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.
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!