me, it feels good this way. I hope you will have both grat fun and great results when working with the OM-1. In any case, you will like to take it into your hand and to look at it. The emotional and aesthetic aspects of a tool should not be underrated, I think. So all the best for you and your projects, JP

  7. Thanks for this homage to a wonderful and affordable camera line-up. The OM system was the mountaineers camera of choice in the 70s because of its compact size. I think more than one member of the 75 Everest SW ridge expedition had an OM1n and a couple of Zuiko lenses in the pockets of their down suits. My OM1N landed in 88 as my 21st birthday present, just in time for me to go on walkabout in Africa. It continued in service until I succumbed to other Olympus compacts when the kids started to come along from 2002. I craved the mouth watering 4Ti. Its spot metering and rugged good looks were supposed to be the pinnacle of the OM system. By the time I finally could afford a used model in 2007, the digital era was casting a spell and the moment had perhaps passed. Mine was plagued with a variety of problems which saw it in for repair more than it got used. We parted ways and it taught me a valuable lesson that less is sometimes more in camera systems. Thanks again for this nostalgia provoking rendition of the world of OM.

    • Dear Darrel, thank you very much for your kind feedback. My father was actually quite keen on mountaineering (here in the nearby Alps) and went for the OM because of its small size and moderate weight. It appears to have been a popular camera among alpinists. Do you still have your OM1? Otherwise, a reunion with this old love would certainly not be so difficult to arrange. 🙂 JP

  8. As my father never really let me use his Paxette despite showing an interest, I ended up buying a series of affordable 110mm cameras until I reached the ripe old age of 25 and blew a hard earned bonus on an OM2 with standard 50mm f1.8 lens. I took it everywhere, including vacations to France, Greece, Italy and Turkey turning out some quite reasonable shots before I became impatient.

    A Canon AE1, then A1 then a brace of F1’s followed, non of which really made me happy. The realization came many years later that the images, the portability and simplicity of the OM2 had been the one camera I should have kept and never parted company with. It reminds me (tongue in cheek) of the George Best quote “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I squandered.”

    Sometimes you need to listen more closely to what really makes you happy…

  9. Thanks Jörg-Peter,

    I will try one at my local camera dealer along with a few Leicas and sigmas at their annual camera show.

  10. Thanks Jörg-Peter for your thorough article on the Olympus cameras. My first camera was the Minolta SRT100X. My next cameras were Contax or Leica cameras and lately Ricoh. I still own an Olympus mju which I use from time to time and greatly appreciate. I’ve been tempted by the new digital ones, the Pen-F in particular, but the menus and the lack of a 28mm equivalent have prevented me from buying one so far.

    • B-but “..the menus..” ..set ’em and forget ’em.

      Once you’ve set things how you want them – it may take three or four days, or less – you never need to touch them again. It’s like all those dials on a car (..or plane..) dashboard ..you don’t have to look at them ALL THE TIME ..they’re simply there so that if you do want to glance at the engine oil pressure or temperature, you can ..but you don’t have to. If you DO want to check how much fuel’s left in the tank you can, but you don’t need to constantly keep your eye on the fuel gauge.

      Same with all the items in Olympus menus: may you never want to turn on the ‘Keystone’ effect ..to keep verticals vertical, instead of their pointing inwards when you tilt the camera upwards. Fair enough ..just ignore it!

      As for “..the lack of a 28mm equivalent..” ..there’s that ‘pancake’ Panasonic 14mm f2.5, isn’t there?

      • “It may takes three or four days” ha ha! You’re not wrong there, they should print that on page one of the manuals as a warning..as follows..

        ” Thank you for buying our camera. Let’s get started on set up. Don’t plan on eating or sleeping for the next 24 hours, and if you are an experienced photographer ( You are over 40 years old and/or used film cameras) this may take a few days extra.”

        it certainly took that long with my OMD-EM5. (Programming isn’t a fun activity for some people like me!) I set up everything on the Super control menu thingy, but still had some ‘moments’ when I needed to set things differently (and quickly ) while on location. Also after not using the camera for a while it’s very easy to forget where things are located in all the menus.
        Leica definitely leads in this respect and should be awarded a medal for it.

        • .
          A friend of mine had a boat engine (Mirrlees Lister Blackstone) which took a long time to start; it was a rather complicated procedure. So, just for fun, I recorded him starting it one day – it took about twenty minutes (prime fresh water header tank, start compressor donkey engine, decompress main engine, bar over main engine to top dead centre, open raw water seacock, pump up main engine oil pressure ..etc).

          To soothe myself to sleep each night, I’d set my recorder to Play, and fall asleep to the sound of “..prime fresh water header tank, start compressor donkey engine, decompress main engine, bar over main engine to top dead centre, open raw water seacock, pump up main engine oil pressure..” etc.

          A few years later, I went on the last autumn voyage – it was only licensed to trade from spring to late autumn; not during winter months – of a friend’s sand barge (..bringing sand – for concrete making – from Fingringhoe in Essex to the Thames..) and the friend fell asleep, dead drunk. The Mate – Denise – knew everything, except how to start the motor, so I went down to have a look: lo and behold, it was a three cylinder Mirrlees Lister Blackstone. “I’ll start that!” I said ..and went thro’ the whole twenty minutes’ worth, as it was now embedded in my brain! (We got off on that tide, but Alan, the owner, ran up to the wheelhouse blazing mad “It’s an incredibly difficult engine to start ..you should never have even touched it!..” but we got to London without his losing his boat or his licence.

          MORAL: ..Just learn these things: which button does what; which buttons you don’t need; how to change ISO, the focus point, the stabilisation based on focal length, etc. And if you haven’t used it for a while, get to know it again before shooting anything important.

          I’ve never needed to start a Mirrlees Lister Blackstone since then ..about, er, 1975 ..but it’s all burned into my brain, and I could do it tomorrow ..or even today!

          Use it often, and it’s second nature ..but do brush up first, if you haven’t used it for a while ..as the actress said to the bishop.

      • Thanks David

        I’ve looked at the images shot with the Panasonic 18mm on flickr. It looks like a decent lens.


        • “..the lack of a 28mm equivalent..” ..b-but it’s the 14mm which is the equivalent of a 28mm full-frame lens.

          The Pen-F is a quarter-frame (micro-four-thirds) camera, so a lens of half the normal focal length – on that – is equivalent to a full-frame lens.

    • Dear Jean, the Pana 14mm 2.5 lens is very small, light-weight and offers decent to good image quality in my experience. I have the version I and do not know what they altered in version II. A downside of this lens is that there is no original lens hood for it. I always use lens hoods both for mechanical protection and optical quality. That said, the Pana pancake is not very expensive and has good resistance to stray light. Another nice option is the Zuiko 17/1.7 that you see in the pictures, this is the equivalent of a 25mm full frame lens. JP

  11. Tomorrow, we have a Zoom meeting on Olympus cameras at the Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain and I have sent this article to the organisers. I have always admired Olympus cameras because of their compact size. The Zuiko lenses have a huge reputation, of course, and I do note the size comparisons with Leicas.

    I will post here again if anything interesting comes up tomorrow.


    • Please, William, if you have anything to add, please do so. There are so many aspects in in this chapter of the camera history book. One could be the questions, if the OM cameras will ever have a considerable collector’s value. So far, I still find them very affordable, and so are most of the lenses. Some vintage cameras of other brands have become quite expensive of late. I am eager to hear from you and so are many Macfilos readers, I guess. JP

      • I have material from this morning’s event which I will send to Mike to share with you. I had to leave the meeting early, but I was able to take in the segments on the OM and Pen models. They confirmed the M1 and OM1 story and also the point about the aperture issue limiting functionality. Some of the members had been both selling and using OM cameras back in the 1970s. They are circulating a link to your article to members, so there may be more feedback. Those who had seen your article liked it a lot.


  12. Olympus did indeed produce many iconic camera designs. They may not have integrated auto focus into the OM cameras but they sure were ahead of the game with compact cameras. First with weatherproofing, advanced ESP metering systems and use of lithium batteries as I recall.
    The OMD-EM5 was the first digital camera that I thought was ‘good enough’ to challenge film SLRs so I bought one. I’ve hung on to my little Olympus XA4 Macro as well.I hope the cameras don’t disappear altogether. I have never quite gotten over the loss of Minolta, who along with Olympus, Canon, Nikon and Pentax used to make up the big five – as they were called back in the day.
    I would never have guessed back in the 80’s that Leica would live long and prosper while Minolta ( First on the market with a hugely successful AF system they developed in turn from from Leica ) would fade away with their tech being sold off to Sony.Good management and marketing strategies made many of the camera companies what they were but in Japan, this has been lacking in recent years. Who knows what’s coming next?
    That lovely OM4-Ti in the picture above was one I wanted but couldn’t afford at the time.

    • “..That lovely OM4-Ti in the picture above..”

      But the original gorgeous design of the OM-1 and 2 was wrecked, in my ‘umble opinion, by the ‘built-on’ flash shoe of the OM-3 and 4.

      There’s a small thumbwheel on the rear of the shoes for the 1 & 2 for unscrewing the shoe, and once that’s off (..I hardly ever used flash with mine ..and there’s a flash PC socket on the edge of the lens throat anyway – but not for automatic Through The Lens flash control..) the OM-1 and 2 look far, far smaller – without that shoe – as the tallest part of the camera is then the narrow pointed ‘A’ at the apex of the pentaprism housing.

      Without their shoes on the top, the 1 and 2 look almost one third smaller! ..But that beautiful look was – sadly – lost with the arrival of the built-on shoe and the redesigned ‘blocky’ pentaprisms of the OM-3 and 4. (..Sob, sob..)

      • Yes,I guess sometimes there’s nothing like an original David.The original OM-1 and OM-2 were indeed tiny compared to the competition.All great cameras though with their own distinctive design DNA that was unique compared to other brands.

    • Yes, Stephen, what happened to Minolta is a tragedy. They were the third-largest camera manufacturer for many yeas with great innovations. I know people who cherish their XD-7s and X300s and all the likes. I, however, would still say that the OM system had the more beautiful products (and, David, yes, without the flash shoe, the OM-1 and OM-2 looked far better!). JP

  13. Thank you all for your kind and knowledgeable feedback! I will reply in some detail later this weekend, but just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate all the discussion and comments here on Macfilos. JP

  14. Thank you for the nice (Olympus?) Trip down memory lane, Joerg-Peter. I really wanted to like the OM1 when it first appeared – so neat, almost Leica-like in its design and finish. And so small, which was the problem. My fat fingers meant I really couldn’t ‘make friends’ with it, even though that was never a problem with the screw- and M-mount Leicas of similar size. So my first modern SLR (to replace the inevitable Russian Zenit) was a Canon AE-1, which just felt right in my hands, as did its successors. But I continued to admire – though no longer to covet – the little OMs and their amazing lenses.

  15. Great revival article, Joerg-Peter
    I owned an OM-G I bought used the time I was in New York. That probably to fill the void of a M6 dropped on the hardest floor of the city. I have good memories of the camera and a bunch of good rolls. I sold it later.
    Retro or autofocus? Good question. I would say the last is faster and more accurate some times. But enjoying these days very much a CL+Voigtlander Nokton combo. Brings back the M feeling and discovering an amazing texture.

    • I forgot those half frames made with a fleeting Olympus something some years ago. 72 pics!. Come and gone. Funny
      Oh, and that exotic Ecru white. Amazing. Gone as a present. Love rules!

  16. I own an OM-1 that was fully serviced and converted to modern 1.5 volt batteries. It is a beautiful thing, very Leica-like. The lenses are more of the same, with my kit currently limited to the 50/1.4 and 24/2.8, both of which are small, light and optically outstanding.

    Problem is, I just don’t shoot very much film anymore.

    • That’s a great setup, Andrew. Perhaps you want to add either the 85/2 or the 135/2.8 one day. Both are excellent telephoto options. With such a three lens kit, you have almost unlimited options. And do go out and shoot the occasional roll. There are excellent labs which will to the scans for you, so you have all the benefits of digital photography as well. JP

  17. Having started with OM1 and upgraded to OM 10 (which I still behave) Ithen went to a mini E digital – and then to the extraordinary Pen-F – which I sold but recently bought again for its black and while modes accessible on the front and the equally extraordinary Panasonic Leicas – 18-60 and 15/1.7
    It’s always with me again as a zoom back up to the Q2

  18. Excellent article. If there is a message not just to the camera manufacturers, but to anyone in a large business, never rest on your laurels, keep looking forward, and keep pushing your products and systems. That way you are always at the cutting edge of your business.

    I have never owned an Olympus camera – prior to buying my Leica X typ 113, I looked at, handled and tinkered a bit with a Oly Pen F in John Lewis at Bluewater. It was a nice camera, and had some amazing features, perhaps a few too many for someone like me looking for a simpler set up. I came close, but the X won me over with its simple menus, simple operations akin to a film camera.

    Enjoy the weekend.

    • Dear Dave, I couldn’t agree more. Listen to your customters and take your competitors serious, I would add. Nice to hear that you liked the article. I am still somewhat in love with my old OM gear. So beautiful. JP

  19. One big advantage which the Oly digital cameras had, from the miniature E-M5 onwards, was their groundbreaking inbuilt image stabilisation! ..That really brought them great sales ..for a while ..till the other manufacturers caught up.

    The OM Olys were – and still are, if they’re still working – wonderful cameras. Oly kept the cloth shutter, I think, because Mr Maitani – their designer – was a great Leica enthusiast (the original OMs are no bigger than his Leica III, if you discount their prism hump and the lens-throat extension) and wanted to keep the QUIET cloth shutters which so distinguished the Leicas from other brands with those noisy vertical-travel shutters like Pentax & Co.

    As you say, Oly chose to keep those quiet cloth shutters, but introduced multiple-short-burst FP (focal plane) flash to go with the later ‘Ti’ models, so that the very narrow moving shutter slit at, say, a nominal 1/1000th sec (..but which really took a slower full 1/60th sec to traverse the entire width of a film frame..) was continuously lit for that full 1/60th sec travel. This – finally – allowed bright daylight fill-in flash – but only at close-ish portrait distances – to match outdoor daylight-compatible fast shutter speeds with bright fill-in flash for lightening outdoor shadows.

    Looking in my cupboard, I’ve a ‘full house’ of OM-1 to OM-4 Ti friends (but not the cheap’n’cheerful OM-10 and others – many of which were knocked out by Cosina under contract to keep the prices low) and a couple of other Maitani designs, too, such as the ‘Oyster Shell’ compact XA, and its predecessor simple auto half-frame PEN.

    Oly did what, I think, Leica did: believed that no serious photographer really wanted auto-focus ..and when Canon’s auto-focus EOS cameras took pro-photography by storm (..and nearly wiped out Nikon for a while!..) Oly’s fortunes faded, until digital came along.

    Faded ..and never really recovered. The (quarter-frame) digital Oly E-M1 is a great camera, with terrific in-body stabilisation and brilliant lenses. But now that mirrorless full frame is the norm (Canon R, Nikon Z) few people are still interested in quarter-frame ‘micro-four-thirds’ any more, despite the weight savings and small-size bodies ..and lenses!

    Oly’s main business is what was once Leitz’ main business: microscopes and other high-end optical devices (..which was Leitz’ own original business, before they got into cameras in 1925).

    Of course, many fine old OM film cameras do still work – and wonderfully ..if, that is, you’re still using film.

    • Thanks, David, for sharing all your knowledge. Once more, I am impressed of all the details you know. It’s great that you added details about FP flash. Another Olympus solution – a grat idea, but too complicated and with too many compromises when compared with the competition. A fast metal blade shutter with a 1/250 sync speed is simply the better way to go. It’s interesting to read that you also see a quite close connection between Maitani’s work and Leica. But quite design-driven. Best JP

  20. thanks for your really great article. 50 years ago i was Introduced to the olympus pen 1/2 frame. what a joy it was, the lens and metering were stunning, and the camera body was so pocketable !


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