Bring your giant medium format camera to work

A photographer is never really putting down his camera, no matter what crazy thing she or he is doing for a living or filling the days with. Since we are not living in an ideal world, most of us have to face the limitation of time and availability of light in our everyday life.

But limitations are not necessarily bad things! They teach us to utilize our possibilities more creatively by forcing us to see and think in ways we would normally not choose to. This, of course, influences our work as well as ourselves and vice-versa. Eventually this feedback loop can contribute our personal and photographic development similarly to the way the ever-changing environment influences life forms and pushing them towards evolution.

Currently, my job is to sit in an office and convince computers to obey to the needs of their human masters. Making their lives easier by sending them nice, well formed and most importantly correct invoices. As interesting as it sounds, but it is somewhat fulfilling to my geek side which likes to brain wrestler with abstract problems.

But it makes my photographer side starve because the current situation has a very little room for photography. Especially now when the winter is coming. Days are shorter and shorter, so more and more frequently I end up to spend most of the hours filled with natural light in between walls in my natural working environment.

To overcome this obvious contradiction, I decided to make occasionally a “bring your giant medium format camera to work day“.  I started to bug my colleges and taking portraits of them during lunch brakes or when I need to wait for my computer to finish a long-lasting blocking task.

The point is, you don’t need to stop being a photographer, just because the conditions are not ideal for the kind of photography you are normally up to. Try to get out the most of the situation and who knows this might drive you to completely unforeseen paths and discoveries.

Jogi, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Jogi is a musician besides being a software engineer and in my opinion, they are making pretty cool music.  Their website http://www.theflamingdugongs.at/  is not complete yet, but worth to have a look at.

Barbara, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Janez, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Kyrylo, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 120mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Kyrylo was so pleased with his portrait that he visited me at my desk (2 floors below his place) to shake my hands right after I sent it to him.

Hannes, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Fuji Across 100, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F
Marco, Pentacon Six TL, Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm, Ilford HP5, Kodak D76, Canoscan 9900F

Naturally, it is not my top priority to photograph at work, and I always make sure that this does not have any effect on my everyday responsibilities. It took me quite a while (about 2 months) to get these images. Though they are not perfect, I enjoyed taking them they are part of my journey.

Olympus OM 4-Ti black

So far I have been writing mostly about classic cameras with full mechanical construction with only one exception the Cosina CSM with an electromechanical 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 aspect. Ladies and Gentlemen let me introduce to You the Olympus OM 4-Ti!

Olympus OM 4-Ti
Olympus OM 4-Ti

Olympus OM 4-Ti (black) Datasheet

  • 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

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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.

Focusing

While other manufacturers introduced autofocus in their cameras Olympus stuck 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 keeping 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.

Metering

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 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 lighting conditions.

In contrast, the OM-4 allows you to select up to 8 points of measurements and then 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 to measurements on the same area and one on another than the first is more important to you than the other.

A back-light situation where both the subject and the background is measured for correct overall exposure. (OM 4-Ti instruction manual)

I know it sounds 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.

multispot metering
Olympus OM 4-Ti metering and controls

All in all, for someone like me, who works 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 a similar metering system.

Finally, the OM4 features a highlight 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 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 cases, 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 underexposure correction.

Flash control

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 this kind of cameras due to the construction of the shutter and the very short burst time of typical flashguns. 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.

Durability

This camera is very well made, it is weather sealed and indeed feels solid in my hands. All buttons, switches, and knobs work 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:

  1. The OM4Ti is stored in the freezer overnight at -20C  for 8 hours.
  2. The OM4Ti went into the oven for one hour at a  temperature of 75C (Only 50C allowed according to the  manual)
  3. 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.
  4. The OM4Ti went into a steaming hot shower cabin for on  hour.
  5. The OM4Ti went into the shaking machine for a certain time.
  6. 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”
Item:   Points:

  • 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.

Conclusion

So here is the answer to 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.

Olympus OM 4-Ti vs Cosina CSM
Olympus OM 4-Ti vs Cosina CSM

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 types of equipment anymore (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 the 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.

Olympus OM4-Ti

Hunting for the 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.

In 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 about 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 at a reasonable price.

Almost 2 months after I first saw 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 getting one in any other ways.

The way it looks

Personal experience

Until now I shot only 3 rolls of film, therefore it is hard to claim that I master 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.

Ergonomics

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 is 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 “highlight” 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 mirrorless cameras but it is definitely smaller than any budget DSLR- If you consider that it is a “full-frame” camera than it is quite an achievement.

Olympus OM4-Ti

Operation

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 with them.

Battery life

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, it seems the Ti version has corrected this issue

Test shoots

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.

Márk (Gyöngyössolymos, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Fomapan 100, Kodak 76, Canoscan 9900F

Eszter (Budapest, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak portra 160NC expired, Canoscan 9900F

Eszter (Budapest, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Fomapan 100, Kodak 76, Canoscan 9900F

Temps de flors Girona 2012, Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak portra 160NC expired, Canoscan 9900F

(Budapest, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak portra 160NC expired, Canoscan 9900F

Some other OM 4-ti shoots of mine in this post.

Recommendations

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 do 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 sports shooters or in contrast for more conservative people who prefer 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.

Links

Underpass music

I admire very much photographers who are able to do street photography of any kind either shooting invisibly or by asking strangers for a photo. Although I love these kinds of photographs I did not dare to do anything like this, therefore. As you have probably noticed already I shoot my friends and relatives most of the times as the same persons appear many times on my blog. All in all, talking to and taking photos of strangers is somewhat natural for some but for most of us including myself it is a challenge.

This is fine actually, but I always try to do new things and find challenges in my photography and the temptation of getting wonderful shots on the street raised so high that eventually I asked someone for a photo and hopefully I will keep doing this practice.

It was easier than I thought, nothing bad had happened, he was very friendly and allowed me to take the shoots below. As you can see he is a musician playing guitar in many places like this underpass  I used to walk through regularly.

I know this is not really a traditional street shoot but can be considered as a street portrait similar to those Ade used to shoot with his medium format Pentax and publish on STREET PORTRAITIST blog I really like.

The camera I used is the latest member of my collection an Olympus OM 4Ti with a stellar Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens. It was the very first roll of film I moved trough of this little thing and I am quite happy with the results.

 Olympus OM 4Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F
Gábor (Szentendre, Hungary), Olympus OM 4Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

 Olympus OM 4Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F
Gábor (Szentendre, Hungary), Olympus OM 4Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

 Olympus OM 4Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F
Gábor (Szentendre, Hungary), Olympus OM 4Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

Light pollution

After the rather technical post about the true beauty Exakta Varex II, I thought it is about time to come up with something easier to digest.  I looked into my photo-stream on Flickr and found these shoots I took back in 2009. I had such a great fun by doing these I decided to share them again here.

I was in Girona (Spain) and I did many night shoots by the time so I waited for getting dark and I climbed up to a small hill nearby the town. I was pretty much amazed by the colors of the sky painted by the lights of the city.  The sky must have been covered by clouds and most of the light was reflected back to earth. This combination resulted this deep orange glow which I liked so much and gave me the sensation of walking on another planet.

In the meantime there was a big celebration in the city because as it turned out the Football Club of Barcelona won an important match that night. Therefore at some point strange sounds, sirens of alarming cars, voices of yelling people and violent explosions of fireworks broke the inner peace of my faithful photographic ritual. I am not a huge football fun so I had no idea what was going on. I thought that these people must had gone crazy down there which increased of my strange experience a lot.

Next day I thought the whole story over and I realized that I was not a tiny bit less crazy than the football fanatics. I was out alone at night on an abandoned construction site relatively far from the city  in a foreign country armed with a crap tripod and a compact camera. It sounds not so safe despite the fact that I was not really attractive and the place is generally very calm and peaceful. Well, who is crazy is always just the matter of the point of view, right?

Post apocalyptic atmosphere

Edifici Narcís Monturiol

I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic movies, games, and atmosphere overall. In fact, I really would like to participate or work on such a movie one day. Of course being a mortal I have very little chance to do it, but I had to realize that the receipt of post-apocalyptic scenery is actually very simple.

My main ingredients are some early morning mist, a high tech solar cell covered concrete building (very easy to find), an old Exakta loaded with  Kodak Gold and 2 vintage glasses (Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 and Meyer Optic Trioplan 100mm f/2.8).

For some reason, these shoots remind me of the movie Delicatessen which I can faithfully recommend to watch. OK, there aren’t any high tech in that movie, but the fog creates a similar sensation to me at the opening scenes.

This building, by the way, is a member of the Technological Park of the University in Girona in Spain and I am lucky enough to work in this strange complex. I took these photos a morning during my regular walk to work.

Interesting note that this building is named after Narcís Monturiol i Estarriol who invented the first fully functional submarine. Also interesting the fact that (as far as I know) the solar cells were actually never in use even though the construction has finished around 2009. I hope they will be operational one day. I guess there must be a bit expensive for decoration purposes only. I love the way they look like anyway.

Girona (Spain), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

Girona, Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

Girona, Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

Girona, Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

Girona, Exakta Varex IIa, Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F

Girona (Catalonia), Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F
Girona, Exakta Varex IIa, Meyer Trioplan 100mm f/2.8, Kodak Gold 200, Canoscan 9900F