Olympus OM1 – Return of a Classic

In order for you to understand why this camera is so important to me, I’ll have to take you back in the mid-90s. It shan’t be a long journey, I promise. For those of you who were using a film camera in those years, the following story will be very familiar; for those who came after that into film photography, have a seat. Because yes, there is yet another “me and my cameras” boring story to be shared with people who heard it all before. I am not going to rant though about what this camera does or not, no technical stuff because there are plenty other people, much more knowledgeable than I, who said all about it. No, this is a trip down memory lane, as it were.

When I became more interested in 35mm photography and cameras, the 90s were in full swing; there were no digital cameras to be seen about, and so photography was all about film. Any decent photographic supplies shop could fill your bag with (almost) any film of your desire, be that colour transparency, slide or simple b&w. I was traveling a lot in those days, in and out of the UK, and for most of the voyages I never took more than 2-3 films with me. I always would find a shop somewhere to buy more, if needed. Of course, a small village in south of France would not have film for sale, but usually when going to such remote places one had to make provisions.

Chemicals were also plentiful in the shops, never have I needed something and not be able to find it over the counter at this or other shop. Online purchases were rare, and it a real pleasure to have a good walk to the nearest shop and chat with the guys there about this film, or that camera. You see, back then, people working in these shops were knowledgeable about the stuff they sold. At least many more than it is the norm today, I guess.

During that time, I was pretty much into Minox photography, which was my main hobby. Other film formats, such as 35mm, 110 and 120 were for a long time just a diversion from the struggle I usually had with the tiny 8×11 format of the Minox camera. But slowly, some of the 35mm film I acquired for cutting it to Minox size went in the 35mm cameras I began collecting during this period. Not only 35mm cameras, but some 120 as well. I was always fascinated by the mechanical gears, springs, lens and levers that make a classic camera. So I began to use them just for fun. I do have rather good memories of a Welta Weltix folder, Kodak Retina, Voigtlander, etc.

At some point, I believe it was in 1996 or 1997, a friend of mine who was in the building business came to me with a photographic bag filled with 2 cameras, lenses, filters, film and a tripod tied up on the bottom of the bag. He said he found it in a condemned building, marked to be taken down. He knew I was dabbling in photography, so he brought it to me as a gift. A nice thing to do, although he would have gotten some cash for the bag and its content. All he got from me was a couple of pints at The Hogwash, my regular pub back then.

One of the cameras was an Olympus OM1, in very good condition, together with Zuiko 50/1.4, 1.8 and a Hoya 38-70/3.5 which was a perfect fit for the OM mount. Several filters also, all 49mm, the basics. A couple of focusing screens, damaged so not usable. A cable release, and a lens rubber hood, the collapsible type. The bag was a canvas Olympus in somewhat tattered condition, but perfectly usable.

Cleaned everything, tested the camera with new batteries (yes, the mercury 1.35 were still around at that time) and started to use the beautiful OM1. However, not long after, sold it like the stupid sob that I am, to a fellow who was imploring me to sell it to him. So I did, and for a handsome amount. Never felt any remorse, which does say something the bird brain that I was back then (and to a certain extent, even today).

Fast forward a lot of years, I began to feel the need of that camera; mind you, I was already in 35mm heavily, a constant user of Nikon SLR’s. Once I got my excellent FM3A, I started to feel the need to use again a Nikon contender, which Olympus certainly provided plenty during the 70s and 80s. And so I decided to get back the OM1, to fill up that empty space. Of course, this is an elaborate method to say that GAS took over me quite heavily. And not meaning the same camera, mind.

And so I waited and waited for a good one to show up on the market, which is very large in this respect. But the ones in very good condition were from outside the EU (meaning taxes and VAT and God knows what else), making a possible return even more expensive. Many had issues, and so I passed these. At one point, I half-decided I am going to postpone this project, as the time was flying and I was side-tracked by other stuff going on.

Finally, a local seller came up with this beautiful OM1 in pristine, almost new condition, and that re-lit the fire. Got the camera for a song, just the body. I forgot to say that when I sold the original OM1, I kept everything else, lenses and such. The Zuiko 50/1.4 I used on a OM10, my go-to Olympus for a couple of decades. So I had everything I needed for this new arrival, and everything came back to me, closing a circle I broke without knowing that one day, it’ll have to be redrawn again. That it did, and this OM1 is again in my hands, making me smile.

The camera is already converted to take 1.5v battery and transforming it to 1.35v; the meter is perfect, no issues whatsoever. Everything is working right, the insides are almost brand new. I found myself falling again for the bright and large viewfinder. The smooth operation of the film advance, the silky sound of the mirror, like the touch of a feather falling on grass. And of course, the awkwardness of the shutter speed dial on the front of the camera, the +/- type of meter reading came back to me too.

I have fitted it with the usual Zuiko 50/1.8 that has a metal screw-in hood, a gift from an old gentleman, owner of a small camera shop in St. Albans’; bought a Kodak Retina of him and he gave me 3 or 4 metal hoods, some 32 filters, and a genuine brand new Olympus strap. I still have these and cherish them.

So, yes; circle has closed and all is well. a camera that was wanted so bad just came back. This makes me happy and although I know that years passed, me not getting younger again, I will not use it as much as I would’ve in the past. Even so, it is good for the soul to revisit gone years of our youth and remember. It is very likely that now, at this time and age, I will probably enjoy this beautiful OM1 much more than back 30 yrs ago, I guess.

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23 thoughts on “Olympus OM1 – Return of a Classic”

  1. I have two OM1s and I agree that they are lovely to handle and use. They have what I call the “fondle factor” of a classic camera – am I prepared to sit in the lounge and spend the evening holding, caressing and clicking them! However, I have found them to be less than reliable. I have taken each on holiday with me in the past, and each time they have broken down. I suppose that they are pushing 50 years’ old now, but some of my other cameras are older than that and have proved (so far!) to be reliable. I still use the OM1s – the results can be staggering – but only locally. I did buy an OM4, hoping for greater reliability but on receipt it didn’t work! The seller repaired it for me (thank you ffordes) without question, but I have not yet put it to the holiday test. All part of the fun of using old classic cameras!

    1. David, sorry to hear that. I can’t say I have a bad experience with any of my OM’s, but then again I never push them too far. As with all things mechanical, these will break down, of course; it’s just a matter of time, sadly.

      Hopefully, your OM4 will provide a lot of fun and have a longer life than the OM1s.

  2. Brian Bednarek

    My first ever “real” camera was an OM-1 that I got in 1976 as a Freshman in College. I still have it and use it!!! It’s a solid camera!!!

  3. Hi Julian,

    as a fellow sufferer from GAS I have looked into potential cures. One could focus on the few cameras that you enjoy shooting most. One could think of cameras as tools to take pictures so you don’t get attached to them. You could even consider that happiness doesn’t come from acquiring more and more stuff and instead invest in human relationships, worthwhile activities and becoming a spiritually enriched rounded personality.

    After careful consideration of all the above I decided I like my problem more than the potential solutions and decided to keep it. Talking about bird brains.

    And so enavitably, an Olympus OM 1 ended up in my eclectic camera collection, along with an OM 4 ti. I love them both, but I can’t really find their film advance being smooth at all. My trusted Olympus technician told me they was meant to be like that. Maybe he’s wrong?
    Anyway, enjoy your Oly, nice post!


  4. Hi Julian!

    The OM-1 truly is a beautiful camera! I discovered one at a thrift store in beautiful condition with the 50mm f1.8 lens (though the lens has a dented filter ring). I love how you described the process of using the camera; its enormous viewfinder and one-handed focusing/metering is a uniquely smooth experience!

    It is funny how cameras (and other tools like them) come and go throughout different time periods of our lives. Each time they enter or exit, they reveal something more about our interests, priorities, and budgets. I’m glad this camera found its way back to you and is bringing you joy.

    1. Indeed, the OM1 is what I would call a part of my life that I am glad it happened the way it did. Perhaps we cherish more those things we parted with, when young and inexperienced, only to find later in life that we were wrong. But this is life, right?

      Thank you for your comment, really beautiful understanding on what I wanted to say !

      1. I purchased the first OM 1 that came to my town. Yes I am a boomer, I still have it, and works as designed. One of the features that camera has which was rare at the time, was the ability to lock the mirror for long exposure. I have always used Olympus, and I am sorry to see their end. I carried at least two cameras one with b&w film Tri X the other one with Ektachrome or Kodachrome. I set the straps at different lengths to identify them, Tri X long strap, chrome short strap. Used electrical tape to attach four film canisters to the strap to carry unused film, for quick access. Ah those were the days.

  5. This was my first “proper” camera, bought new in 1978 with a 50mm f/1.8. As you state, the viewfinder is magnificent and the shutter/mirror slap is so subtle. And the Zuiko lenses are like tiny jewels by today’s standards. Anyone that shoots Leica M would be shocked to see how close in dimension the bottom plate of the OM-1 is to an M4-P or M6. Best of luck with your camera!

    1. JK, thank you, the camera is indeed minute, compared with say, my Nikon FM3A. The comparison with the Leica is really interesting, and I do approve of it, for my Leica IIIf bottom plate is pretty much the same width as the OM1’s one.

      Really appreciated !

      1. Hi keen amateur aged 76 here. I’ve just been extremely lucky at a local auction a bag of virtually new camera gear all Olympus OM1 plus lenses 28mm, 50mm 1.8 and 1.4, 135mm, 35-70mm, 75-150mm, Winder II, 2x screens, OM flash all in a kit bag for £90. I’m hoping to use a black & white film at Maldon Essex on some of the Thames barges which I’ve wanted to do for ages. Wish me luck.

  6. Ah the joy of holding the dainty OM-1. Caressing the shutter speed ring around the barrel (none of this silly top panel shutter speed dial business!). The quiet click of the shutter. All of it perfectly engineered. No doubt my favourite 35mm camera. I wrote about the Olympus OM-1 and the joy of using it on my blog recently. It’s a delightful machine currently on holiday in Luton while I sunbathe on summer vacation.

  7. Very excellent camera this OM-1. What I love most about it is….well, everything. But really, the size and weight, the excellent lenses and the fact that the shutter is in the lens makes it perfect for. It’s like having a 35mm version of my Hasselblad 500CM. I remember those days fondly. If you had a Nikon FM3a at that time you were blessed. They’re more expensive now. Keep your hands on it for future investment. I started with Minolta then switched to Nikon as soon as I compared the viewfinder. I also looked into the Canon A1, but decided to go with Nikon. At that time Canon was using breech loaded lenses and I heard that eventually the springs would wear out, but I never bought to know if it was true or not. Many excellent cameras from the 60’s, 70’s, etc. I miss those days. Thank you for this article and a walk down memory lane.

    1. Tim, I know exactly what you mean; the OM1 is like that, true. Funny thing, I also have an FM3A and at times, I have quote a dilemma which one to take on my travels. So they usually go together, plus my F4 and lenses. Glad to hear from you, take care !

  8. Fond memories for me also.. mine was an om2 though and it ðidnt take long for me to lose the winder somehow so I progressed to the om4, the metering on that was a joy to use. I shot slide film as my father had but could never manage more than one keeper in a roll!! As film became expensive in the 2000s to shoot the cameras became idle.. it wasn’t until the Canon g9 then the lumix gf1 showed me that digital had come of age that I resumed shooting. I hated the awful quality of most early digital cameras. I returned to my old om4 10 years ago and reignited my love for film. Went slightly overboard and now have a large collection of cameras of all formats and have even gone completely down the rabbit hole shooting wetplate on a 4×5 plate camera. The old om4 has been replaced by a TI as it started dropping frames for some reason. Electronics!! Thanks for triggering my memories!,

  9. Steven Kennedy

    I feel the same about my spotmatic. In my view, the very first compact slr.
    I still use the same one I bought in 1970.

  10. Hi keen amateur aged 76 here. I’ve just been extremely lucky at a local auction a bag of virtually new camera gear all Olympus OM1 plus lenses 28mm, 50mm 1.8 and 1.4, 135mm, 35-70mm, 75-150mm, Winder II, 2x screens, OM flash all in a kit bag for £90. I’m hoping to use a black & white film at Maldon Essex on some of the Thames barges which I’ve wanted to do for ages. Wish me luck.

    1. Roger, that was a hell of a bargain you had. That gathering of photo stuff would cost almost an arm these days, bought separately. I am sure you’ll put the camera and accessories to good work!

      I wish you luck with the new project, Thames barges are a great subject. Have you thought to do a similar one on some of the old river routes up north? Those old barges are a real pleasure to look and to photograph.

      Best of luck !

  11. Id have mentioned how important it is to have the mirror foams changed as soon as you buy one to prevent deteriorating 70s foam stripping patches of the mirror surface in the viewfinder, all three of mine have been done and are okay. Looked in my nikon FM viewfinder this week, which i regard as a superior camera, but the nikon viewfinder is so dark compared to olympus its like night and day

  12. I still suffer from remorse for having sold the OM-2 my late father gave to me when I was growing up in the 80’s. I have since acquired a replacement along with an OM-1, and recently an OM-4 which has somewhat helped ease my guilt. I’ll never make the same mistake again, and when the time comes to bequeath my precious collection of Olympus cameras and lenses to my children, they must promise to me to never sell or donate to anyone other than their own children

  13. I had and used Olympus gear for years professionally, I had the OM-1, OM-2 OM-4 and the OM-10 with motor drives on the 1, 2, and 4 and a bag full of lenses, the 75-150 was favourite, used them for candid shots on Weddings and Functions etc, with my main Wedding gear was a couple of Rollie twin Lens Reflex (wish I still had them) but sold them for a couple of Mamiya C330 interchangeable lens Twin Lens Reflex with the full set of lenses, then sold them once the Bronica ETR and then the ETRs came out, had 4 bodies with 120 and 220 backs, Polaroid Back, Motor Drive on one of them, Speed Grip Winder on the others, had the Auto Meter finder, waist level finder, and the Rotary Finder, and the Pro Bellows Lens shade which was great for doing effects with like Vignetting, softfocus etc using home made drop in filters, no digital effects in those days, had to all be done on Camera

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