It's been well documented over the years that I love shooting with my Olympus cameras... But how did it all start for Olympus and Me?
The year was roughly 1990 and I was about 10 years old. I remember my Dad who at the time worked for the Olympus camera distributor in Melbourne, Australia. He had his camera bag full of work samples in his company car and these samples were taken store to store and to show in the flesh the cameras, what they did and the features they had. I was frequently out with my Father on school holiday breaks doing the rounds with him to all the camera stores in Melbourne and surrounding regions.
Perhaps it was when I was being naughty or too annoying as 10 year old can be, that Dad put a camera in my hand and said, "play with this..." - I was hooked from the first handle of a camera. From memory, and checking back through the models of Olympus cameras I am pretty sure it was an Olympus IS1000. A black coloured 35mm, fixed lens, SLR. It was big, shiny and had this awesome pop-up flash function. I can remember the on/off switch on the side and it felt like some sort of weapon in my hand. It was cool, very cool!
The zoom was fast and the IR Auto focus assist light was like something from the Terminator. I used to sit in the back of the car and buzz that auto focus red beam everywhere, even more fun at night time out the side car window to unexpected speeding cars. Instant brake lights when they saw the red beam.
From that point onwards I was hooked, and hooked on Olympus. My first real Olympus camera of my own was a MJU 35mm point and shoot. This had a very sharp and fast f2 lens from memory and took brilliant images. Sadly this camera ended up on the bottom of the Franklin River here in Tasmania when I rafted the river many years ago. I even convinced a girlfriend of mine later on to buy one the same and she took it all around the world with her.
All through High School I was fixated on shooting film. Signing up for Photography class in Year 9 was a turning point for me as a 14 year old. That, and the fact there was endless rolls of 35mm black and white film to access... Unbeknown to the school photography teacher we were reeling off kilometres worth of film. It allowed me to shoot with freedom and test out many of the sample cameras Dad still had in his sales kit.
In my last year of High School I came across the pinnacle of Olympus cameras on one of the brochures Dad had in his sales bag, the Olympus OM3ti - a 35mm SLR old school film camera. Full magnesium body, weather sealed, the most advanced metering system on the market (and to this day still blows me away), 100% optical viewfinder, fully mechanical shutter, and a range of OM Zuiko lens that would attach to the front. I was in LOVE! What a stunning looking camera... it was my dream to own one... I had to have one!
"Dad. Can you get me an OM3ti?", "No! They are worth thousands of dollars and you don't need one..."
He was right. They were very expensive and this would explain why I never saw one in Dad's kit bag... they weren't to be handle by children or played with like toys... I would have to wait until I was older to finally get my hands on one, or two, or as it ends up, five in total.
From High School I went into the work force. A couple of part time jobs here and there, one being the Santa Claus photographer in a local shopping centre. It was a great job but sadly I was shooting with a Nikon, and not getting any closer to my Olympus OM3ti dream. I left that job and took up a new direction, one that took me away from photography for a period of time. I would still shoot as much as possible in my free time, but my working week was away from cameras and photography.
In time I would move through a few different jobs until Dad suggested I maybe work in a camera store, considering that I was obsessed with cameras it would be a perfect work place. What better place to work then a camera store, and with his contacts I was soon starting a new job in the busy, bustling Camera Action Camera House - now called Digidirect - right in the heart of Melbourne; Elizabeth Street - the camera retail heart of Australia.
Thrown to the lions I was propelled into the retail sector of photography. My great friend and early days mentor, Glynn Lavender of Creative Photo Workshops, took me under his wings and taught me all of the tricks in the retail sales book, and a many tricks that weren't. It was a great time working there and the team of staff were fantastic. A real family store with great, lasting friendships created.
After a few years in Camera Action I was put in charge of the secondhand cameras department. A place to buy and sell older, secondhand, mostly film cameras. It was perfect! I got to see all these classic old cameras come and go. Leica's, Nikon's , Canon's, Kodak, Zeiss, Minolta, Pentax, and so many more. I'd clean them, test them, shoot them and then place them in the window for sale.
It was only going to be a matter of time before I got my hands on my dream camera, the Olympus OM3ti... Whilst waiting for this moment I started to collect Olympus cameras, lens, bags, and anything Olympus..., even brochures that people had in their old camera bags from when they purchased the camera. I was hoarding them; I was obsessed... hahaha.
After a few months I had on my staff purchasing account a list of impressive Olympus gear. OM1's, OM2's, OM2 Spot (Brand new in a box), MJU's, Leather bags, beautiful brand new Zuiko OM 35mm lens, the works... but still no OM3ti!
Then one day, it happened!
It was an older gentleman who came into the store to trade in his old gear. A typical days event where I would be called down to assess and trade in the gear, doing all the required diligence and checks to ensure the camera wasn't stolen or missing. I did not expect to see the what I saw when I came down to the counter.
Here it was. In the flesh. An Olympus OM3ti in great, like new condition. This was amazing, but also deflating as I knew the gentleman would be wanting top dollar for his old camera to trade in against a newer, digital, 3 Megapixel camera. Surely he knew its value?
My colleague at the time, Adam, was an old hand at trading cameras and he knew exactly what I wanted. Adam stepped in to do the deal, as I was just too excited playing with the camera, pretending to test the functions, when really I was just drooling... Adam sealed the deal! But what was the cost damage...?
We waited until the customer left the store and I ran straight upstairs to Adam and to check out this new arrival. It was mint. Perfect working order, minimal marks, a great 50mm f1.4 lens attached. It was perfect, box and all.
"How much Adam, how much..?" I asked, at the same time wishing I hadn't.
"$500!" - A bargain...! I was blown away. This customer had traded in a recently discontinued model, top line model, for a 3 megapixel digital camera for $500! These babies retailed for well over $1500 new in the 1990's...
The next question... what was the Boss going to sell it to me for, knowing very well he could turn over for $1500 plus in the front window.
I grabbed the camera and to this day I can remember this discussion like it was yesterday. Paul and Sina were the owners of Camera Action and they had known me since I was a young boy through my Father calling on their store to sell Olympus cameras. I pleaded with them but not enough to show just how important this camera was to me. After some minutes I was stuck on my price... I looked at Sina. I looked at Paul. "Come on guys, I will pay it off my staff account in no time..."
"$1000 Cam", said Paul - "Now go do some work!"
It was a bargain of a lifetime... and Paul knew it!
It was rung up on my account before the day was out and I walked out of work with my new camera, the greatest camera every made in my opinion.
From that day onwards, it has been and always will be Olympus for me. They are a super brand of cameras. They design beautiful pieces of craftsmanship. They are innovative with their designs and features. Since Camera House days, I have moved on into a professional career as a photographer. I have been shooting with Olympus cameras for over 25 years. A quarter of a century using these beautiful machines.
I have used pretty much every Olympus camera they have ever made. From the IS series of 35mm SLR's, the old school PEN F half frame systems, the MJU point and shoot range, the E-1 and the entry into digital cameras by Olympus, to the current flagship model the OMD EM-1 Mkii.
Every single camera is still in my possession. In opposition to my Wife's opinion, you can never have enough cameras! Sorry Lisa xoxo
But the jewel in the crown is my Olympus OM3ti 35mm SLR camera. I currently own two if these beauties and still regularly shoot 35mm film on both. I have owned 5 of these over the years and each time have dreaded to part with them. They are simply a beautiful machine that allows Photographer and Camera to work in tandem and in my opinion one of the best cameras every made.
I honestly love my OM3ti and the joy it has brought to me over the years, and not to mention the photographs. I have even captured my beautiful children on this camera. A 30 year old camera still going strong as ever, and with only approx. 4000-6000 ever made, I am glad I have had the luck to own a few.
Thank you Olympus!
* Special thanks to the team at @olympus_au, and especially Karl Ludik (Key Accounts Manager) for supporting my obsession :)
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