5 frames with...

5 Frames at an Airshow with the OM-1n and the Zuiko 300mm – By Ed Lara

Olympus OM-1 300mm 4.5

The Olympus OM-1 was always my dream camera since I got into photography in seventh grade. It took several more years of borrowing classmates’ cameras and an interlude with a Pentax ME Super before I finally got my hands on my first OM-1n, purchased with my own money in 1983. It has served me well since then, even well into my transition to digital. That said, it’s been sitting on the display shelf mostly over the last few years, so I recently decided to take it along with me to shoot at the 2019 New York Air Show.

I was a bit concerned about how I would do shooting fast jets with this set up. I have continued to shoot film with manual focus lenses, so that wasn’t the issue. When I shoot air shows these days I typically shoot with autofocus digital cameras; the last time I shot an air show with my OM-1 and a manual lens was in the 90s, and I wondered whether I still could get the timing and focus right with manual focus and a fairly heavy lens. I decided to give it a go anyway with an old OM Zuiko 300mm F4.5 which I bought a few years back to use on my Sony A7ii.

The OM-1n has a top shutter speed of 1/1000, which is okay for slower moving aircraft but I was not sure it would be enough to catch some of the jets during their high speed passes. I loaded the film with my trusty Kodak Ultramax 400, and started off by practicing on some pretty benign subjects like planes on the static display line, and then progressed to slower prop planes doing their aerobatics. Thankfully it was bright and sunny that day, so I could keep to the top shutter speed and use smaller apertures to hedge against being slightly out of focus. I finally started shooting the fast jet displays, and found that all the old reflexes were still functioning pretty well, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I go the film developed.

I sent the two rolls off for developing and the Kansas-based film lab uploaded the scanned image to Dropbox a week and a half later. I waited with nervousness for the images to download. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Except for the occasional light leak which I did not know was there, I did get some pretty decent photos of many of the performers, including the RAF Red Arrows who are in the US for their 2019 tour, as well as the USAF’s new F-35.

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I would not trade in digital cameras with PDAF to shoot future air shows, but at least I know my trusty OM-1 and its 300mm can still get some decent photographs of fast-moving aircraft.

You can see more of my images on my Instagram feed @photoedontheweb. Thanks a bunch for reading!

Ed Lara

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10 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Steven Cremer
    October 31, 2019 at 11:04 am

    Hi Ed,
    You have done a fantastic job of nailing the exposure and focus. My reflexes are not as good.
    The last shot either shows flare or light leak. It is quite possible to get a good technician to fix any issues with your camera. The Olympus Om1n was my first camera too, very solidly made and reliable. You composition is excellent, I like your photos much.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Photoedontheweb
      October 31, 2019 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks, Steven. The light was pretty constant so I just used Sunny 16 rule and kept the settings constant. I was definitely bummed out to discover the light leak, and a few shots were actually quite messed up. I used Lightroom to correct some of the damage out on the photo of the F-35 that you reference. I will probably send it in for repair, or maybe even buy a light seal replacement kit and go DIY.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Matthias
    October 31, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Wow, I’m very impressed – sharp images of fast moving planes with a manual focus 300mm prime and an old SLR !
    I even have trouble getting proper focus with my Minolta MD Tele Rokkor 4/200mm and the XD-7 / X700 on static subjects – focusing on moving subjects I would’n even try.
    With my Sony A7II with IBIS, focus peaking and magnification I could surely get some decent shots on moving subjets, but I find it hard enough. What you did is complete voodoo for me.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Photoedontheweb
      October 31, 2019 at 12:22 pm

      Matthias- thanks a lot, I laughed at your comment about this being voodoo! Frankly, I was very nervous about how the shots would come out as the OM-1 finder is nowhere near as bright as the EVFs on my digital cameras. That said, with a little pre-focusing and doing my best to keep the aircraft in frame, things turned out ok. Many thanks! Ed

  • Avatar
    Reply
    MJ
    October 31, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Ed – Outstanding photography.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Photoedontheweb
      October 31, 2019 at 12:20 pm

      Thanks a lot!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Dave Haynie
    November 1, 2019 at 1:49 am

    Cool.. finally, a rig I own myself. I started with Olympus and an OM-1 in the 70s, bought an OM-4 in the 80s, and I own the 300mm f/4.5, though it’s more often on my OM-D E-M1 Mark Ii than any of the SLRs. Though my niece was shooting film on the OM-4 about a month ago!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Photoedontheweb
      November 2, 2019 at 12:17 am

      Thanks for sharing, Dave. How do you find the OM-4? I’ve been toying with buying one or the rarer OM-3, but can’t figure out what incremental gain I would have vs. the OM-1n. I used to own an OM-2 as well, and recognize the 4 has aperture-preferred auto exposure vs. the OM-1 or OM-3, but not sure that in and of itself justifies adding yet another camera to the collection!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Dave
    November 1, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Ed, excellent work –especially hand-held with a long lens….

    I suspect you’d find an OM Winder to be enormously useful here, for winding on without taking the frame from your eye — Winder1 (0.3 sec) for the OM-1, or Winder2 (2.5fps) for OM-1(n). These use AA batteries and are readily available for very little $, and are pretty well bulletproof. And then there’s the lovely 5fps OM motor drive – but it takes NiCd battery packs of which nearly all would now require rebuilding with new cells.

    I spy a Contax G2 in the background. What say you give us 5 frames from THAT??

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Photoedontheweb
      November 2, 2019 at 12:14 am

      Dave – thank you very much! I used to have the Winder 1 but sold it several years ago when I started to use the OM-1n less and less. I may end up buying one again eventually. And, yes, well spotted on the G2! I do intend to do a review of that beauty at some point, perhaps in a two part showdown of film RF cameras vs. my M4-2! Thanks for the idea!

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