After the war, the newly introduced 35mm format influenced the hobbyist camera styles into smaller models, away from the 120 / 127 formats. The war technology contributed to advances in optics, so enlargers for 35mm formats were now affordable, making contact prints redundant. The new hot compact SLR style was introduced in the early 1950s in Europe, meaning Germany, by pioneers such as KW, Agfa, Ihagee, and Zeiss, followed by KMZ, as the soviets are wont to do, copying the German designs. Japanese industry followed a decade later by the great names of that time, such as Topcon, Kowa, Konica, Mamiya, Minolta, and Miranda, neither are with us anymore. Canon, Nikon, and Pentax joined the trend; luckily, they are still doing well.
Common to all compact SLRs made at that time were size and weight. Smaller than the pre-war SLR cameras, they were still bulky affairs.
Olympus, a company just 30 years old in 1950, busied itself with klapp cameras, together with trying TLRs, and later dwelled on viewfinders and rangefinders. In the mid-1960s, they dipped their feet in the SLR pool with the beautiful, fantastic Pen F and its variants. While a worthwhile and able camera, the market had gone towards a full 35mm frame.
I think names were in short supply at that time, as the first compact SLR offered by Olympus was the FTL. Petri used the FT in a camera name in 1967, Canon in 1971, Konica in 1970, and Yashica in 1973. There was also a Pen FT, but not as a full-frame. Further to that, Olympus had outdone itself with the following model, naming it M-1.
I am not sure what the M stood for, be it Modern, Manual, or any other M-word. But it sure came in the footsteps of the Leica M1.
Here, success came to bite Olympus in the rear end. The M-1 was compact, on par with modern days cameras. Offered all features available at the time and simple to operate. It enjoyed success across market segments. All were happy save for Leitz.
Leitz couldn’t do much in Japan, so they leaned on the worldwide camera distributors that were selling all brands and threatened to withdraw Leicas from sellers who carry the M-1. And it helped. The 1972 M-1 was promptly baptized again as OM-1. From here, it had developed in two ways: the M-1 cameras, although identical to the OM-1, fetch three times the OM-1 value in the collectors market, and Olympus had just renamed itself OM. Oh, and the current digital Olympus flagship camera line still sticks to the OM. The M-1 in black is now worth over USD 4,000.
As said above, the camera has all features you require and then some. However, as some cameras are, it is not intuitional. By the winder, the large dial on top is for ASA speed. Most cameras have there the shutter speed dial. Setting the ASA value takes pressing the little tab hiding between the winder and the trigger, which in other cameras is the rewind release. The shutter speed dial is in the front of the body, around the mounting latch.
In front, there are two small dials, the nail-breaking type. The one on the body is the rewind release, an odd place to be. On the lens assembly is the mirror lock. There are sound reasons to have the mirror locked in up position, but not helpful enough to have this feature stay in late models. The self-timer can be set to total delay or less and is triggered by the tiny (again nail trouble) lever hidden behind it. It takes cocking the shutter before activating the timer; else, it dies halfway.
Dept of field view depends on the lens attached. Some lenses have a push-in button that closes the aperture; some don’t. An interchangeable focusing screen option is there, but this did not last in later models. Flash sync is mounted on the opposite side of the barrel, again a nail issue.
The camera cannot be simpler to use. A needle in the viewer, set between two brackets, points to the correct exposure. Set the desired shutter speed; the meter will point on over/under exposure and adjust the aperture accordingly. Operating is quiet and smooth, a welcomed feature compared to the other SLRs of that time, some clap like a mortar.
Variations of the OM-1: the MD version stands for motor drives, with an additional covered hole at the bottom, and the N, which suppose to have some cosmetic changes, but I have not seen one.
A word of curiosity. I have about a dozen Olympus SLRs of several generations on my bench. A common issue – they all came in dirty, some filthy. Further, out of the lot, only three lenses are clean. The rest suffer from all the glass malaises. Other lenses of other makers come in a much better condition. I don’t know if Olympus owners treat their cameras differently.
|Manual. Meter assisted, shutter priority.
|520 gr, Body only
|Class average weight
|600 gr, Body only
|Bayonet, OM mount
|Focal plane cloth horizontal
|Yes, with OM lenses
|Yes, accessory. Several types available, none interchangable