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The Best 35mm Camera Ever

It is almost impossible to convey the impact that the introduction of the Olympus OM-1 had on the camera market when it was launched in 1973. This tiny camera, weighing a mere 510g, slashed over 35% off the size and weight of the big and bulky SLRs of the time. Suddenly there was a proper system camera that could travel the world without making a nuisance of itself.

Olympus intended to call the camera the M-1, but Leica objected because of their M-series rangefinder camera, and the decision was made to switch to OM-1. A classic dynasty was born that's now with the OM-4Ti.

Introduced into the era of psychedelic music and flared trousers, the OM-1 has a timeless look that's as desirable today as it was over 20 years ago. Fashionable from the first, the OM series found favour with the likes of Lichfield and Bailey, and even went on expeditions with Sir Chris Bonington.

Sir Chris Bonington

Not only is the camera small and light, it's also elegant and modern looking. As well as the traditional chrome and black design, an all-black version was available that was much favoured by aspiring press photographers.

The camera is basic, with a manual matched needle exposure, but extremely easy to use - once you get used to the fact that the 1-1/1000sec shutter speed range is on a ring tucked away round the lens throat and the apertures are at the front rather than the rear of each lens.

One of the most amazing aspects of the launch of the OM-1 was the simultaneous introduction of a 29 lens line-up using the new, wide-throated bayonet mount - everything from an 8mm up to a 1000mm lens. The versatility of the OM system, and the lightness of the camera, means that the OM-1 has probably travelled further than any other 35mm camera. Excellent for location work, and equally suitable for students, this is a camera that has a special place in the hearts and minds of generations of photographers.

In 1979 the camera was updated as the OM-1n, with the incorporation of a flash-ready signal in the viewfinder, but a decade later it was discontinued. Today, for around �150, you can still buy this slice of photographic history if you can find one second-hand.

Mention the OM-1 to anyone who took up photography in the mid '70s and their eyes mist over. Universally adored by its owners and held in high regard by the photo industry, we're not surprised that this camera has topped our poll.

Devoid of snob value, the OM-1 has earned the number one position because of its mix of solid photographic principles and practical handling. As we head towards an increasingly digital future, the OM-1 is the best example of photography's recent past. We will never see its like again...

(extracted from Buying Cameras, July 1997)

Over 200 of the UK's leading photo experts including photographers, camera manufacturers and dealers were asked to vote for their top five 35mm cameras and the results were used to produce a top 20 list. The result was published in the July 1997 issue of the UK magazine Buying Cameras.


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Last updated on 20 October, 2002
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