Alistair Maclean's Web Site
Olympus OM-1

A Real Camera!

The Olympus OM-1 was one hot camera in 1977. It was being lauded with awards from every corner. It was a tiny camera that showed the world that even 35mm SLR's didn't have to be huge, heavy, bulky things. Its primary adversary was the Canon AT-1. The OM-2 which offered more features was considered a true professionals camera, the television adverts at the time had David Bailey sporting one on his travels.

My old Olympus

I took my 200 UK pounds to the Co-operative camera department in Lincoln and bought the camera that had been a star in my eye for a year or more. I had worked hard all summer to afford it. As I walked to the store I felt so exposed, 200 quid! I was going to be assaulted by every thug in town! No such thing happened. I ordered the camera with a 50mm lens and got in return 1 pound in change. My cameras up to this time had all cost less than this (put together). I had the instruction book open in under an hour, slavering over the pictures of the "Olympus Camera System".

The first impression was of how small the camera was. It is truly tiny for a full featured 35mm SLR. It is quite light, though modern plastic and carbon fiber cameras weigh less. The wind on mechanism was quality personified, silky and quiet. The shutter fired with a whisper. There were alsorts of doodad's on the camera. Some of these I have never made use of (i.e., the back is detachable to take a 250 exposure back. the mirror can be locked up so the motor drive unit can do 10 fps, the flash connector has a setting for the use of flash bulbs, the self timer).

I got a several lenses over the years for the OM-1, these included:

  • Tamron 135mm f2.8 telephoto
  • Tamron 500mm f8 mirror telephoto
  • Olympus 28mm f3.5 wide angle
  • Olympus 200mm f4 telephoto (a beautiful lens)
I also had mounts to allow the use of some of my older lenses, though I would advise against this approach, the quality of modern lenses is worth the financial agony.

I slowly worked on getting System parts. I obtained two autowinders (the first got so much abuse that it failed and I needed a second as a replacement.) I found the autowinders to be a blessing. As easy as the film is to wind on with the manual lever the winder made it possible to avoid taking the camera from the eye. I rarely ever used the winders in fully auto mode, film consumption seemed inversely proportional to good shots. I also obtained a remote shutter release. I used this on may occasions to allow subjects to take photo's of themselves, while I held the camera. I also used it with the longest lenses to relieve the worst effects of camera shake.

In use the only odd thing was the shutter speed setting. This was done with a ring that formed the throat of the lens mount. It was not a bad place, just a different place, and one I never completely got used to.

To this day I am always stunned that I can take the 28mm lens, and with a body cap and lens cap go almost anywhere with the camera in one pocket and the lens in another.

The camera offered the ability to change the fresnel screen that presents you with the focus reticle. I changed this from the split focus ring to a fine matte ring. I always found this better, particularly as the longer lenses in stopped down mode almost always caused one of the splits to go dark and really make a mess of the focusing. It was during one on my idle moments that I managed to do critical damage to the camera. I had removed screen to do some cleaning, I noticed what looked like a hair, used some tweezers to tug it out, and found to my horror it was the tiny arm of the light meter! The meter has never been quite right since, even after repair by Olympus in London.

Over time certain parts too a lot of batter, one that I feel most sad about was that the terminals for the autowinder wore to their limits. This meant that the autowinder simply became unreliable. Most of this was due to atmospheric moisture (remember I lived in the UK at this time). It was this failure that lead to me replacing my camera system, only to realise that the replacement was not going to be an Olympus... they had gone their own way in camera design by then, and it was not where I want to go.

Type 35mm Single Lens Reflex
Lens mount Olympus Bayonet mount
Standard Lens 50mm f1.8
Shutter Mechanical, metal blinds, speeds from about 1s to 1/1000th, B sync @ 1/125th. Film speed could be set between 25 and 1600 ASA in 1/3 stop increments.
Meter Cadmium cell integral with shutter, displays reading in view finder.

© Copyright A. Maclean 2001 -
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