OM-2 And OM-4: Two Amazing Cameras

If you don’t already know, I am a big Olympus OM fan. I used an OM-1 in college (long ago) for my art classes and am privileged to now own an OM-2 and an OM-4, as well as an older OM-1. I sold my original OM-1 many years ago when I thought I’d never want to use a film camera again (much like I did with my vinyl records when CDs were developed – and now I have a turntable, and vinyl records again too).

The OM-1 came out in the early 70’s, around 1972. The OM-2 was first available in 1975, and both the OM-1n and OM-2n came out in 1979, with some nice updates.

The OM-4 came out in 1983 and incorporated several advances over the OM-1 and OM-2 models. It was a direct descendant of the OM-2n, and added features like multiple spot metering, exposure memory, and they changed the way the power worked. Metering and the electronic shutter were activated when the shutter release was touched (pressed slightly) the way most modern cameras work. On the OM-2 (like the OM-1) the power was on until you turned the power switch off. This was pretty normal for cameras in the early to mid 70’s, and the method the OM-4 employed in the early 80’s was also being employed by other manufacturers as electronics became more and more prevalent, and battery life was a more important factor. I should also note, there was an update to the OM-2, the OM-2S (or SP) that was released very close to the OM-4 release, and its electronics where more closely tied to the electronics of the OM-4. Both the OM-2S and the OM-4 used a body that was slightly modified from the original OM-1/OM-2 body.

Both the OM-2 and the OM-4 used a very advanced (at the time) and, I would say, leading edge metering technology for their aperture priority auto exposure modes. The meter measures light first while you are composing (to estimate the exposure required) and then measures light reflected off the film plane during exposures. The only other camera I know of that did this was the Pentax LX. I’m not sure how the 2 compare in use since I’ve never used a Pentax LX (it’s on my list to try though). This technology can be demonstrated on the OM-2 or OM-4 if you set the camera in auto mode, then hold your hand over the lens while you press the shutter release (simulating a long exposure scenario) and then removing your hand from the front of the lens and aiming at a light source. When you do this, the shutter instantly shuts as it detects a subject light change and responds. This doesn’t work with any other camera – even modern ones – except the Pentax I mentioned – as far as I know. Most cameras measure light before you take a shot, then as the exposure is happening, the original exposure estimate is being used, assuming, of course, that subject lighting is not changing. This is generally ok, except, maybe, in the case of longer exposures. I’m not sure how much practical benefit a feature like this provides, but it is very cool!

In spite of their differences, these cameras share a great deal. They are both virtually the same size (the OM-2 is slightly smaller) and they both support the OM system of lenses and other accessories, which is a very big deal.

One feature of the OM-4 that I like (the techy in me) is its ability to perform multiple spot measurements, and then average them (up to 8) to calculate the exposure to use. There are also buttons, while using spot metering, that mark your last spot measurement as shadow or highlight – and adjust by 2 stops over or under to simulate how you might manually adjust exposure for shadow or highlight.

The OM-4 light metering features are all very nice – and they appeal to the techno-geeky side of me since I understand how zone system metering works, and they made this for a type of photographer like me. However, in reality, this technology couldn’t compete with matrix metering developed by Nikon and others to allow enhanced metering without knowing the zone system, or even caring. Photographers that like to be in control (like me), liked the OM-4’s technology, but the wider market out there required something that worked as well (maybe better) but required no knowledge of the technical side of photography. There was a huge number of people out there that would pay extra for a “good” camera but didn’t really want to know the details of how it worked – that in my opinion is what made Olympus switch to different technology going forward. Olympus still has a presence in the camera market with their digital offerings, but the old OM system is still their best camera system – in my, very humble, opinion.

So, what’s it like to shoot with an OM-2 and an OM-4? Which do I prefer, and which would I take on a trip if I had to choose between the 2?

Here’s a list of pros and cons for each camera, from my experience.

OM-4 ProsOM-4 Cons
OM SystemCan be complicated
Multi-Spot meteringHigh cost
Newer electronics
Auto power off
Fairly easy to use in manual mode
Built in eye diopter adjusting
1/2000 of a second shutter speed
OM-2 ProsOM-2 Cons
OM SystemMax 1/1000th of a second speed
Simple to useCan drain batteries if left on
Relatively inexpensive
Manual mode is very nice

I don’t have a lot of “Cons” for either of these cameras since I like them both. You may find things you don’t like, or things that annoy you about the OM-2 and OM-4, but I honestly don’t think there will be many things that people don’t like. I also like both of these cameras because of reliability. They are newer (late 70’s into the early 80’s) and I have experienced good reliability with both these models. I’ve noticed issues with older cameras like the original OM-1 and OM-2 just because they are older. I’ve had better luck with the OM-2n and OM-4 because they are just a bit newer. The OM-1 I have works fine, and its mechanical shutter seems like it will last a good long time – but the fact that the OM-1 uses a 1.3 Volt mercury battery can be problematic, and the meters in the OM-1 bodies that I’ve owned seem to have problems. That’s not a big deal, since I can use an external meter (or my phone these days) to get light readings. I just prefer using a camera that works the way it did when it was new.

So, let’s take a look at some photos from each camera. First, the OM-2n, shot on Kodak Pro Image 100 film.

Now, let’s take a look at some images from the OM-4, all shot on Kodak Portra 400 film.

These are both nice cameras. My closing thought is that the electronic features of any camera tend to get better and more reliable over time – so, if you plan to use one of these cameras, I tend to think the newest is more reliable (one of the reasons I like the OM-2n over the original OM-2). I’ve had very good results with both and would highly recommend either. I don’t think either one will disappoint.

Film photography is exciting and fun – get out and enjoy some of nature!