Our 9 favorite Olympus cameras of all time
Earlier this week, Om Digital Solutions launched the OM System OM-1 Micro Four Thirds Camera, the latest camera never to wear the Olympus badge. But wait, how did we get here? Last year, Olympus sold its imaging division to Japan Industrial Partners, which then launched OM Digital Solutions to continue the tradition of Olympus cameras.
And while we’re glad to see the brand’s DNA endure, it’s a bittersweet moment. Olympus started manufacturing cameras as early as 1936 (one year before the first issue of popular photography magazine lands on newsstands). And since then, there have been countless Olympus cameras worth celebrating for their innovations and/or sheer genius.
Here are nine of our all-time favorite models, from the half-frame Pen F to the Micro Four Thirds OM-D E-M1.
Olympus F Pen
Released in 1963, the original Pen F looks like something you’d expect to see Don Draper from Mad Men throw in his bag with his supply of alcohol. At the time, the Pen F was the smallest 35mm system camera, largely because it only took images half the size of a normal 35mm image. Load a roll of 36 frame film into the camera and it will produce 72 vertically oriented photos measuring 24mm high by 18mm wide.
There’s no pentaprism bump on top of the camera for a viewfinder. Instead, Olympus built a system of mirrors inside the camera to keep the upper body flat. The original version requires two lever strokes in advance to move to the next frame, similar to the original Leica M3. The Pen F feels old school because it is and that’s what we love about it. With film prices what they are now, we can also appreciate getting twice as many frames per roll.
Pick up an original Olympus OM-1 from the early 1970s and you’ll quickly notice some subtle differences between it and some of the other popular film SLRs of the time. Both opening and shutter speed controls reside on the lens, so there’s no shutter dial on the compact, well-appointed body.
Hit the shutter and you’ll also notice how fast and quiet the sound is. Olympus has built an air damping system into the shutter mechanism to cushion the impact of the mirror housing as it flips up and down every time you take a photo.
It even allows photographers to swap focusing screens through the lens mount, meaning you don’t have to take the camera apart to get a different view through the viewfinder.
Browse the aftermarket today and you’ll still find a ton of OM-1s, fully functional and ready to shoot, a testament to Olympus’ efforts to make a durable, compact and relatively affordable camera that would last decades with just a little TLC.
The Olympus XA is a compact aperture-priority film rangefinder that debuted in 1979. One of the weirdest cameras in the Olympus catalog, it features an all-plastic design centered around a lens sharp 35mm f/2.8 lens paired with a 4-blade lens. opening. A sliding lens cover protects the camera when not in use and doubles as an on/off switch.
A vertical slider on the front of the body allows users to adjust the aperture. A needle display in the viewfinder indicates the camera’s corresponding shutter speed. And a side flash adds to the versatility of the XA. The only exposure override is a small lever on the bottom of the camera that adds +1.5 EV to an exposure.
According to the brand, it was the first “full” Olympus camera to use a mostly plastic construction. Still, these cameras are built tough and can easily be found in working order, for little money, today.
In fact, they’re a great option for anyone looking for a tiny and sturdy, yet highly wired, manual focus camera. They are also fantastic cameras for “shooting from the hip”, due to the unique shutter design. But watch out for the sausage fingers, the controls can be a bit tricky.
On the market, the OM-10 is a fairly basic film SLR that, like the Nikon EM, only works in aperture priority mode with a few exceptions for flash sync and bulb exposures. A port on the front of the camera, however, allows users to connect a small dongle with a shutter speed dial that converts the camera into a full manual body.
It’s not as polished or durable as single-digit OM bodies, but Olympus made a ton of these cameras, so you can still find them on the aftermarket, today, for a lot less than a lot of its more popular counterparts. We own several and have never paid more than $30 for one. Ultimately, it’s a smart little camera that deserves more credit than it gets.
In 1989, Olympus released the latest and most advanced version of the OM series film SLRs. The OM-4Ti is lighter and more compact than the Leica M6. Additionally, the OM-4Ti’s top and bottom plates used titanium (hence the name) to add durability and save weight.
Functionally, it’s very similar to the OM SLRs that came before it, but it’s had some very noticeable upgrades. It was the first 35mm camera with a film-plane shutter to synchronize with a flash, at any shutter speed.
You can still find OM-4TI bodies on the secondary market, but you can expect to pay a premium for them. The relatively high price is partly due to their rarity, but also because they are built to last. And hey, they’re still a lot cheaper than a Leica.
Olympus/mju Stylus & Epic/mju-II Stylus
The Olympus Stylus/mju and its coveted younger sibling, the Stylus Epic/mju-II, also known as “the bar of soap” for its unique shape, are compact, plastic, point-and- shoot, with super sharpness. 35mm lenses and simple features. The first is equipped with a 35mm f/3.5 lens, the second with a 35mm f/2.8.
Both of these cameras debuted in the 1990s. The original Stylus was a huge success, with over 5 million units manufactured. The Stylus Epic, which debuted in 1997, was also incredibly successful. And these days, both are selling for top dollar on the used market.
A sliding door serves as both an on/off switch and a lens cover. And both cameras offer a host of flash modes, reliable metering, and precise autofocus. That is to say, they are as easy to use as they come. No wonder you find street photographers and candid photographers who love analog so much to work with them.
In 2003, Olympus launched its foray into DSLRs with a camera and lens system specifically designed for digital photography. The sensor inside the Olympus E-1 was a Kodak sourced CCD (which was common before CMOS came along and made it obsolete) which measured 18mm x 13.5mm. Olympus has stuck to this size, known as Four Thirds for the breadth of its DSLR run during which it has created some truly excellent and compact lenses.
Even back then, Olympus emphasized the ruggedness and durability of its cameras. The E-1’s magnesium alloy body features rugged sealing to help it survive in the wild. While the camera specs seem old at this point, they were new for the time and represented a big commitment from Olympus to its advanced digital offerings.
Olympus PEN E-P1
The Olympus PEN E-P1, announced in 2009, was named after the legendary Olympus Pen 35mm half-frame camera that debuted 50 years prior. It was also the first interchangeable lens camera from Olympus to comply with the new Micro Four Thirds standard.
But it doesn’t just share a name with its distant 35mm relative, it also conveys a similar look, feel and design to the classic pen. The angular body is constructed from aluminum and has a 3-inch LCD screen on the rear – there’s no viewfinder, but an optional optical viewfinder was sold alongside.
At the time of its launch, the E-P1 was one of only two Micro Four Thirds cameras on the market, offering a nice contrast to the Panasonic G1, an SLR-shaped camera with a built-in electronic viewfinder and a primarily plastic construction. .
The E-P1’s 12-megapixel sensor was praised at the time for its punchy JPEGs and solid detail capture. And the camera as a whole was celebrated for its retro-tastic design, something Olympus would continue to look into for future digital PEN models.
Olympus OM-D E-M1
The OM-D E-M1 is arguably Olympus’ most important digital camera. Launched in 2013, this flagship Micro Four Thirds camera packs a high-performance 16-megapixel sensor into an extremely compact and lightweight body with tank-like construction, including robust dust and weather protection, and plenty of controls direct.
A comfortable camera for taking pictures, the E-M1 also offered a large high-resolution electronic viewfinder for its time. And the camera’s built-in 5-axis image stabilization system was also top of the class for that time.
Now in its third iteration, the latest OM-D E-M1 Mark III hasn’t strayed far from the design and ethos of the original. In fact, the new flagship OM System OM-1 is essentially a distant sibling to the original E-M1. Plus, the E-M1 is still a camera we’d happily shoot and film with right now, despite its 9-year-old status.
Do you have a favorite Olympus camera that we missed? Shout it out in the comments below.
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