Julian Tanase Photography

My Minox journey continues…

Olympus OM1 – return of a classic

Olympus OM1 – return of a classic

In order for you to understand why this camera is so important to me, I’ll have to take you back in the mid-90s. It shan’t be a long journey, I promise. For those of you who were using a film camera in those years, the following story will be very familiar; for those who came after that into film photography, have a seat. Because yes, there is yet another “me and my cameras” boring story to be shared with people who heard it all before. I am not going to rant about what this camera does or not, no technical stuff because there are plenty other people, much more knowledgeable than I, who said all about it. No, this is a trip down memory lane, as it were.

When I became more interested in 35mm photography and cameras, the 90s were in full swing; there were no digital cameras to be seen about, and so photography was all about film. Any decent photographic supplies shop could fill your bag with (almost) any film of your desire, be that colour transparency, slide or simple b&w. I was traveling a lot in those days, in and out of the UK, and for most of the voyages I never took more than 2-3 films with me. I always would find a shop somewhere to buy more, if needed. Of course, a small village in south of France would not have film for sale, but usually when going to such remote places one had to make provisions. 

Chemicals were also plentiful in the shops, never have I needed something and not be able to find it over the counter at this or other shop. Online purchases were rare, and it a real pleasure to have a good walk to the nearest shop and chat with the guys there about this film, or that camera. You see, back then, people working in these shops were knowledgeable about the stuff they sold. At least many more than it is the norm today, I guess.

During that time, I was pretty much into Minox photography, which was my main hobby. Other film formats, such as 35mm, 110 and 120 were for a long time just a diversion from the struggle I usually had with the tiny 8×11 format of the Minox camera. But slowly, some of the 35mm film I acquired for cutting it to Minox size went in the 35mm cameras I began collecting during this period. Not only 35mm cameras, but some 120 as well. I was always fascinated by the mechanical gears, springs, lens and levers that make a classic camera. So I began to use them just for fun. I do have rather good memories of a Welta Weltix folder, Kodak Retina, Voigtlander, etc.

At some point, I believe it was in 1996 or 1997, a friend of mine who was in the building business came to me with a photographic bag filled with 2 cameras, lenses, filters, film and a tripod tied up on the bottom of the bag. He said he found it in a condemned building, marked to be taken down. He knew I was dabbling in photography, so he brought it to me as a gift. A nice thing to do, although he would have gotten some cash for the bag and its content. All he got from me was a couple of pints at The Hogwash, my regular pub back then.

One of the cameras was an Olympus OM1, in very good condition, together with Zuiko 50/1.4, 1.8 and a Hoya 38-70/3.5 which was a perfect fit for the OM mount. Several filters also, all 49mm, the basics. A couple of focusing screens, damaged so not usable. A cable release, and a lens rubber hood, the collapsible type. The bag was a canvas Olympus in somewhat work condition, but perfectly usable.

Cleaned everything, tested the camera with new batteries (yes, the mercury 1.35 were still around at that time) and started to use the beautiful OM1. However, not long after, sold it like the stupid sob that I am, to a fellow who was imploring me to sell it to him. So I did, and for a handsome amount. Never felt any remorse, which does say something about the bird brain that I was back then (and to a certain extent, even today).

Fast forward a lot of years, I began to feel the need of that camera; mind you, I was already in 35mm heavily, a constant user of Nikon SLR’s. Once I got my excellent FM3A, I started to feel the need to use again a Nikon contender, which Olympus certainly provided plenty during the 70s and 80s. And so I decided to get back the OM1, to fill up that empty space. Of course, this is an elaborate method to say that GAS took over me quite heavily. And not meaning the same camera, mind.

And so I waited and waited for a good one to show up on the market, which is very large in this respect. But the ones in very good condition were from outside the EU (meaning taxes and VAT and God knows what else), making a possible return even more expensive. Many had issues, and so I passed these. At one point, I half-decided I am going to postpone this project, as the time was flying and I was side-tracked by other stuff going on.

Finally, a local seller came up with this beautiful OM1 in pristine, almost new condition, and that re-lit the fire. Got the camera for a song, just the body. I forgot to say that when I sold the original OM1, I kept everything else, lenses and such. The Zuiko 50/1.4 I used on a OM10, my go-to Olympus for a couple of decades. So I had everything I needed for this new arrival, and everything came back to me, closing a circle I broke without knowing that one day, it’ll have to be redrawn again. That it did, and this OM1 is again in my hands, making me smile.

The camera is already converted to take 1.5v battery and transforming it to 1.35v; the meter is perfect, no issues whatsoever. Everything is working right, the insides are almost brand new. I found myself falling again for the bright and large viewfinder. The smooth operation of the film advance, the silky sound of the mirror, like the touch of a feather falling on grass. And of course, the awkwardness of the shutter speed dial on the front of the camera, the +/- type of meter reading came back to me too.

I have fitted it with the usual Zuiko 50/1.8 that has a metal screw-in hood, a gift from an old gentleman, owner of a small camera shop in St. Albans’; bought a Kodak Retina of him and he gave me 3 or 4 metal hoods, some 32 filters, and a genuine brand new Olympus strap. I still have these and cherish them.

So, yes; circle has closed and all is well. a camera that was wanted so bad just came back. This makes me happy and although I know that years passed, me not getting younger again, I will not use it as much as I would’ve in the past. Even so, it is good for the soul to revisit gone years of our youth and remember. It is very likely that now, at this time and age, I will probably enjoy this beautiful OM1 much more than back 30 yrs ago, I guess.

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