Tiny but Mighty, the Olympus OM-2

If there’s any camera line that seems to be consistently underrated, it’s the Olympus OM line. Because of their diminutive size, commenters across the internet frequently miss that these machines were marketed at professional audiences. But by dismissing these incredibly capable cameras, people lose out on using some of the best and most capable cameras I’ve ever used.

But this post isn’t about the entire OM line. I’m only focused on the Olympus OM-2 (specifically the OM-2n, which was a refinement on the original OM-2, featuring mostly the same internals with a couple quality of life additions).

Released in 1975, three years after the original OM-1, the OM-2 took what was already an almost perfect camera and added one key feature: an aperture-priority auto exposure mode, using through-the-lens, off-the-film metering. Assuming the meter was working properly, this meant you would almost always have a perfect exposure.

All photos (except the cover) were taken with an Olympus OM-2n in auto mode using Kentmere Pan 400.

In practice I found this to be completely true. Even in some trickier lighting conditions the OM-2 never failed me.

Besides it’s wonderful light meter, here are the specs that matter:

  • In manual mode, you can set the shutter between 1s and 1/1000s, or use Bulb mode.
  • Because of the auto-exposure mode, the OM-2 is reliant on batteries. Thankfully they’re batteries you can still buy today at most drug stores (two SR44 cells).
  • With the kit 50mm f/1.8 lens, it weighs slightly more than 1.5 pounds.

And let’s talk about that lens.

There’s a reason a lot of film cameras come with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, the main reasons being that it’s an easy to understand focal length that you can pre-visualize, and as proven by their numbers it’s not a terribly difficult formula to get right.

And boy did Olympus get it right. They took a great formula and put it in a nice, compact body. Besides being some great glass, I really like how the depth of field preview button is on the lens itself, it makes it really easy to use compared to some other cameras where it can be awkwardly placed on the camera body. The other great thing about it is just how closely it can focus. I don’t think any of the other nifty fifties I have can even compete.

But while there are a lot of great things about the OM-2, it, like all cameras, is not a perfect machine.

My biggest issue is that if you leave the mode switch set to “auto” and don’t remember to put it back to “off” when you’re done using the camera it’ll just eat the batteries (I’m not sure if this is true for the “manual” position, because I haven’t left it there for a long period of time, but my guess is it does). The light meter is always on if the switch isn’t in the “off” position, and even if a cap is on the lens it seems to just chew through those batteries. If you do remember, the batteries will last a similar amount of time as other cameras, but you do need to remember.

In manual mode, it can be kind of a pain to adjust the shutter speed. The control for it is in a ring behind the lens mount, and because of their age these rings can be a bit stiff.

Overall the Olympus OM-2 is a great camera. Even with a couple issues it’s still one of my favorite cameras. And for an SLR, you really can’t beat its size, even cameras in the same class ten years younger (or more) are bulkier.

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