Olympus OM-1 & OM-1N review: classic film cameras revisited

With the iconic ‘OM-1’ model number revived on the latest Olympus mirrorless camera body, it’s timely to go back to where the legend began

Olympus OM-1 35mm film SLR
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The Olympus OM-1 was one of the most important cameras in 35mm SLR history. The OM-1 was the start of a dynasty of OM film cameras, which were the first SLRs for many amateur photographers in the 1970s and 80s. Launched as the M-1 at the 1972 Photokina, Yoshihisa Maitani’s brilliant design for a more compact 35mm SLR was the start of big things for Olympus… and 35mm SLR design in general.

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Taking a sober look at the history of photography, there are really only a small number of cameras that can be considered truly revolutionary – the original Kodak box camera obviously and the first Leica 35mm camera. Later, the Contax S, the Nikon F, Leica again with the M3 and the first Hasselblad 6 x 6cm SLR. And undoubtedly also on this list is the Olympus OM-1. This is the camera that made Olympus into one of the ‘big five’ Japanese camera brands during the 1970s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. It spawned a very successful line of higher-end 35mm SLRs – the OM-2, OM-3 and OM-4 with variations such as the titanium bodied ‘Ti’ models. And, from the original OM-1 and OM-2, Olympus built a range of consumer-level SLRs – OM-10, OM-20, OM-30 and OM-40. 

Now that the Olympus brand is no more as far as future cameras and lenses are concerned, it’s very fitting that the last camera to wear the marque – everything will be OM System from now on – also adopts the iconic model number. In terms of what the original OM-1 did for the Olympus brand, the digital-era OM-1 has a lot to live up to, but there’s clearly some of that original DNA in the new camera’s concept and execution, and the sheer brilliance of Yoshihisa Maitani’s design continues to be recognized 50 years later. 

Find the Olympus OM-1 on eBAY.com

Find the Olympus OM-1 on eBAY.com
An OM-1 or OM-1N in immaculate condition with a 50mm f/1.8 should set you back $150 or more –  but you can find more battered bodies for much less.

Find the Olympus OM-1 on eBAY.co.uk

Find the Olympus OM-1 on eBAY.co.uk
An Olympus OM-1 or OM-1N in immaculate condition with a 50mm f/1.8 will cost around £125, but you can find examples for less. Just be mindful that there can be issues that the seller may not even know about.

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Paul Burrows

Paul has been writing about cameras, photography and photographers for 40 years. He joined Australian Camera as an editorial assistant in 1982, subsequently becoming the magazine’s technical editor, and has been editor since 1998. He is also the editor of sister publication ProPhoto, a position he has held since 1989. In 2011, Paul was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute Of Australian Photography (AIPP) in recognition of his long-term contribution to the Australian photo industry. Outside of his magazine work, he is the editor of the Contemporary Photographers: Australia series of monographs which document the lives of Australia’s most important photographers.