I caught a glimpse of the opening sequence to the 1989 James Bond film ‘License To Kill’ again today.

Fascinating once more was to see a champagne finish Olympus OM 4Ti camera (1987) in the opening credits. Fascinating because I worked for Olympus and had seen a lot of the original OM4 and OM3 35mm film cameras (1983). And an Olympus in the opening credits was quite something, because until then, and afterwards, Nikon had largely been the manufacturer on show.

And as many know, I was the ‘Advisor On Photography’ for the Nikon Corporation for many years. And going back all the way to the Rank corporation days – the distributor of Nikon before Nikon UK – the brands cameras were seen in Bond films. But great product placement no matter the brand. And something companies the world over are only too happy to be associated with to this day, no matter their product line.

But it is to Olympus I want to give credit here because the original OM4 and OM3 introduced what I believe to this day, are the most capable film cameras in terms of user control for exposure metering incorporating as they did what was known as multi spot metering. Few have offered that since and without meaning to be disrespectful, it really did need to be in the hands of a seasoned practitioner. Earlier on I remember many were using the multi-spot readings and in effect, ending up with a pretty average meter reading result for example. Ironically, they could have got similar with the alternative centre weighted metering system on board, something that was common across brands at the time.

I suspect that also explains why this most capable concept was quickly superseded by multi pattern metering first in the Nikon FA of 1983 and has now become defacto across pretty much all cameras and brands even with digital capture. It took the opposite approach and presumed little previous user experience and worked things out for itself as best could.

I already had a technical understanding and interest in metering concepts before I joined Olympus, but that certainly catapulted things and I was grateful because many years later, I was able to write widely about metering concepts, run workshops and showcase advanced handheld meters for some manufacturers. Not overlooking the fact that I have used that knowledge shooting professionally.

The original OM4 and OM3 models were available only in black. Sadly they suffered as did the OM 2SP (1984) from quite an appetite for the batteries. An amount of battery drain that many found understandably unacceptable. I think it has been documented in the past that this was down to the type of circuitry that Olympus purchased, which was originally meant for audio equipment, and unsuitable for the needs of the camera. That is a real shame and I think in reality, that probably was in professional user terms, the end of the road for this brand in many peoples minds.

There were some fixes, or should I say attempted ones for this, but I remain to this day unconvinced that they work. I can still tell which Cameras have had those modifications because they were subtle physical changes made to indicate this. The reality was that many ended up removing batteries until needed. The OM3 was a purely mechanical manual exposure camera when you did that, and would work completely at every shutter speed just the loss of the metering. The OM4 had a mechanical speed of 1/60th of a second, not uncommon for that time, which allows the camera operation only that speed without batteries and no metering.

Sadly at the time it diminished my admiration for the brand, such was the problem. But I have to say years later, I once again was able to look at things from a more distant perspective, and admire just how good those cameras were in so many ways. I would, for the metering capability, alongside the OM system concept of small product size when others were significantly larger, rate them as amongst the finest 35mm SLR cameras that were made.

The champagne OM4-Ti was later superseded by a black finish version (1990) and I’m pleased to say I am the proud owner of one of these. It gets a fairly regular run out throughout a year and is an absolute pleasure to use when that metering system enables a draw upon the skills learned decades ago. But for many, the ultimate OM film camera is a very rare beast OM 3Ti (1995), the last of the great Olympus models in the series.

Today, of course, the histogram is the go too and ultimate metering/exposure tool for digital capture assessment. Even though multi spot metering can have a role certainly. But with these film cameras or a hand held meter offering similar capabilities you have at your disposal the most capable tool potentially for ambient light assessment when shooting film.
The Ti models solved the battery issues and also combined with the F280 flash unit gave flash sync up to the cameras fastest shutter speeds, a capability it would take many others a long time to offer. High speed sync has proved it was a powerful introduction on these cameras for what we now call full frame.

So thank you Mr Bond for the trip down memory lane.

Best wishes and good photography.

John (07/03/24).