The OM-1 is a totally mechanical camera – it does have a light meter, but the use of that is up to you, you can keep it turned off if you wish. The meter takes a 1.35v mercury cell anyway, which is impossible to get since they are banned all over the world. Although you can use a 1.5 volt silver oxide cell, it does require compensation since the incorrect voltage gives a reading that is a full f stop off, if not more.

Some owners have taken the drastic step of having their meters re-calibrated for the newer batteries, but there are very few OM camera technicians around who can do a good job. Who needs more scratches on the camera anyway? Besides, you might not want to spend the extra $$. It probably costs more than what you paid for the camera in the first place. However, if you do want to take the plunge, I’ve heard the folks at Zuiko.com and Camtech do a great job.

More often than not, the meters on these old gems are flaky anyway, since the light sensing selenium cells are shot. So, I thought I would try using the old Sunny 16 rule with one of the OM’s to see what kind of pictures would result. Besides, from the early days, photographers had been using “guesstimates” for their exposures, before light meters came along and made our lives easier. But it also made us dependent upon the technology. So much so that all the later OM cameras will not even work without batteries. Not so the venerable OM-1. It works just fine at all shutter speeds. No batteries needed. It even has a mirror lock-up to avoid the noisy mirror slap of most SLRs.

Pre-lightmeter photography gurus had worked out the Sunny 16 rule over the years, and it is simplicity itself. In essence -You have a manual camera which can operate without a light meter, such as an OM-1 – maybe the meter has flaked out when you are in the field, or your battery has run down, or whatever. No need to panic. This is how it works.

We need to do 2 things – figure out a workable shutter speed, and figure out a aperture opening (f/stop) for the light conditions we are working under.

1. You know the speed of the film you are using. Let us assume it’s 200 ASA.
2. Set the shutter speed as 1/film speed (as near as possible, so don’t worry) – since there is no 1/200 sec setting on the OM-1, we will set shutter speed as 1/250 sec.
3. Now for the light conditions – look at the table, and decide what kind of light we are working with.
4. Set aperture suggested for the light conditions – f/16 for bright and sunny etc.
5. Adjust for subject (open up 1/2 stop or stop down 1/2 stop as you think fit – Its easier to just bracket the shot. Take one at the suggested setting, then take 2 more at 1/2 stop increment or decrement on either side)
6. Shoot away. Keep your eye on the light conditions – if it changes, adjust aperture accordingly.

I have been experimenting a bit, and the following table works for me, since I use 200 ASA film most of the time. I strongly advise that everyone should play around with their equipment settings until they figure out what works best with their particular camera, and of course, their preferences for image contrast and exposure. Besides, modern photographers have another thing in their favor… modern 35 mm film. The advanced film emulsions available to us today are very forgiving – medium speed films have a range of up to 4 stops, which is enormous, considering that with the Sunny 16 rule, you will be off by at most 1/2 stop or so under or over exposed.

Retro-photography – doing what the old timers did before fancy exposure meters were available.

Set this Lens Opening for this Light Level when Shadow Type is
and Film Speed with Shutter speed at
f/22 Bright Sun, Snow, Concrete etc well defined 200 ASA ~1/250
f/16 Bright Sun, flat light dark, well defined 200 ASA ~1/250
f/16 Sunny, some clouds (flat light) well defined 200 ASA ~1/250
f/11 Slight Overcast (slightly bluish) Soft around edges 200 ASA ~1/250
f/11 Medium Overcast (bluish cast) Poorly defined 200 ASA ~1/250
f/8 Overcast (blue cast) Barely visible 200 ASA ~1/250
f/5.6 Heavy Overcast (blue cast) No shadow 200 ASA ~1/250
f/4 Sunrise/Sunset (reddish yellow cast) Long Shadows, raking light 200 ASA ~1/250

If you’re planning on using filters, make sure that you compensate aperture settings accordingly – Remember, there are no hard rules about filters – its always to your taste, so go with what pleases YOU. Lots of people LIKE the reddish-yellow cast of early morning and late evening light. If you’re one of them, trying using a Warming filter during sunrise/sunset, or for really spectacular red highlights, try a 85B filter. It’ll knock your socks off :).

Here is the Sunny 16 table with suggested filters and aperture settings compensated for the particular filters suggested for color or black & white.

Light Level Suggested Filter for color film
Suggested Filter  for B & W film
Compensated Aperture
Bright Sun, Snow, Concrete etc Circular Polarizer for color saturation/also cuts reflected light Yellow or Green f/11-f/16
Bright Sun, flat light Circular Polarizer for color saturation Yellow or Green f/8-f/11
Sunny, some clouds, (flat light) Circular Polarizer for color saturation Deep Yellow, Orange or Red f/8-f/11
Slight Overcast, Hazy Warming Filter 81A to compensate for bluish cast Yellow or Orange f/8
Medium Overcast (bluish cast) Warming Filter 81A/812 to compensate for blue cast Yellow f/8
Overcast (blue cast) Warming Filter 81A/812 to compensate for blue cast No filter needed f/5.6-f/8
Heavy Overcast (blue cast) Warming Filter 81A/812 to compensate for blue cast No filter needed f/4-f/5.6
Sunrise/Sunset (reddish yellow cast) Blue Filter 80B to compensate for reddish yellow cast; 85B filter for enhanced reds. No filter needed, use Orange or Red filter for special effects to darken sky f/2.8-f/4

Note -This table works for me with normal Daylight color film. Panchromatic black & white film does not have as wide a latitude as color film does so you’ll have to be a little more careful. In any case, I’d advise that all important shots be bracketed by 1/2 stop just to be on the safe side.

Here are some examples – I used a Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens with Fuji Xtra 200 film. Aperture and shutter settings are according to the table above.

Sunny conditions, 50mm, 1/250 sec, f/16
Light Overcast conditions, 50mm, 1/250 sec, f/11
Medium Overcast conditions. 50mm, 1/250 sec, f/8
Overcast conditions, 50mm, 1/250 sec, f/5.6

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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