Tag Archives: Olympus OM-2

First (and Last?) Olympus OM-2 Film

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You might remember how by a rookie mistake I managed to waste an entire film a while back. Well, I loaded a new film into the camera and the results are finally here. And why did it take so long? Firstly, I started to prefer shooting on the OM-1. And secondly, a personal dry period when shooting meant that nothing on the film really caught my eye, and in turn a delay of a few months before scanning them.

Let’s start with a few shots from the film:

I like the two Scholastique (…) but it goes a bit downhill from there. My girlfriend pointed out a while back what difference my mood often has on my photos — when going through a generally content period the result so far has often been better — which, I suppose, is not too surprising, yet obvious in these shots: while finishing the Ph.D. there honestly wasn’t much energy for anything else, including creativity in the finer arts.

The Church photo is from my hometown Esbjerg, as is Where I Used to Swim of the swimming pool where I spent the greater part of the teenage years; it is less remote than it perhaps seem and was actually taken during a quick walk from my parents’ house. Notice that these two shots both contain significant light leaks, meaning the foam that is supposed to prevent light from creeping onto the film through the rear door has probably become too old. On Church I’ve applied my newly acquired Photoshop skills in an attempt to repair it, yet it took so long that I’m still building up momentum to start on the second one (I tried a few different approaches but in the end frequency separation as used in beauty retouching yielded the best result).

The use on Photoshop brings up an interesting question, namely how does analogue and digital photography mix? Since I can’t currently make prints due to the lack of a darkroom, scanning and working on the photos digitally is tremendously convenient if they are to have any kind of life. Plus, as the light leak repair attempt shows, digitally I can (sort of) do stuff that seems almost impossible to do in the darkroom. But that of course begs the question, why even bother with shooting analogue then? I suppose it’s just to try something new. And the prospect of eventually going to the darkroom to make proper prints.

Buying Second-hand Camera Gear

Since last summer I’ve been seriously looking around for buying a full-frame camera — but I had no clue that it would end up being an Olympus, and even less that it would be analogue. Nonetheless, I’m now the happy owner of two OM-1s and a bunch of good lenses to go along. But buying from online auction sites turned out to yield a few bumps along the way as mentioned in this rather technical post.

First of all, I have fallen in love with the old Olympus OM cameras mainly because of their good looks, small size, decent second-hand price, and last but least, their huge huge viewfinder! And I decided to get an OM-1 over an OM-2 (or even later models) as the former is an all-mechanical camera and hence will work even if one day the electronics fail (only the light meter will be dead) or I can’t find new batteries. Finally, I thought getting two bodies would be a good idea since you are more or less stuck with 36 frames with the same colour and ISO/ASA sensitivity once you’ve loaded a film.

Now, since this was a first time for buying old second-hand camera gear I had to learn a few things as it went along. First, of course, is how much it is worth — dba.dk, and later ebay.fr, made it clear that some people treasure their old loved-ones quite a lot, and not being sure if this meant that the cheaper ones were not working correctly, I discovered that PayPal is offering a pretty good return policy if a bought item turns out to not be in the described condition; picking only sellers accepting this payment method turned out to be a good idea and is highly recommended.

To be able to apply PayPal’s return policy though, I wanted to be sure that my understanding of a working camera matched with the seller’s. Initially I had very little idea of what this meant for an old analogue camera, but after looking around on online forums I came up with the following items regarding the body:

  1. whether it has been used recently
  2. it must be in a decent overall condition without bumps and too many scratches
  3. the inside film compartment must be cleanish and the shutter curtain untouched
  4. the built-in light meter must be correctly working

which were basically the criteria on which I bought two cameras: a silver model with a 50mm f/1.8 lens and a black model with a 35-70mm f/3.5 lens.

Having until that point only used the camera borrowed from my father, the arrival of my new toys taught me a few more things to look for in a body:

  1. there are 14 different focusing screens for the OM-1, two of which are interesting
  2. there must be a good connection to the battery (a small plastic tap can be broken)
  3. it may have been modified to take modern batteries
  4. checking the light meter is not simply a question of testing whether the indicator moves or not: its movement is caused by a combination of mechanics and electronics, and hence it may move even if it is broken or without a battery being installed

As far as I can tell the last point above was also unknown to the seller of the silver camera: it clearly gave wrong measurements, both according to my intuition (an overcast daylight scene does not require an exposure of 1sec at f/1.8 and ASA 100) and relative to my father’s OM-1 which seemed to work ok based on previously developed negatives. Long story short, I sent back the camera, and while it ended up a bit ugly with a seller who still believes that the meter is working, PayPal offered a full refund minus the return shipping cost.

However, since I still wanted a second body I included eBay inky search, and now also asking about the focusing screen (the silver camera also had an inferior one without split) and preferring a black model (they seem more discreet and screaming “old camera” a little less loudly).

Initially I loafed the last-second bidders who “stole” a few auctions from me by bidding higher just three seconds before the end of the auctions, but reading How to Win at eBay convinced me that what they are doing actually makes sense. Adapting this strategy secured me a good deal with another black OM-1 body shipping together with five lenses. Waiting for these to arrive I had also become aware of a few other things to look for, now also concerning lenses:

  1. the foam used as light seals and mirror bumper in a body may have dissolved
  2. a body’s shutter timing can be off, giving wrong exposures
  3. a body’s light metering can be off, giving wrong exposures
  4. the shutter ring on a body must be firm yet run smoothly
  5. both bodies and lenses should be free from fungus
  6. the focus and aperture ring on a lens must be firm yet run smoothly
  7. lens diaphragm blades must open and close smoothly at all aperture settings
  8. lenses may have dust in them

Luckily, the two prime lenses I had bought on eBay while waiting for the second body to arrive turned out to satisfy in all aspects without me yet knowing to inquire about them; this lesson only came when I finally received the five lenses: two lenses were hit by fungus (one badly, one less) and one lens had slow-opening diaphragm blades. Thankfully, the seller was kind enough to offer a partial refund, meaning it was still a good deal on the body and the remaining lenses. On top of the previous story I was very happy to have my faith in online particuliar-a-particuliar sales restored.

So in summary this adventure brought home the follows new toys:

for a total price of around 2025 DKK (or 270 €) plus shipping. It’s not nothing of course, but looking through the viewfinder of an OM-1 simply is nothing short of amazing!

First Shots from Olympus OM-1

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When we took the darkroom course our teacher Barbara would dismiss our every mistake with a “it’s good that we come across this now so you know what to do”. Taking it perhaps a bit too literally we’ve since continued to discover how safe one actually is when shooting digital. For instance, you don’t have to worry about dropping the raw film on the floor when trying to put it on a spool in complete darkness; nor about keeping your cool when running out of correctly tempered water in a situation where seconds make a difference; nor about closing the box of unexposed paper properly before turning on the light.

And this brings me to the title of this post: it was supposed to say First Shots from Olympus OM-1 and OM-2, and it was supposed to be even more exciting by including shots from a newly acquired lens. However, apparently there was a lesson that needed to be illustrated more vividly before sinking into my head: when loading a film make sure that the crank has a proper grip on it and is really rolling it out. This is very easy to test by the way, by simply noticing if the rewind wheel is turning with the crank.

I didn’t do this test I suppose, with the result that after opening the tank with the developed film from the OM-2 I was very surprised to find a film completely blank, without any marks of light ever hitting it. For a second the camera was the suspect, but only until I was ready to accept my responsibility. Lesson learned, and the OM-2 with the lens is already making it’s way through a new film.

On the other hand, the film from the OM-1 turned into splendid negatives, here scanned with my new Epson V600 scanner:

Having used the batteries that’s been in the camera for 20-25 years I had a certain scepticism towards the light meter, but as it turns out this was entirely without cause.

One thing to notice though: the water marks. This was the first time I didn’t use a wetting agent and it clearly shows — another lesson learned.

New Battery for Olympus OM-2

A few months ago I borrowed two old analogue Olympus cameras from my father, an OM-1 and a slightly younger OM-2. My guess is that they haven’t been used since sometime in the 80s, yet surprisingly enough the old battery in the OM-1 has now allowed me to shoot a film with what seemed like a working light meter (developing the film next week will be the final test). Granted, it is not a complex camera — and love it for that — requiring a lot of power, but I had suspected that twenty years would drain any battery the size of a fingernail.

By the looks of it, the more complex OM-2 has been used a lot more than the OM-1, but at any rate the batteries in this camera were dead and I had feared that finding replacements would not be all that easy. Having not really had any luck with the local photo store when it comes to analogue cameras (they practically laugh at me) I gave the local watchmaker a try instead. He didn’t have the same SR44 type batteries as were in the camera and said that he had long ago switched to the equivalent LR44 type.

Fortunately I checked on the Internet before buying them as it turns out that the newer LR44 will work with the camera but may also give wrong light measurements meaning that it can’t be trusted to give correct exposures over time. The difference between the two types can be understood by the SR44 type retaining full power until it suddenly dies whereas the LR44 type gradually looses power and dies a slow death. In other words: the camera is tightly connected with the physical properties of the SR44 type batteries.

I love these things! Today so many things are based on abstracts that hide the nature of the physical objects that they are built from. On top up that we spent so much time in the virtual world that the physical objects sometimes seem just to be in the way (ever wished that ink and paper had an undo function?). However, this camera, working with the physical world, can be grasped!

I have the same feeling about film photography and darkroom development: instead of sitting with you head inside the virtual world of edition software such as Lightroom or Photoshop you actually have a physical medium where you understand how it works and can be held and processed in your hands.

Same feeling when I was driving the motorcycle last summer: in modern cars you feel detached from the road and a computer not only interprets what you mean when you step on the throttle but also what gear you should be driving in. On the motorcycle you decide everything and must work and feel with it to drive.

My final example is music. I changed my guitar strings the other day because I had worn them down, changing their physical properties so that they no longer vibrated the way they should. Contrast that to today’s electronic music which is made and played through a laptop. Sure they get worn down as well, but at such an abstract level that we can only describe it as “old”.

Abstractions are not all bad though as a memory reminded me of today. When I played games on our first computer back in the 90s, one game (I believe it was Warcraft II) was using the CPU speed of the computer as a clock, ie. one second was defined by a certain number of computations. This worked fine at that point, but when we got our next computer the game ran way too fast because the new and more powerful computer took less than one second to do this number of computations. The game was impossible to play since everything happened at several times the normal speed and I had to get an updated version where they had made an abstraction of time and no longer used the physical properties of the CPU direct.

Oh, and I did manage to find the right SR44 type batteries — at my local photo store.