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Did Olympus make a 'professional' 35mm camera?


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Olympus OM1/OM2 popularity in retail camera shops might have varied by region. They certainly flew off the shelves of NYC dealers over the first few years (47th St Photo was often backordered on many OM items, as was Adorama and other vendors in what used to be the Manhattan camera district).


Pre-internet, buying patterns were different. The customer who ordered by mail or phone from the dozen NYC discount dealers in the back pages of Pop Photo wasn't necessarily the same type that would patronize their local camera shop. The retail customers in the '70s tended to be more conservative, leaning more toward Nikon, Pentax, Minolta and Canon. When those brands started frantically copying the OM paradigm, the conservative buyers either finally woke up to Olympus or just bought whatever knockoff their favorite brand fielded.


Olympus OM had a great run with amateurs, enthusiasts and open-minded pros from '72 until '76, when the Canon AE-1 stole the spotlight from them (and everyone else). After that, the OM system kind of lost its halo: rampant amateur sales volume dropped off once competitors all had at least one compact light body. When the market became saturated with cheap plastic AE SLRs, Olympus tried the "we'll just move upscale" trick that Nikon is pinning its hopes on today. It didn't work: the OM4 series just didn't charm people in the same numbers the OM1/OM2 had. The updated Nikon F3 and Canon New F-1 were "small enough" to satisfy hard core pros, and by then Olympus had abandoned their whisper-quiet shutter/mirror and pricing advantages, so there was nothing compelling to lure buyers away from other brands anymore. The OM3/4 multi spot metering system was brilliant and unique, but too Sheldon Cooper to be comprehensible to the average buyer (or explained by the average salesperson).


The Zuiko lenses remained highly respected, and you did have some pros who valued the uniquely fast primes, so OM stayed viable for a few more years until Minolta buried pretty much everybody with AF in 1985. Olympus managed to survive the horrors of the Canon AE-1, but Maxxum was the stake thru their heart: they struggled from the late '80s thru '90s. Fortunately their point & shoots, bridge cameras and lab equipment division stayed profitable, and the OM4Ti hung on as a cult "retro" camera for another decade.

Edited by orsetto
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An interesting thread, personally defining professional is difficult, I believe at the time of the OM1 and the early to mid seventies Olympus truly believed the OM1 would revolutionise the industries that made use of SLR's, so in essence I suspect they saw the OM1 and the OM system as a Professional system to be used by both professionals, enthusiasts and even amatuers, the following is a quote from Sir Don McCullin who certainly was a professional at the top of his game:


He (Sir Don McCullin) told us (Olympus) that he had been able to capture his amazing battlefield photographs in Vietnam and various other war zones because his camera was light. He wanted to thank us for that. My eyes filled with tears when he told us that the OM SLRs had lifted a weight from the shoulders of photographers everywhere. He really understood the significance of our efforts to create compact, lightweight cameras. That was a wonderful moment.


It was around this time that I (Olympus Engineer) started to design the OM2.

It does not go to say if Sir Don McCullin ended up using the OM2 as well :) Personally I prefer the OM2n over this model.

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