SLRs

The Olympus OM4Ti – a ‘compact’ SLR Camera – Guest post by Guy

Olympus OM4ti

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
  • Viewfinder/Rangefinder
  • 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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)
  3. 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:

Size

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):

OM4 and shirt - 2

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!

Quality

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.

Lenses

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.)

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OM System

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.

Metering

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?).

Value

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.

In summary

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

Emily

Bottom Line

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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15 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    John Lockwood
    September 12, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. The metering is very advanced, allowing spot metering of both highlight and shadow areas. This was part of a very complete system, including detachable motor winders and drives and a stunning array of quality glass.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Dexter
    September 13, 2016 at 9:02 am

    I would fix my OM-1 but that’s just me. Great review, will be keeping my eye out for one of these as I love my OM-1N (which coincidentally needs fixing), OM-10 and OM-20. Keep picking up bargains in charity shops!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      GW
      September 13, 2016 at 9:11 am

      Dexter,
      I think I should fix the OM1 – we’ve been through a lot together and I did have the 1.5V conversion done for the metering. Lovely little camera too!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    September 13, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I’m a big fan of 35mm SLRs from the pre-plastic era. They never seem to get much love, but I think it was one of the most important ‘golden ages’ of camera production (pre-zoom compacts with good glass being our go-to golden age on 35mmc) and there are so many options out there. Even the less fashionable brands (i.e. less expensive) like Praktica will give you a tremendous amount of versatility and bang for your buck.

    My favourite, though, is my black Pentax MX. This was Pentax’s last hurrah for the all-manual SLR at a time when more and more complex electronics were going into cameras and it’s a thing of beauty. I also have a (somewhat larger, but still pretty compact) Canon A-1 and while the Canon is perfectly adequate and usable, the Pentax is a joy to shoot. Every mechanism feels smooth and precise, every action satisfyingly solid. Maybe even Leica-like (if anyone wants to send me a Barnack Leica for comparison, that would be great). Although the MX is fully manual in operation, it has a (very reliable) uncoupled light meter as well, giving you the best of both worlds: the convenience of a built-in meter with the comfort of knowing no electrical fault will ever kill the camera. Best of all, and most relevant to this article, is that when paired with the 40mm f/2.8 ‘pancake’ lens, the MX will fit easily in a jacket pocket, making it more compact than some larger ‘compacts’. It’s a great lens, too. The 50mm f/1.7 is supposed to be the better lens (and it’s certainly more versatile) but I haven’t observed a noticeable decrease in quality when using the 40mm and I find the smaller size more than outweighs the extra stop.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      GW
      September 13, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Ken,
      A google of “Pentax MX” provides a nice size comparison with the OM (the MX looks smaller to me!). There was a 40 mm f2 Zuiko pancake lens for the OM but I understand they are pretty rare and expensive. I wonder if a Voigtlander 40mm f/2 Ultron could be made to fit?

  • Avatar
    Reply
    alexandre
    September 13, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    big fan of the OM line here! i got them all except for the elusive OM3.
    this is great line of cameras for the reason you cited, compact, resilient and most importantly: not enough sought after to drive prices up (except for a few pieces: OM3, 40f2…). good deal can still be had.
    i finally found a grail of mine, the OM4ti, after a long search. it was mint and didn’t cost me a fortune. bummer is i didn’t liked it at all! the release is too soft, too many buttons and the sound of the mirror not as loud as the others (i love that sound!).
    i went back to the OM2 and the OM4ti in its box…
    but it’s a cool piece in a collection 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    jeremy north
    September 14, 2016 at 6:26 am

    Thanks for this review Guy, nice use of a shoehorn to get it into the blog. As you say, SLRs didn’t come any more compact than the OMs.
    Olympus was a field leader when it came to metering, especially in auto mode. They were the first to meter from light hitting the film itself.
    I’ve not played with the 4Ti but I do have an OM2n which is even prettier, more compact and is incredibly quiet in use. If the 4Ti is as smooth then it’s a great camera.

    It looks like you got yourself a real bargain there, I’ve seen them going for twice as much.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Nicholas
    September 14, 2016 at 6:43 am

    I was toying with writing something for my OM-4Ti but you’ve beaten me to the punch with a great review! I love how tiny (for an SLR) this is and it’s my favourite “low-light” or challenging situations camera. I love how it has an averaging exposure meter (point and record exposure for highlights and shadows and the OM-4Ti will calculate the average exposure reading of the two. Handy!).

    • Avatar
      Reply
      GW
      September 14, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Nicholas,
      I have a draft article on spot metering with the OM4 and how it relates to the film’s characteristic curve. We’ll see how that goes and hopefully publish soon.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    BOB RAYSON
    September 15, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    I still use a Contax 139 with 50mm f1.4,great combo

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Crusoe
    January 14, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Hi,

    can somebody tell me where I can find these leather straps? They are looking very decent and well made. I am highly interested to buy 2 of them for my OM-1n and OM-2n.

    Thanks!
    Crusoe

    • Avatar
      Reply
      GW
      January 14, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      Crusoe,
      I bought the strap in 2013. Nice, but too short for my liking. Check the length, and what you are used to having.
      Now if you carry two cameras on your chest having one shorter strap means they will not clunk into each other, but that’s not a situation I have been in.

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00ABUWI8G/ref=pe_385721_37986871_TE_item

      Rgds – Guy

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Dustin
    February 2, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Second generation OM Shooter here. Bought a black OM2N because my father always had one. I got a deal at $56. The camera was missing the self timer cover but not like I was gonna use it anyways. Wouldn’t mind owning a OM4TI in the future!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Barry Reid
    March 10, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    The OM-4 Ti is a great camera to use, Probably the best combination of size/weight/features in any manual focus body, at least for me. Aperture priority auto, multi-spot meter and manual wind on make it an all killer, no filler version of the T90 I learned on back in the 90s.

    The downside, for me at least, is the Zuiko lenses which tend to be a little too contrasty with a slight colour cast in the cyan range.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    David Hill
    August 4, 2018 at 11:42 am

    A late note, but ….
    Fabulous camera, great handling and it has that meter-to-die-for. I used mine hard, through hell and back for 10 years, but my lesson is Keep It Out Of The Weather. These are not weatherproof, and if the electronics go haywire you’re left with 1/60th and nothing else. There are no replacement circuit boards. Learn from my despair.
    A fast motor drive (5fps) is available but by today the NiCd cells have mostly gone kaput and will need restoration; the slower “Winder” drives are inexpensive and reliable and use AA cells.
    I still dream of getting a OM-3T … All-mechanical, with the 4Ti meter. But oh dear god they’re expensive…

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