CamerAgX

June 22, 2017

The Olympus OM-2000 – not a true blood Olympus, but a cheap and convenient bearer of Zuiko lenses

Filed under: Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 10:10 pm

Nobody’s going to argue that in the hands of a reasonably  competent photographer, and in most situations, a recent “pro-level” digital SLR is going to deliver much better pictures than an amateur dSLR released 10 years ago. Resolution, Dynamic Range, Low Light Sensitivity, Color Accuracy are all going to be significantly better. And for a much smaller level of effort:  scenes that used to require the photographer to shoot in RAW and spend 10 minutes “processing” each picture in  Adobe Lightroom (or even worse, hours in Photoshop) can now reliably be shot in JPEG and uploaded directly from the camera to whatever social network or on-line photo gallery.

Olympus OM-1n MD (left) and Olympus OM-2000 Spot (right). The OM-1 was launched in 1972, the OM-2000 in 1997.

In the world of film cameras, it’s different. As long as the camera meets a few basic requirements: mount the lenses with precision, meter and expose with accuracy and consistency, maintain the film plane flat, inform the photographer of the decisions taken by its automatic systems, and let him adjust the parameters when necessary, there will not be much of a difference between the pictures created with a pro and an entry level camera. The pro camera will be faster, more accurate, more solid, more durable and will provide more control options to its user, but ultimately, the quality of the results will be a function of the quality of the lens, of the film, and of the skills of the photographer.

OM-1 and OM-2000 – the organization of the commands is very different (the shutter speed ring is between the lens and the body on the OM-1, and classically on the top plate for the OM-2000. The film sensitivity is set on with a knob on the top plate (OM-1) and in a window in the shutter speed knob (OM-2000)

Which brings us to the mid-nineties. The big Four (Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Pentax) all have successfully converted their SLRs to autofocus, electronics and polycarbonate, and have persuaded most of the photographers to buy them. There are a few hold outs at the high end of the market who still buy and use manual focus semi-auto cameras built traditionally out of aluminum and brass or titanium (Leica R and M series, Nikon FM2, Olympus OM-3ti for instance), and “learners” or photography students, who are looking for cheap cameras to learn the basics of photography, and who generally end up buying entry level Pentax and Minolta cameras. Both manufacturers already have relocated the production lines of the K1000 and of the X-300 to China, and can propose them (body only) for less than $150.00. In comparison, Nikon’s FM2 is approaching $500.00, Olympus’ (automatic) OM-4ti  sells for $1,000.00, and the semi-auto OM-3ti – produced in very limited quantities –  is probably in Leica territory when you can get one (a semi-auto Leica R6.2 sells for $2,800.00 at Adorama in 1995).

OM-1 (bottom) and OM-2000 (top). The OM-2000 does not accept a winder or a motor. A totally different bottom plate denotes a fundamentally different internal architectures. Note the “made in Japan” engraving.

Following the example of Canon and Nikon (who had commissioned the design and the manufacturing of their entry level manual focus / semi-auto T60 and  FM10 to Cosina), Olympus launches the OM-2000 in 1997. Like its predecessors on the Cosina production lines, the OM-2000 is based on a platform originally developed for the Cosina CT-1, and somehow customized to Olympus’ requirements: unique to the OM-2000 are the Olympus bayonet, the gun metal color of the camera’s body, and the presence of a spot/average meter switch. It is generally sold in a bundle with a 35-70 f/3.5-4.8 lens, also made by Cosina. I did not test this lens and can’t comment on it.

OM-2000 – the SPOT/Average metering selector. When SPOT is selected, a LED acts as a reminder in the viewfinder.

The OM-2000 is not designed  to be great, but cheap and simply good-enough. The outer shell is of polycarbonate, the film rewind and the self timer lever are fragile (I had an issue with the rewind knob – I applied too much force to it and ended up unscrewing it from there body), the metallic shutter tends to be loud, but the camera, though basic and unsophisticated (the LEDs in the viewfinder look a bit crude), is pleasant to use (large viewfinder, smooth commands) and with its nice color, makes a good impression. The shutter is fast (1/2000 sec, 1/125 synchro), the spot meter useful and easy to use (there is a reminder in the viewfinder).

Contrarily to the OM-2 whose mirror and shutter are very well damped (you can shoot at 1/15sec without a tripod in a museum, for instance), the mirror or the shutter of the OM-2000 tends to generate strong vibrations, some of the pictures I took with it show it clearly. My advice: avoid low shutter speeds unless the camera is firmly held in place.

Vertical metal shutter – 100% Cosina. 1/2000th second and X-Sync at 1/125th second (the fastest of any Olympus OM camera).

As for the real value of this camera, it depends on your point of view. For a collector of  the “real” Olympus OM series cameras, it’s not worth much. It has nothing to do with the renown single digit family of OM cameras (OM-1, OM-2, OM-3, OM-4). It can not share any of their accessories (winder, focusing screen) and can not take advantage of the TTL flash capabilities of the units designed for the OM-2 and its followers.

Olympus OM-2000 – pull the wind lever to activate the meter and unlock the shutter (no separate on/off switch on the OM-2000)

With a good lens (Olympus’ Zuiko lenses have a great reputation), a good film and a good photographer, it will take good pictures – and should serve its owner well. It’s not as solid as a Nikon FM2, it’s not as beautifully made as an Olympus OM-3, it vibrates more than an OM-2, but when new, it was a fraction of the price of those cameras, and now, it can be had for a few dozens of US dollars. If you’ve heavily invested in OM Zuiko lenses and in expensive OM Ti bodies, adding a cheap  OM-2000 to your equipment list is a good insurance plan – you can use it when you don’t want to risk your precious OM-3Ti, and it can save your day if the electronics of your OM-4T decides it had enough.

Olympus OM-2000 – Viewfinder – 3 LEDs + o – to set the exposure. When the camera is set in Spot, a fourth round LED is lit at the bottom.

With the right lens and a good photographer, simple film cameras can take great pictures. The OM-2000, while clearly not a true blood Olympus OM camera, maybe the cheapest and easiest way to shoot film using Olympus Zuiko lenses  today.


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On the beach in the morning – Florida – Olympus OM-2000 – OM Zuiko 135mm f/3.5 – Kodak Ektar 100

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May 25, 2017

Olympus OM-1 or Fujica ST-801?

Filed under: Fujica Cameras, Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , — xtalfu @ 11:50 pm

They were launched at the same time (1972), and were both highly innovative. In different areas.

The Olympus OM-1, the first of a family of cameras which  sold until the end of the twentieth century, was remarkable by its small size, its impressive viewfinder, its great built quality, and its very good ergonomics.

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Olympus OM-1n MD – a very clean copy. A triumph of industrial design.

The Fujica ST801, although not a large or heavy camera by any means, looked bulkier and more primitive in comparison, but in 1972 it was very advanced technologically – the first to combine the use of Silicon diodes for metering with LEDs for the semi-automatic determination of the exposure in the viewfinder. And  – with full aperture metering and a shutter capable of 1/2000sec exposures – it was the most elaborate of the screw mount cameras.

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Fujica ST801 with a Pentax Super-Takumar lens – the camera is compatible with almost any 42mm screw mount lens (with stopped down aperture)

With the OM-1, Olympus introduced a whole new system (new bayonet, new lenses, new motor drives), as compact as the camera itself. The OM-1 was  a starting point.

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Fujica ST801 – the lens mount flange is surrounded by a recessed and spring loaded rotating ring. The little pin on the rotating ring is pushed by the tab at the periphery of the lens.

The ST801 could use any screw mount 42mm “universal” lens, but could only offer full aperture metering when equipped with a new range of Fujinon lenses, which added an aperture transmission mechanism and a locking pin to the standard 42mm mount. The screw mount standard was already at the end of its route when the ST801 was launched, and in 1979 Fuji was the last major camera manufacturer to abandon it for a new proprietary bayonet. The ST801 had no real successor, and the relative short production run of the Fujinon lenses explain why they’re so scarce now.

Back then: how did the two cameras compare?

  • Cost and Availability: Both brands were widely distributed, in brick and mortar stores and by mail order distributors. In 1977, the OM-1 was still the only high quality small size semi-automatic SLR, and as a result Olympus was in the position to extract a very significant premium for it. The OM-1n (with a f/1.8 50mm lens) was selling for almost $300.00 in 1977, when Nikon could only ask $270 for a Nikkormat FT3. The Fujica ST801 (which was at the end of its career) was selling for approximately for $200.00, in the same ballpark as the old SR-T models from Minolta. It was more expensive than the other screw mount cameras from Practika or Vivitar ($170.00) but significantly less than semi-auto cameras of the newer generation such as the Canon AT-1: $ 240.00 (all figures sourced from the Sears catalog of 1977 – courtesy http://www.butkus.org/).
  • Size, Weight, Features and Ergonomics
    Figures can be deceiving. Only 135g and less than one centimeter separate the weight and the height of the OM-1 from the ST801. It’s not a huge difference (the ST801 was significantly narrower and lighter than the semi-auto cameras sold by Canon or Nikon in the early seventies),  but the OM-1 looks and feels significantly more compact than the Fujica. It falls perfectly in the hands. The position of the commands is not conventional (shutter speed ring around the lens mount, aperture ring at the front of the lens, ISO selector where the shutter speed knob generally is) but extremely convenient for a photographer shooting with a semi-auto camera and a prime lens: the right hand holds the camera, the left hand operates the shutter and aperture rings, which are clearly separated by the large focusing ring. Advantage Olympus

Fujica ST801 – viewfinder (shutter speed on a disk on the left, 5 LEDs on the right)

  • Viewfinder – Even to this day, the viewfinder of the Olympus OM-1 is exceptional. There are very few manual focus SLRs with a finder feeling larger (I can think of the Nikon F3, but it’s a pro camera and it’s bulkier). Every time you bring the viewfinder of the OM-1 to your eye, you’re still impressed. The Fujica’s viewfinder is more informative, and was praised for being luminous when the camera was launched.  But compared to the OM-1, it’s narrower and darker.  Clear Advantage for Olympus
  • Shutter and metering system: Both cameras use a shutter with horizontal cloth curtains. The OM-1’s tops at 1/1000sec, the ST801 at 1/2000sec. It probably did not matter much in 1973 (when 64 ISO was the normal film sensitivity) but a faster shutter speed is a serious advantage today (400 ISO is the normal sensitivity for negative color and B&W film, and photographers looking for “bokeh” use very wide apertures). The OM-1’s metering system is very conventional (2 CdS cells, mercury battery, matching needle at the left of the viewfinder). The ST801 was the first camera to use Silicon photo diodes for metering, and LEDs. Advantage Fujica.

Olympus OM-1 – viewfinder with the matching needle on the left

  • Lens selection: when the two cameras were launched, the Fujica had the advantage of accepting all the 42mm screw mount lenses manufactured not only by Fuji, but also by Pentax, Yashica, and literally dozens of other brands. Of course, metering was stopped down (only the new Fujinon lenses supported full aperture metering with the ST801). In comparison, Olympus was starting to build a new camera system. A few years later, the situation had evolved – the 42mm standard was being abandoned by all its major proponents, and Olympus had succeeded in imposing its OM system on the market – and the offer of lenses (from Olympus themselves or third party vendors) was abundant.  Tie

And now

  • Reliability: both cameras were launched at a time when the Nikon F, the Nikkormat and the Canon FT/QL were the gold standard for Japanese SLRs. In comparison, both the OM-1 and the ST801 must have looked small, light and fragile. Today, none of the cameras is known to be unreliable- they’re simple mechanical devices – but the oldest copies are now 45 years old. Tie
  • Scarcity:  The OM-1 sold over 1 million units over a long period, and aged very well. A small and beautiful camera, it must have been handled with care by its owners – nice copies of the OM-1 are abundant on eBay, on Shopgoodwill.com, and in the stores of used equipment retailers. The Fujica ST801 – while not as easy to find as the OM-1, is still relatively common – you just have to be a bit more patient if you want to find a nice copy at a reasonable price. Advantage Olympus

Olympus OM-1 – the commands layout is unique (large on/off switch, knob for the film sensitivity, a ring on the lens flange for the shutter speed, and the aperture ring at the far end of the lens).

  • Battery: The ST801 uses one 6v silver oxide battery (the same as the Canon AE-1), which is still easy to find. The OM-1 was originally designed for Mercury batteries, which have disappeared from the market a long time ago due to the health hazards represented by Mercury. Mercury batteries deliver 1.35 volts. The simplest option is to use the zinc-air batteries sold by pharmacists for hearing aid devices – they deliver the same voltage, are very cheap and ubiquitous, but have a limited life (a few months at most) once they start being used. Other options exist (like having the camera converted to the voltage of silver oxide batteries – 1.55v) but I don’t like the idea of opening the camera and soldering diodes on the circuitry that much. My take on it: live with the zinc-air batteries, or buy an OM-2.  Advantage Fujica.

Fujica ST801 – the battery door at the left of the viewfinder – and 1/2000sec on the shutter knob. For the rest, a conventional layout of the commands

  • Lens selection: In my opinion, the ST801 only shines with lenses supporting full aperture metering. Except for the most common focal lengths (50mm, 135mm and the 43-75mm zoom) Fujinon lenses designed for the Fujica ST series are difficult to find, and seriously expensive when you can locate one. A more cost effective option is to use Tamron Adaptall lenses – Tamron developed an Adaptall Mount Adapter specifically for the Fujica ST cameras – the mounts are still available at a very moderate price, and the Tamron lenses are less  expensive than Fujinons. Olympus OM Zuiko lenses have an excellent reputation. They were often offered  in three versions representing three price points (slow aperture, medium aperture, fast aperture) for every major focal length category. Today, while the faster lenses are rare and expensive, the slower ones are still easy to find and comparatively cheap, much more so than the Fujinons. Big advantage for Olympus.

Fujica ST 801 (launched in 1972) and zoom Fujinon-Z 43-75mm (launched 1977). The Z-43-75 was the first zoom bundled with a SLR (the AZ-1) and is easy to find. It’s a very good lens – if you can live with a minimal focusing distance of 4ft (1.20m)

Conclusion:

  • The usage value of the two cameras is the same – both are good semi-auto exposure cameras. the Olympus has the better viewfinder, a significantly wider lens selection on the second hand market, and it looks and feels more modern. The Fujica’s  metering system and its shutter are better, and it works with a myriad of screw mount lenses.

Olympus OM-1 – the lens release and the depth of field preview buttons are on the lens, not on the camera’s body

  • You can argue that the Fujica line of SLRs reached its peak in 1972, with the ST801.  The subsequent screw mount models (ST901, AZ-1) were designed with amateurs in mind (auto exposure cameras without any semi-auto mode), and the last screw mount Fujica cameras were budget models priced just above Practika cameras from communist East Germany. This whole line of cameras and lenses met its end in 1979 when Fuji switched to its new X bayonet.
  • If you consider the whole system, spending your cash on Olympus makes much more sense. The OM-1 is the first member of a large family. It’s a nice camera of high historical importance, but in the OM system, there are even better choices: the OM-2 and the OM-4t.  In semi-auto mode, the OM-2  works exactly like an OM-1. It also operates in Aperture Priority auto-exposure mode, offers a pioneering flash metering system and accepts silver oxide batteries. If you wanted to spend a lot more money, the OM-4t with its 1/2000sec shutter, its very elaborate metering system and its titanium top plate would be my recommendation.  It was sold until 2002, and is often considered the pinnacle of 35mm manual focus SLR design.

More about the other Olympus OM cameras in CamerAgX: the OM-2 Series, the OM-2 S Program

More about the  Fujica screw mount line of cameras in CamerAgX:

As usual, MIR is a very good source of information about cameras of the seventies and eighties: Olympus OM-1 and OM-2

Hilton Head – 2010 – Shot with an Olympus OM camera.

 

March 23, 2017

The most expensive manual focus SLRs of the 1980 generation

Film cameras are interesting objects. They appeal to collectors who will desire them for their historical importance, their pleasant esthetics, and for their scarcity, and to active photographers, who make their purchase decisions based on the feature set, the availability of good lenses, and the quality of the user experience.

The least desirable cameras (and therefore the cheapest) are characterized  by an abundant supply of working but unremarkable bodies with a meager selection of lenses, the most desirable by a limited availability of cameras in working order, combined with an interested set of features,  a pleasant user experience, and a broad selection of good lenses: in other words, cameras of great systems (Canon, Contax, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, for instance) that are scarce because they sold in small numbers, and/or because they did not age gracefully, with few of them surviving in working condition.

Let’s focus on the 4 Japanese brands I know best.

Canon

Manual focus Canon cameras were mass produced (Canon was the constant best seller except for a few years when Minolta took the lead), and generally reliable. Because the autofocus EOS product line is totally incompatible with the older manual focus cameras, users of autofocus Canon film cameras (and of modern digital EOS models) were not tempted to carry an old manual focus SLR in addition to their modern autofocus camera, and the offer of second hand manual focus cameras from Canon has always seemed to exceed demand. As a result, prices have tended to be low.

    • There is one glaring exception, the F-1, with nice copies proposed above $400.00 (Canon also produced limited editions to commemorate events like its  50th anniversary that command prices above $1,000). Another interesting Canon camera is the T90.

Canon T90 – LCD and control wheel – Source: Wikipedia

  • T90: the poster child of a second hand camera which checks all the marks, but is penalized by its lack of reliability:
    • On the plus side, it’s  very interesting from a historical point of view : it was designed with the input of Luigi Colani’ studio, and its ergonomics study is a precursor of the Canon EOS cameras and of almost all camera currently sold
    • Its sales volume was relatively limited  (for a Canon camera): it was an expensive high end camera, only sold for 2 years, when Canon had no autofocus camera to propose and was getting a beating from Minolta and Nikon on the marketplace.
    • The T90 was part of a very broad camera system, very popular with professional photographers. There is large supply of very good lenses, for cheap. Historical interest, relatively low sales volume, broad system – it should command high prices.
    • But on the other hand, the T90 did not age well: some of the components deteriorate if the camera is not used frequently, others have a limited lifespan, and Canon stopped servicing those cameras a long time ago – in fact, a lot of them display an “EEE” error and simply don’t work.
    • Therefore, there is not a strong demand for the T90. It commands prices starting in the $150.00 range for a tested model, which is less than what is asked for an  A-1 or even a AE-1 Program.

Fujica (the AX bayonet mount line) 

Fuji’s screw mount cameras sold in respectable numbers in the 1970s, and aged relatively well.  They were replaced in 1979 by a new generation of bayonet mount cameras  that did not sell very well and had reliability issues. A Fujica SLR such as the STX or the AX-3  in working condition is not as easy to find as a Canon AE-1 or a Nikon FE, for instance, but at the same time it does not qualify as exceptionally difficult to locate. The truth is that those cameras don’t seem to be interesting collectors (lack of aura) or active photographers (lack of lenses). Except maybe for the AX-5.

  • AX-5 – it was the full featured top of line, and was proposed at prices higher than the Canon A-1 it was supposed to compete with.
    • On the Plus side, it’s really a scarce camera. At any given time, no more than two or three are offered for sale on eBay, worldwide
    • On the Minus side, it’s not a very “interesting” camera: it’s a me-too product largely inspired by Canon’s A-1, with a toned down and more “feminine” design
    • the whole Fujica “X” product line has a reputation for being fragile (electronics)
    • there is very limited supply of lenses (good or bad), and the ones you can find are seriously expensive.
    • the market of second hand AX-5 cameras is too small – and there is not enough sales volume to establish a price of reference: I’ve seen working copies proposed above $150.00 but actual sale prices seem much lower.

Nikon

Nikon FA detail of the shutter speed knob and PSAM selector

Multi-Mode Automatic models tend to scare the active film photographers – they tend to prefer simpler models (here, the Nikon FA – which does not sell for more than the simpler FM2).

Very few Nikon cameras qualify as “scarce”. Nikon cameras generally sold in high volumes (within their class of products)  and are extremely reliable – a lot of them survived. Some of the cameras designed for professional photographers (the F3, the FM2) had production runs of almost 20 years. You will have to look for specific variants of a mainstream model such as the F3p or the F3AF to reach the level of scarcity that commands high prices (above the $1,000 bar). That being said, Nikon cameras of that vintage are very pleasant to use (they ooze build quality), they benefit from a huge supply of lenses and accessories (Nikon have been using the same bayonet mount since 1959, and the current flash system is downwards compatible down to the FE2 of 1983), and they take great pictures. They have a great usage value, but a limited collector’s appeal. A few exceptions:

  • F3: a regular F3 camera is becoming expensive – $200.00 to $400.00 for a nice one. The  F3P (a derivative for Press Photographers) sells in the $400.00 to $500.00 range, and the AF models of 1983 (with their dedicated viewfinder and lenses) can easily reach $1,200.00.
  • FM2 – the workhorse (or the perfect backup camera) of generations of Nikon photographers. Usable models are available below $200.00, while models popular with collectors (the FM2/T with a titanium body) start at approximately $500.00 to reach up to $1,500.
  • The FM3A was only produced for a few years, in small quantities. It’s a recent product with a high usage value (it’s an automatic which can also operate without a battery at any shutter speed) and it commands prices between $300.00 and $600.00.

Olympus

The Olympus OM-4 exposure controls – Source Wikipedia

In the 80s, Olympus had a line of low end “two digit cameras” (OM-10, OM-20, OM-30, OMG..) for amateurs and a line of single digit cameras (OM-2s, OM-4) for the discerning enthusiasts. The two digit cameras are extremely abundant, but unremarkable. The OM-2s and OM-4 are relatively easy to find, but are plagued by lousy battery management issues that limit their attractivity. At the end of their production life, the “single digit” cameras were upgraded to become “T” or Ti” models, which solved the electronics issues of their predecessors, and switched their brass top-plates for Titanium ones. Those T and Ti cameras are highly attractive for the active photographer (small size, unique light metering capabilities, broad system of lenses and accessories) and for the collector – they’re beautiful and are in limited supply. The OM-3Ti – the semi-automatic version- was produced in very limited quantities (6,000 units according to zone-10.com) and was selling at the same price as a Leica M6. The OM-4t and Ti had a long production run, but they were launched in the middle of the autofocus craze, when the large majority of the enthusiasts were busy converting their equipment to Minolta Maxxums, Canon EOS or Nikon N8008.

  • OM-3ti – proposed for any price between $1,200 and $4,000.
  • OM-4ti – proposed for any price between $250.00 and $800.00

Except for commemorative models (they often never leave the box they were shipped in), Leica SLRs models of all generations typically sell in the $200.00 to $800.00 range (the R4 are the cheapest, the R6.2 the most expensive). Contax models benefit from the aura of the Zeiss lenses, and sell in the same range as the Leicas.


Jules – French Bouledogue – Nikon F3 – Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 AI lens – Fujicolor 400

 

 

 

March 17, 2017

Added to the Pages menu….the Index of CamerAgX’s camera reviews

I probably should have added it much earlier….

the Index of all cameras reviewed in CamerAgX,

including group reviews and  side by side comparisons.


 

February 2, 2017

What camera for the film renaissance (part II): SLRs from 1975-1985: my picks

Film is back. At least if Kodak and Ilford are to be believed.

To my taste, the best single reflex cameras (shooting film) were made in the 1975-1985 decade. Cameras sold earlier were a bit too limited (metering), too big and too quirky, and cameras made later are more autofocus robots. Not that I refuse to benefit from the advances of technology – it’s just that if I want to use the most technologically advanced camera I can afford,  I shoot digital.

The list of my picks is not a catalog. I’m writing about cameras and camera systems I’ve really used – and learned to know over the years on multiple photo shoots. This list does not include any camera from Minolta, Konica, Fujica, Leica, … because I’ve never owned and used the SLRs they were selling between 1975 and 1985.

Canon :

Canon FT/QL and A-1

Canon FT/QL and A-1 – the A-1 is clearly my preferred Canon camera in the FD mount family.

  • FT/FTb: the FT/QL  was launched in the mid 1960’s and the FTb that replaced it was produced until the launch of the AE1 in 1977. Both  suffer from the limitations of a camera from the sixties (they need mercury batteries, they have CdS meters, they’re large and heavy with dim viewfinders). The FT is a stopped-down-metering camera and works with the FL lenses, while the FTb offers full aperture metering with the FD lenses.
  • AE-1/A-1/AT-1, AV-1, AE-1 Program – they were the best selling cameras of their time, they were generally reliable, and there still are tons of them around here. Which one you pick is a matter of taste, they differ primarily by the type of exposure metering system they use. They all share a  textile shutter which must have been cheap to manufacture, but is limited to 1/1000 sec with a flash sync speed of 1/60.
  • They were mass produced and designed to a price point – they don’t exude the same quality feeling as a Nikon FE2 or an Olympus OM-2. Little things like battery doors are fragile. But the metering system can be trusted and they’re pleasant to use.
  • Of all the A series cameras, the Canon A-1 has the strongest personality,. It’s the  most capable, and the one I prefer.

    Canon A-1 - the control wheel (on the top late) and the control wheel lock on the front of the body

    Canon A-1 – the control wheel (on the top late) and the control wheel lock on the front of the body

  • The Canon AV-1 is typical of a time when camera makers believed that spec’d down cameras were easier to use and had a better chance of bringing  amateurs to serious photography. It’s as cheap as it can get, but there are much better options in Canon’s lineup for aspiring photographers.
  • They benefit from a wide selection of good and very good FD lenses,  still available on the second hand market at very affordable prices.

Nikon:

Nikon FE2 and F3 - my pick in the Nikon family

Nikon FE2 and F3 – my picks in the Nikon family

  • Nikkormat FT/FTn/FT2/FT3 – Initially launched in the mid 1960’s – it was regularly updated until the FT3 was replaced by the FM in 1977. It suffers from some of the limitations of a camera from the sixties (size, weight, CdS meters), but always supported full aperture metering, and  the most recent models ( FT2 and FT3) work with silver oxide batteries.
    Nikkormat FT-N

    Nikkormat FT-N

    • All Nikkormat are built like tanks and rock solid. If you can live with the weight (750g body only) and the very unusual position of the commands (shutter speed ring, film speed selector), the FT3 is still perfectly usable as an everyday camera.
    • It’s not necessarily the case for the earlier models (FT and FTn): the process to follow in order to mount a lens on the camera was progressively simplified by Nikon. It is really kludgy on the FT/FTn bodies: you have to follow a bizarre sequence to pair the lens with the metering system of the body – that’s the “indexing”.  With the FT3 and AI lenses, indexing has become transparent.
  • Nikon FM. Brassing on the edges of the top plate cover - no plastic here.

    Nikon FM. Brassing on the edges of the top plate cover – no plastic here.

    Nikon FM – Nikon’s first compact semi-auto exposure camera. Built like a small tank, it was often used as a backup camera by pros shooting in very taxing situations. It’s a modern camera (conventional ergonomics, LEDs in the viewfinder) but the commands are a bit stiff and the viewfinder seems small in comparison to an Olympus OM or even a Canon AE-1. The metal blade shutter is solid, but limited to 1/1000 sec. If you buy now, try and find an FM2. If I did not already own the FE2, I would try and find an FM3A. That being said, if I had to pick one of the cameras I own to bring to an extreme expedition, that would be the FM.

  • Nikon FE : Aperture Priority Automatic. Feels as old as the FM (slow shutter, small viewfinder). I would surely buy the FE2 for a very little more.
  • Nikon F3 : an all time favorite: great ergonomics, incredibly vast viewfinder, smooth commands, good shutter (1/2000 sec). Launched in 1980, it was produced for 21 years in parallel with the F4 and F5 that were supposed to replace it. The flash system is specific to the F3. All in all, a very pleasant camera to use, compact, rock solid, but also really heavy.
  • Nikon FE2 – an evolution of the FE, launched in 1982. It has the same small viewfinder as the FM and the FE. But apart from that it’s a winner: great build quality, great ergonomics, smooth commands,  great shutters (1/4000, sync @1/250), modern flash system. My favorite when I’m visiting a new place or a new country, and need to take a break from digital.

    Nikon FE2 - the titanium honeycomb shutter blades of the early copies (like this one) was replaced later on with aluminum ones (for environmental concerns)

    Nikon FE2 – the titanium honeycomb shutter blades of the early copies (like this one) was replaced later on with aluminum ones (for environmental concerns)

  • Nikon FA – an evolution of the FE2 with an additional shutter priority exposure mode and matrix metering. It’s already too complex in my opinion – the matrix metering is perplexing (you never understand what it’s doing) and because the camera is supposed to know better, there is no memorization of the exposure in auto mode.

    Nikon FA with motor drive - an impressive rig.

    Nikon FA with motor drive – an impressive rig.

  • EM, FG
    – plasticky entry level cameras with limited shutter performance – abundant but not recommended. Buy an FE2 instead.
Nikon FG - More looks than substance

Nikon FG – More looks than substance

  • Nikon FM2 and FM3A – The FM2 is an evolution of the FM with a better shutter, while the FM3A is an evolution of the FE2, with a shutter working in two modes: electronic when the camera is set in aperture priority auto-exposure mode, and purely mechanic (no battery needed) in semi-auto mode. Compact, light and solid – the cameras to bring with you in the most extreme expeditions. The FM2 is somehow affordable, but the FM3A is a recent camera, produced for a short time in relatively limited volumes, and tends to be expensive.

All Nikons benefit from a huge selection and an abundant supply of good lenses, with some form of upwards and downwards compatibility (they’ve been using the same bayonet mount since 1959). Similarly, flash compatibility with current systems is also maintained for most bodies (FE2 and more recent)

Nikon F3 with an autofocus lens bought for a modern digital camera. But it cannot work with the AF-S zoom mounted on the D80.

Nikon often offers some form of compatibility between bodies and lenses from different generations. Nikon F3 works perfectly with an autofocus lens bought for a modern digital camera. But it cannot work with the AF-S zoom mounted on the D80.

The Olympus OM series

When they launched the OM-1, Olympus tried to position it as a camera for reporters, and managed to sell a few copies to leading American newspapers. But at that time, the press photographers did not buy their equipment, they received if for free from the newspaper, and had little incentive to treat their gear carefully. The little Olympus failed the tests, and the press photographers returned to  their Nikons – not as sexy but built like the proverbial tanks. Or so goes the legend.

In any case, if the Olympus cameras were not widely adopted by reporters, they found a following with scientists, researchers or ethnographers, who liked the compactness of the camera bodies and the quality of the lenses.

In the subsequent years, Olympus developed two lines of products – the “one-digit” OM cameras  OM-2, OM-3, OM-4 for the enthusiasts and the professionals, and the “two-digit” OM-10, OM-20 and so on for beginners and amateurs. Let’s focus on the single digit cameras.

Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n. I loved the OM-2s Program until I started shooting with the OM-2n. So simple. A favorite.

  • Olympus OM-1 – it must have made quite an impression in 1971. It is incredibly compact, has a giant viewfinder, a very well thought ergonomics, and feels like a precision instrument. Its shutter is a bit limited today (1/1000 sec) and it requires mercury batteries which are not  available any more.  I would buy an OM-2 instead.

    Olympus OM-1n MD - a very clean copy.

    Olympus OM-1n MD – a very clean copy.

  • OM-2 – same body and general layout as the OM1, but with aperture priority auto-exposure mode and modern silver oxide batteries. It was also the first SLR with a modern TTL flash metering system. It’s a pleasure to use: the commands are precise and smooth, the mirror and the shutter don’t vibrate (I’ve shot at 1/15 sec without a tripod). There is no exposure memorization in auto mode (but it’s easy to switch to semi-auto). Another of my favorites – when I know I’m going to shoot in low light without a tripod- in exhibits and museums for instance, that’s the one I bring with me.
  • Olympus OM2-S Program/OM-3/OM4 – close derivatives of the OM1/OM2 –  with a new body and an improved metering system. Unfortunately this generation of cameras  was plagued by battery drain issues. And because it provides more information at the periphery, and offers a dioptric corrector, the viewfinder gives the impression of being smaller.  The  OM3t/OM4t  addressed the electronics issues of their predecessors, and are sought by fanatics of the zone system because of all the possibilities of the metering system (spot and average metering, exposure for high lights, low lights). Nice tools for passionate photographers.
  • Olympus OM-2000 – the ugly duckling of the family, this semi-auto camera was designed and manufactured by Cosina. It shares the OM lens mount of the family, but has nothing of the grace of a “one-digit” OM. It’s a bit plasticky, the LEDs in the viewfinder are crude, but it offers spot and average metering like its siblings – and it simply works. The ergonomics are conventional, and the metallic vertical shutter is completely different from the  horizontal textile shutter of the other OM bodies (flash sync 1/125, 1/2000 sec).
    Olympus OM-2000 - Apart from the lens mount, not much in common with the OM series

    Olympus OM-2000 – Apart from the lens mount, not much in common with the OM series

    Olympus OM-2000 - the Spot metering selector

    Olympus OM-2000 – the Spot metering selector

    Olympus OM-2000 (top) and Olympus OM-2 - nothing in common (an OM motor drive can not be attached to the OM-2000)

    Olympus OM-2000 (top) and Olympus OM-2 – nothing in common (an OM motor drive cannot be attached to the OM-2000)

  • The Olympus “Zuiko” lenses have a great reputation, but the selection and the second hand availability tend to be narrower than with Canon or Nikon: OM cameras were bought more by amateurs and enthusiasts than by pros, and in smaller numbers.  Olympus used to offer 3 models of lenses for the same focal length, and the slowest f/3.5 lenses are by far the most common. The lenses opening at f/2.8 or f/2  are rare, and very expensive.
  • the slow textile shutter is a limitation to all OM cameras (1/60 flash sync for all models, 1/1000 sec for OM1, OM2 and OM2 SP)

Pentax

Pentax Spotmatic SP with 35mm f/2 lens

Pentax Spotmatic SP with 35mm f/2 lens

  • the original Spotmatic – launched in 1964, received a limited refresh in 1971 and was updated more significantly in 1973 (to become the Spotmatic F, with full aperture metering and a new set of lenses). The Spotmatics form a nice line of cameras (innovative when they were launched, relatively compact and well finished), and they were produced in large quantities. But they’re too old to be considered in this category. They were replaced by the first K bodies (KM, KX, K2) in 1975, when Pentax introduced the K bayonet mount. The KX and K2 had a short life (replaced by the MX and ME in 1977), but the K1000 (a simplified version of the semi-auto KM introduced in 1976) would be manufactured until 1996, and would become the camera most recommended for “learners”.
  • the Pentax MX was my first serious camera,  a long time ago. It was a very compact and modern semi-auto camera in its heyday – with a nice and robust metal casing. Its closest competitor (technically) was the Nikon FM (but at that time Nikon cameras were more expensive than anything but a Leica, and I could not afford it). I kept the MX for fifteen years,  but the camera was not that reliable now that I think about it: I had issues with the frame counter, the timer, and a faulty stabilization circuit in the metering system that could not be fixed sealed its fate. I liked the lenses, though (the 35-70 zoom was very good).
  • the ME, ME Super were even more compact than the MX, offered aperture priority exposure but were not as enthusiast friendly as the MX. There was no speed knob but touch buttons to change the shutter speed, and no depth of field preview. The Super A/Super A Program were probably the most enthusiast friendly of that generation – but I never used them and can’t comment.
  • There is a good lens selection under the Pentax brand. Prices tended to be moderate when they were new, and it’s still the case today. Pentax tried to impose their K bayonet  as the new “universal” mount. They did not completely succeed, but many second tier vendors adopted the K-mount (Cosina, Ricoh, Vivitar and the usual distributor labels) and third party good quality lenses are abundant and affordable.
  • I did not mention brands like Contax, Fujica, Leica  or Minolta. Not that I don’t like their cameras, but I’ve never really used the manual focus SLRs they were manufacturing in those years.

More information about cameras of the 1975-1985 era

There is an abundance of Web sites, blogs and forums dedicated to film cameras of the 1975-1985 era. They tend to come and go.

A very good source of information on Nikon, Olympus and Canon cameras has been around for years: Photography in Malaysia (MIR)


Piedmont Park - November 2016 - Canon A-1 - Canon FD 35-105

Atlanta – Piedmont Park – November 2016 – Canon A-1 – Canon FD 35-105

January 22, 2017

How much did SLR cameras cost in 1985?

1985 is an interesting year, a turning point for the market of single lens reflex cameras: Minolta launched the first technically and commercially  successful auto-focus SLR, the Maxxum 7000. In a few years, manual focus SLRs would be relegated to the status of entry level models manufactured by subcontractors such as Cosina. Brands like Olympus or Contax would fail to impose their autofocus cameras on the marketplace and would become largely irrelevant, while vendors like Fuji would not even try to launch an autofocus line of bodies and lenses, and would leave the market altogether.

Old issues of Popular Photography have been scanned and indexed by Google, editorial content and ads. I compiled the table below from Adorama’s and Cambridge Photo’s ads.

Price of Cameras - 1985

Price of Cameras – 1985

A few interesting points….

Minolta Maxxum 7000 - source Wikipedia

Minolta Maxxum 7000 – source Wikipedia

  • the models most popular with enthusiasts  (Canon AE-1P and Minolta X-700) were in the $150 price range (body only).
  • Beginners could buy “a learner’s cameras” – with semi-auto-exposure – or a spec’d down aperture priority automatic cameras for less than $100.00.
  • Very few models were competing in the $300 price bracket: serious or wealthy enthusiasts and pros could buy the Nikon FA, splurge on an OM-4, or spend even more on modular cameras with interchangeable viewfinders  (like the Nikon F3, the Canon F1 or the Pentax LX).

The Minolta Maxxum 7000, priced at $300 (when you could find it), completely changed the equilibrium of the market. Targeted at the enthusiast photographer crowd (there was a more expensive Maxxum 9000 for the aspiring pros), it moved the average price of a camera a few notches upwards.

In a few years, the major vendors had converted their product line to autofocus, and relegated what was left of their manual focus SLR lines to the status of  low margin items targeted at impecunious customers. Minolta and Pentax moved the production line of their  manual focus SLRs to China, while Canon, Nikon and Olympus  commissioned companies  like Cosina to design and manufacture entry level manual focus cameras for them (Canon T60, Nikon FM10 and Olympus OM-2000 respectively).

On a side note, the Maxxum product line was so successful that Minolta leapfrogged Canon to become the #1 vendor on the market. It took Canon a few years (and the EOS series) to take their crown back.


Charleston, SC - Shot in 2009 - Nikon FM - Kodak CN400

Charleston, SC – Shot in 2009 – Nikon FM – Kodak CN400

October 25, 2010

The Olympus OM-2 series – a revolution followed by 12 years of limited evolution

Filed under: Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 2:59 pm
Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Look at the picture at the left – showing side by side the OM-2 (produced from 1975 to 1984) and its short lived successor, the OM-2s (also known as the OM-2 Spot/Program or OM-2s/p in other parts of the world), which soldiered from 1984 to 1986. They look so similar.


During the same period, Canon went from the huge EF body to the AE-1 and finally launched the first SLR with a computer inspired interface, the T70 of 1984. Minolta evolved from the XE-7 to the XG before it changed the world of SLRs forever with the first successful autofocus SLR, the 7000. And the always conservative Nikon went from the massive Nikkormat EL to the compact Nikon FE2, which integrated most of the advances of the OM-2, and coupled them with a very fast aluminum shutter.


It is true that the OM series had a significant technological advance when it was launched. But by the end of the seventies the competition had more than caught up, taking advantage of miniaturized integrated circuits and micro-processors to offer compact and feature rich cameras. Olympus was slow to adapt to the micro-processor revolution, and had to face a lot of teething problems in the process.


The early years


Olympus OM-2n - Close-up (Front)

Olympus OM-2n - Close-up (Front) - Note the round rewind release button on the front of the camera.

Olympus OM-2n - Close Up (back)

Olympus OM-2n - Close Up (back). Note the screw-in flash shoe and the mode selector with 4 positions: Manual, Off, Auto and Battery Check


The OM-2 came a few years after the OM-1. The OM-1 had changed the world of SLRs by offering pro-level features in an incredibly compact body. The OM-2 was the automatic exposure declination of the OM-1. Interestingly, it still integrated the whole semi-auto exposure metering system of the OM-1 (with its two CdS sensors located in the prism housing), but in automatic exposure mode, it relied on blue silicon sensors located at the bottom of the reflex chamber, under the reflex mirror. Here was the true revolution: the silicon sensors measured the light reflected by the curtains of the textile shutter (and by the surface of the film) during the exposure itself. The capabilities of the camera in low light scenes are still unsurpassed, and with a compatible flash gun, the camera could control the duration of the flash exposure while the picture was being taken. Within a few years, all major competitors had adopted a similar system on a least a few of their models. In 1979, Olympus launched the OM-2n, a relatively minor update of the OM-2.


An attempt to catch up


Olympus OM-2s - close-up (front)

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (front) - the rewind release button is now on the top plate (marked with an R), between the shutter release button and the film advance lever.

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (back)

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (back) - The flash shoe is now integrated in the body of the camera, and the mode selector now has the following positions: spot/manual, auto, program and battery check.

The OM-2s is not an evolution of the OM-2n. In fact it’s a spec’d down version of the OM-4, which was launched in 1984 as the true successor of the original OM-2 series.
Inside a body which looks very similar, the OM-2s is much more modern than the OM-2n. On the OM-2 and OM-2n, the silicon light metering system, being located under the reflex mirror, did not receive any light when the mirror was in its usual (low) position, and could only be used during the exposure, if the camera was set in auto exposure mode. That’s the reason why the CdS metering system of the OM-1 had also been retained: not only to support the semi-auto mode, but also to provide an indication of the shutter speed that may be set by the automatic exposure circuits when the camera was set in aperture priority mode.


The architecture of the OM-2s is different. It introduces a second (and smaller) mirror under the main (now semi-transparent) reflex mirror, which redirects 20% of the light to the silicon sensor: there is no need for a separate circuitry for the semi-auto mode anymore. The Olympus engineers took advantage of their new setup to offer multiple exposure metering patterns: when configured as an aperture priority auto camera, the OM-2s uses a weighted average pattern, and, very logically, switches to spot metering when set in semi-auto exposure mode.


There are other differences between the OM-2 and the OM-2s. Two of them are of particular interest: the match needle in the viewfinder is replaced by a vertical LCD panel at the left of the viewfinder, which can be lit by a small lamp when the user presses a button on the right of the reflex chamber, and the absence of the “off” position on the big switch on the left of the top plate. The use of LCDs has no adverse impact on the ergonomics, and whether the photographer will prefer the LCD or the OM-2s to the needle of the OM-2 is primarily a question of taste.


The absence of an “off” position on the main switch is more of an issue: even if the photographer sets the speed ring on “B”, the OM-2s is never be completely off, and it needs new batteries regularly (every few months) even if the camera is not used. The situation is made even worse by a design fault in the circuit controlling the flash, which causes the battery of the body to be rapidly drained if a cobra flash is left in the flash mount. The LR-44 (1.5v Silver Oxide) batteries ued by the OM-2s are still easy to find and relatively inexpensive, but the poor management of the batteries was and still is a major issue for the occasional users, and it explains why this model is not as eagerly sought after as its siblings.


Using an OM-2 camera


In everyday use, there is very little difference between the OM-2n and the OM-2s. The ergonomics is almost identical, the viewfinders are very similar, and both cameras can be used alternatively on a photo shoot without any inconvenience. Both share the same qualities – small size, great ergonomics, large viewfinder, good perceived quality – and the same limitations – primarily the textile shutter, limited to 1/1000 sec, with a maximum flash synchro speed of 1/60. The performance of the shutter was in line with what the competition had to offer when the original OM-2 was launched, but in 1984 Nikon proposed much better with the FE2 and the FA, and the OM-2s was outclassed.


I used both cameras recently; I did not perform any scientific testing and my opinion is just based on my limited experience with a few rolls of film. I tend to trust the metering system of the OM-2s a bit more than the OM-2n’s, and the OM-2s is the camera I will chose if I can not bring both with me. I will just have to be sure that I always have a set of fresh batteries in my equipment bag.



More about the OM-2 family of cameras


Olympus is proud of its past, and presents the history of its cameras in its global Web site.


While not as detailed as the pages dedicated to Nikon cameras, Leo Foo’s “Photography in Malaysia” Web site still provides interesting information about the Olympus OM-2.


A long list of pages dedicated to the Olympus OM cameras is maintained by Wim Wiskerke. It is worth checking.

CamerAgX already published a blog entry covering the family of the Olympus OM bodies, and one about the differences between matrix metering and the multi-spot system of the Olympus OM-4.


Gull - Boston Harbor - Olympus OM-2s

Gull - Boston Harbor - Olympus OM-2s

September 19, 2010

Gone fishing?

Hilton Head (SC) - Labor Day Week-End

On the beach - Labor Day Week-End. Hilton Head, SC - Olympus OM-2 - 28mm f:3.5 - Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 ISO


Well, not really. I’m working on the next series of blog entries: evaluations of the different options for having film processed and scanned, now that the minilabs around the corner don’t “do” film anymore. I didn’t reach a definite conclusion yet, but I already know one thing for sure. It’s not going to be cheap. It will for sure change the way I use film.


As long as processing and scanning were relatively inexpensive, I tended to take some risks – testing old cameras of unknown quality and bracketing a lot. Expensive lab services will bring me back to a more prudent approach – using better equipment, and paying more attention to my images while I’m shooting.


I started testing my latest acquisition, a very nice Olympus OM-2n, on a quick trip to Hilton-Head (South Carolina) a few weeks ago. But I have very few pictures to show at the moment, because of issues with the quality of pictures coming back from the labs I’m trying to evaluate.


The Photokina is about to open in Cologne. The most interesting innovations are coming from Sony and Fujifilm. Sony’s SLT-A55 still looks like an SLR, it still uses the Sony-Minolta-Konica A-mount lenses, but its conventional reflex mirror has been replaced with a semi transparent film. Reflex cameras with a semi transparent mirror are no news: Nikon and Canon have used this type of design on multiple occasions, when they wanted to propose high speed cameras (up to 13 images per second for the Nikon F3 High Speed) while getting rid of the finder black-out during exposure. But the motives are different this time. It’s about adjusting the focus when shooting videos.


Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror

Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror


There are currently two ways to control the focus on a digital autofocus camera. The simpler and cheaper way is to measure the contrast of the image directly on the sensor. The contrast of an image is supposed to be at its maximum when the image is in focus. So the camera moves the focusing elements of the lens forward and backwards until it finds the focusing distance which maximizes the contrast. This method is used primarily on Point and Shoot cameras, because the focusing process tends to be frustratingly slow and unacceptable for action photography.


Autofocus SLRs have been using another method, named Phase Detection. Specialized components (semi transparent mirrors, micro-lenses and dedicated sensors positioned under the reflex mirror) calculate the optimal focusing distance and then “ask” the lens to position its focusing elements for that distance. Focusing is much faster and less prone to errors, but it requires more hardware and – in the conventional SLR design – it can only operate before the photographer presses the shutter release and the mirror has started moving out of the light path – which makes it unsuitable for video.


Here comes Sony. The semi transparent mirror of the SLT-A55 camera is only used to direct enough light to the Phase Detection autofocus system, because there is no conventional optical viewfinder anymore. It is replaced with a good (by current standards) electronic viewfinder, fed directly by the camera’s main image sensor. Of course, the semi transparent mirror is taking 33% of the light from the main imaging sensor, but it’s an acceptable drawback in the current state of technology.


There is an even better way to solve the problem tough. A few weeks ago, Fuji presented a new point and shoot camera, the FinePix F300EXR, whose Hybrid Autofocus system operates most of the time in Phase Detection Mode, with the option to roll back to Contrast Detection in low light situations.


dpreview wrote a very well documented subject about Fujifilm’s Hybrid AF. To make a long story short, some of the photodiodes of the FinePix’s imaging sensor serve double duty: they contribute to the production of the overall image, but they also feed a Phase Detection focus determination algorithm. It may still need some work (read this review from AKIHABARAnews), but on paper it’s a simple and elegant solution. Not surprisingly, Sony has a patent for an equivalent technology, and Panasonic is rumored to be working on another variant of the same idea.


10 years after the introduction of the first mass produced dSLRs by Canon and Nikon, digital photography has reached maturity. For the first ten years, manufacturers focused their attention on the sensors and on the processing algorithms, and retained the architecture of the AF SLRs from the mid eighties, which was itself derived from designs of the thirties. Now that the basic problems have been solved and that the consumers are happy with the equipment they own, manufacturers have to explore completely different routes if they want keep their production lines busy. Interesting times ahead.

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF)

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF) - Image Courtesy of Fujifilm


June 23, 2010

The Olympus OM system and a camera to rediscover: the OM-2s

Filed under: Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 1:37 am


Take any line of manual focus 35mm reflex camera from the eighties and mid-nineties, Leica R included. Comparable models will be worth less, on the second hand market, than an Olympus OM-4T, not to mention the OM-3 and its ultra-rare and ultra-expensive offspring, the OM-3T. Why, in spite of their very serious limitations, are the single digit OM cameras so sought after? In this test of the OM-2s, the little brother of the OM-4, we’ll try and find out why.


The OM system

Olympus OM-1n next to a 35mm film cartridge. The competition needed almost 10 years to introduce more compact SLRs, but they were designed for beginners. In the enthousiast-amateur and pro categories, the OM family remains unchallenged to this day.


Launched in the early 70s, the Olympus OM-1 and its system of lenses and accessories were incredibly compact, very well designed, and at the same time solid enough to please the pros and the very serious amateurs. The competition (Nikon in particular) needed years to develop models approaching the size of the OM-1, which sold by the millions.


The OM-2, introduced in 1974 with the same ergonomics and a similar external appearance, was the automatic exposure version of the OM-1. It pioneered the use of direct exposure metering in the film chamber, and was the first camera with Through The Lens Flash metering. The competitors followed Olympus’ example, and almost every SRL cameras introduced after 1985 measures the exposure in the film chamber and offers TTL flash metering.


The OM-2s, OM-3 and OM-4 which followed in the eighties were relatively minor updates of the previous models. They shared a new body and had much more elaborate metering options, but they retained the relatively slow shutter of the OM-1 and OM-2. Their viewfinders were not as great as the ones of the OM-1 and OM-2, and the first models had some reliability issues. The OM-3T and OM-4T (with titanium top and bottom plates and more reliable electronics) raised the level of quality of the OM line, and soldiered on until Olympus finally stopped the production of film cameras, in 2002.


The limitations of OM-x cameras


The incredible prices reached by the OM-3T and to a lesser extent by the OM-4T on the second hand market could lead us to believe that those cameras are perfect. They have some unique qualities (more about them in the next section), but they also suffer from serious limitations.

The textile focal plane shutter of the OM-2S is virtually identical to the mechanism mounted in the other automatic OM cameras. In this version it is limited to 1/1000sec. The OM-3 and OM-4 reach 1/2000sec, but the synchro flash speed remains the same for all models: 1/60sec.

  • The textile focal plane shutter.

    The shutter of the OM-1 and OM-2 cameras was in line with what the competition proposed in 1975 (1/1000 Sec, Synchro Flash at 1/60sec), but ten years later, the OM-3 and OM-4 were confronted to the Nikon FM2n, FE2 and FA or the Canon T90, all with metallic shutters reaching 1/4000sec and offering 1/250sec synchro flash. A slow shutter is a serious limitation now that 400 ISO films are the de facto standard (it means that in sunlight you can only work with an aperture of f:16 or f:11), and it reduces the opportunities to use the fill-in flash technique in the open air.

  • The reliability and the power consumption of the electronics

    Olympus experienced some difficulties when the engineering of cameras became almost exclusively focused on electronics. All models suffered from glitches, some models more than others. The first OM-2S cameras, in particular, were plagued with electronics related issues. The bad apples have most probably been eliminated in the past 25 years, and reliability should not be too much of a concern for a photographer buying one of those cameras now. Excessive power consumption affected all the models launched in the first half of the eighties (when using a flash or at rest), and was only brought back under control with the OM-3T and OM-4T models.

  • Olympus missed the autofocus revolution

    Olympus’ first autofocus SLR was really horrible (it had no focusing ring at all) and was rapidly withdrawn from the market. It was so bad that Olympus did not even try to replace it with a better autofocus camera, and just placed the manual focus OM system on life support without any significant upgrade for the subsequent 15 years. Contrarily to Nikon’s or Pentax’s film SLRs, which can still share some lenses and accessories with modern digital SLRs, the OM bodies and lenses have very little in common with today’s digital cameras. If brought along modern Olympus digital cameras on a photo-shoot , they will need their own lenses, which at least doubles the weight and the volume of the equipment to be carried around.


    Unique qualities of the OM series


    The cameras of the OM series also have unique qualities, which gained them the unconditional support of a small group of passionate photographers.

  • The size and the fit and finish


    When Olympus launched the OM-1, it was the smallest 35mm Single Lens Reflex camera ever made. The competition needed almost 10 years to catch up, but if their cameras were marginally smaller, they were entry level models made of plastic, and could not be compared to the high end “single digit” OM cameras available at the same time. The fit and finish of the OM-1 was impressive, and the black or grey “”T’ and “ti” models remain among the nicest cameras ever made.

  • The Viewfinder


    Bring an OM-1 to your eye, and you will still be impressed by the viewfinder. With 97% coverage and 92% magnification, it presents a very large image of the subject. They eye relief is short (at 14mm approximately), but since the viewfinder does not provide any information at the periphery of the image, it is not an issue, and even photographers wearing glasses can see all of the scene easily. Only much bulkier and high-end cameras (such as the Nikon F3) offer a better user experience. The subsequent models were still very good, but not as impressive: over the years, Olympus had to shoe-horn LCD displays at the periphery of the viewfinder (in support of the increasingly elaborate metering system of the cameras), and introduced a diopter adjustment mechanism, which led to a progressive reduction of the magnification. But the user experience was still far better than what a Nikon FE2 or FE had to offer.
    (More about the viewfinder of SLRs in this Post of CamerAgx)

  • The ergonomics and the level of control offerred to the photographer
  • The shutter speed command ring is positioned around the lens mount

    Olympus OM-2S. The shutter speed command ring is positioned around the lens mount, and the aperture ring is at the front of the lens. 1/60 and B shutter speeds are mechanical (marked in red). Setting the camera at 1/60 when at rest addresses the battery leak issues this camera is famous for.

    Until the end, Olympus remained attached to the ergonomics defined with the OM-1: the shutter speed selection ring was positioned around the lens mount, and the aperture ring was pushed at the front of the lens. It made a lot of sense in 1970 – when the command of the mechanical shutter was stiff and the ring needed to be as large as possible, and when the settings on a lens were limited to the focus and the aperture. The generalization of (very soft) electronic shutter commands and of zoom lenses made the Olympus ergonomics a bit of anachronic at the end of the seventies.


    More important is the conscious decision made by Olympus to put the photographer in total control of metering. When most of the cameras manufacturers were trying to make photography less intimidating (using databases and analysis algorithms to make the process of determining the exposure transparent to the photographer), Olympus decided to offer spot metering (OM-2s/OM2-SP) and multi-spot metering (OM-3 and OM-4 bodies). On the OM-3 and OM-4 cameras, the photographer could make up to eight successive spot measurements, whose result were presented in the viewfinder on an analog bar scale showing each individual result and the average. The cameras also had a “shadow” and a “highlight” push button, letting the photographer compose his picture following the principles of the zone system (more about metering in this Post of Cameragx)


    This approach did not get a lot of traction on the marketplace (matrix metering has become the standard) but the small group of photographers who really wanted to be in control of the exposure of their pictures still use OM-3 and OM-4 cameras today. Their unique metering capabilities also explain why they kept their value so well.

    Olympus OM-2S The body of the OM-2S is identical to the OM-3 and OM-4.

    Olympus used the same body for the OM-2S and for the OM-3 and OM-4. They are marginally larger than the OM-1 and OM-2 models, but have a built-in flash mount.

    Olympus OM-2s- the control of metering and exposure modes

    The control of metering and exposure modes of the OM2S. The OM-2S operates in aperture priority and in program mode with a center weighted average metering, and in semi-auto mode with spot metering. Those combinations make a lot of sense.

     

    Olympus OM-2 S was named OM-2 SP on some markets.

    Olympus OM-2S was named OM-2 spot/program (or SP) on some markets.


  • Using the OM-2S
    The OM-2S is not as sought after as its OM-4 or OM-3 brothers. It is true that the latter gained their status of “classics” when the “T” and “ti” versions were launched. The OM-2S never benefited from the titanium parts of the later OM bodies, and remained an entry-level model during its short commercial career. The OM-2S also gained a bad reputation because of power leak issues (the integrated circuit was not properly designed, and when a flash was mounted on the body, it tended to drain the battery of the camera rapidly).


    It’s a very pleasant camera to use, though. Compact, with a large viewfinder, it leaves total control of the exposure to the photographer in the semi-auto mode, which is logically combined with the Spot metering system. The exposure parameters are presented on bar graph at the left of the viewfinder. They’re visual and very easy to read. When determining the right exposure is not too tricky, the photographer can rely on the automatic (aperture priority) mode, which uses a more conventional center weighted average metering. The Program mode is almost useless, because the photographer has no way of knowing the aperture selected by the camera (the selected shutter speed is displayed in the viewfinder, but aperture is not).


    Its biggest limitation is the shutter (its fastest speed is 1/1000 sec). The situation is made worse by lenses which can not be set to an aperture smaller than F:16. When taking pictures on a bright sunny day with 400 ISO film (like Kodak’s CN400 that I use a lot because it’s still easy to have it processed), the photographer can only use a narrow combination of speed and aperture, and can not play with the depth of field as much as he would like.


    Not too common but not eagerly sought after by the Olympus fanatics, the OM-2S is a good pick for a photographer looking for a compact SLR with a big viewfinder and exceptional control of the metering. With unconventional but well designed commands, the OM-2S is simpler to use than the OM-3 and OM-4 with their complex multi-spot and zone system metering functions. The OM-2S can be found for less than $150 (stores specialized in second hand cameras) and even cheaper ($50 to $80) on eBay. Small aperture Zuiko (Olympus) lenses are dirt cheap (a 28mm f:3.5 or a 135mm f:3.5 can be had for less than $30), but wide aperture Zuikos are very rare and very expensive.



    More about the Olympus OM-2S

    Ken Norton’s Zone-10 web site has interesting reviews of Olympus cameras (film and digital) and wrote a few pages about the OM2-S.


    Photography in Malaysia is primarily focused on Nikon cameras, but they have very good pages about the OM-1, OM-2 and OM-2S cameras.


    Historic center of Powder Springs (GA). Olympus OM-2s with OM-Zuiko 28mm f:3.5. Kodak CN400


 

June 17, 2010

The Allure of the Automobile – until June 27th, Atlanta High Museum of Art


It is very unusual for an art museum to have cars on display. Maybe one. Or two. But eighteen? Eighteen unique or extremely rare hand built cars, selected by a true car lover for the beauty of their bodies, and the quality of the craftsmanship. Works of art. The High Museum of Art of Atlanta is presenting “the Allure of the Automobile”, until June 27th.


Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow (1933)

Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow (1933) - The Allure of the Automobile - Atlanta (Olympus OM-2s -28 mm - Kodak Ektar 100)


I like cars, and I have visited more than a few car museums, and I’ve probably never seen so many remarkable cars under the same roof. A Duesenberg and a Packard, both built for Clark Gable, a Pierce Arrow – so modern, a Ferrari berlinetta which won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Steve McQueen’s Jaguar – a loud brute as could be expected, the Porsche 550 which earned the “Carrera” name for its remote descendants, the prototype of the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.


Some of the cars shown at the High are also technically significant or innovative , but all are stunningly beautiful.


Taking pictures in a museum is never easy, and, shame on me, I came unprepared. I only had an old Olympus SLR with a 28mm lens and 100 ISO film, and the few pictures I took can not be compared with the images posted on the Web site of the High Museum of Art, or with the wonderful pictures of the book celebrating the exhibit(“The Allure of the Automobile” – Ronald T. Labaco & Ken Gross). But the Olympus OM-2s did a very good job, with a precise exposure and very few vibrations. More about the Olympus OM family soon.


Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray (1959)

Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray - The Allure of the Automobile - Atlanta (Olympus OM-2s -28 mm - Kodak Ektar 100)

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