Olympus OM – 42 years, Full Circle Back to Where I Started

Back in January 1981, I was in my final year at university, and after a Christmas holiday spent doing an incredibly boring job, I had more than the usual student grant money in my pocket. Enough to think about replacing the Cosmic 35 camera which had been on long-term loan from my brother for quite a few years.

I can’t recall what influenced my decision (was it adverts, reviews, alcohol, or maybe all three?), but I became the proud owner of an Olympus OM10. For the next few years it went everywhere with me, and served me well. I was happy using just the aperture priority auto mode, and never bothered adding the manual adapter. Not wanting to pay Zuiko prices, a couple of cheaper compatible lenses were added, a Paragon 24mm and a rather large Kiron 28-210mm zoom. More about those later…

Subject matter was everything from holidays to office parties, and I still have scrapbooks filled with images of forgotten people and places. Sadly the negatives from those early years were lost in a domestic flood incident, but I have managed to scan in a couple of the less battered surviving prints.

Somewhere near Burley Rd, Leeds, c.1981
Somewhere near Burley Rd, Leeds, OM10, c.1981
Fisherman, Sheringham, c.1981
Fisherman, Sheringham, OM10, c.1981

I am pretty sure the OM10 was joined by its smaller junior cousin, an XA3, in the mid 1980s, and again, that will reappear later in the saga.

Moving on a few more years, the OM10 was traded in for the more advanced OM2SP, but although it was well used at first, it was relegated to the back of a cupboard when… children arrived. Taking a relatively large, valuable camera on family days out, often to the beach, didn’t seem such a good idea, so the more pocketable XA3 became the new favourite.

Over the next twenty-plus years there followed a few other point-and-shoot cameras, and of course, some early digital examples, at which point all of the 35mm kit joined the OM2SP in the cupboard. In fact, I was so confident that film was a thing of the past that I sold the OM2SP, although I can’t remember when, how, or who to.

An earlier article here chronicled my return to 35mm in 2019, the result of coming across that XA3 again, and finding that it still worked. A Kiev4a arrived soon afterwards, and much of the lockdown years were spent trying, and keeping or selling, a number of other cameras of all shapes and sizes.

Through it all, the Kiev was used the most, and a few other Jupiter lenses were added. Then I chanced upon the camera it was based on – an early Contax IIa. Somebody was selling just the body, but most of those Jupiter lenses would fit just fine, so I bought it. Now, the Kiev is a heavy old beast, handy in a fight, and although the mechanisms might well run forever, they do always feel a bit on the clunky side. By comparison, the Contax is smooth, to say the least. It became my regular camera until disaster struck, just as I was putting a film in before a holiday.

A broken shutter cord put it out of action, and even a Contax repair expert thought he might struggle to replace the part. I went back to the Kiev for that holiday, but when I came back, with no word on the Contax repair, I began to wonder if it was going to be the Kiev forever, or maybe I could try something else.

Then a strange thing happened during a routine household sort-out. Remember those other OM lenses which I bought back in the OM10 days? They were still in the cupboard. Why I didn’t sell them with the OM2SP I have no idea, but there they were, saying “use me, use me…”

Olympus OM cameras are plentiful, and not ridiculously expensive. After a few years of using cameras with no meter at all, I didn’t feel the need to go for anything with bells & whistles, and taking the advice that the single digit models tend to be more reliable all these years later, I quickly found a nice OM1. Turn the meter on if you need it, otherwise it is a purely manual camera, with a great viewfinder, and the lenses in the cupboard can see light again.

York alleyway, OM1, Kodak 400tx
York alleyway, OM1, Kodak 400tx
York busker, OM1, Kodak 400tx
York busker, OM1, Kodak 400tx
York snappers, OM1, Kodak 400tx
York snappers, OM1, Kodak 400tx
Carved stones, Derwent Water, OM1, Kodak 400tx
Carved stones, Derwent Water, OM1, Kodak 400tx
Derwent Water, OM1, Kodak 400tx
Derwent Water, OM1, Kodak 400tx

That was last year, and some other lenses, genuine Zuiko this time, have been added since then. The Contax was eventually repaired, and works well again, but coming full circle back to Olympus OM feels right for now. Not too heavy to carry around, quick to use, lenses a-plenty, and (so far) reliable. It has taken forty two years, but I am back where it all began.

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15 thoughts on “Olympus OM – 42 years, Full Circle Back to Where I Started”

  1. I received my OM1 as a (I think 14th) birthday present back in the early 1980s, came with me everywhere, got relegated to a cupboard with the advent of autofocus and then digital and was rediscovered about two years ago now, so a similar story. There is a great ‘feel’ to them and a mechanical purity and simplicity that I still find impressive. My three Zuiko lenses are as good as anything else on the market, to my eyes at least. So your article resonates with me very much. You’ve inspired me to go back to the cupboard today and load her up with whatever film I have lying about and reconnect with my old camera and all the memories that are contained within….thank you!

  2. Just as a footnote, I’m the kind big brother who started the ball rolling by lending Steve the Cosmic 35 back in the 1970s. It’s Khrushchev era Soviet plastic but it still works perfectly, 53 years after I received it as a birthday present.

  3. Alasdair Mackintosh

    I probably have too many cameras, but if I had to start selling them, the OM-1 would be last. It’s small, light, and perfectly designed, with an amazing viewfinder, and the Zuiko lenses are jewel-like.

    I like the second Derwent Water picture. Perfect exposure and composition. What lens?

  4. In college as I was beginning my photo journey I had a borrowed Minolta SRT-101. I used it for about a year before I had enough saved to buy my own camera. That was about the same time as the OM-1 came out and I grabbed one. Loved that little camera. After I started my first newspaper job I switched to Nikon. It seemed the camera I needed and also since everyone else had one I could borrow from others if I needed something. I gave my two OM-1 bodies and my lenses to a friend and a brother. Just a couple years ago they both sent them back to me. One needs some TLC and the other is almost pristine. I have four Zuiko lenses and a variety of accessories. I have been contemplating loading up one of the bodies and venturing out. Your post and photos have inspired me.

  5. I started my photography adventure back in the 70s with a little point and shoot, my first proper camera, I liked to think so was a Zenit , can’t exactly remember the model, XP10 rings a bell. That lump of a camera went everywhere with me and served me well. For my 21st I was gifted an OM40 program, the level of sophistication was mind blowing after the old russian lump, but sadly that was it’s downfall it was too sophisticated and after a few years just stopped working. I went through various cameras after that some good some bad, ending up with very expensive Nikon and Sony Digital kit… Like you I found the old russian and put a roll in and enjoyed the discipline of film again, but dam it’s a heavy camera. So I went on eBay and found a OM4ti (the camera I always wanted but couldn’t afford) the lightness and build quality is astonishing. Soon after I bought and OM2 (original model mint) and then a OM2sp… I’m hooked again.

      1. What a beautiful story Steve, thanks. I enjoyed reading it so much (was the story itself, nostalgia, alcohol, or maybe all three?). Looking forward to seeing how your relationship with the OM unfolds this time. Cheers!

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