Photographing with an Icon: OM-1

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OM-1 vintage ad

When you ask someone to sketch out something “iconic” we tend to draw out the shape of the one thing that defines a category of an object. Sometimes even out of obsolesce; take for instances the “save” button in most software, when really was the last time you used or seen a floppy disk to save things to? But nevertheless, certain icons define an object so fundamentally it is hard to describe it otherwise. Ask someone to sketch out an icon “camera” and a rectangle with a hump on top and a lens in front begins to form; such as the 1972 OM-1. This little camera from the 70s rocked not only the photography world, but the design world as well.

The Olympus OM-1, originally introduced in 1972 as the M-1 (until Leica made Olympus reconsider), this SLR did to range finders then, what mirrorless cameras are doing to DSLRs today. Designed by designed by Yoshihisa Maitani, its design was the balance of function and form. Shutter speed was at the flange of the lens mount as opposed to the top-plate with the ISO dial. The aperture ring was at the very front of the lens for easier use. This was all in an effort to allow the shooter to look down its famously big and bright Pentaprism viewfinder and adjust exposure without needing to pull the camera down from the eye to adjust settings. It was compact and paired with Zuiko glass, it quickly made a reputation for itself. Olympus even went as far as to make it adaptable with a Motor Drive grip and other accessories. It could be adapted to almost any photography purpose.

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Using one of these cameras, it is hard not to fall in love with it. About the size, if not smaller, of today’s mirrorless cameras. As one who has used the Canon 5D series of bodies, it quickly makes you wonder why and how SLRs got so big and bloated to start with. Why aren’t all full frame cameras this compact and easy to use? Especially knowing that this is a full mechanical body, with today’s hyper small technology how did things get so bulky?

So where does something like this icon of photography have in today’s digital era, especially as many of us just thing “film is dead.” Many don’t realize that Olympus was making OM film bodies all the way through the early 2000s.

Recently I taught a middle school photography camp and they were amazed at the idea that photographs were, and still can be, made with out electricity. No batteries. No need of a screen.  I realized then that to many of us are starting to loose some of the knowledge behind how photography works.

As a part of Every Moment Has a Story, I have an OM-1 that I will be using periodically in my personal photography. Not for nostalgic reasons, but rather to reconnect with the roots of photography and practice, by eye, what our cameras compute for us much too often for us. A practice of connecting with a scene through exposure and composition, over fiddly menus and megapixels to fix later. It is an endeavor to strengthen my technical photographic skills using a an iconic tool of all photography.