Olympus OM-G: An introduction to the OM-System

Olympus OM-G front
Olympus OM-G front view. It’s not very big, but it is the “low end” model of the OM-System line. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The OM-G is the second-generation entry-level camera in Olympus’ OM-System line of SLRs. The OM line are widely regarded as among the best Olympus cameras ever.

I’ve had quite a few Olympus cameras as my collection has grown, and I’ve reviewed the 35SP and 35RC rangefinders, and mentioned the XA2 and now the OM-G.

The Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens feels cheap but is reasonably sharp and feels good in the hand. (Daniel J. Schneider)
The Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens feels cheap but is reasonably sharp and feels good in the hand. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I picked it up at the flea market. I think it was priced at $30 and I offered $20 because it was filthy and covered in decaying bits from its “neveready” case. I was rebuffed.

I passed the same table a while later, when vendors were starting to pack up and leave, and saw it was still there. I told the seller I was still interested at $20, and they grudgingly took it — to avoid packing it back up.

Writing that down, I worry it sounds like I’m out to get the best possible deal at the expense of the seller.

Olympus controls on the lens
Among my least favorite features is the shutter-speed ring on the lens mount, though it does put all the controls in one place. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I know I drive a hard bargain, but $20 was all I was prepared to pay for this thing. I encourage you to offer your best price and walk away if they can’t meet it, whether you’re selling or buying. If a seller isn’t willing to part with an item for the price you offer, they won’t — or if they do anyway, they’ve no justification for feeling they’ve got the short end of the stick.

That’s my feeling on the matter, anyway. Your mileage may vary. But if you can’t afford a camera or accessory, or you’re really sure the price is too high, don’t buy it. Definitely set limits for yourself, or you’ll wind up with a house full of cameras like mine. I truly dread the idea of moving again. My cameras and photo stuff could fill the Jeep twice.

So, why did I buy it? Well, it was an opportunity to give the OM-System a try at a reasonable price. Up to that point I hadn’t found the system tempting enough at any price I’d seen, but when I picked up the OM-G and looked through the viewfinder, I liked what I saw.

By the numbers

Released in 1983, the OM-G — called the OM-20 in some markets — was a relatively small upgrade from the first entry-level OM-System camera, the OM-10. The “amateur” models, OM-10/20/30/40 shared a common lens mount with Olympus’ professional series SLRs, the OM-1/2/3/4.

Olympus OM-G controls
The Olympus OM-G has a plastic film advance lever, and with the shutter speed on a ring behind the lens, the knob on top becomes exposure compensation. (Daniel J. Schneider)

While the OM-10 featured aperture priority autoexposure, the OM-G added a built-in manual mode in the compact body (an accessory was required on the OM-10). It’s a tad thicker than a Nikon FG/FE/FM, but narrower and with a smaller pentaprism housing.

It’s worth noting that the OM-10 was still available concurrently with the OM-G for several years.

The OM-G added a PC socket for flash sync, contacts for a power-winder, and LED over-exposure warning and mode lights in the viewfinder. The OM-G also moved the shutter speed control — a knob protruding from the front of the body on the OM-10 — to a ring surrounding the lens mount.

Available shutter speeds range from 1 sec. to 1/1000 sec., as well as bulb, with flash sync at 1/60 sec. and below (indicated by blue numbers on the shutter speed ring).

With the shutter speeds controlled by the ring behind the lens mount, the knob to the right of the viewfinder — necessary because it’s where you set the film speed, from ASA 25 to ASA 1600 — is free to take on the function of setting exposure compensation. You can flip from -2 to +2 in 1/3-stops.

Pavilions north stair
A staircase at the northern end of the Denver Pavilions mall, on a sunny-but-cold spring day. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Beneath the exposure compensation/film speed dial is a lever to set the self-timer. Pulling the lever back enables the self-timer, which runs for about 15 seconds before triggering the shutter. It beeps the whole time.

The shutter button is threaded for a cable release. The rewind knob is big and round, with a long flip-out crank. On the front of the body just below the shutter release is the take-up spool release. Instead of a button, it’s a switch that rotates 1/4-turn to release the take-up spool for rewinding (or for making multiple exposures).

Surrounding the rewind knob is a ring that acts as a mode/power switch — it includes positions for battery check (illuminates a red LED by the lens mount and emits an electronic tone), auto (aperture-priority autoexposure mode), off (turns off the meter but will still power the shutter and will use autoexposure), manual (just turns on the meter), and a B for bulb mode (which overrides the setting on the shutter speed ring).

There’s a hot shoe on the top, which is neatly molded into the shape of the pentaprism housing. The bottom plate features a standard tripod socket and motor drive connections. And there is a somewhat superfluous ‘grip’ screwed to the right side of the front of the body.

1617 California Street
Modern balconies adorn the back of the remodeled 1617 California Street, a narrow building converted to apartments. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The lens I got with the camera and used for my tests was an Olympus OM-System Zuiko 50mm f/1.8. It’s plasticky, but the front element is pretty big and the glass looks nice. It takes pretty sharp pictures with just a touch of distortion that I noticed, and no significant chromatic aberration.

A side note on lenses: I’m not a pixel-peeper and don’t plan to be, so my remarks on lenses are meant to be pretty general and address only the obvious stuff. If something really looks like crap, or is so good it rivals my best Nikon or Zeiss glass, I’ll let you know.

The focusing screen features a central ring of some sort of grid akin to a microprism ring, and a split-image dot in the center.

Lastly, the Olympus OM-G uses two easy-to-obtain SR44/AS76 batteries. Because the shutter is completely electronically controlled, unlike the Fujica ST-605N, the OM-G won’t do anything without working batteries. In fact, if you fire the shutter with dead batteries the mirror will get stuck about halfway up and the shutter release and film advance will lock.

How it handles

I was pretty excited about the OM-G when I slid it into my bag because OM-System cameras have inspired such a following. I can’t tell you I fell in love with the system, but I can respect those who do and understand how they could. It seems like a good system.

Light rail queue at Stout
People queue to get on and off the light rail train at the Stout Street station adjacent to 16th Street Mall, Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I found the controls felt sloppy, though. Now that could be age as much as design — this camera is 30+ years old, after all. But the use of plastic for knobs and levers, and the relative lack of visible wear on this particular camera, lead me to believe it probably never did feel a whole lot tighter.

I suspect the same age/design debate applies to the sloppy, slappy mirror. Every time you depress the shutter release you can hear the mirror smack up and then b-b-b-b-bounce back down like a Chrysler Imperial sailing over a speed hump, its back end flailing around with lost or overwhelmed shock absorbers.

The mirror slap is so pronounced that it makes me wonder whether it might contribute unduly to camera shake at slower shutter speeds, although I saw no clear evidence of that in my test shots. I did nearly all my testing in daylight, though, so I didn’t do much with slower shutter speeds.

All the markings on the camera are in big, clear sans-serif type, easy to read and easy to select from.

The exposure compensation knob next to the shutter release is a mixed blessing. It’s a really handy feature, especially these days with used camera buyers trying all kinds of different or expired films. It’s also ridiculously easy to turn, especially by accident. Maybe it wouldn’t be a problem for someone with more slender fingers, but for my big fingers it’s easy to misadjust it merely by operating the shutter release.

Mike's Camera, vacant
After a sudden and extreme rent hike, the Mike’s Camera store that only moved in a few years ago is already vacant on Denver’s 16th Street Mall. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Despite the plastic construction and slop in the lever, the film advance has a fairly short throw and makes it easy to rapidly cycle through the frames, even without the power winder attachment.

Like the Fujica ST-605N’s 55mm, this 50mm Zuiko lens is fine-threaded and makes fine focusing pretty easy. The viewfinder being really big and bright doesn’t hurt, either.

The keyword on the OM-G, though, is positioning. A lot of common controls — controls that every SLR has and needs, and keeps in roughly the same place — are relocated. I think with time and familiarity this wouldn’t really matter, but it made testing the OM-G painfully difficult for me at times.


  • The shutter speed dial. What’s wrong with a dial on top? The ring behind the lens mount sounds convenient on paper, but in practice it’s not that easy to operate at the ends of its range (and you wind up at 1/1000 sec. a lot if you’ve got ASA 400 film in and it’s sunny out). You can’t actually see what’s selected in the viewfinder, just the speed recommended by the meter. And you can’t just tilt the camera a little bit to see the speed, either — you have to flip it completely over.
  • The aperture control ring. It seems like such a small thing, but having the aperture all the way at the front of the lens is just so … wrong. Every other SLR camera I own, and even most rangefinders, put the aperture ring behind the focusing ring.
  • The take-up spool release. The spool release switch on the front — where the self timer or depth-of-field preview button should be — is just totally counter-intuitive to me. I suppose that, on paper, it make multiple exposures easier. But it took me a couple minutes to figure out (read: remember) each time I finished a roll of film.
  • The self-timer. On the OM-G the self-timer lever gets a place of relative prominence, right next to the shutter release and film advance, despite generally being a seldom-used feature. And I actually managed to get it turned on a couple times by accident.
  • The exposure compensation knob is somewhat in this category, too — if it weren’t so close to the shutter release it wouldn’t matter as much that it’s so easy to change because it would be harder to move it by accident.
Alleyways vintage-style lights
Strands of vintage-style light bulbs criss-cross an alley in the shadow of a fire escape in downtown Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Focusing is smooth and the ring is in a good place. The knurled band is rubber and a tad proud of the rest of the lens barrel, making it really easy to find by feel. The knurls are sharply cut and well-defined, but very comfortable under the fingertips.

Crude oil, 300 bbl
NFPA 704 “fire diamonds” and “flammable” stickers adorn thousands of crude oil condensate tanks in Weld County, Colo. This one indicates the contents are a minor irritant (left, blue panel), non-reactive with water (yellow, right panel) and will burn readily and completely vaporize at normal ambient temperatures (red, top panel). (Daniel J. Schneider)

The viewfinder feels really big and is quite bright. The split-image focusing aid is easy to miss on first look — the line between the two halves is so faint it’s hard to find without intentionally getting the focus out of whack and pointing the camera at a fence or lamppost.

The flip-up winder lever struck me as slightly more difficult to open than necessary, but not because it was difficult to move — just because it was difficult to get a fingernail or finger tip under it and start the process.

In spite of some slop, plastic bits and questionable design choices, the OM-G feels very solid and well-made. And the size is great for a walking-around camera. It’s substantial enough to be comfortable and usable in my meaty hands, but it’s still pretty small.

In summary

It worries me that this review may sound critical — but take it as constructive criticism. This camera is really pretty good. It’s just a little bit … off. Nothing stand much chance against some of the competition in my collection, though.

I’ll give this one a 3-star rating, but would still recommend it to those looking for its specific design features or willing to spend a little money building a fairly inexpensive system of decent-quality bodies and lenses.

If you get one as a gift, keep it. If you see one cheap, get it. If you’re specifically looking to try the OM-System, this seems like a fine introduction.

Here are some more of my test images:

Alley in black and white
The alley between Champa and Curtis Streets on 16th Street Mall in Denver. The four murals in the alley each incorporate a streak of paint that appears to be flowing down to the alley’s storm drains. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Colorado Building fire escape
The fire escape on the back of the Colorado Building on 16th Street Mall in Denver. The Colorado building was completed in 1891. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Condensate tank, Weld County
300-barrel crude oil condensate tanks dot the landscape of Weld County, Colo., in 2015. These small tanks near source wells allow associated gas to escape and collect crude that later will be transported to larger storage facilities or pipelines. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Bicycle alley
One of my favorite alleys in Denver is this one next to the Rialto Cafe, on the 16th Street Mall between Champa and Curtis Streets, (Daniel J. Schneider)
Bicycle alley, Denver
Along the 16th Street Mall, bollards, pipes and gas meters in alleyways become makeshift bike racks as hundreds who cycle to work chain their bikes up wherever they can. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Holiday lights on a tree
Holiday lights adorn a tree on Denver’s 16th Street Mall. The lights are lit for several months surrounding the holidays, but many of them remain, unlit, all year long. (Daniel J. Schneider)
This “I (heart) 16th Street Mall” sign appeared in a number of businesses’ windows in early 2015. The City of Denver is exploring options to revitalize the mall. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Only in Colorado store
A staple on the 16th Street Mall for as long as I can remember, the Only in Colorado store sells a vast array of merchandise you could only otherwise find by scouring every tourist trap in the state. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Bicycle alley
One of my favorite alleys in Denver is this one next to the Rialto Cafe, on the 16th Street Mall between Champa and Curtis Streets, (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Olympus OM-G 35mm camera
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