35mm Film Days. My Olympus OM Era

The Olympus OM-2 was the first in a set of tools that allowed me to begin taking true macro photographs. Handed down to me by my father in the 1980’s, I had no idea of its full macro potential until almost 15 years later. At first, my needs were simple, so I used the 50mm lens for a few years before investing in a used Zuiko f4 200mm telephoto and a 28mm wide-angle lens. Later came a macro lens…and then the fun began.

To remind those too young to know, this was still the era of film cameras, with digital nowhere in sight. I switched from print film to slide film not long after I obtained the OM2. Processing was slow, which meant a three-day wait for results if I was shooting Ektachrome or Fujichrome, and a full week to wait if I was shooting Kodachrome…a long time when you consider that now, with digital, you can immediately check the results for each frame.

The OM line of SLR cameras were known for their small size and the extensive system that was developed to back them up. The system (below) covered photojournalism, sports photography, technical photography, astrophotography, photomicrography and macro photography. The first SLR was the manual OM-1, released in 1972, followed by the OM-2 in 1975.

The OM-2 maintained the small size of the OM-1, but it included an automatic exposure system with an aperture-preferred shutter. While having many other improved features, the OM-2 stood out from the crowd by having the world’s first OTF direct light metering system, which measured light reflected off the surface of the film (OTF) and was sophisticated enough to give automatic TTL flash control.

While many other photographers had formulas for using flash with manual cameras, in my experience the results were inconsistent and wasteful of film. For me, TTL flash control opened the field for the macro photography of insects and other invertebrates, because it could reliably expose photographs no matter what lens combinations or flash position I chose. It was brilliant.

Not very good by today’s standards, this is a scan from the slide that first allowed me to see the potential of bug photography. Misumena vatia crab spider in Thimbleberry flower. Mt. Revelstoke National Park, 1996.

But it took some time for me to get to that point. The fact that Olympus had a super-extensive system didn’t mean I could afford any of it! I started cheaply with extension tubes and the regular 50mm f1.8 lens, but I still had to find a true macro lens. Eventually, I managed to find a second-hand Olympus 50mm f3.5 macro lens and later added the well-rated Tamron 90mm macro. My first flashes were manual Vivitar flashes, but by 1995, I acquired the small but worthy Olympus T20 TTL flash. Then, in 1996, while on vacation in the British Columbia Rockies with family, I took an image that was to set me on the slow path to macro bug photography…

Excited by the potential of the system, I eventually managed to build up an Olympus system of sorts. I added the original mechanical OM-1 SLR camera, a bellows unit, the 65~116mm Telescopic Auto Extension Tube (both above), a Zuiko 28mm wide-angle lens, two more T20 flashes, and finally that to-die-for marvel, the OM-4 SLR camera.

All these additions were previously owned items. I should have thought more about why all this used film-based equipment was entering the market…

Digital was taking over.

My wife began using digital cameras for her work, and we quickly realized the benefits of digital over film. Although by 2003. Olympus had produced its first interchangeable-lens DSLR — the 4/3 System E-1 — it was not compatible with my OM film-camera lenses or accessories and it was also very expensive. In 2005 we purchased the excellent and relatively affordable Nikon D70 DSLR. We had changed systems, and my Olympus-era ended.

Or had it? Could I find any use for some of the specialized accessories again? That’s for a future article.

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