Olympus OM-1 Film Camera Review

With Olympus F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 Kit Lens

13 min read by

Olympus OM-1 is a cult classic. A professional* full-frame 35mm film SLR that’s compact, streamlined, reliable, easy to use, versatile, and affordable. Who wouldn’t want such a camera?

Better yet, OM-1 was designed by the Japanese camera legend, Yoshihisa Maitani, whose name is associated with many iconic Olympus creations, like the world’s only half-frame SLR, the PEN F, along with its multitude of lenses.

In this review, I’ll introduce the history of OM-1 and discuss how it may perform as a primary shooter for photographers of all levels in 2023.

✱ — Olympus’ OM series spanned twenty models, of which OM-1, OM-2, OM-3, and OM-4 (with some variations) were marketed as “professional” film SLRs.

A brief history of the Olympus OM series.

OM-1 is Olympus’ third SLR. Like their first, it stood well apart from the sea of competing cameras. Whereas their second, Olympus FTL, was relatively unremarkable and discontinued the year of OM-1’s debut in 1972.

Like the PEN F system, OM-1 was the smallest SLR ever built — this time for full-frame 35mm photography. Though it wasn’t as clean-looking as its half-frame cousin, the OM used Yoshihisa Maitani’s signature minimalist approach, granting it a fine balance between affordability, ease of use, and technological advances.

✪​ Note: Originally, this SLR was named M-1, where M stands for Maitani. However, the camera had to be re-named due to pressure from Leica, who’ve been producing M-named camera bodies for a few years.

Yoshihisa Maitani, a legend in Japanese camera design, got started at Olympus with the viewfinder PEN cameras (not to be confused with the later PEN F SLRs). His assignment was to create an affordable, quality camera. To accomplish that, he cut all the slack, like the built-in light meters, and focused on quality optics, simple design, and a delightful user experience.

This early ethos guided Yoshihisa’s career and creations. When followed, the products were almost guaranteed to be either a commercial success or a technological marvel. But as later iterations often introduced feature bloat, their value decreased — evident in today’s used camera market. PEN F SLR cameras are an excellent illustration of this trend: the later PEN FT series introduced a built-in light meter which made the viewfinder dimmer — only to be replaced again by PEN FV cameras that took the design back to the basics (doing away with the lightmeter and introducing mechanical refinements instead).

As with PEN Fs, I believe that the original OM is still the best camera. OM-1 reinvented the SLR by redistributing the mechanical and electronic components and shrinking its body. Yoshihisa pushed his product even further with a 100,000-cycle shutter durability rating and a much quieter operation. Not to forget the multi-coated, remarkably large viewfinder that makes focusing with OM-1 as easy as it gets on a film SLR.

OM-1 controls and viewfinder.

The viewfinder is OM-1’s best feature. Many great-looking vintage cameras with excellent lenses make focusing and composing difficult, especially for those who wear glasses. Their finders are tiny, dim, maybe even an afterthought to the design — but not on the OM.

OM-1 features a bright, comfortable viewfinder with a 0.92x magnification factor that makes focusing a breeze, particularly with its kit 50mm lens. Through its multi-coated reflex mirror, the scene looks as large as you see it with the naked eye, which means that you can shoot with both eyes open without having to squint.

The eye relief distance isn’t outstanding, however. If you wear glasses, chances are your lens will have to touch the finder frame for you to see all the corners and the light meter needle.

The viewfinder is uncluttered. All you get with it is a micro prism circle to help with precise focus and a light meter needle. When the camera is in the “ON” position (provided that you have the right battery), the light meter needle will guide your exposures. To take advantage of it, change your shutter speed and exposure until the needle is in the middle between the “+” and “-”.

But if you can’t find the right battery for your camera, it’ll work just as well via Sunny 16 or an external light meter/app.

The light meter on OM-1 is center-weighted (meaning it will work its hardest to expose parts of your scene in the middle accurately while often discounting the fringes). It is reasonably precise. I have no problems trusting it, although I’d rather meter using my own devices in complex lighting situations.

Olympus OM-1 top panel and the viewfinder.

If you plan to use a flash, OM-1 will sync at 1/60s. This is perfectly acceptable for most scenarios, although some reviewers complained that this might be inadequate for daylight photography. Note, however, that most film SLRs aren’t significantly better at this; if you really want to take advantage of your flash, consider getting a leaf-shutter camera.

I am not an avid flash user, which is why I appreciate the removable hot shoe. With it off my camera, the OM looks a little slicker, with fewer pointy edges to snag on my clothing.

OM-1 also features a huge film ISO (ASA) dial that’s unlocked by a small button next to the shutter trigger. I like that wheel can be rotated past its lowest ASA 25 and highest ASA 1,600 settings for quicker setup times. Ergonomically, it’s a strange choice, given that one may never need to touch it to use this camera. However, aesthetically, it makes sense: a nice way to balance the film winder on the other side of the top plate.

The shutter button on OM-1 is well-balanced with an easy-to-feel travel action, making shake-free exposures at slow speeds possible. The virtually vibration-free shutter action helps. As you’d expect, it comes with a remote trigger port. The shutter on OM-1 can be set between 1-1,000/s in single-stop increments (plus bulb).

Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400. I used Sunny 16 to meter for this shot.

OM-1’s shutter control is located at the base of the lens mount. Such arrangement is common on leaf-shutter cameras; Yoshihisa’s decision to mimic that design on his SLR is apparently motivated by the space savings for the internal components. I think it’s a brilliant move, which makes operating this camera even faster as you get used to it.

Some users have complained about OM-1’s wonky film advance lever. Though I agree that it’s not the best winder ever created, I had no problems using it. If you feel that yours is too stiff, consider sending your camera for a CLA service (i.e., clean, lubricate, adjust).

On the front of the camera, you’ll find a film transport release switch that you’ll need to turn towards the “R” before you wind the spent film back into its canister. Paul Burrows notes in his review that this position creates a much simpler film-loading experience when using a tripod (most 36mm film cameras have their film transport release on bottom plates).

Right underneath the transport release is a self-timer lever and in between the two (on the lens mount) is a mirror lockup switch — useful for long exposures where no camera shake can be tolerated. When engaged, the camera will shake significantly less, although your viewfinder will remain blocked.

The depth of field preview button is located on the lens on the same side as the self-timer. A button near the top of the lens will release its bayonet lock; pressing it down and rotating the lens counter-clockwise will eventually release it from the camera body. A port for a (wired) remote external flash is located on the side of the lens barrel that looks towards the film rewinder knob.

Finally, a port for the Olympus OM Power Winder tool is on the bottom plate, next to the larger battery door that you can unscrew with a coin. Note that the winder will only work with the latest production-run OM-1 bodies (which may need to be modified) or OM-1MD variants.

Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400.

Size, weight, and ergonomics.

OM-1 is not the smallest 35mm film camera. Still, it’s remarkably compact compared to other SLRs. Without a lens, the body measures 136mm × 83mm × 50mm (5.35” × 3.27” × 1.97”) and weighs 510g (1.12lb).

The camera’s small profile does not impend the grip. I have average-sized man-hands, which I can comfortably wrap around the camera without any trouble. However, OM-1 needs to be held in both hands, especially if you’ve got a hefty lens.

Some of the controls on OM-1, like the shutter speed control, are in a slightly unusual location for a typical SLR. Though they still feel intuitive and easy to use.

Loading fresh film, aside from the convenience of the film transport release switch on the front plate, is unremarkable. OM-1 does not have Canon’s quick loading mechanism; thus, you should ensure that your film catches on properly; I cover a few tips on how to do that in this guide.

Build quality.

OM-1 used some of the latest innovations in material science of the 1970s in its construction. Lightweight steel, heat treatments, new pentaprism technology, air dampening for the mirror return, and more. As with most all-metal bodies of the period, OM-1 undoubtedly feels solid. It’s well-made with no parts appearing loose and all the components fitted tightly and precisely. But it’s not a Leica M build. The steel camera does not feel like a prohibitively-expensive brass monolith. Which can be taken as an advantage.

OM-1 is a working camera, not a jewel or a fashion accessory. At least, that’s how I see it.

OM-1 batteries and replacements.

Like the Rollei 35 and many other cameras of the time, OM-1 requires a Wein MRB625 Zinc-Air Battery to have its light meter work properly. These cells were designed specifically to replace the 1.35V PX625s, which have been outlawed in most parts of the world due to their toxic mercury content.

Though a 1.5V LR44 “button” battery can technically fit, your meter readings may be inaccurate with this option. Not just because of the voltage difference: the modern cells lose their potency over time which causes shifts in readings. However, I should add that someone had mentioned their experience to me with their OM-1, in which they used an LR44 successfully after the voltage of the battery had dropped.

Alternatively, you can get a battery adapter that will use your LR44 and adjust the voltage simultaneously — but that will only work with the freshest cells.

Note that many battery adapters sold online are passive, which means that they do not alter the current. If you’d like yours to change the voltage to the 1.35V needed, that should be noted as part of the description.

Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400.

Olympus F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 kit lens image quality.

If you get an OM-1 packaged with a lens, chances are it’ll be the F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm 𝒇1.8 kit that I felt delivered good image quality, although lacking in contrast slightly.

When stopped down to 𝒇4-𝒇8, the Auto-S delivers plenty of detail and resolution. Photos taken at those apertures look sharp while retaining a bit of a “look.”

Whereas increasing contrast during post-production improved some photos, most images taken with F-Zuiko Auto-S needed no adjustments.

Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400. Inverted by hand with slight colour correction for the film’s blue cast and no adjustments to contrast or sharpening.
Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400. Inverted by hand with no adjustments. I think this scan defines F-Zuiko Auto-S really well.

The photo of the beige Ford F-150 (above) was scanned from a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400 — a stock with its own set of quirks. In this shot, I feel that the exposure, the light source, and my aperture choice (around 𝒇4) created a good illustration of F-Zuiko Auto-S’ strengths and character. It shows pleasing, classic bokeh that is not too swirly, no overbearing distortions of any kind, and excellent overall resolution — even in the corners.

The lens can certainly make details pop when lit by bright sunlight.

Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400. Inverted by hand with no colour correction, no contrast adjustments, and no sharpening applied.

If you squint, you may notice slight amounts of chromatic aberration forming in certain areas. It may also be a good idea to place a hood on your lens to limit flaring.

Some loss of sharpness at the widest apertures can be seen, as expected for most lenses of that age.

Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400. Inverted by hand with no adjustments.
Olympus OM-1 with F-Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f/1.8 and Fujifilm Superia 400. Inverted by hand with no adjustments. I used in-camera light meter to assist this exposure.

Olympus OM-mount lenses.

The beauty of the SLR camera design is in the expanded lens choice. Though many rangefinders and even some TLRs offer interchangeable glass, none bring the wild world of zoom, super telephoto, and macro capabilities the OM system possesses. Some databases list over 400 compatible lenses for the Olympus OM-mount, whereas Camerapedia Wiki lists a more manageable selection of branded glass.

If you’d like to use an Olympus OM-mount lens on something other than an OM camera, your choices are the digital Sony A7 or Fujifilm X with an adapter (both are crop-sensor mirrorless) or the above-mentioned Olympus PEN F half-frame film SLR (also requiring an adapter).

Further guidance on Olympus lens selection can be found on the OM Zuiko Site & Message Board.

Where and how to find a good, working Olympus OM-1 camera.

Olympus OM-1 is not a rare or hard-to-find camera. It’s reliable enough to last well into the 2020s (maybe even another fifty+ years) and should be available relatively inexpensively. As of this writing, good-condition copies go for $100-$200 on eBay with the kit lens included. There are even some sold on Amazon, and I am sure that your local brick-and-mortar film photo store may stock them too.

When it comes to the body, I’d look out for dings, ensure that the seller has checked the shutter for full functionality, that there are no problems like fungus, excessive dust, or cracks in the viewfinder, and that there are no issues with film transport. New light seals may be a good idea if you notice light leaks in your photos.

For your lens, I advise you to check for fungus, excessive dust, cracks, and scratches. I would also ask about the operation of the aperture and the focus ring. Mine has an issue that makes adjusting exposures slightly annoying due to a missing bearing.

Overall, these cameras are known to be very reliable and an excellent value for film photographers of all levels.

By the way: Please consider making your Olympus OM-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!