Some say the Olympus OM-2 was the most underrated SLR of all time. I will concede they are usually Olympus shooters, but they are so adamant, it’s only logical to take a closer look. The OM-2 is almost the smallest SLRs ever made. At 136 x 50 x 83mm, it even beats the Nikon EM in some dimensions at 135 × 54 × 86 mm. For weight reference, the Olympus OM-2 is 520g and the Nikon EM is 460g. So, they can’t claim the smallest. But considering the plethora of extra features over the Nikon, it ain’t much.
Olympus OM-2 – Lighter than a Leica M3
However, as a carry everywhere with you camera, even a Leica M3 is 580g! So, it’s pretty close to a point and shoot. OK, it’s manual focus, and constructed of metal. (as opposed to most P&S being plastic) For shooters, especially street shooters, who want a low profile camera, and can’t or won’t use a P&S, this camera has all the options available with SLR’s in a very compact camera.
I’ll be the first to admit the build quality is not up to a Leica, but it’s a very solid and tight build. A Canon SLR has nothing on this little gem. All the dials, levers and knobs click directly into place with obvious quality. I quickly found out why Olympians rave. (I guess we can call users Olympians,…LOL) Tolerancing is tight, and build materials are metal, metal, metal. Even the exposure compensation dial is firm. Something most Japanese manufacturers almost looked at as an afterthought. The fact that most used ones operate as well as the day they were bought is a real testament to these almost 50 year old cameras.
A Full Bevy of Accessories
Building on the OM-1, Olympus added the ability to take 250 exposure roll backs and data backs. The glass is exceptional, and taking a page from the Nikon playbook, focusing screens were easily replaceable. Even easier than on Nikons. Not the first, but one of the originators of OTF metering. From Macro to high speed street use, this camera is up to the task. Plus a complete system of winders, motor drives, battery packs and TTL flashes.
After the OM-1, some important improvements were made to the Olympus OM-2. Including aperture priority with the click of a switch. Max shutter speed is only 1/1000 of a second, but the low end is 1 second. Plus Bulb, of course. If the little battery drains, it can still shoot at 1/60 of a second. A metering exposures are dead on. Plus in aperture priority mode, the exposure compensation dial comes in very handy. Almost like today’s modern digital cameras. The exposure can be adjusted plus or minus two stops in 1/3rd stop increments! That’s why I said it’s almost as effortless as a P&S camera. Uhh,…well, except it’s manual focus. A little disappointing is the flash sync is 1/60 of a second. Which is OK for most situations. However, they came out with being able to sync at any speed in FP flash mode a few years later. But FP flash mode is only workable with the OM-3Ti and OM-4Ti. And like Nikon’s FP high speed sync, flash output is greatly reduced.
The Olympus OM-2 viewfinder is really bright and clear,…but, it’s a 97% viewfinder. While it’s not 100%, focusing is precise and quick. The analog display of metering needles is very easy to read. It even displays exposure compensation. And the meter is one of the most accurate ever. And was one of the first, (some say the first), to incorporate taking its’ reading off the film. Some say it had the best metering of that era. Eventually, all the camera companies had some version of OTF, leveling the playing field. I can touch on the technical, but all you need to know is it works accurately without fail. Even high contrast or back lighting can’t fool this meter. The most advanced digital can not improve on exposure accuracy. Amazing for a camera this old.
The lens system is made up of probably the most underrated glass ever. Zuiko lenses are not just good. They’re great. Even guys who shoot Nikon or Canon will tell you that as far as vintage glass goes, Olympus, with their Zuiko glass, is near the top of the food chain. For some reason, the aperture ring is at the front. While it’s a little weird at first, it kind of makes sense, and is easy to use after one or two rolls of film. But the weirdest thing is the stop down lever on the lens. Being a Nikon/Contax guy, I’m always fumbling for the button on the body. So, in fact, that was a really good idea. I’m surprised more camera companies didn’t pick up on that.
The 50mm f/1.8 lens feels quite substantial and well made. And solid and smooth in use. Complaints? Well, the aperture ring is plastic. Why, Olympus? Could’ve been perfect. And the other thing is it has only single stop increments. I guess you could counter that with the 1/3 stop exposure compensation. However, I’m not that familiar with the bevy of Zuiko glass out there. So, it may be different on different lenses. Of course, newer AF Olympus cameras, (and other brands), mostly have 1/3 of a stop adjustments. I guess considering this was 40-50 years ago,…when men were men,…blah, blah, blah,…that was normal.
In essence, bokeh is very smooth and round, and I have no Nikkor lens that is sharper at f/4 to f/8. And no flaring or ghosting. (or chromatic aberration) In fact, Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8 has 5 sided bokeh highlights. So the Zuiko beats it there. (sharpness is about the same at all apertures) If a photographer friend wanted a cheap but fully capable light kit, this would probably be the tiny wonder I’d suggest. While Minolta, Nikon and Canon all have equally good bodies and lenses, the aftermarket price of glass for this Olympus is a no brainer. And the OM-3 and OM-4 are even better. Small packages,…tons of features. Check the link below to the manual to find out more about the OM-2 in operation. Find Olympus OM Series