Olympus OM SLR Bodies, 
 Lenses and Photography 
Text and images Copyright © 1998, 1999 John A. Lind

The Olympus OM SLR System

OM-1n with Zuiko 50/1.4MC, T-32 and T-20 on Bounce Grip 2

History and Evolution

The Olympus OM system is a series of entry level and professional grade manual focus, manual exposure and aperture priority AE 35mm SLR bodies.  The bodies are complemented with an extensive line of Olympus Zuiko lenses.


The Olympus system began with the M-1 in 1972, later designated the OM-1 in 1973 to keep from running afoul with similarities to Leica's trademarked "M" system numbering.  "OM" stands for Olympus Maitani; the company manufacturing the camera and the lead design engineer.  The OM-1 was a manual focus, manual exposure, mechanical shuttered SLR with integral TTL metering.  With a mechanical shutter, the only reason (and requirement) for a battery was to power the meter.  Everything else on the camera body can be operated without a battery.  This was followed several years later by an electronic shutter, aperture priority AE and manual mode OM-2 in 1975.

Evolution of the mechanically shuttered, manual exposure, integral TTL meter bodies:

Evolution of the electronic shuttered, aperture priority AE (with manual override), TTL meter bodies:OM-4 with Zuiko 50/1.2 MC The short-lived OM-2S offered a "Program" mode in addition to aperture priority AE and spot metered Manual modes.  "Program" mode has neither aperture nor shutter speed priority, but selects both based on required exposure and pre-programmed combinations of shutter speed and aperture.  My best guess about why "Program" mode came and went (with not only Olympus but several other major SLR manufacturers) is photographers wanted some to control over the AE.  Aperture and/or shutter priority allows manipulating aperture (depth of field and selective focus) or manipulating shutter speed (to stop action or blur moving objects).  Program mode did not allow this and constricted flexibility professional and serious amateurs wanted.

OM-10 with F.Zuiko 50/1.8, Manual Adapter, Winder2 and Remote ReleaseIn addition to the professional grade OM bodies, Olympus also offers an entry level consumer or amateur grade body.  The first of these was the OM-10 introduced in 1979.  With a standard OM lens mount, all of them accept OM system Zuiko lenses.  The number of OM-10's in the used market attests to its popularity and durability.  This eventually evolved to:

  • OM-10 Quartz (OM-10 with databack; 1984)
  • OM-G (OM-20; 1983),
  • OM-F (OM-30; 1983),
  • OM-PC (OM-40; 1985), and
  • OM-2000 (current model; unlike its predecessors, it is made by Cosina for Olympus).
  • The biggest difference between these bodies and the "single digit" OM bodies is their ruggedness.  They were designed for lighter duty, less hard use, lower cost and to be used primarily in AE mode.  As with the OM-2S, the "PC" had a Program Mode.

    Two other OM's were made:

  • OM-77AF (OM-707; 1986)
  • OM-88 (OM-101; 1988)
  • These are the forgotten "bastard children" of the entire OM line.  Not that they are "bad" but they are not as common as the rest of the OM series.  Unlike the others, I know little about them.


    The only truly critical aspects of a 35mm SLR camera body are: Anything else is a convenience item!  If these criteria are met, lenswork will make or break the photograph in terms of hardware.

    In the peak years for the OM system (probably the OM-1n and OM-2n) Olympus provided an extensive line-up of Olympus Zuiko lenses covering every standard focal length from 8mm through 1000mm and offering numerous zoom lenses.  The most popular fixed focal lengths (e.g. 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 135mm) often had multiple offerings to cover price points for entry level and professional grade lenses.  The biggest difference between the entry level and professional grade lenses (with a few exceptions) was their speed with many entry level lenses single coated; an entry level lens would be slower.

    The current line-up of Zuiko lenses has dropped many of the slowest, least expensive primes and all of the zooms except one very fast moderate zoom just released.  A browse through the most recent brochure reveals Olympus is catering to the most serious amateurs (semi-pro) and professionals.  However, most of the lenses offered at one time or another can be found on the used market.  Some thorough searching, patience and careful selection can turn up a desired lens in very excellent or just under like-new condition.  The price market on most of the used lenses are reasonable compared to other major SLR manufacturers.


    Olympus has chosen to emphasize its P&S and digital line of cameras.  Indeed, the Olympus P&S are among some of the better ones in their price range.  Unfortunately this has been at the cost of not pursuing the high end SLR market as was done during the 1970's and first half of the 1980's.  The line of lenses offered is not as extensive as it once was (the line continues to offer a complete range of the better ones).  The future of the Olympus OM system SLR continues to be debated by those on the sidelines.  IMHO, Olympus will continue to offer a reasonable system if for no other reason than it needs a high end flagship if it wants to keep a reputation to maintain and grow its market share in the P&S and digital line.  In short, any major, serious 35mm camera manufacturer had best offer a serious high end SLR or it will not be perceived by the market as a serious 35mm camera manufacturer.  But that is just MHO and is not based on any knowledge about Olympus' market strategies.

    Current Hardware

    Initial System

    I bought my first OM body, an OM-10, with an F.Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 single coated standard lens in 1980, a year after the OM-10 began production.  It has served me very well ever since.  As with most camera bodies from its era, the foam used started to dry rot with age.  During 1999 it received a CLA to replace all its dry-rotting foam.  It functions now as it did when it was new.

    Early System Growth

    Within a few months after purchasing the the body and standard lens I added:
  • Manual Adapter (allows OM-10 to operate in manual exposure mode)
  • T-20 flash
  • 28mm f/3.5 Zuiko single coated prime lens
  • 75~150mm f/4.0 Zuiko single coated zoom lens
  • Aftermarket 2X teleconverter
  • Vivitar Close-Up lens adapter set
  • Lightweight tripod
  • Recent Additions and Upgrades

    This system served me well for general photography until a few years ago when I became a very serious amateur or enthusiast.  I no longer have the OM-10 or the original lenses, all of which were sold during early 2000, almost exactly 20 years after they were purchased new.  A few years ago I decided it was time to upgrade the equipment towards the upper end of the OM line, something I had wanted to do quite a few years ago, and began by purchasing an OM-4 body.  Recently I used the OM-4 for some night photography in sub-zero (Fahrenheit) weather.  The severe cold was too much for the Silver Oxide cells and their voltage quickly dropped too low to operate its shutter electronics.  This was the second time it happened and the OM-10's electronic shutter operated by the same cells would fare no better.  This led to one of the mechanical shutter bodies that can operate in extreme cold, the OM-1n.  The OM-2S was added to the stable to provide a spare body with Aperture Priority AE mode.  I don't use it in Program Mode, perhaps because I am so accustomed to Manual and Aperture Priority AE modes.  In between all this, the array of Zuiko lenses has been growing steadily.

    Within the past several years the following has been added to my system:

  • OM-1n
  • OM-2s
  • OM-4
  • 18mm f/3.5 Zuiko MC
  • 24mm f/2 Zuiko MC
  • 35mm f/2 Zuiko MC
  • 35mm f/2.8 Zuiko Shift
  • 35~105mm f/3.5~4.5 Zuiko MC Zoom
  • 50mm f/1.4 Zuiko MC
  • 50mm f/1.2 Zuiko MC
  • 85mm f/2 Zuiko MC
  • 135mm f/2.8 Zuiko MC
  • 200mm f/4 Zuiko MC
  • 300mm f/4.5 F.Zuiko
  • 2X-A Zuiko MC Teleconverter
  • 0.15X 180° Kenko Fish-Eye Auxiliary Lens
  • T-32 flash (2)
  • T-32 flash filter set (2)
  • Bounce Grip 2 (for T-32 or T-20 flash units)
  • 7mm and 25mm Zuiko Auto Extension Tubes
  • Vivitar AT-21 Auto Extension Tube set
  • Bogen 3021 tripod with 3410 3-D head
  • Bogen 3414 panoramic head and 3288 elbow bracket
  • Future Plans

  • Improved panoramic capability
  • Faster Medium Telephoto (180mm f/2.8)
  • Longer Super Telephoto (400mm f/6.3)
  • 1.4X-A Teleconverter
  • Improved ability to operate off-camera flash
  • Type of Photography

    My photography with the OM system covers a range of subjects including:

    Links to Olympus OM Sites