Olympus OM: the Leica SLR that could have been?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by OlyMan, Dec 11, 2017.

  1. blockend

    blockend Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    3,816
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2010
    Location:
    northern eng
    Shooter:
    35mm
    The company most affected by the OM was Pentax, who'd fancied themselves as the small Japanese SLR, and did a straight lift of the OM1 and OM2 form with their MX/ME.
     
  2. OP
    OP
    OlyMan

    OlyMan Member

    Messages:
    274
    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2017
    Location:
    Lancashire, UK
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Probably generally true to say Leica M owners were a conservative bunch who didn't do change very well. M5 was too much change, so much so that even the M6 was basically a refinement of the M4 rather than M5. Speaking of which, I even remember some of them kicking-off in the letters pages of photography magazines when Leica introduced TTL metering. I know (from very much experience) that you can take great photos without TTL, but it was a feature that was standard on most decent cameras by the time man landed on the moon.
     
  3. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    3,512
    Joined:
    May 10, 2006
    Location:
    Aurora, IL
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Lots of manufacturers were affected by the OM. Pentax made the MX, ME. Nikon made the FM, FE although not as small. Minolta made the XD-11 which is smaller than their previous SRT or XE
     
  4. blockend

    blockend Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    3,816
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2010
    Location:
    northern eng
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I don't think you read my post above the quoted one where I said:
    "The OM's contribution to photographic history is it made other manufacturers take note, setting the template for Canon's A-series, Nikon's FM/FE and most SLRs until the muscle camera was reinvented with the EOS1 and Nikon F4/5."

    I added Pentax because they mimicked the OM in almost every detail.
     
  5. guangong

    guangong Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    1,081
    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2009
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    The Leicaflex was one of the most aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing SLRs by far. The Nikon F with prism had a pleasant mechanical appearance that disappeared with the attachment of the meter prism. I bought both cameras new and still use both Leicaflex and Nikon F regularly. If there is a coulda, woulda, the Nikon F, based on Nikon rf cameras which were based on the Zeiss Contax, was the camera that Zeiss Ikon could have built, rather than the monstrously complex Contarex.
    I had Pentax Spotmatics but had to sell them to finance my switch to Leica. They were wonderful cameras with great lenses and are also quite attractive. From my limited experience with Olympus film cameras, they just seem too fiddly. However, I do like my XA.
     
  6. blockend

    blockend Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    3,816
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2010
    Location:
    northern eng
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Operationally I thought the OM1 was very good, but I also like the Nikkormat's shutter speed placement round the lens barrel. It puts all three adjustments in the left hand, leaving the right for holding the camera.
     
  7. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    2,049
    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2010
    Location:
    Santa Cruz, CA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Dimensionally speaking, the MX was smaller than the OM-1 with an even larger viewfinder magnification while maintaining a conventional control layout.

    [​IMG]

    If you read about the development of the OM series and what it took to design the small packaging then you can appreciate even more what Pentax had to do in order to fit an interchangeable viewfinder system into the LX.

    [​IMG]

    As compared to the other interchangeable viewfinder system cameras then, Pentax clearly showed what it learned from the OM series.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. OP
    OP
    OlyMan

    OlyMan Member

    Messages:
    274
    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2017
    Location:
    Lancashire, UK
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The biggest complaint seems to be that people dislike the shutter speed dial round the lens throat. But having been brought up with that as normal, cameras with it on the top plate seem utterly counter-intuitive. I guess it's all a matter of what you're used to.
     
  9. baachitraka

    baachitraka Member

    Messages:
    2,881
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2011
    Location:
    Bremen, Germany.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have Agfa Optima 200 sensor and I must say the film transport is way smoother than any Olmypus be it OM-1(n) or OM-2(n), though 200 sensor is very limited camera.
     
  10. blockend

    blockend Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    3,816
    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2010
    Location:
    northern eng
    Shooter:
    35mm
    The MX emerged 4 years after the OM1, and the LX 8 years later. When the OM1 came out Pentax had only just launched the Spotmatic II and wouldn't make a bayonet mount camera for another 3 years.

    Pentax saw the M-series as their mini SLRs and the K-line as their main cameras, until the LX in 1980.
     
  11. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    2,475
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2008
    Location:
    SF Bay area
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I thought I would share a photo of the topic of this thread

    [​IMG]

    which I purchased earlier this year from an APUG member. The camera, without dispute, fostered a rash of downsized SLRS from many, many other brands (Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Canon)
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  12. georg16nik

    georg16nik Member

    Messages:
    1,082
    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Olympus OM-1 is a nice piece of machinery, with well though mirror damping but I doubt Leica would've placed the shutter speed selector around the lens mount and a light meter on/off switch, left of the prism - not a chance, not even close.

    Pentax MX is much closer to Leica in Barnack terms, in case you are mostly Leica RF shooter and you need an SLR, occasionally.. and you might even argue it's smaller than Leica M but that's about it.

    Leica M is a bit oversized, so a Canon F1 or any Nikon F or just about any SLR is a good match - they all do the job but you can hardly call them pocket-able system camera - the authentic Barnack manifesto.
     
  13. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    2,475
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2008
    Location:
    SF Bay area
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I presume OP is speculating as to the motives, what could have been, not what really occurred?


    Maitani owned and used a Leica IIIf very often before he joined Olympus. After the Olympus Pen project, Olympus wanted a new full frame camera.
    "They even didn't mind to buy cameras from somewhere else just to sell them. The main condition or must was to 'make a system camera'. Olympus is a comprehensive optics manufacturer who also makes microscopes and endoscopes. If they are making an SLR, it should be capable of taking all kinds of photographs through a wide variety of lenses and adapters. Nobody was against this concept."​

    The second must was to "make a unique camera, not available anywhere else". The beauty points of Maitani's favorite Leica were its light weight, small size, and the great fitting in the user's hands. SLRs in those days were too big and heavy for Maitani."

    ...at the last meeting in December 1966, the design department manager finally gave up and just said "Do it as you like.

    At first the system was named "M system" and the first camera was "M-1". What does the "M" mean? ...to tell the truth, it's my initial. Everybody knew it but it was not mentioned. Among various ideas it was finally, but easily decided as M-1.

    "Olympus was a company who always tried to avoid troubles with other companies. This time also, (at Photokina) right in front of the Leitz's person, we instantly decided to add something before the M. Few ideas were suggested, but a name with three or more letters needs registration. So we concluded to use the letter O for Olympus."

    In a September 1976 interview

    What are the motives and reasons for designing such a small OM camera?

    M: Well, in the past, the half frame Pen cameras were well received by users. Moreover, the cameras of other manufacturers are too bulky and they are not as convenient as smaller cameras; so, in my mind, I wish for a compact camera for the photographers. Besides being compact, the camera can also be suited for different photographic purposes and capable of taking excellent photographs. Hence, I get the idea of designing the OM camera.

    Among camera users, the term "OM" seems to be more popular than "Olympus". (laughter) Everyone calls it "OM" camera, but not "Olympus" camera. What is the meaning of "OM"?

    M: (laughing merrily) The cameras at the early stage were not called "OM". They were called "M". The reasons are that, first of all, my surname in English starts with the letter "M". Secondly, "M" seems to be a symbol of high quality in camera industry, for example, the Leica M series cameras. Moreover, the pronunciation of "M" is the same everywhere in the world, unlike some letters that are pronounced differently; for example, A is pronounced as "AR", "O" is pronounced as "OR", etc. Later, the name was changed into "OM", because "M" has already been used in Leica cameras. On the other hand, "O" represents Olympus.

    An interview with Maitani published in December 1999:

    M: There were complex circumstances behind it. It was not simple (smiling). It began for the US market. In 1967, our main merchandise was the half frame cameras. But in the US, slide film was the mainstream. Half frame doubled the cost of mounting film. In some case, 36 exposures mounted on 35mm slide mounts were returned after development. [Two exposures are mounted on a single slide mount.]
    Japanese film processing shops adopted the half frame format at once. But it was not in the US. For this reason, sales department requested the development of full frame 35mm SLR camera.

    M: But executives ordered the development of the same camera as the other maker's best seller.

    M: I did not say "No way!" for answer, but " I never develop [the same camera]." It makes no sense to make the same camera. [What I want is] To say in my own word " To Create Value". That is to create a camera with new value which customers want. At that time SLR had 3 defects: big, heavy and mirror shock. And they were not overcome.

    M: Small and lightweight cannot be expressed in specifications. We had some conferences but specifications were never discussed. I wrote exact copy of the functional values of a camera from another maker on a blackboard for persuasion (smiling). At last, I could persuade the executives in the last conference in 1967, they said, " Do what you want."​

    M: The basic concept is "From the Cosmos to Bacteria". To develop a huge system is the first priority. The second is, as what I said before, to overcome the 3 defects of SLRs.

    Recalling the period in a recent interview, Maitani said,
    "About the only thing we had going for us was that we had a dream. The problems we faced seemed almost insurmountable at times. After all, the object was not just to make an SLR that was smaller, lighter and quieter than the competition; we also had to develop a complete range of lenses for it. But when were able to show people a prototype of the camera, they began to believe in our dream, too. But it wasn't easy. Before creating something that would satisfy the consumer public, we first had to come up with something that would make people in the company sit up and take notice." Pausing briefly for a sip of tea, he added with a wry smile, "In a way, that was the toughest part of the assignment."
    (from A Well-Earned Place in History, The Olympus Pursuit, April 2002)​


    From http://www.geocities.ws/maitani_fan/om_1.html
    "From the cosmos to bacteria
    Maximum system expansion is a top priority in the development of OM-1. The aim is to develop a camera which can cover all subjects from astronomical photography to microscopic photography.
    Maitani has a strong wish to eliminate the three defects of SLRs: excessive weight, bulk, shutter noise and shock. He prefers the size of Leica IIIf , the quiet shutter of Leica M3, and a whisper-quiet mirror movement.
    His target is half the weight and size of conventional SLRs. Some engineers pay attention to the figures of weight and dimensions. Maitani believes it is what the photographers actually "feel" when holding the camera is more important.
    The development of OM-1 was proposed in January 1967. At that time, Japan was in a mild recession and camera was not selling well in the domestic market. Olympus desired a 35mm SLR that could sell well in the overseas market.
    Competition was severe and the market desired new remarkable features. The management of Olympus did not necessarily accept "compactness" as a new product feature. Maitani said: "Compactness was not evaluated as a product value at that time." Compact products became popular only some years after the appearance of OM-1.
    The project was approved one year later. Maitani asked for 5 years to prepare the OM System which consisted of about 250 units. These included tens of lenses, motor drives and flash units. OM-1 was released in Japan on 20 July 1972.
    When Maitani was first asked to develop a 35mm SLR, he was not enthusiastic about it. To Maitani, photography is the starting point for everything he designs, his sole concern is that the camera can take good photographs. As 35mm SLRs were already on the shelves for everyone to buy, he didn't feel that he had to design one.
    Small wonder
    OM-1 was 35% smaller and lighter than existing 35mm SLRs when it first appeared. Although it was not intended to copy the Leica, the size and volume of OM-1 are very similar to a Leica M series camera. Smaller and lighter is not the result of miniaturization. It is achieved through more rational design and the adoption of more sophisticated materials and engineering techniques.
    The purpose of making OM-1 smaller is to make it more responsive and easier to use. Maitani did not make the camera smaller just for the sake of small size. In fact, he could make it even smaller. However, this would make the camera difficult to use.
    The concept of ergonomics was employed in the design of the body. The body size was determined by analyzing the data obtained by measuring the size of thousands of human hands world-wide.
    Although the size of the body is smaller, other components of the camera , such as shutter speed ring and film rewind knob, are more conveniently positioned and larger than those in other cameras."​
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2017
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    23,742
    Joined:
    Apr 24, 2005
    Location:
    Delta, BC, Canada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks for posting those interview excerpts.
    I was an early adopter of the OM system. My first OM was a pre-MD OM-1. It served me tremendously well until I traded it in a few years later for a new OM-2s that I still have.
    The OM system was incredibly comprehensive - particularly in the areas of photo-micrography.
    From the manuals for my Original OM-1 (yes, I still have them):
    OM system-res.jpg
    Also, it really makes more sense to compare the OM-1 to other non-Leica system SLRS that were current at the time.
    One of Les Sarile's photo sets with a Canon F-1 and an OM-1 side by side comes to mind.
    In my case, I wasn't looking so much for a full system camera. So a better comparison would be with a Minolta SRT-102 or a Canon Ftb.
     
  16. OP
    OP
    OlyMan

    OlyMan Member

    Messages:
    274
    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2017
    Location:
    Lancashire, UK
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    @wiltw good to read those interview excerpts, some I had read before but the more recent ones were new to me.
     
  17. jtk

    jtk Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    1,685
    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2007
    Location:
    Albuquerque, New Mexico
    Shooter:
    35mm
    In San Francisco, 80s, I don't think any pro used anything other than Nikon or Canon F1. Size was a positive, not a negative. And of course, Nikon F and Canon F1 were vastly more rugged than Oly or Pentax.
     
  18. wiltw

    wiltw Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    2,475
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2008
    Location:
    SF Bay area
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The fact that so many pros worked in companies that provided equipment owned by business, and so much of that owned gear was Nikon, or you could more readily find rental Nikon gear in other cities to supplement what was owned gave Nikon the edge. The prevalence of the Nikon F in the 1960s to begin with, certainly contributed to that advantage to poor #2 (Canon) or to a latecomer like the OM system which did not even exist until the 1970s
     
  19. Pioneer

    Pioneer Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    2,601
    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Location:
    Elko, Nevada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I guess I never really looked at the Olympus OM cameras as Leica-like. Nikon F, certainly, you can easily see the transition from rangefinder to SLR in the NIkon. But not Olympus. I see no rangefinder cues in the Olympus body, it is all SLR. Small, yes, but not like a rangefinder.

    Even the Minolta connection was a little odd to me but I have to guess that Nikon was just not interested in partnering with Leica to build SLR cameras by the time Leica was ready.
     
  20. ciniframe

    ciniframe Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    459
    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2014
    Shooter:
    Sub 35mm
    It would be interesting to have a poll, asking Leica M film camera owners if they also used 35mm SLR's and if so which one.

    I've used and enjoyed my OM's since February 1974 when I bought a lightly used OM-1 from Altman's in Chicago.
    I think, size wise, the OM and Leica M are a good pairing, (I also have a M4-2) But, after lusting for a Leica M for 3 decades or so when I finally bought mine, I found, to my great surprise I really preferred working with my OM-1 cameras. That and of course I could afford Zuiko's for my OM bodies, but Leitz glass is out of the question for the M4-2 (I have a CV 35 f2.5 and 52mm f2.8 FSU lens for the Leica).

    I suppose I have committed a faux pas in sticking a FSU lens on a Leica M, but the camera doesn't seem to mind.
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2017
  21. Jon Buffington

    Jon Buffington Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    211
    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2014
    Location:
    Tennessee
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I shoot the un-M, M (M5) and it's little brother, the CL as well as a barnack IIIf. I have some leica lenses (summitar, elmar) and a canon serenar 50/1.8 as well as the cv35/2.5 you have and a 40 summicron (fantastic lens). I love shooting the M5, such a shooters camera. The CL for it's obvious compactness and the iiif for the tactile pleasure. I had an om-10 but never really bought into that system. I primarily shoot (slr's) canon, Nikon and Minolta with occasional Pentax use. I love the xd-11 for it's compactness and just a great body plus the lovely Minolta glass. I love the a1 and ae-1's for about the same and I have a bunch of glass for it. Canon primes are great. I have an fm2n I am trying to like (I still prefer my old FM) and a Ft2 nikkormat that is just a fabulous body along with some AF bodies that don't get much us (n90, n65, n80 I think) and some canon eos film bodies I use because they share lenses with my evil digi body. Even have a few Minolta A mount AF bodies and a Pentax ME that gets used some. The Pentax is very compact with a bright finder. I really like that body and the glass but just don't use it much. I sold my k1000 which I used a bunch and loved but alas, I wanted something else.

    So to your poll, I don't know if I qualify as I shoot the Un-M, M but I seem to shoot a lot of different systems. If I am out just shooting, I take a rangefinder. If I am doing some dedicated landscape work, usually (but not always) the SLR.
     
  22. ciniframe

    ciniframe Member
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    459
    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2014
    Shooter:
    Sub 35mm
    Dunno, but I've heard only smart, sophisticated, and discerning Leica shooters choose the M5 and CL bodies.
     
  23. Pioneer

    Pioneer Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    2,601
    Joined:
    May 29, 2010
    Location:
    Elko, Nevada
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I love my Leica M-A and use it just about every day no matter what other cameras I may be working with at the time. It has become my documenting camera, replacing the K1000 that occupied that same role for a little over 30 years. I still have the K1000, and will be a life long fan of that camera, but the M-A has captured my attention for now.

    I do have an OM-1n and I think they are nice cameras, the form factor was the primary attraction. But to be truthful I am more inclined to shoot the Pentax 645 so it is pretty obvious that small size is not the primary reason I pick cameras.
     
  24. Jon Buffington

    Jon Buffington Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    211
    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2014
    Location:
    Tennessee
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Well then, call me smart, sophisticated and discerning :smile:
     
  25. Theo Sulphate

    Theo Sulphate Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    5,567
    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2014
    Location:
    Gig Harbor & Palm Springs
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I have Leica M and Barnack Leicas. SLRs? I have and use pretty much everything.

    I think Leicas are a bit too small for me to hold properly. The M5 may be just right, however.
     
  26. btaylor

    btaylor Subscriber
    Ads Enabled

    Messages:
    797
    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2010
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    I did in fact desire and get my OM-1n because of the wonderful Leica M2 I got to use in high school photo class. I could not afford a Leica, but I could have the Olympus. It reasonably fulfilled the things I liked most about my Leica experience: small unobtrusive form factor, really good lenses and a QUIET shutter/mirror. It was easy to carry like the Leica, and small enough to attract much less attention than the enormous Nikon FTn that was so popular at the time (and unaffordable to me). Other SLRs were so noisy! Clank! And the Zuiko lenses were good and affordable. Were the pros using them? Not so much. Would they stand up to that use/abuse? Probably not as well as the Nikon F. Did the Nikon take better pictures? That depended on the photographer, not what brand of camera they used. Now I have my Leicas, and I enjoy using them. But they don't necessarily make better photographs than my old OM-1. That's up to me.
     
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies. If you have a Photrio account, please log in (and select 'stay logged in') to prevent recurrence of this notice.