Christopher J Osborne

Olympus OM-1 MD

Olympus OM-1 camera fitted with the Olympus OM Zuiko MC Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 lensOlympus OM-1 camera, film speed dial detailOlympus OM-1 camera, shutter speed dial detail

Olympus caused quite a stir when they introduced the OM-1 in 1972. Up to then 35mm SLRs had been big, slow, hulking brutes that only the most dedicated photographer would dream of hauling around unless they specifically wanted to do the kind of photography then really can’t be done with any other kind of camera (e.g. macro and long telephoto photography).

But the OM-1 was compact, easy and quick to use, stylish, quiet and had what was at the time an amazingly big and bright viewfinder. At a stroke the OM-1 dealt with pretty much all the big 35mm SLR problems.

The Olympus OM-1 had a life span that today’s DSLRs can only dream of. It was produced in 4 variants (each of which had only very minor differences) between 1972 and 1987… so it had an amazing 15 year life span! The OM-1 was in fact launched as the M-1, but Olympus changed the name to OM-1 after being asked to do so by Leica, who already had a very famous ‘M’ series of cameras. The OM-1 was functionally identical to the M-1 which is now very rare. Then came the OM-1 MD which included the facility to add a 5fps motor drive. The final model was the OM-1n, which added a simple dedicated flash facility (there was a red LED in the viewfinder to indicate that the flash was ready for the next shot) when combined with the hot shoe No.4 from the Olympus OM-2n.

The OM-1 is both exceptionally simple (just manual mode with a simple needle with +/- indicator for exposure in the viewfinder) and exceptionally quick to use. It was also all mechanical (the battery only powers the meter, nothing else) for great reliability in the field. These features were obviously highly desired by a certain type of photographer, hence the long life span.

One of my favourite features of the OM-1 is the position of the shutter speed dial around the lens mount. This makes both the shutter speed and aperture exceptionally easy to adjust with your eye to the viewfinder.

My Olympus OM system

Olympus T20 Flash Unit

Olympus produced a range of flash units for their OM system. The first was the Quick Auto 300 unit for the Olympus OM-1. Then came the Quick Auto 310 unit which supported the TTL flash metering system of the Olympus OM-2.

With the Olympus OM-1n/OM-2n Olympus introduced the T series flash units: the T45, T32 and T20 units where for normal flash photography, while the T8 T10 and T28 units where for close-up and macro photography. All T series units support TTL flash metering.

The T45 was a large professional ‘hammerhead’ unit, and the T32 was a mid range unit with a bounce flash facility.

Olympus OM-1 camera fitted with the Olympus OM Zuiko MC Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 lens and T-20 flash unit

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-W 28mm f/2.8

Olympus very quickly introduced a very wide range of lenses for the OM system under the already famous and well respected ‘Zuiko’ brand name. These lenses were often the smallest and lightest in their respective classes, as befitted the diminutive stature of the OM cameras.

This is the most common of their wide angle lenses, the f/2.8 28mm. It weight just 170 grams, even lighter than the f/3.5 lens it replaced.

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-W 28mm f/2.8 lens

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 135mm f/3.5

Back in the olden days (!), the standard outfit for the newcomer to 35mm SLR photographer was the 28mm wide angle, 50mm standard, and the 135mm telephoto.

There were two versions of the 135mm with maximum apertures of f/3.5 and f/2.8. They ran side by side for most of the life of the OM system.

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 135mm f/3.5 lens

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto Zoom 75-150mm f/4

The Olympus OM system was at it’s height before many photographers really took zooms seriously, so there was never a particularly wide range of OM zooms.

The 75-150mm zoom was one of the most common of this small selection, and it was a popular alternative to the 135mm lens above. This particular example is in really nice condition and it comes with the purpose made case. (It’s a shame camera manufacturers rarely make specific fitted cases for each lens any more!)

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto Zoom 75-150mm f/4 lens