My Olympus OM Era

Continuing from In the Beginning, with more nostalgia…

The Olympus OM-2 was the first in a set of tools that allowed me to begin taking true macro photographs. Handed down to me by my father in the 1980’s, I had no idea of its full macro potential until almost 15 years later. At first, my needs were simple, so I used the 50mm lens for a few years before investing in a used Zuiko f4 200mm telephoto  and a 28mm wide-angle lens. Later came a macro lens…and then the fun began.

Kodachrome 64 (Martin Zellerhoff, Wikimedia Commons)

Kodachrome 64 (Martin Zellerhoff, Wikimedia Commons)

To remind those too young to know, this was still the era of film cameras, with digital nowhere in sight. I switched from print film to slide film not long after I obtained the OM2. Processing was slow, which meant a three-day wait for results if I was shooting Ektachrome or Fujichrome, and a full week to wait if I was shooting Kodachrome…a long time when you consider that now, with digital, you can immediately check the results for each frame.


The mechanical OM-1 MD

The OM line of SLR cameras were known for their small size and the extensive system that was developed to back them up. The system (below) covered photojournalism, sports photography, technical photography, astrophotography, photomicrography and macro photography. The first SLR was the manual OM-1, released in 1972, followed by the OM-2 in 1975. The OM-2 added an automatic exposure system with an aperture-preferred shutter. While having many improved features, the OM-2 stood out from the crowd by having the world’s first OTF direct light metering system, which measured light reflected off the surface of the film (OTF) and was sophisticated enough to give automatic TTL flash control.


While many had formulas for using flash with manual cameras, in my experience the results were inconsistent and wasteful of film. For me, TTL flash control opened the field of the macro photography of insects, because it would reliably expose photographs no matter what lens combinations and  the flash position I chose. It was brilliant.

Zuiko f3.5 50mm macro

Zuiko f3.5 50mm macro

But it took some time for me to get to that point. The fact that Olympus had a super-extensive system didn’t mean I could afford any of it! I started cheaply with extension tubes and the regular 50mm f1.8 lens, but I still had to find a true macro lens. Eventually, I managed to find a second-hand Olympus 50mm f3.5 macro lens  and later added the well-rated Tamron 90mm macro. My first flashes were manual Vivitar flashes, but by 1995 I acquired the small but worthy Olympus T20 TTL flash. In 1996, while on vacation in the British Columbia Rockies with family, I took an image that was to set me on the slow path to macro bug photography…

Not very good by today's standards, this is a scan from the slide that made me begin to appreciate bug photography. Mt. Revelstoke National Park, 1996.

Not very good by today’s standards, this is a scan from the slide that first allowed me to see the potential of bug photography. Misumena vatia crab spider in Thimbleberry flower. Mt. Revelstoke National Park, 1996.

Olympus OM4

Olympus OM-4

Excited by the potential of the system, I eventually added to my system a selection of cameras and accessories: the OM-1 SLR camera, an Olympus bellows unit, a Zuiko 28mm wide-angle lens, two more T20 flashes, the 65~116mm Telescopic Auto Extension Tube, and finally that to-die-for marvel, the OM-4 SLR camera.

All these additions were previously owned items. I should have thought more about why all this used film-based equipment was entering the market…

Digital was moving in.

In 2003 Olympus produced it’s first interchangeable-lens DSLR, the 4/3 System E-1, which was not compatible with the OM film camera lenses and very expensive. In 2005 we purchased the excellent and relatively affordable Nikon D70 DSLR. We had changed systems. Olympus had fallen.


Or had it? Can I find any use for some of the specialized accessories again? That’s for a future article.


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