September 23, 2014
Autumn is here, and for some reason when I think of autumn, I think of using the Olympus OM-2 to photograph it. That's sort of an arbitrary choice, but not entirely. You see, the OM-2's excellent design and construction make it a pleasure to tote around for landscape photography.
Let's find out more about the OM-2 and the almost-identical OM-2n.
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In This ArticleHistory
Known Problems / Repair Issues
OM-2 vs. OM-2 MD
OM-2 vs. OM-2n
OM-2 vs. OM-2S
OM-2 vs. OM-1
HistoryOM stands for "Olympus Maitani".
The OM-2 was released in 1975; the OM-2n was released about 1979. At the time, the OM-2 was the most compact SLR system in the world. It was aimed at professionals who needed the highest performance in a package that was still smaller than some rangefinders.
Some SpecsBatteries: SR44 / 357 x 2
Exposure Compensation: +/-2EV
Exposure Modes: Manual, Aperture-Priority ("Auto")
Film Speeds: ISO 12-1600
Filter Size (most Zuiko primes): 49mm
Mirror Lock-Up: No (The OM-1 / 1N has it)
Self-Timer: Yes (4-12 seconds)
Shutter: Focal plane, rubberized silk
Shutter Speeds: 1" to 1/1000th (Manual) and 60" to 1/1000th (Auto)
Viewfinder coverage: 97%
Weight (no lens): 520 grams
Basic UseThe first thing that usually throws a new OM user is the placement of that shutter-speed ring. It's near the base of the lens, on the camera body around the lens mount.
The Zuiko prime lenses continue this unusual design trend. The aperture ring is in a somewhat odd place, far forward of where it's located on Nikon / Canon / everything else. It's been swapped with the focus ring. Somehow, though, it doesn't take all that long to get accustomed to this arrangement. It could still slow you down a bit if you're used to the more traditional SLR layout.
Focusing is easy, thanks to the big, relatively bright viewfinder. The OM2 uses split-image focusing, like many SLR's of that era. The line of separation is horizontal, meaning the two images are vertically stacked. Because the line is horizontal, it's great for focusing on nature's most common vertical element... trees.
The viewfinder also has that classic diamond-patterned area in a circular ring around the split-image. This is what I usually use for focusing on anything else but trees or buildings.
It's hard to describe just how satisfying is the sound of this camera when the shutter fires. No, really. The combination of mirror slap and shutter actuation are somehow soothing. You just want to take more pictures with this camera.
It's almost the sound I've heard in digital cameras that try to simulate what a shutter ought to sound like. Maybe they listened to an OM2.
Known Problems / Repair IssuesIt's very common for these to have incorrect light-metering. The pictures will be way under- or overexposed.
I've been looking for precise instructions to re-calibrate the light meter, but I haven't found anything clear. Apparently there is a small screw on the back of the light meter housing, but I've never wanted to take the top cover off to find out. Ever since a bad experience with the light meter on a Konica C35, I'm hesitant to adjust small screws in any camera that has a light meter.
Should I become adventurous enough to try anyway, photos will be posted.
Don't want to mess with it? Just get an external light meter such as a Sekonic L-208 or a Gossen Digisix. (The L-208 has more of that film-camera styling.)
Years ago, many SLR owners had to use an external light meter for everything. It didn't stop them from taking boxes and boxes of perfect slides over the years.
Another common OM2 problem is the "sticking mirror" issue. The foam mirror-stops become a sticky mass. The mirror sticks to this mess at the top of its travel. I had one that needed to be sent to a repair shop; I think it's possible to fix this issue at home, but I haven't tried.
As with many film cameras from the Seventies, the OM-series often need new light seals. That foam material had a tendency to turn into so much sticky tar.
There's one more thing I've seen. Toward the end of a roll, you may get unwanted double exposures. The take-up spool seems to be slipping as the film is advanced. (And no, the Rewind switch is not actuated.) I've seen this happen with cheap plastic cameras, but not often with a big-name film SLR. This is kind of a major problem; it can ruin a roll of pictures without any indication until you get them developed. At least with a sticking mirror, you know something's wrong.
Here's how to deal with it if you don't want to get the camera repaired. First, use the rewind knob to make sure the film is taut. Then, each time you wind to the next frame, pay attention to the rewind knob position. Watch how far it rotates. Early in the roll, it should rotate a little less than 3/4 of a turn for each shot. As you get about halfway through the roll, it should go 3/4 of a turn. Later in the roll (up around #20), the knob should go almost one full turn with each frame advance.
If it moves less than this, you might be getting partial doubling. Of course, you'll know when the pictures are developed...
OM 2 vs. OM 2nThe OM2n has silicon meter cells, while the regular OM2 has a CdS meter.
There are other differences, but none of them is hugely significant from the standpoint of basic use. I know this because I've switched back and forth between using an OM-2 and an OM-2N, and I could never tell which one I was using at the time. I still don't know. I have to look at the markings to tell!
I believe the OM2n has a slowest shutter speed of 120 seconds, while the regular OM2 goes to 60 seconds. These would be in Auto mode. I've never bothered to compare, because I just use Bulb for exposures that long.
The 2n is the newer model. That few years of extra "newness" can translate to fewer repair problems.
OM-2 vs. OM-2S
The OM-2S ("Spot") or OM-2SP ("Spot Program") has a mechanical fallback
setting for the shutter. That means without the battery, the
shutter will still work at 1/60th of a second.
The OM-2S also has spot metering and allows film speeds up to ISO 3200.
OM 2 vs. OM 1The OM-1 cameras were all-mechanical.
The OM-2 cameras introduced electronic control, TTL flash metering, and some other features.
Actually, the TTL metering in the OM-2 / 2N was a special type which (at the time) only Olympus had. They called it "Off The Film" metering. It actually read the amount of light bouncing off the film surface. Sound familiar? I'm pretty sure Nikon and the others later adopted this, but it wasn't until later in the 1980's.
Olympus was way ahead of everyone with the OM-2 / 2N.
From the outside, both types seem to operate the same way. They look almost the same, they handle almost the same. The OM-1 / OM-1N utilize center-weighted metering. The 2 / 2N have that TTL "off the film" metering, but I'm not sure if it's weighted more toward the center. I think it was supposed to be full-frame (like the Minolta X700) though. I'll update this article when I find out.
One advantage of the OM-1 / OM-1N is that they work without a battery.
The OM-2 / 2n require batteries for the shutter to fire, except in "Bulb" mode.
Be careful of OM-2's that need overhauls. You'll end up having to pay $140 or more for pro repair. It's definitely worth it, but don't go spending that much for a broken or malfunctioning OM-2. You really don't need to.
Working OM-2's with no major problems can go for as little as $30, body-only. You should be able to get a really good OM2 body for $50-$65. You can find the OM-2 for sale with or without lens through this link. (Please help support my site by using these links to buy your stuff. Thanks!)
A perfectly-working OM2 with one lens could go anywhere from $100 to as much as $200. (The OM-2S / SP brings somewhat more.) On the upper end of this price range, I'd probably hold out for one that's been overhauled or at least CLA'd so you know everything works alright. And make sure the light seals are not deteriorated.
Or, buy from a place that has a good return policy. There are usually some OM2's, with lenses, for sale through this link.
Another alternative is to get a semi-working OM2 for cheap and then just pay the money for a good repair person to overhaul it. (The best-known repairman for OM's is this guy.) The OM2 system is so good that it's absolutely worth the money to do this.
The Olympus OM2 / OM2n is a genuine classic. It's compact, it operates smoothly, and the Zuiko prime lenses offer superb optics. It's hard to convey the sense of craftsmanship, until you use one of these cameras and hear it working.
The Olympus Four-Thirds digital cameras are quite popular today, but if I could wish for any camera to be made again, it might well be a commemorative OM2 film camera. (Not that they'd actually do it... but it would be extremely cool if they did.)
Often, I think I prefer the OM series to the Nikon manual SLR's, and that's saying a lot.
These Olympus film SLR's are still on the used market, and many are in working condition. Please help me out by shopping for your OM-2 through this link. It doesn't cost you any extra, and it allows me to keep bringing you helpful articles and reviews.
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