Back in the ‘90s, leatherbound organizers and gadgets were all the rage. Olympus’ Leather-Tech One (LT-1) is a top film camera manufacturer’s answer to the trend.
LT-1 is a pocketable 35mm point-and-shoot camera with a 35mm 𝒇3.5 lens, autofocus, motorized film transport, built-in flash, date back, and a panorama¹ mode, wrapped in one of four leather² colours: brown, burgundy, black, and blue. These cameras were first launched in 1995.
✪ Note: LT-1 stands for “Leather-Tech One.” LT-1 is the only prime-lens variation with the widest maximum aperture and simple controls in a light package; other versions of this camera featured a zoom lens. In this article, I’m reviewing the model with the Quartz Date and panorama¹ features (yours may not have it).
LT-1 controls and ergonomics.
For the most part, LT-1’s internals and specs match Olympus’ earlier success, Mju Infinity Stylus (Mju I). As I’ve shot about a dozen Mju copies, using LT-1 felt simple and familiar.
LT-1 is a true point-and-shoot camera with a 35mm 𝒇3.5 lens and 1/15 — 1/500s shutter that meters light automatically for 35mm films with ISOs 50-3200 (defaulting to 100 when there’s no DX-code). Motorized film transport, autofocus, and automatic flash take care of virtually all technical aspects of photo-making, leaving framing and composition up to the photographer with an option to print the date on film or use a panorama¹ mode. You can also cycle through four flash functions: auto, auto-s (red-eye reduction), off, and fill-in. As with most point-and-shoot cameras of the period, turning your camera off will reset the flash settings.
Similarly to other Olympus Mju point-and-shoots, LT-1 uses an easy-to-find CR123 battery to power all of its controls. Without the battery, LT-1 weighs an exact 200g/7oz — slightly heavier than Mju II and Mju I.
LT-1 is marginally shorter than the other Mjus, making loading film a little tricker as there’s less space to maneuver the leader into the take-up portion of the camera (you have to make sure that the tip reaches all the way towards the orange arrow on the opposite side).
Powering LT-1 on takes an extra step compared to the other Olympus clamshell cameras. The leather² flap is very easy to undo as it uses a magnet; having done so, you’ll need to flip the switch on the front of the camera towards “ON.” While this doesn’t take much extra time, it’s harder to use LT-1 with one hand because of the flap.
Olympus LT-1 vs Olympus Mju I.
Undoubtedly the limited supply and the demand for fancy-looking colours is part of the price.
LT-1 may also appear in better condition in some cases as its leather² shell is less prone to scratches that the Mju cameras tend to accumulate.
It also feels softer and quieter than the Mjus. I’ve been using the quartz date window on my LT-1 as an analogue watch on several occasions (I like to leave my phone at home when I go on forest walks). There’s also something about the camera that makes it feel more appropriate on top of a bed-side-table than any other point-and-shoot I’ve owned. But, of course, this is just a matter of opinion.
I’m a sucker for looks and trivial design features when it comes to cameras; thus, I’d choose LT-1 over Mju I on most days. Plus, all LT-1s are made in Japan, which may matter to some of you (Mjus could have Japan, China, and Hong Kong as origin countries, depending on the manufacturing date).
✪ Note: Not all LT-1 cameras come with a quartz date feature. Those that do can only display dates up to 2010 — but you can cycle the clock mode to show the day of the month and HH:MM to make it useful in 2023.
All Olympus Mju point-and-shoot cameras are encased in plastic shells. LT-1’s “leather” is pleather (fake leather), which some may consider a vegan-friendly option. However, the material tends to flake, especially around the edges.
That said, not all plastic shells are made the same. LT-1’s not a toy camera; it can easily last decades past manufacturer’s expectations — made plain by the date feature only working up to 2010. And the quality of the user-facing components is as good as the materials allow: tight tolerances, well-placed black micro screws, and reliable hinges.
The weakest link on most 1990s point-and-shoots is often the flex cable that connects the controls on the camera’s backplate to the lens. Thankfully, LT-1 does not have that issue; still, you should ensure that it has a functioning film transport. All Mju series are prone to have their gear stripped over time and thus should be tested with a battery and donor film to guarantee working condition.
Olympus 35mm 𝒇3.5 lens and image quality.
LT-1 has a lovely glass lens with three elements in three groups and a minimum focus distance of 0.35m/14”. It corrects most aberrations well, has a decent amount of contrast, shows minimal flaring, and produces no vignetting — regardless of the aperture size.
Olympus Mju lenses can be very sharp in the center, especially when the camera is used in bright daylight. However, they are also prone to show some softness in the corners.
Like Mju I, LT-1’s lens can render pleasing, non-swirly bokeh. The trick is to pick subjects in subdued light at the camera’s closed focus distance:
☝️ Curiously, the LT-1’s date stamp shows halation (red glow) around the numbers with CineStill 400D. You can disable the date stamp by cycling through the “MODE” settings near the digital clock on the top plate.
When you’re photographing subjects closer than 1m/3’, you should assume that they will appear slightly lower than how they look in the viewfinder due to the parallax error. Tiny black brackets near the top of the viewfinder should indicate the amount by which the image will shift.
The Mju-series point-and-shoot cameras are known for their well-adjusted and powerful (for their size) flash. It works in virtually all conditions and is an excellent companion to the 𝒇3.5 lens. According to the manual, ISO 100 films will be sufficiently illuminated up to 3.5m away from the camera, whereas ISO 400+ films should work even better.
LT-1 uses the same two modes on its shutter button: half-press for focus and exposure lock and full-press for shutter release. An orange light next to the finder will blink if the flash is charging (which usually takes about 5 seconds) and stay sold when the flash is enabled. A green light (also next to the finder) indicates focus — or insufficient focus when blinking. You will not be able to take a picture if the camera can’t find focus.
✪ Note: LT-1 autofocus may get confused by highly-reflective surfaces.
LT-1’s “panorama” mode.
Some cameras built in the 1990s had a fake panorama mode. Unlike the true panorama shooters, like Hasselblad XPan, which used special lenses and bodies that captured images on larger strips of 35mm film, these cameras used a mask that would shade portions of the film. This would change the visible aspect ratio and decrease the overall resolution (as we cut parts of the image out with a mask).
As of this writing, XPan costs over $5000, which may be beyond the budgets of many photographers. Other, cheaper ways to achieve this effect non-destructively still exist — like shooting 35mm film in a medium-format camera. Whereas masking is often frowned-upon for the reasons described above.
But there is some value to using the “fake” (masking) method to get panorama images. Though you may get similar results by cropping your image after developing the film, those who like thin, soft, uneven borders (which are exceptionally difficult to replicate digitally), can only get that on true or masked panoramas.
There’s also some merit to spending less time in Photoshop and taking advantage of the camera limitations. At the very least, you can use the panoramic lines in the viewfinder to help with composition, leaving the cropping decisions for post-production.
Whatever your opinion on this subject may be, there’ll always be a big button at the back of your LT-1 that will turn the function on or off. Alternatively, you may seek a version of this camera that does not have the fake pano mode and is unburdened by the outdated date stamp feature. My only gripe with LT-1 is its lack of memory for my flash-less photography preference (and not the optional, somewhat gimmicky features) — but that’s to be expected on a 1990s point-and-shoot.
How much does Olympus LT-1 cost, and where to find one.
As of this writing, Olympus LT-1 film cameras can be found between $150-$400, depending on the condition. You can get yours (and support this website) using the link below. As always, check your seller’s ratings and ask any questions you may have about this camera before making the purchase. The most important being the condition of film transport.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Olympus LT-1 camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!