Did Olympus make a 'professional' 35mm camera?

Discussion in 'Olympus' started by gordonbennett, May 11, 2019.

  1. When I think of photojournalists, studio photographers, and other professional photographers in the days before digital photography, I picture them with a Nikon F or a Canon F-1. In my imagination, I specifically see the Canon shooter covering professional sports. I know that Pentax made a professional-level camera, the LX, but the closest I can come to a professional camera by Olympus is the OM-1.

    That's not to say that the OM-1 isn't an excellent camera. It's my favourite camera in my collection. I know the OM-1 was popular with adventurers. I think one of the things that induced me to buy my OM-1 was seeing ads with photos taken from mountain peaks. My OM-4 is also a fine camera. I bought it when I had illusions of becoming a paid photographer. I don't see the OM-4 being used to capture images in the middle of a war zone, though. Olympus cameras strike me as cameras for 'adventurers', 'explorers', and 'serious amateurs', as opposed to photojournalists.

    So the question is this: Did Olympus make a 'professional' 35mm SLR, that is analogous to the Nikon F and Canon F-1?
  2. SCL


    Olympus did consider theOM-1/2n to be professional bodies...what others thought might be a different issue. They did advertise them with pictures of the full range of available lenses, which at the time was quite impressive.
  3. Yes, that's what I'm getting at. (At least I think it is. It's 07:11, and I'm only on my second cuppa joe. I'll wake up when I start the second pot.) The Wikipedia article on the OM-4 says 'Their rugged construction also appealed to professional photographers...', but Olympus cameras don't come to mind as the tools of people who make their living with cameras like the Nikon and Canon do.
  4. and so did a large number of "professional" photographers. As SCL says, the range of lenses offered was impressive Even a perspective control lens ($$$) was in the line-up. There are still lots of working OM-1s and 2s on the market, and you have to admit that the OM-1 and its descendants are among the handsomest SLRs ever.
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  5. Mine's not on the market! :p The OM-1 is a wonderful camera. I just had mine CLA'd and calibrated for a 1.5v cell. And yes, it's very pretty. :)
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  6. I confess when my OM1 md came, I was stunned by the quality and size of the viewfinder (LINK).

    No, but I simply meant that they have proved to be tough enough to depend on. :)
  7. At the time (early>mid '70s), a number of pros did in fact migrate to OM-1 and OM-2 from Nikon/Canon. But not the pros who were highly visible shooting sports or news: most of those stuck with what they had (often via contract arrangements with their publications or networks). The huge bright OM viewfinder, incredibly quiet shutter, compact size and broad selection of fast primes was as appealing to a subset of pros as it was to the enthusiast/amateur. The OM-1/OM-2 were beautiful examples of industrial design, as well: their look still holds up today, timeless and iconic yet somehow fresh.

    Olympus was not just blowing smoke about build quality and interest in the pro market: the OM system was probably the biggest revolution in 35mm photography since the Nikon F, and they spent serious coin developing it. The new lens system alone was a feat no other company has pulled off with such depth and breadth so quickly. Their core market did shift significantly by the time of the OM-4: copycats had flooded the industry, and the OM-4 traded the amazing quiet shutter for faster top speed and innovative multi-spot metering. Unfortunately the elaborate OM-4 meter was a solution in search of buyers with a matching problem: the camera gear press was fascinated with it, the buying public not so much.

    The "pro" OM heyday was probably 1973-1980, after that the "old guard" modernized, the Nikon F3 / Canon New F-1 duopoly competed ruthlessly for pro dollars, then eventually Minolta drove an AF stake into Olympus' heart. The Pentax LX (despite its unique advantages) wasn't a huge factor with pros outside Japan: it was more of a niche choice like the Contax RTS alternatives. Tho nothing was as niche as the Minolta XK-Motor.
    Last edited: May 11, 2019
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  8. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I wasn't impressed with the OM Zuiko lenses. I was focusing with one and squeezed the focusing ring, and I could feel it distort enough that it became difficult to turn the ring. That was the end of my interest in Olympus.
  9. I think this answers my question. It seems the OM-1 was the 'professional' camera, but it was overshadowed by Nikon/Olympus.
  10. FWIW, I started with Canon FD mount stuff(first an A-1, then a T90, and a couple of New F-1s along with other bodies along the way including FTbs and original F-1s) and now am primarily a Nikon user in 35mm. I have Nikons ranging from some very early/low SN Fs up through a D800 including all of the "single digit" bodies up through the F6 and the D3s. Lately I've mostly been in an F2 mood(I've shot more with the F2SB in the past few months than I have anything else, digital aside).

    I've been wanting to scratch the "Olympus itch" for a while, and finally broke down this past week and bought an OM-4 along with a few lenses on Ebay. I spent a LONG time debating on which model to buy-it was down to the OM-1 and OM-4, and ultimately the OM-4 won because I've always liked the multi-spot meter on the T90. It's not going to replace my Nikon system(I have way too much oddball stuff, and the old/new integration is too nice to pass up) but it will be fun to play with and I'll also likely end up with an OM-1 also.

    In any case, I've heard that one metric often used in distinguishing a "pro" SLR was interchangeable viewfinders. In practice, I don't think that this is that big of a deal in 35mm. In Nikon land, it lets us take the same basic body(F2, for example) and match the meter to the lenses we're using(I have all the metering prisms, but mostly use the DP-3 and DP-12) or go without a meter completely. I have things like a waist level finder for the F, but don't have a huge amount of use for it since the focusing screen is so small(vs. something like a 6x6 camera, where I prefer a waist level). There again, with medium format I appreciate having the option to use a prism, for example, but realistically I rarely use anything other than a waist level. I don't have a Hasselblad prism(I do have one of those magnified chimney finders that's useful in the right situation) but do have a metered RB67 prism-the prism by itself weighs over 2lbs!

    Along those same lines, Canon never an EOS camera with a removable prism, and Nikon gave up after the F5. I could see the lack of a removable prism in the OM system being a knock against it, but there again how many people actually use it?
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  11. Same issue as now with the Olympus EM1 series of cameras.
    There are pros using the Olympus system; pro grade camera and lenses.
    As with the original OM series, the big benefit of the EM1 series is the lighter weight compared to a Nikon or Canon pro level dSLR and lens.
    And as one that uses both Olympus and Nikon, I can tell you that the weight and bulk difference is significant.
  12. Other than the inertia of "why leave the incredible Nikon system if you're already in it?", the non-removable prism was about the only other snark Nikon got any traction with vs the OM. It worked for a awhile, until Olympus (and Contax) began credibly publicizing the counterargument of "who the hell ever actually takes the danged meter prism off their F2- like, EVER?" As you note, pull the prism off the F/F2, and there goes your meter. There were few takers for the waist level or high magnification finders: about the only F2 non-metered finder anyone gave a crap about was the big DA-1 for action+underwater use (and even that was fairly low volume). I would say Canon got more mileage promoting the ability of their original F-1 to meter with a similar action finder vs Nikon F2, than Nikon got trying to imply the OM wasn't "pro" due to its fixed prism. The OM had interchangeable screens in nearly as much variety as Nikon: that was enough for most users.

    In context of the time, however, none of these options was as yet anywhere near unseating Nikon F2 as "the" professional 35mm SLR system. Canon was beginning to make inroads with their original F-1 as a rogue alternative for some sports pros, but was still a distant second to Nikon. Olympus made a lot of noise and skimmed off more pros than they're given credit for now, but probably didn't have the penetration of the Canon F-1. Everyone else was an also-ran as far as "pro" acceptance: show up at the White House or Madison Square Garden in 1974 with a Pentax or Minolta around your neck, you better have thick skin and a really good sense of humor.

    Before 1976, the 35mm SLR wasn't quite mainstream: hugely popular with college students and those of artistic/craftsmen nature, but average Joes and Janes were still besotted with their Instamatics. It took Canon's AE-1 to break thru to the mass market via features and TV advertising. 1972-1977 was the peak evolution of old-school mostly-mechanical SLRs, with Nikon ruling the roost 1977-1984 brought the smooth integration of electronics with traditional ergonomics and glass, and competitors steadily making inroads on Nikon's turf. Then in 1985 Minolta blew everything to hell with their detestable Maxxum AF juggernaut. AF destabilized everything, nearly wiping out former gems like Olympus, Pentax, Konica and Contax (we'd already lost Topcon, Miranda and a few others). Canon bet the farm on acing Nikon in AF, and won. Eventually completing the circle, Minolta became the first big casualty of digital (to quote Nelson from The Simpsons: "HAH-hah!").
    Last edited: May 11, 2019
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  13. ME.
    I learned to make use of the removable prism to primarily shoot over my head, and a bit less for LOW shots.
    Unless you learned to do that, you may not even think of it.
    That is why I like the tilting rear screen on today's cameras.

    As for metering, you meter the scene before you pull the prism, or use sunny 16.
  14. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    I do, to change focusing screens. Same with my F3HPs. I don't care for having to change the focusing screens through the lens mount.
  15. Proportionately, kids: proportionately. We photo.net types are an enthusiast subgroup that would OF COURSE play tinkertoy and exploit every nook and cranny of our F2 cameras. Back in 1974, in terms of marketing the OM-1, it didn't mean squat: Nikon sold a boatload of F2 Photomics to people who rarely took them out of the ever-ready case, never mind pull off the meter prism. In marketing terms, "how many of you actually take the meter prism off" was a legit retort to "your bold new cameras sucks because it doesn't have a removable prism". You traded the prism to get an SLR the size and quietness of a Leica M3, harping on the prism was beside the point. If you wanted/needed that, the OM (and everything else on the market aside from the top Nikon & Canon) wasn't for you.

    The removable prism undoubtedly makes the screen easier to swap and clean, and (now more than ever) lets you start with a smaller investment in an older meter prism and have use of an F2 while you save toward the silicon blue F2SB or F2AS of your dreams. As far as turning the camera upside down with the prism off to see over a crowd, thats hit or miss as a useful feature. Its nifty all right, but not if you've got one of the many MANY F2 bodies that is none too secure at keeping the screen locked in place when turned upside down. The second time you have a screen fall out and get trampled in the dirt at an event, you start thinking you'll leave the prism on after all (or pay for the WLF to do things officially). I love my F2s, and my OM-1. They're my two favorite SLRs, tho I often wish I could cram the more contemporary F2AS meter into the OM-1 for the perfect mashup. Later OMs have silicon blue meters, but lose the smooth shutter of the OM-1 (the OM-4 sounds nasty to me).
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  16. I admit to never having actually bought an F2 prism separate from a camera, although I did once buy an F specifically to get the F2 DL-1 that was on it :) .

    With that said, it does make life easy in some cases. When I bought my F2SB, which was the last metered prism I needed to round out the set(and coincidentally, as I said recently, the one I've used most often recently even though I've had it a while) it came on a body with "iffy" battery contacts. I haven't dug into it to see what's going on, even though I know there are a few things that can cause that. Instead, I took a '76 F2 Photomic and stuck the DP-3 prism on it. The one with iffy batteries then got the DL-1.

    In any case, I am anxious to play with the OM-4, and as I said I'll probably end up with an OM-1 also before all is said and done.
  17. It is "hit or miss as a useful feature" if you never had to do it.
    When you had to do it, it was a valuable feature, and that is one reason why I got the F2.

    Yeah I could get a WLF, and that still lets me do what a non removable prism camera cannot do.

    As for not using the cameras features. I've dealt with a tourist with Nikon FTn that used to come in every day for us in the camera shop, to change the roll of film for him. :confused: So yes, there were people that bought the best they could afford, with no idea on how to really use what they had. He could have done just as well with a Nikkormat FTn.
  18. With modern cameras, I've steered people who asked me for advice away from buying top-of-the-line DSLRs for exactly that same sort of reason. AFAIK, any interchangeable lens camera made these days(and a lot of fixed lens cameras) will give you the option of using PSAM modes or the manufacturers equivalent, but the top tier of cameras generally ditch the "green box" mode and other fully automatic modes. Yes, you can take-say a Nikon D850-and set it to program mode and auto everything, but it's not always straight-forward to do it and it takes a lot more work to undo it if you ever want to go beyond it. It's also the same reason why if my dad wants to borrow a camera from me, I hand him my D600 since I know he doesn't want to learn the ins and outs of even using "P" mode on it.

    As an aside, though, for shooting from unconventional positions I think that the Canon Speed Finder is the best around. You get a nice, big image that can be rotated through 180ยบ and is visible from a few inches away. The Nikon Action Finder is similar, but doesn't offer metering on the F/F2(since all versions of the F-1 meter from the body, they retain metering) and also doesn't swivel like the Canon equivalent. This is one of those finders that to me DOES actually make a good argument for interchangeable finders.

    I will mention, though, that I've never even bothered to look for alternative finders for the F4 and F5 since both of these cameras tie up so much metering functionality in the standard eye level finder. The better meters are a large part of the reason for me to want to use the big and heavy AF cameras.

    For macro work, though, I do like "chimney" finders...
  19. @ben_hutcherson , I plead ignorance on the Canon finders. But that Speed Finder sounds interesting.
    I've thought about a chimney finder but never bothered with them, as I did/do very little macro work with the F2 or the Hasselblad.
  20. Just to be clear, I wasn't saying the ability to pop off the Nikon prism for a quick-n-dirty waist level or above crowd view wasn't a worthwhile feature- it is. The problem is many F and F2 bodies don't have secure screen latches, so if you turn the prism-less body upside down and hold it above your head, you've got a 50/50 chance the screen falls out and hits the ground. Replacement screens used to be widely available for just a couple bucks on the second hand market, now they aren't, so I would not be so comfortable playing that game anymore. Of my Nikons pictured below, only the black F Photomic FTn has latches that hold the screen securely when held upside down: all the others will let it fall out via gravity within seconds, as is the case with most other F and F2 bodies I've owned previously.

    I put my Olympus OM-1 in the pic just to show how much smaller and sleeker it is than the redoubtable Nikon pro bodies. Nothing beats it for SLR event shooting: the least obnoxious shutter sound of any focal plane camera ever made short of a Leica, and its nicer than a few of those I've heard (CL, I'm looking at you). OM2 and OM2S have the same damper system, but Olympus tossed it with the OM3, OM4 and OM4Ti. I like the sophisticated spot meter in those later OM bodies, but their gnarly shutter sound is nothing like the original OM1 / OM2. And the titanium body versions attract wear marks like a lint brush attracts cat hair: no thanks. After trying them all, I went back to the OM-1 that started me in SLR photography back in 1976: it makes a nice supplement to my big Nikons.

    Other than the usual modern battery issue afflicting all mercury powered cameras, the big gotcha with vintage OM is rotted foam desilvering the prism internals. This is a pain and expensive to get repaired, the same dealbreaker that also kills Nikon F plain meterless prisms and the Leicaflex SL2.

    Nikon F F2 and Olympus.jpg
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