I was tempted to go with hyperbole and pronounce ‘BEST CAMERA EVER’ but resisted. It is however my favourite camera. This got me to thinking what makes a great camera? For me and the OM1, it’s a mix of nostalgia, quality and comfort.
It’s the first SLR I owned. When I went to art school – I, or rather my parents, were given a long list of equipment, bits, bobs and books including an SLR camera. I think my mum found my OM1 in the back of the local paper for not much money. I’ve used a OM1 continuously to this day, having replaced my first one after a took it apart to ‘fix’ it. By fluke of not being able to afford anything better I ended up with a fantastic camera that taught me how to take photos. Because its fully manual, I had to turn all the dials until the little needle in the viewfinder fell between the plus and minus sign, or thereabouts. Although I wasn’t fully aware of what all of them were doing, it taught me the relationship between shutter, aperture and ISO. I learnt quickly that a click here usually required another twist there to compensate. Over time I learned about the effects of the different settings but the interrelationship was evident from the start, which is something that’s not obvious with modern automatic cameras.
The quality is fantastic. Its tiny, practically bullet proof and the 50mm f1.8 lens that come with most of them is pin sharp with no distortion. It takes a small battery for the light meter, but will work without this as everything else is mechanical, winding the film on resets the shutter curtain and everything else. If you know how to judge your exposure you don’t need a battery! It’s a masterpiece of engineering. When you open one up it’s all tiny cogs and dials and there is even bits if waxed string traveling through the camera pulling levers and setting dials.
Back to my art school days, a teacher once told me this: “when you buy a camera, the most important thing to consider is how comfortable it is in your hand”. Its good advice. There is no point in having a camera with all the bells and whistles if you don’t like using it, because you will take fewer pictures. And it goes beyond ergonomics, buttons and such. I hate using long lenses because it makes you conspicuous. In fact, I would much rather shoot weddings with something like this OM1 rather than my huge Canon, but I do have to compromise as a professional. But again, simple things like colouring in the Canon logo black makes the camera stand out less. I also get rid of the lurid Canon strap for something much more basic. When I’m out with the kids I much prefer my OM1 as it’s just such a joy to use and feels great in my hand.
I suppose it relates to the more recent phenomenon or people taking pictures with iPads. I mean, you just attract attention right? But some people seem fine with that. I suppose the moral is, don’t look at the numbers. Make sure it does what you need and concentrate on ‘feel’ of your camera above those extra megapixels.
Quick word for Fuji Neopan. And that word is CONTRAST!!! Seriously insane contrast.