Thoughts on My Olympus OM-1
For the last three years, I have owned a beautiful Olympus OM-1 in black. It is absolutely gorgeous, and I have ever since put 2 or 3 rolls of film through it a month. I can remember finding the camera in my then local go-to camera store, Camerabase in 120 Morningside Road, Bruntsfield, Edinburgh. It was love at first sight, and when I held her, I knew this was the start of a beautiful film odyssey.
Ok, those up in arms about me calling a camera ‘she’ relax. I am not a misogynist, and hopefully you accept that I am far from it. Some cameras are blokes and some are definitely a lady. The OM-1 is small, demure and discreet. It is an engineering marvel and works flawlessly. I just love the way the world looks through the viewfinder, it is bright, clear and therefore focus is easy.
When I first bought my OM-1, I had little knowledge about this iconic camera, bar the fact it looked beautiful. I think I paid about £175.00. It was a lot more than I was thinking of paying, but the guy simply said that I would not regret buying it. How right he was. Since then, and moving halfway around the world, and the OM-1 has been the film camera of choice for the everyday street photography.
So why do I make puppy eyes towards this camera? I guess it must be the way that it is engineered, and how Mr. Yoshihisa Maitani and his design team re-thought the SLR. It is from the shutter speed selection ring on the front of the camera to the slender design of the film advance that makes the OM-1 beautifully small that still feels very substantial.
When you look at the camera, you realise just how manual the camera actually is. Being mechanical, the camera does not require a battery to work, so loading film, taking photos and using the camera is a physical thing. The way it works is perfect. It is a marvel of engineering.
The only reason they have a battery is because of the light meter, which is simple centre-weighted average metering. The design decisions on how it works is very clever. When the needle is centred it is at correct exposure, and when touching with the tip of the bars on the guide, the exposure is half a stop over or under. The layout of the guide indicates half stops from correct through to 3 stops over or underexposure. Now, that is clever.
Batteries: The OM-1, like many cameras from the 70's and 80's were designed to use a mercury battery. These batteries have now been banned for environmental reasons. Luckily, a Zinc-air replacement battery, the WeinCell PX625 is available, and unlike an alkaline equivelent, the WeinCell performs like the original mercury batteries. Just search the web for a local supplier.
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A camera in the hand
Using the camera is so different to a digital camera. The camera is automatic nothing, so focus, exposure and aperture are all decisions that you have to make. The camera feels solid, but not heavy and fits in my hands perfectly, and for someone with big hands that is great.
Focus is another thing that simply works well. With the split screen focus, I have found I can get spot on very quickly. I am not saying that everything is pin sharp every time, but with a short 90º throw on the 50mm lens means it focus is crisp and precise.
As to partaking in street photography with a film camera is now from the norm, but the OM-1 is the ideal camera, given that it is discrete and not very threatening. I mainly shoot with ISO 400 film utilising the hyperfocal technique and the Sunny 16 rule, it is a quick, quiet image assasin that allows me to grab candid shots.
I did have some fun the other day by gate-crashing a Transport Workers Union demonstration and joining the Press and proceeding to photograph the union leaders and politicians. It was quite surreal, and only one older journalist noticed I was using a film camera. Results speak for themselves, and the camera easily took to the job, delivering a high-quality image!
Hopefully, this little article has given you a glimpse into my joy of owning an Olympus OM-1. It has worked flawlessly for me for a long time. I do love the way she works and the images she produces. If you do see one on eBay that is in good working order, buy it. Life for you won’t be the same again, as it will be the equivalent of winning the lottery in a photographic sense!