Is the Olympus OM4ti camera relevant for 35mmc? I think so. The word “compact” is relative and open to interpretation. There are compact cars and compact vans for example; a ‘compact 35 mm SLR’ is not an unreasonable concept but it basically boils down to size rather than features (a good example would be the Olympus PEN-F from 1963).
A traditional ‘compact camera’ could be defined as:
- Small & light (fits into a shirt pocket)
- Fast & easy to compose and shoot
- Perhaps ruggedized/waterproofed
- Built in flash (or clip-on flash)
- Usually auto film-wind
- Usually 28, 35, 40 mm prime lens (or zoom – generally not so fast)
- Usually with auto-focus
- Usually with DX coding
- Metering range usually +EV only
They are currently available from $5 to $1500 – a massive price band for a single genre of camera (everybody likes them).
Certainly we cannot match an SLR to the full spec’ of a compact camera (with this long list of attributes – size being the priority). However, there are some great SLR options (e.g. Nikon F90) which can cover a wide range of the above features (and then some) so long as the larger size & weight can be accepted by the user.
That could be a non-starter of course (er, size?), but there are some things to bear in mind:
- You could spend 450-1000 GBP (or more) for a high-end compact camera (e.g. Contax or Ricoh). Alternatively you could buy a very nice SLR (for a fraction of the cost) or a high-end rangefinder – with loads of change
- It might be difficult to fix a compact camera if it breaks down (miniaturized moving parts and motors will only last so long: the repair costs could be punitive – assuming it is even possible)
- After a while in “auto” mode the curious photographer will always want more (manual modes may be limited or fiddly with a compact camera – the novelty might not last long)
So why choose an Olympus OM4Ti?
Not in any order:
The Olympus OM4ti is a small and beautiful camera, weighing in at 730 grams with 50 mm f1.8 Zuiko attached. (By comparison it is 110 grams lighter than a Leica M6 with 50 mm Zeiss.) The OM body is narrower & shorter than the Leica but approximately the same width. It will not fit into a conventional shirt pocket but the side pocket of cargo pants is OK (with some bubble wrap). I usually carry the OM inside the air vented pocket of my travel shirt (ideal for quick right hand access):
If you’re ready to accept a larger camera then perhaps a bigger pocket could work for you too? (Yes, for some folks that is a fatuous suggestion but for others, e.g. new to film, it might not be so unreasonable.) This is my shirt, I can recommend it!
The Olympus OM4ti was the pinnacle of the OM line up – built for long term & serious use. It has top and bottom plates made of titanium (hence the Ti suffix) and it feels “tough” yet precise in the hand (a real pleasure, similar to a Leica M in a way). Note the black paint chips easily – “mint” is rarely true when it comes to the cosmetics of this version of the camera. Overall it is not built to Nikon standards (e.g. FM2) but I have had immense satisfaction with OM’s for a very long time now (happily, my grass is green enough). For an example of toughness there is an OM4Ti torture test here.
A wide range of lenses are available and many are highly affordable (from 10.00 GBP upwards). There are ample resources online to guide your decisions, e.g. this one on Zone-10
The 28 mm f2.8 is the best OM lens I have (from 50 mm f1.8, 55 mm f1.2, 85 mm f2, 135 mm f2.8, 200 mm f4) – the negatives really jump out at you, like I get with the 35 mm Summicron on the M6. The 28 mm is not supposed to be a stellar lens (according to reviews) but that’s what I see with my own eyes (wonderful).
Side note: Although lens performance is very important, there seems to be an unhealthy obsession ($) with the technicalities of photography these days (e.g. using ‘fast glass’ and ‘bokeh’) – far more important is what makes up a great photo: subject, message, composition and lighting etc. (Not the smallest f-stop.)
As important as the camera itself. Olympus has a great pedigree and broad options for expansion if you’re inclined to go ‘non-compact’ down the line.
If there is ONE reason to buy the Olympus OM4ti it’s for the metering alone. Automatic Centre Weighted metering from -5EV to +19EV @ 100 ISO;f1.4 lens. In low light the automatic exposure extends to 4 minutes (-5EV being moonlight). The spot metering is available in auto or manual mode. The f-stop range (max and min, in view) can be used to adjust the exposure in tune with the characteristic (contrast) curve of the film in use (if you have time and inclination to ponder the shot). It is a great system for experimentation and learning: it helps explain by how much you can adjust the exposure for the required effect.
Side note: My beloved OM1 conked out a while ago but I will probably not fix it – why? Because once you get used to the OM4 metering there is no going back – it changes the way you shoot for the better (more contemplation and better results). If I have two bodies and one canister of film the OM1 will not get a look-in (why waste the opportunity?).
I picked up an Olympus OM4Ti (8/10 condition) for 196.50 GBP off ebay. I also bought a 50 mm Zuiko f1.8 (10/10 condition) for 27.50 GBP. My all-in cost was 224.00 GBP plus shipping (purchased inside the UK). That is a great deal by any standard – patience is needed of course – you could pay a lot more.
The Olympus OM4Ti can be considered a ‘compact SLR camera’ and is worthy of consideration – Not in any order:
- It’s relatively small and light compared to its ‘compact’ peers (e.g. Nikon F’s and Pentax L’s & M’s)
- It’s a pleasure to own and use. It is a camera (and system) of high spec’ with lots of options down the line
- A wide range of affordable lenses to choose from. There are a some winners (which can be very expensive) but I would urge caution on Zuiko hyperbole: they’re “OK” in my view but in most cases they’re not going to make or break a good photograph
- Stunning metering that provides exposure guidance in a very intuitive way (up to 8 spots averaged). Once you take advantage of this system you will find it very hard using anything else (esp. for zone system aficionados)
- In Auto-mode, with reasonable light and 400 ISO film, you effectively have a point and shoot (using a prime lens with hyperfocal distance set accordingly) – there is no on/off switch
- Full manual control when needed, and no complex menu/button/dial layout like many modern film SLRs (it’s back to basics with a bonus on the metering)
- No motors for film advance or focusing (potential weak spots – long term). Plus, motors mean more power/batteries/weight. (An F90 body weighs more than an OM4Ti with 50 mm attached)
- The OM4Ti is worth repairing if it breaks down (within reason) and there are still specialist shops available
A 35 mm SLR is most likely no substitute for the high-end compact camera you may be dreaming about (they are indeed very appealing: the size & feel; the sheer simplicity; the convenience and the flash – all add up to a compelling package).
However, if you are unsure about the decision, or are concerned about the cost or durability (such as the real end use & long term satisfaction?) then why not pause for a moment and explore some ‘compact’ 35 mm SLRs? Maybe the trade-offs on size vs. features are negotiable for you? If so, the Olympus OM4Ti might just fit the bill (with a new shirt of course!).
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