So far I have been writing mostly about classic cameras with full mechanical construction with only one exception the Cosina CSM with electro-mechanical shutter. It was because my collection fundamentally consists of such mechanical beauties.
But time goes on and my camera count is also increasing in many unexpected ways. My last camera in the row is still using film and being my camera it is naturally having only manual focus, but it is an ultra modern professional beast in every other aspects. Ladies and Gentlemen let me introduce to You the Olympus OM 4-Ti!
Olympus OM 4-Ti (black) Data sheet
- Type TTL auto-exposure 35 mm. Single Lens Reflex Camera.
- Produced 1989-2002
- Film type 24mm x 36mm ISO/ASA 6-3200.
- Weight 540g (body only)
- Dimensions 87 mm height, 139 mm width, 50 mm depth
- Construction weather sealed titanium alloy body
- Lens mount Olympus OM Mount
- Shutter horizontal cloth focal plane shutter, electronically controlled
- Shutter speeds 1s-1/2000s, B, 1/60s can be used mechanically without batteries
- Sync speed 1/60s but with Olympus F280 Full Synchro flash up to 1/2000s
- Viewfinder dioptric correction; dioptric correction range from +1 to -3 diopters; viewfield: 97% of actual picture field; magnification: 0.84x at infinity with -0.5 diop. (50mm lens)
- Exposure meter dual concentric segmented silicon photodiode, Center weighted and multi-spot-meter (2% of view; 3.3˚ with 50 mm lens) up to 8 points
- Batteries Two 1.5V silver-oxide batteries SR44 (Eveready EPX-76) or alkaline manganese batteries LR44
- Self-timer 12s delay electronic self-timer
- Hot shoe with contact for T series flash; 5-pin connector for T series flash; PC synchro socket.
- Motor drive optional motor drive 1 or 2 can be attached, up to 5 frames per second
What is it really?
This camera is the latest model of the one digit (upper grade) line of Olympus OM cameras and in addition mine is the last sub-version. While the OM 4 was introduced in 1984 my version shown up around 1990. Apart from some extra controls, the body design is pretty much the same as the original OM 1 (1972) which pioneered a new trend of really compact sized SLR bodies. Therefore this camera is one of the smallest reflex cameras ever made taking the 35mm film type.
While other manufacturers introduced auto focus in their cameras Olympus sticked to the traditional manual focus design. There is a debate on why, but eventually to me the important point is that the lack of AF allowed to keep this wonderful classic shape. The lenses are also very small, there is no need to place a motor into the body not into any lenses.
So why is this metering so legendary? Well apart from the fact that it is reliably accurate it leaves the control in your hand. Other brands like Nikon developed metering systems where the camera compares the scene with a database of stored situations and tries to figure out the best exposure for you. It is a convenient and most of the time satisfactory approach, but you have low control over it unless you switch to full manual or you guess what the camera thinks and you can compensate accordingly. It must be said that it is an issue only among challenging lightning conditions.
In contrast the OM-4 allows you to select up to 8 points of measurements and than the camera calculates the exposure. In other words, you can select what is important for you and what are your priorities. For example if you take too measurements on the same area and one on another than the first is more important to you than the other.
I know, it sound strange for first, but believe me it is so much intuitive and joy to use after you tried once. Of course if you don’t want to get bothered with such evilness, you can still use the traditional center weighted automatics, which just works well in most common situations.
All in all for someone like me, who working with a very low frame-rate, prefers to think and focus instead of the machine but sometimes likes to get some precise support ,this camera is the ultimate choice for 35mm photography. It is worth to note that (as far as I know) some professional medium format cameras also used similar metering system.
Finally the OM4 features a high-light and a shadow mode. It is useful in some cases where black or white surfaces are dominating on the frame.Normally if you take a photo with an auto-exposure camera of a gray, black and white piece of paper, it is likely that you will get middle gray on all frames (even instead of the black and white). It is because the metering system tries to achieve an averaged exposure which is good in most cases, but causing troubles when there is no reference. For example a landscape covered by snow, or documents on white papers are typical cases.
To overcome on this, you can use manual exposure, exposure compensation or in this case the high-light and shadow functions. You select the brightest (supposed to be white) or in other case the darkest (supposed to be pitch black) area on the frame, push the respective button and you will get the correct exposure with correct white or black representation. In fact these buttons are doing simply programmed over and under exposure correction.
Another interesting aspect is that this camera is one of the first ones able to use flash with very fast sync speeds (up to 1/2000s) when appropriate flash is coupled (like the Olympus F280). The problem of low synchronization speed was common of these kind of cameras due to the construction of the shutter and the very short burst time of typical flash guns. The OM 4-Ti solved this issue by continuous pulse bursts of the flash during the whole exposure which allowed to expose the entire frame correctly, although for the price of limited range.
This camera is very well made, it is weather sealed and indeed feels solid in my hands. All buttons, switches and knobs works really definitely and smoothly at the same time .
But how though it is exactly? I have found a really exhaustive description about a crash test done by the Camera magazine 4/’89 (Germany) translated by Wiliam Wagenaar.
The methodology was:
- The OM4Ti is stored in the freezer overnight at -20C for 8 hours.
- The OM4Ti went into the oven for one hour at a temperature of 75C (Only 50C allowed according to the manual)
- The OM4Ti is hung in the grid of the air outlet of a sand blasting company for 2 hours, so that dust, dirt and sand can intrude deep into the mechanics.
- The OM4Ti went into a steaming hot shower cabin for on hour.
- The OM4Ti went into the shaking machine for a certain time.
- The shutter is operated about 15.000 times while the aperture is set at f8.
This camera survived the torture very well, only the cold caused some temporal problems with the shutter. Here are the summarized test results:
Shutter speed error: + 15% for the long times from 1/15
Meter error: none (< 0.1 EV)
Spot meter: deviation of 0.5 EV
Defects during test: none, except jerky manual film advance
Battery use of camera and drive: normal.
Maximum points for each item : 10.
A total of 70 points gives the qualification of “CAMERA MAGAZINE PRO-CAMERA”
- cold test 7
- heat test 10
- dust test 9
- moist test 10
- shock test 10
- internals 8
- price quality 9
- ease of use 8
- design 8
- equipment 8
Total : 87
In comparison the Leica R6 received 88 points in the same test. If you want to read the full review, please follow this link.
So here is the answer to the my question “What is this camera really?”. To me this camera is a lightweight, compact tool with sophisticated metering and flash control but with the maximum control over exposure and focus possible in an admirable classic shaped yet durable body. It is unlikely that I will take advantage of the flash features, but I can clearly appreciate the excellent metering.
The lenses are very well made and with nice performance as well. Last but not least these cameras are affordable, they used to be called by many as “poor man’s Nikon” in the USA. Nowadays in the digital era you can definitely find a good deal of an OM camera.
My Olympus OM 4-Ti
I always adored the OM cameras because of their small size, stylish design, good lenses and reliable construction, but until now I have never even touched one. I came close in dimensions with my Cosina CSM which is really similar at first look, but clearly not in the same league at least with the professional OM cameras.
How did I get it?
I was not really wanted to get an OM since I had no lenses for the system, plus I was happy with the Cosina as my light travel companion. But one day I walked into a small optics shop which I didn’t know before but I was attracted by the old photo commercials on the front of the building. As it turned out they don’t sell cameras or any photographic equipments any more (they focusing on eyeglasses), but I spot a few old cameras in the cabinet behind the desk.
This OM 4-Ti was among them without a lens, only the body cap was mounted. I asked it out for some inspection and I immediately knew, this camera has a place in my bag. There was no price though, so we had to call the owner of the shop who is around 80 years old and collects cameras as well. We had a nice chat but he couldn’t tell me a price neither. So we agreed to talk about the camera in a few days as he can look after a bit.
Of course this made me struggling a lot in the proceeding few days as I was not sure that I can afford this camera at all especially because I had no lens. After a few days of hell I went back to the shop and asked again if they decided the asking price of he camera and they had. The offer was so generous that I bought the camera right away along with some film. The man told me that he likes that I am collecting and using film cameras and I will probably have a good use of it, that is why he is selling the Olympus to me. Of course I went back to show the camera as soon as I have got this great lens I have mounted on it right now.
Hunting for lens and focusing screen
Because the camera is in an incredibly good condition and because it is the last evolution step of the professional OM cameras, I decided to get a lens which is matching both in capabilities and cosmetics to the body. I wanted something behind the standard 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko (which is a great lens by the way) especially because I have many f/1.8 fifties for other systems and I really preferred to have something different. On the other hand I like standards when I have only one lens and naturally I had a strong constraint on the money to spend.
At the end I have gone for the Zuiko AUTO-S 50mm f/1.4 lens and I did some research which serial number to look for. It was not an easy search, but I have got my lens on e-bay in perfect shape in the original box with the serial number I was looking for (greater than 1,100,000) that marks the latest design and best coating. For more information of the different variants of this lens look around here.
After I received the lens I had to realize that my focusing screen is good for anything but normal use. The type I had in the camera was made for microscopy and other extreme macro purposes. So I had to look for a replacement focusing screen, but it was not an easy ride. I found many of these on e-bay, but on the price that I started to think if I really did a good deal with this camera. After a few weeks of desperate research I have managed to find a screen in Hungary for a reasonable price .
Almost 2 months after I first seen the camera in the cabinet I have managed to get a working set which takes photos while I am capable of focusing with it. It cost me way more than I thought when I bought the body, but undoubtedly worth it. This is really an amazing camera to use and hold and I don’t think I would have considered to get one in any other ways.
The way it looks
Until now I shot only 3 rolls of film, therefore it is hard to claim that I masters the camera. Nevertheless the start is very promising as I feel very comfortable and natural to use and the initial results are encouraging as well.
The ergonomics are really good, although due to the classic shape it is not as convenient to hold as more modern cameras. The bright side id that there is an optional grip available, but honestly I don’t feel it is necessary. The layout of the buttons and other controls are nice as well, maybe the “high-light” and “shadows” buttons are not the easiest to hit blind, but I don’t think to use them often. The most interesting part of the controls for me is the OM-style shutter speed ring on the lens mount, which is unusual but also brilliant at the same time. You can set both the aperture and shutter speed at almost the same place with the same hand. Of course it is probably not for everyone, I personally like it.
As I have mentioned already, the camera is really small even with modern standards. It is bigger than mirrorles camerasbut it is definitely smaller than any budget DSLR- If you consider that it is a “full-frame” camera than it is quite and achievement.
Focusing is really easy, smooth and accurate with my fast f/1.4 lens and so far I am very happy with the metering system as well. Most of the time the normal center weighted metering mode was fine for me with aperture priority mode. Note that aperture priority is the only automatic mode available on this camera, but in fact this is the mode I prefer on digital cameras the most also. I have tried the spot and multi-spot metering as well with success, but I need more time to gather greater experience experience with them.
I basically I took out the batteries from the Cosina CSM and put them into the Olympus. These batteries were in use for more than a year from now and so far I had no problems. Considering how tiny and cheap these batteries are and how long they last I think this camera is very economical in this respect. I have heard that the regular OM 4 was eating batteries, is seems the Ti version has corrected this issue
I have a Zuiko AUTO-S 50mm f/1.4 lens which has a good reputation in terms of overall image and build quality although it has some barbell distortion. I can confirm all of these statements. The lens is sharp, contrasty, not too prone to flares, the bokeh it produces is also pleasant to my eyes. Indeed the distortion is there , but it is not disturbing unless you shoot brick walls or other well defined geometrical subjects. I may make some measurements and create a lens profile in order to correct this digitally, but as I said this is a minor problem you won’t even notice in the 90% of times. The coating works great and flares are not really threatening you, I think a lens hood is generally a good idea, so I will get one soon.
As for other lenses, I really wish to get some exotic ones most notably the Zuiko 80mm f/2 is my greatest wish for portraits.
Some other OM 4-ti shoots of mine in this post.
This camera is for:
Everyone who loves 35mm film photography and needs a light, reliable and stylish companion. It is for everyone who likes to focus manually and prefers full control over metering yet likes to have a sophisticated system to aid the evaluation of exposure times. Last but not least this camera for those who does not mind to keep a pair of small knob batteries in their pockets.
This camera is NOT for:
I don’t recommend this camera for automation junkies, action or sport shooters or in contrast for more conservative people who prefers full mechanical constructions. In the case if the electronic operation would be the problem, there are plenty of full mechanical choices in the OM series such as the OM 1 or the very rare mechanical counterpart of the OM 4 the OM 3.
- Camerapedia the OM system
- Wikipedia OM 4
- OM 4-Ti crash test
- An OM 4 page
- Camerapedia OM lenses
- 50mm Zuiko lenses
- omexperience (really cool blog about film OM cameras, OM lenses with deep tests and the OM-D, This site helps you figure out which subversion of a lens has multi-coating etc based on cosmetics and serial numbers)
- Instruction manual