Olympus OM2 (OM2n) – Camera Review

Olympus OM 2 Review 7

The Olympus OM system has a long history of both exceptional and under appreciated machines. While the OM1 and subsequent early OM models were received by press and industry insiders as marvels of technology, design, and engineering, they didn’t seem to gain such a strong reputation with the casual user. Though pros and enthusiasts valued what Olympus achieved with the OM, the company’s cameras were often considered by the masses to be capable, yet inferior to the machines of Canon and Nikon.

Even today Olympus’ cameras don’t seem to get the respect that they might deserve, and we wondered if this is fair. So when we found a late 1970s OM-2n at the local thrift store with a price tag smaller than the cost of a cup of coffee, we had to buy it and find out.

Fast-forward two weeks and we just can’t fathom why the OM-2 is so often regarded as second-rate to its competition. This often overlooked and undervalued machine offers so much more than its contemporaries in the areas of detail-oriented conveniences, ease of use, and innovation. With fantastic performance, unprecedented compactness, and sheer fun-factor, it’s clear that the common opinion of the Olympus machine is completely incongruous to its actual value as a photographic device.

To put it in simple terms; the OM-2 is the best vintage camera I’ve shot thus far this year, a year that’s included the Leica M3 and Canon A1, among many others. So, what makes the OM so amazing?

Olympus OM 2 Review 4

In the modern consumer environment the average photo geek can shoot literally thousands of perfectly capable cameras, so there needs to be an emotional connection to justify spending one’s time and money on a particular camera. Falling in love with a camera is very similar to falling in love with a spouse. That kind of long-lived love is linked to the soul, but it must first be sparked by a physical infatuation. So for a camera to be truly loved, it must first make you want to touch it.

Luckily, the OM-2 is one of the finest and most timelessly good-looking designs in vintage cameras. Slim, sophisticated, concise; there’s little to nitpick about the OM-2s aesthetics. Like Audrey Hepburn or the Porsche 911, it was beautiful then and it remains perfect today.

In either chrome or black, the OM-2 is purposeful, refined, and unembellished. Crisp lines define an angular shape, with the body being made up of perfectly proportioned geometric forms. The pentaprism is among the smallest in classic cameras, rising to a near pyramid at the center. The uncluttered top plate benefits from the unusual placement of the shutter speed selector on a concentric ring around the lens mount, leaving ample room for the film advance, shutter release, and exposure compensation dial.

The engraved markings are all well-defined, and Olympus has chosen a number of vibrant colors to help differentiate one from another. For example, the lens’ distance scale alters from text in orange to white, discerning feet versus meters. Less commonly used indicators such as Bulb mode and film rewind are marked in red as if to ask “are you sure?” The shutter speed selector uses blue text for any speeds that may be slow enough to introduce camera shake (1/60s and below). These are small touches, but they’re personally appealing and give the otherwise stark design a splash of color and visual interest.

Levers, knobs, and switches are singularly focused. Each has a purpose, and each benefits from a clarity of design that’s hard to find in the modern era of cluttered and overwhelming camera controls. This is the kind of camera in which every detail has been carefully sorted to maximize efficiency and make good use of available space. To put it simply, the OM-2 is a refreshing change from the “more is more” design philosophy of current days.

Practically speaking, the OM-2 is a wonderful machine to use primarily due to its small size. Through the dogged work of famed designer Yoshihisa Maitani (whose name is immortalized by the “M” in “OM”) Olympus was driven to create a new world in which SLRs could be well-made and full-featured while still maintaining a tiny footprint. They succeeded with the OM-1, and that legacy carried on to subsequent OMs.

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The OM-2 is one of the smallest and most compact SLRs of all time. At 136 x 83 x 50mm it’s smaller than many of today’s mirror-less cameras, and with a standard lens attached its depth only increases by 30mm. Weight is 690g (24 oz) with the standard Zuiko 50mm F/1.8 mounted. For reference, a Nikon D610 body weighs 850g, and a Leica M3 body weighs 580g.

But enough numbers- the point is that this is a camera you can carry over the shoulder comfortably for as long as necessary, and one that can be casually kept at the ready wherever you go. It’s easily smaller than any of its contemporary competition in the world of film photography, and compared to modern DSLRs there’s really no contest. Even today’s mirror-less cameras are hard pressed to compete with the OM-2s size. For shooters who want a portable and lightweight yet super-proficient camera, the OM-2 is the best solution.

Build quality is very respectable. The OM-2 feels solid, dense, and tight. Knobs and dials all click with firm resistance, and settle into their detents with directed force. The exposure compensation dial and shutter speed selector in particular offer a firm confidence that’s difficult to find on this camera’s Japanese contemporaries.

There’s enough metal here to make one feel that they’re holding something more meaningful than the latest batch of DSLRs, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these 40-year-old machines are still working today. A reputation for high-quality construction is further reinforced by a well-documented history of OM cameras operating successfully in the theater of war. Suffice to say, this is a robust machine.

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With the OM-2, Olympus was aiming to create a completely capable camera to build on the success of the OM-1. This is evidenced by the ability of the camera to accept data-backs and 250 exposure film spools in place of the instantly removable film door. Similarly modular was the ability to change focus screens in a matter of seconds, useful for everything from micro-photography to document reproduction. Exceptional Zuiko glass and a first-of-its-kind, off-the-film (OTF) metering system round out the camera’s pro-spec features and create a camera system that’s capable of virtually anything.

Essentially an OM-1 with increased functionality, the OM-2 and OM-2n retain the OM-1’s full manual shooting mode while adding native aperture priority auto-exposure shooting with the flip of a switch.

Shooting in aperture priority mode is an excellent way to retain a certain amount of artistic control in photography. The shooter can adjust depth-of-field to achieve the desired artistic result, such as maximum sharpness for landscape shooting or dreamy subject isolation for bokeh-doused portraits. With the OM-2 being so capable at perfectly calculating exposures there’s little to worry about in this shooting mode. Even exposures as long as 60 seconds are summarily handled by the OM-2, with the OM-2n being capable of slowing things down even further to a possible 120 seconds. Maximum shutter speed on both models is 1/1000 of a second. Yep; this shutter can do it all.

For fine exposure adjustments in aperture priority the camera offers an exposure compensation dial. The large and perfectly positioned dial allows a single index finger to make on-the-fly adjustments to exposure totaling plus or minus two stops in 1/3rd stop increments. This dial adjuster coupled with the in-viewfinder meter needle makes shooting in AP mode virtually effortless. Set your aperture, watch the exposure needle, adjust for your scene, and shoot.

Switching the dial to manual mode allows complete control over both shutter speed and aperture, just like an OM-1. In manual mode the shutter speeds range from 1/1000 of a second to the slowest setting of 1 second, although Bulb mode allows for exposures of any length.

The camera benefits from a fairly excellent viewfinder, offering 97% of the actual photo field and a split-image focus dot. Interestingly unique to the OM-2, the viewfinder features dynamic indicators for exposure. When in manual mode the viewfinder displays an exposure index, in aperture priority mode it displays a shutter speed indicator, and it displays a small emblem to indicate usage of exposure compensation. The whole thing is presented via transparencies and needles, and this delightfully analog display reminds the shooter that they’re using a charming, vintage machine.

These shooting modes and fine exposure adjustments would mean nothing if the camera metered poorly. Luckily, the OM-2 has one of the best metering systems we’ve ever used. Olympus was the first to develop a meter that took a reading directly off of the film, ensuring unprecedented exposure accuracy in specialty shooting situations. Not just a gimmick, variations on this system were eventually used by many manufacturers, including Leica and Pentax.

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To achieve a correct exposure, a light reading is taken off of the first of two shutter curtains. This curtain is imprinted with a computer-generated pattern of alternating white blocks which mimics an average photograph. When the mirror flips up, twin metering cells measure the light reflected from the subject as it bounces off of this pattern of blocks. Using this information, the camera times the release of the second curtain, allowing realtime and step-less adjustments to exposure times. It’s all very technical, but even if we don’t understand exactly how it works we can at least enjoy that the shutter curtain looks more interesting than most.

The OM-2 was the very first camera to use this kind of technology, and the important thing is that in practice it operates flawlessly. Shooting in aperture priority mode yields nothing but consistently perfect exposures even in the most challenging of lighting situations. Backlit subjects, extreme darkness, and high-contrast scenes are all rendered perfectly. This is one of those rare, vintage machines where getting an excellent exposure doesn’t require shooting in manual mode.

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So the OM-2 is well-built, good-looking, and technically proficient? Sounds like we have a winner. But let’s not forget, any camera system is only as good as the lenses it uses. While the OM system made huge advancements in the arenas of size and performance, it would mean nothing if the lenses were sub-par. Fortunately again, Olympus has provided utmost quality in a tiny package with their “Zuiko” lenses.

Meaning “blissful light”, Zuiko lenses are generally considered to be among the sharpest vintage lenses and offer world-class performance in a compact form. There are more than fifty available lenses, ensuring that virtually any type of photo can be created with the OM system.

Notably Olympus has done some things a bit different from their competition in regards to lens construction and functionality. Placement of the aperture ring has been located at the front of the lens, usually a place reserved for the focus ring. While this certainly takes some getting used to, it’s not a problem, and in some cases actually makes more sense. It’s easier to glance down the camera and see the selected aperture, for example.

Another interesting difference between Zuiko glass and other makers’ lenses is the inclusion of a stop-down lever within the lens, as opposed to on the camera body. This lever is positioned well, allowing quick checks to depth-of-field without moving one’s hand from the natural shooting position. At first a bit strange, in less than a roll of film’s worth of shooting we were used to it.

Focus action is exceptionally smooth on the standard 50mm ƒ/1.8. The knurled rubber ring spins with a perfectly weighted fluidity that exudes extreme quality. The plastic aperture ring feels a bit cheap, and it’s unfortunate that it operates in single stop increments, but it slots into these incremental detents with a mechanical precision that buoys confidence in build quality.

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Images rendered by the OM-2n and 50mm combination are fantastic in their execution. Dynamic range is impressive, while color and contrast are as good as any Nikkor at comparable apertures. Shot wide open the lens produces attractive and well-blended bokeh that’s exceptionally creamy for an ƒ/1.8. Stopped down to ƒ/2.8, bokeh highlights come through in the form of adequately rounded balls of magical light. There’s a bit of hardness around the edges and things aren’t perfectly circular, but complaining too hard about bokeh begins to bring us into the realm of picking nits.

Stop the lens down to ƒ/4 and things become as sharp as a hedgehog’s spines. Contrast and light falloff improve at this aperture as well, resulting in essentially perfect images. Stop further to ƒ/8 and you’ve reached the peak of sharpness with this lens, and sharpness that rivals any of the competition’s standard 50mm lenses. Chromatic aberration, flaring, and ghosting are happily missing in action.

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All told, the OM-2 is a camera with which we’ve fallen in love. It’s tiny, inconspicuous, quiet, capable, and proud. It’s modern enough to use standard batteries, yet vintage enough to offer analog charms. The OM-2 can do anything we ask of it without breaking our backs or the bank. It just might be a perfect 35mm film camera. Staring at the OM-2 with the most critical eye leads one to stare without result. There’s almost nothing to complain about!

Even so, that didn’t keep Olympus from innovating. Later improvements to the OM-2 would come in the form of the OM-2s (sp), which added spot -metering and full program auto-exposure. This would make the pro-spec OM system even more approachable by enthusiasts and amateurs. Further changes with the OM-2s include the replacement of the charming analog viewfinder displays in favor of a more modern, backlit LCD graph to indicate exposure values. Even further updated models in the OM-3 and OM-4 continued to push things progressively forward in the pursuit of ultimate performance in a tiny package.

And that’s the enduring legacy of the OM system. It urged all manufacturers toward consistent innovation. By cramming unlimited performance in a tiny package, Olympus was able to direct the future of the SLR industry in a way that would change things forever. No longer would camera bulk be accepted as the necessary byproduct of producing a high quality machine. Olympus proved that a photographer actually could have it all.

For today’s shooter looking for an exceptionally capable film SLR, the OM-2 should certainly be considered. With quality equal to or better than many of its contemporaries, it’s a full-featured camera that paved the way for a generation of machines that followed it. If you want an amazing 35mm film camera, and size and style are among your chief concerns, there may be no better fit than the OM-2.

Want your own Olympus OM2? Buy it from our own F Stop Cameras, on eBay, or from Amazon

Buy 35mm film – eBay / Amazon

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  • Reply
    March 22, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    An brilliant read, I recently shelled out myself on an OM-1n, mostly because I love the design and knew it would be good, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how high the quality is on these little gems that Olympus produced.

    • Reply
      March 22, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      Happy you like it. Great cameras they are.

  • Reply
    A C
    August 27, 2015 at 5:35 am

    Thanks for the beautifully written review.

    • Reply
      September 26, 2015 at 12:50 am

      Apologies for missing this comment; I try to reply to everyone. Thanks for the kind words! Happy shooting!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    until the mirror locks up and gets stuck…

    • Reply
      August 31, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      I’m sorry. Do you need help??

    • Reply
      September 26, 2015 at 12:35 am

      Common issue. Replace the batteries and move the main switch to reset momentarily. All perfectly normal. Googling your question would have been a start…

    • Reply
      August 31, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      This just happened to me today. I googled it and quickly found out that the batteries were drained. Don’t judge things so quickly… It still is an awesome camera!

  • Reply
    January 7, 2016 at 5:35 am

    Great review. I got my OM-2 at auction for a great deal and I’m excited to take it out for it’s maiden voyage (with me) in the near future.

    • Reply
      January 7, 2016 at 7:58 am

      Congrats! And happy shooting to you.

  • Reply
    January 10, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    I recently picked mine up at a thrift store for $7. I love it.

    • Reply
      January 10, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      That’s a ridiculous deal. Congrats!

  • Reply
    Robbie Burns
    January 19, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I was recently gifted an OM2 and three lenses and so can’t wait to give it a test run. Nice article thanks.

    • Reply
      January 19, 2016 at 11:35 am

      Lucky guy!

  • Reply
    Kevin W.
    January 25, 2016 at 5:14 am

    Can anyone tell me how to identify year and value, I want to sell one that I have/found that appears to be in very very good condition.

  • Reply
    January 26, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    oh wow, that is amazing to read. Thank you very much for this detailed report.
    I am getting my OM2n tonight. It is getting passed from my dad and I hope it is in the name mint condition as yours is.
    I am a little afraid of an overhaul/revision…I hope it does not cost me an arm and a leg.

    • Reply
      January 26, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Congrats and good luck! Have fun with it.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Great lecture! I own and still use the OM-1 and I simply love it.

    • Reply
      February 19, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks bud! Happy shooting with that gem.

  • Reply
    Dustin D.
    February 19, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Picked up one on eBay for 59 bucks plus shipping. Got the 50mm for 49 plus shipping. It arrives today and I can’t wait to start shooting on film! Been using a d5200/d5300 for over a year making videos/photos so I’m pumped!

    • Reply
      February 19, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      That’s a fantastic deal. Enjoy it, my friend!

  • Reply
    February 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Fantastic site all this information is pure gold

    • Reply
      February 28, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. Happy shooting!

  • Reply
    February 28, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for the kind words. Happy shooting!

  • Reply
    March 13, 2016 at 1:25 am

    I am an art student looking into buying an Olympus Camera but am having a hard time on what model I want and would be easiest to lean on. I’m tossing up between the OM 2N, Om 2S or the OM 10. Which do you think would be the best for an amateur like me?

    • Reply
      March 13, 2016 at 1:36 am

      Hi there. Happy to hear you’re looking into getting a film camera. I recommend the OM2 over the OM-10 as long as your budget allows it. The OM2 is one of the best reasonably priced SLRs around, and it’s perfect to learn with. The differences between the OM2 and the OM2N are negligible, and you likely won’t notice them in use. The OM2S (or OM2SP, depending on market) is substantially different from both the OM2 and OM2N, as it takes more from the OM4. The major difference here will be the addition of Program mode (which takes care of all exposure values for the shooter- aperture and shutter speed).

      Feel free to check our shop (http://www.fstopcameras.com), we don’t always have OMs in because they sell very quickly, but you may just get lucky.

      I hope this helps!

  • Reply
    March 21, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    The OM2n has gestalt, I have a mint condition one I picked up a few years ago in a complete set (Case, lenses, flash etc) after the owner passed away and his family sold it, it really is pristine. I’m not sure how much he used it but he certainly looked after it. I absolutely love this camera, it speaks to me. To coin a phrase my youngest daughter used to use as a toddler when she really wanted something…”I need to hold it…”

    • Reply
      March 21, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      Ha! As a new father to a little girl, your comment really hits home. Great stuff. And I’m glad you’re loving that fantastic camera too! Happy shooting bud.

  • Reply
    Dave D.
    June 18, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Stupidly I sold my OM2n with 50 & 180 lenses years ago. I went digital, first Panasonic and then Leica. However, have got the Olympus bug again and I have recently (must be mad) bought an OM10, 20, 40, 1n and 2n! My usual film cameras are Leica; but there is something just right when holding the Olympus cameras. Now, should I buy an OM4/4ti? I am definitely going to get an OM3/3ti when funds allow.

  • Reply
    July 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Great camera! Just recently picked one up having owned an OM10 for a little while (another worthy Olympus option) and I’m amazed just how good these are… in fact I’ve just bought an OM1, so impressed I am, they’re almost perfect considering their age!

    • Reply
      July 29, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      You’re right on. Enjoy that OM1. I love that it’s all mechanical.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2016 at 4:14 am

    I can beat Dave D’s story- I bought a black OM2n back in 1982 and then stupidly sold it in the late ’90s to pay for the repair of a Polaroid SX-70 Land camera. What the hell was I thinking?!
    My reasoning was that, because I also had a late 1960s Nikon F fotomic, I figured I didn’t need two SLRs. Damn fool thing to do. Especially when I saw my old OM2 in the camera store window selling in the used section for $350 a few weeks later.
    Fast forward to a few years ago and I snagged a replacement OM2n off eBay. And then a spare one for good measure. I’m holding on to these two, I can tell ya.
    Great review of this classic camera, James. May I ask, what batteries are the best to use in these things? I’m using Energizer 357s, but I’m not sure these are correct.

    • Reply
      DAVE D
      August 1, 2016 at 9:11 pm

      TEERITZ, what were we thinking? It seemed a good idea, at the time.
      Well, the madness continues. I’ve added an OM30, OM1 (with white nose 50mm) and OM4T! Naturally, added some bits and pieces; flashes, grip, winder, bags, etc.
      Next a ‘couple’ of lenses; then an OM3Ti.
      I use Energizer SR44 batteries.

    • Reply
      August 2, 2016 at 12:27 am

      I use LR44 batteries. They work, and last forever. Hope this helps!

      • Reply
        August 2, 2016 at 11:08 am

        Ahh, Dave, those SX-70s were pretty cool, the way they could be folded down flat, despite the $25-for-ten-exposures film packets and the limitations of the photos themselves. But yes, it was a stupid move on my part.
        Oh well, I now have two OM2s and three Trip 35s, as well as the Nikon F.
        Speaking of madness, now I have a hankering for a Leica M3. “Thanks for nothing, James!” 😉

        • Reply
          August 2, 2016 at 11:51 am

          Can’t blame me for that one. I haven’t written much about the M3. 😉

          • Teeritz
            August 3, 2016 at 10:37 am

            Okay, I’ll forgive you that one. I must’ve read about the M3 somewhere else. But you DO take a nice photo, sir.

          • James
            August 3, 2016 at 1:26 pm

            Thanks pal!

      • Reply
        August 2, 2016 at 11:13 am

        Thanks, James, yes it does. I bought a couple of 357s which are, apparently, the equivalent of the SR44 and LR44. Man, it’s all a tad confusing. I miss the 20th Century.
        Fantastic site you have here, too. I’ve bookmarked a link to it on my own blog.
        Keep up the good work.

    • Reply
      David Murray
      September 6, 2016 at 9:47 pm

      Of course the Nikon F Photomic metering heads did not last very long and are not repairable now, also the 1.35 volt Mercury oxide batteries have not been available for at least 20 years. Although I have a pair of plain prism F cameras, I would strongly advise anyone today to buy Olympus OM if you are serious about taking photographs. You have a good choice between OM10, OM1, OM2, OM3 and OM4. First class metering and superb build and reliable too. Me? I have to persist with my Fs and a Weston Master V.

  • Reply
    JR Smith
    August 12, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Well written piece on a wonderful camera! I just picked up one and am enjoying shooting it!

  • Reply
    David Murray
    August 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    That the Olympus OM series cameras and lenses were used by the best in the business – Bailey, McCullin et al – says a lot. I handled one for the first time in 1981. It was a coach trip to a CND demo in London. I took my Nikkormat FT and 50 mm f1.8 + 135mm f3.5. On the way home a chap came and said hello and asked me about my camera. He had an OM1. Of course we exchanged and examined. I noticed how light the camera was, how comfortably it fitted in my hand and how exquisitely it was finished. By comparison, my Nikon was a tool, the Olympus was an instrument. As I have five Nikons, nine Leicas and a Hasselblad and a Rolliecord, I could not justify buying one. However, I am tempted!

  • Reply
    Richard Russell
    September 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

    I bought my OM2-n in 1981 to augment my OM-1. Both cameras are beautiful in design and are lightweight and functional, so it’s always a pleasure to read reports commenting on my favourite “Marque” after such a long time…

  • Reply
    September 26, 2016 at 3:29 am

    Great read. Thank you for familiarizinge me with this fine work of art. My father in law left it to me and though I am not a photographer at all I want to become a novice. I hope this will be fine for me. I love the weight n looks already. But, have no idea yet what the different filters are for or other lenses. This will come with time I guess. I am looking forward to photographing my grandsons football games. Thanks again for an encouraging article. He also left me ALL original manuals. Time to start reading and practicing. Thank you.

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      September 26, 2016 at 3:31 am

      My pleasure. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the beautiful heirloom you’ve come into. Happy shooting, my friend.

  • Reply
    October 16, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    I would say put your pounds into a OM 4T. For rainy days. I was using the OM2n
    on a rainy sprinkle day last month in Pennsylvania and I wished I had brought along
    the F4 that was left at home two u.s. states away.
    would have taken…

  • Reply
    October 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    The OM2…oh what a thing of absolute beauty, along with the OM1 of course. I own both and never tire of telling people how great they are. The OM1 has a small issue with the mercury cell syndrome but it can be re-calibrated. The OM2 takes SR44 cells and works for months or even a year on one set. The Zuiko lenses don’t get enough praise either. I would put my 50,35 and 28 up against any other glass, Leica included. Nice blog, I just found it and I’ll be coming back regularly.

    • Reply
      James - Founder/Editor
      October 17, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m happy to hear from another Olympus fan. Enjoy that glass.

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