After shooting my way through Nikon, Contax, Pentax, Leica, Hasselblad, Canon, Mamiya, Konica and a few others, I am going to make a pretty bold statement here. And I've given a lot of thought to this, because I sometimes read camera reviews where the author says things like "I'll never need another rangefinder" or "the best darn SLR bar none," and then a few reviews later, is making even grander statements about his or her next camera. Believe me, I understand how easy it is to jump up and down about a new/old camera.
Here, I try and be as objective as I can when I write about cameras, but the truth is that I love learning about them and using them. Sometimes, it's hard to be objective when you've spent months looking at and researching the subject of your photographic desire, searching the eBay ads or the listings at KEH Camera, then finally finding just the one you want at just the price you can afford. It arrives, you carefully open the box and hold it for the first time. Enthusiasm and pride swells. You hold the camera to your eye, push the film advance and fire the shutter. Ahhh. Bliss. This new camera euphoria can last for a while and I find it best not to put my thoughts down while I am under the spell because I will most likely gush praise. After a few weeks and a roll or two, after carrying the camera around on a busy street or up a hiking trail, after having it along side me for a bit, I am in a better position to write a more honest piece.
So now back to my bold statement: If I had to sell all of my cameras and keep just one, it would be the Olympus OM2n. Yep...the Olympus OM2n. Now I hope I don't have to sell them anytime soon and life certainly wouldn't be as much fun if I did, but I'm pretty sure I could snap away for the rest of my days with this cool little SLR and be very happy. This is a camera that just makes you want to pick it up, hold it and use it. After living with it, using it, carrying it around...this is a wonderful camera!
The OM2 was a 1975 improvement over the revolutionary OM1 which debuted in 1972. The OM1 was a manual, mechanical SLR. The OM2 added aperture-priority auto-exposure driven by a revolutionary TTL/off the film plane metering system.
Olympus turned the camera world on end when it introduced the OM cameras. Up until that time, SLRs were getting bigger and heavier. Olympus went the opposite direction and shrunk the package down to a very compact size. I'm beginning to appreciate small, light cameras. I suppose this is what I like so much about the Leica M bodies. So it's no surprise that these OM cameras feel so good in my hand. Olympus designers took their cues from the Leica M rangefinders, so much so that the OM1 was originally called an M1, until Leica threw a fit and Olympus conceded.
The first OM cameras sold like crazy. Nikon and Pentax took notice and downsized their cameras as well, beginning a trend towards more compact and feature-laiden cameras that would last until the end of the film era. Olympus would release four OM single digit cameras for professional/advanced users: OM1, OM2, OM3 and OM4. Refinements to each would add a letter: OM1n, OM2n, OM3T, etc. The consumer OM cameras got two digits: OM10, OM20, etc.
I bought my OM2n from Camera West here in California for $85. They installed new seals for me for free before shipping, one of the benefits of dealing with a retailer who values satisfied, repeat customers. I had already picked up a 50mm f/1.4 Zuiko OM lens in anticipation.
The first thing you notice about an OM2n compared to say..a Nikon F2..is size and weight. The OM cameras are much smaller and lighter, yet feel just as nicely made. Maybe I am imagining it, but the OM2n feels more "dense" than my other SLRs. I suppose because there's so much packed into a smaller package. One also has to get used to the shutter speed control around the lens mount rather than on the top of the camera. Beyond the unusual placement of the shutter speed control, everything else on this camera is traditional, well placed and intuitive.
The camera takes two common SR44 batteries. There's a four position switch on the top of the camera that you push up for battery test (a red LED glows on the camera back if the battery is good), down once for AUTO mode, down one more for OFF and straight down for MANUAL control.
The viewfinder is HUGE. I say that again...the viewfinder is HUGE! It's one of the things that makes this camera such a delight to use. The metering display is joyfully analog simple. AUTO mode displays a needle showing the shutter speed that the camera has decided on, based on the aperture you've selected. MANUAL mode shows a + and - . Center the needle and you've nailed exposure.
I carried the OM2n most everywhere with me for a couple of weeks. It's so small that it disappeared into my HEX laptop bag that I carry to the office with me each day. I've worn it for hours over my shoulder on a Think Tank gripper strap and hardly noticed it. In use, the OM2n feels just right in my hand. This is a thoughtfully designed, solid, metal, well balanced SLR that feels so good, you just want to shoot and shoot.
I loaded up a roll of Kodak Portra 400 in the camera as my first roll, only remembering after I had advanced the film to the first frame that this roll was from an expired batch. Oh well, it wasn't that expired. My first shot with the OM2n was on my way to work one morning. I dropped my mail at the little Post Office in Bodega and grabbed the camera from my bag to get a shot of the local surf shop across the street. This little business is a repeat subject of mine. The colorful store front graphics look good in color and black and white.
I've gotten to the point in my life where I need to shed a few pounds, so I've made some lifestyle changes. In addition to a new gluten free diet plan, daily exercise is part of my day. Mostly brisk walks around my neighborhood. I carried the OM2n with me and got some late season blooms.
It's a luxury living close enough to the beach to be able to take a walk along it whenever I want. It's a luxury I never take for granted. Here's my path down to the sand.
It was an overcast day with a fairly calm sea. Perfect for kayaking.
Even an overcast day is a nice day on the beach...
And of course, when I got home, the obligatory selfie...
Olympus never achieved the status of Canon or Nikon during the 1970s--what I consider to be the Golden Age of 35mm film SLRs. Even though they offered motor drives and a suite of really good Zuiko lenses, their big Japanese competitors dominated the professional and advanced amateur markets. I realize now how much Nikon and Canon's marketing and dominance still influenced me 40 years later, making me come very late to the Olympus party. I'm sorry now that I waited so long. The Olympus OM2n is an impressive, very capable camera that is still very relevant today for anyone wanting to shoot film.
How much have I loved shooting the OM2n? Enough to buy a second in black!