If you’re hunting for a first SLR camera, there’s probably no bigger bang-for-the-buck than an Olympus OM-10. Do a quick search and you’ll find them littering garage sales and eBay like confetti after a wedding. And they’re cheap too. You can usually get one in decent condition with the standard 50mm f/1.8 lens (which is excellent, by the way) for $30. Sometimes you can get a body, case, and extra lenses for that same outlay. But 30 bucks is 30 bucks and if the camera’s no good, then you’d be better off spending your moeny on pizza or beer, right? Right. Fortunately, the OM-10 is an excellent photographic tool.
Olympus introduced the OM series of single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras in 1972 with the M-1 (later renamed the OM-1). At the time the camera caused quite a stir because it was so much smaller and lighter than anything previously available. Heft a Pentax Spotmatic or an older Nikon to get a feel for the pre-OM universe of SLRs. The OM-1 was followed by other “professional” models, including the OM-2, OM-3, and OM-4. The OM-10 arrived in 1979 and was the first of the two-digit OMs geared towards the “entry level” consumer. Olympus made some changes to bring down the production costs, and there’s no doubt that the OM-10 wasn’t designed to withstand the kind of abuse that the earlier OMs were, but apparently few cared. The camera became a massive success, which is one reason they’re so easy to find on the used market.
But, alas, familiarity breeds contempt. The OM-10 has never been regarded as highly as the single-digit members of the OM family, and their plentiful nature has made them undesirable as collectors items. But that’s a good thing if you’re looking for a camera to use, rather than something to decorate a display shelf with. Although the OM-10 hasn’t got the same rugged build as its siblings, compared to many of today’s digital SLRs, it feels substantial in a way that rubberized polycarbonate rarely does.
The OM-10 is a manual focus, aperture-priority camera. That means, you’re in charge of focusing and choosing the aperture setting, and the camera figures out what the shutter speed should be. Of the various automatic modes, I find aperture priority the most useful. That’s because I usually don’t care about the shutter speed so long as it’s not so slow that I need a tripod to avoid image blurring. What I do care about though is depth of field, which is selected by changing the aperture of the lens. You might have a different preference, but this is mine.
In the field, the OM-10 is a lot of fun. Equipped with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, the OM-10 weighs in at 606 grams (21 ounces), which makes it one of the lightest SLRs in my collection. This is also one area where the OM-10 has an advantage over the “professional” OMs — it’s a full 100 grams lighter than the OM-2. I also find is that because OM-10s are so inexpensive and readily available, I don’t handle it with kid gloves like I do some of my other SLRs. If it suffers some misfortune, well, I figure there’s always another one out there somewhere with my name on it.
One feature that drives people towards the other (more expensive) OMs is the OM-10’s lack of a manual mode. Some photographers just feel naked without this — and it’s certainly true that in difficult lighting situations, manual control is very handy. But the great thing about the OM-10 is that you actually can have manual control, thanks to a nifty plug-in adapter. So equipped, the OM-10 is the functional equivalent of the highly regarded OM-2, albeit with a little more fussing.
Firing the shutter of the OM-10, one becomes aware of one place where cost-cutting manifests itself. The OM-10 doesn’t have the elaborate dampening system found on the professional OM cameras, so releasing the shutter on an OM-10 creates a lot more noise than with an OM-2. That said, you can’t really call any SLR “quiet.” I wouldn’t use one in a theatre or any place where stealth is important. It’s also true that the OM-10 has a lot more kick-back when the shutter fires, so a tripod is likely to become necessary at faster shutter speeds than with an OM-2.
On the plus side of the ledger, the OM-10 has one important feature that the OM-2 lacks. When you engage the self timer on the OM-10, the viewfinder mirror flips up as soon as you press the shutter release. By the time the shutter actually fires (12 seconds later), the “mirror-slap” vibrations have died off. I’m not sure why this wasn’t implemented in the OM-2, except possibly Olympus felt the dampening system in the OM-2 was so good that it wasn’t necessary. In any case, this is a feature I use often and for me at least, is one reason to choose the OM-10 over the OM-2. It also saves me the bother of having to remember to carry around a cable release.
If you’re looking for a good quality, lightweight SLR, the OM-10 is worth serious consideration. Like all OM cameras, the OM-10 gives you to access a breathtaking array of Zuiko and 3rd-party lenses, as well as a host of interesting and useful accessories. And if you decide to step up to an OM-2 later, you can continue to use all your lenses and the OM-10 can serve as a capable second body. But you might just find the OM-10 is so good that you never feel the need to “upgrade.”
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