Camera Reviews

Olympus OM4Ti - An Ageing Titan

My world collided with this model back in 1991 as part of an exercise to upgrade my existing gear and provide my OM1n with some relief, as this had been the only camera I owned for nine years and I was concerned that a breakdown would leave me camera less for the duration of a repair. This bothered me more when a once in a lifetime opportunity arose, where the results were significantly more precious.

Olympus OM4Ti

I had not really followed closely the development of the OM system since buying my OM1n, but was aware of other models being produced. So it came as some surprise in 1991 that the only models available new were the OM101 and OM4Ti. What had happened to the OM2 series, OM3’s and 4’s? I guess the 4 evolved into the 4Ti, but the others had been discontinued and available from the used market only. So I felt at a bit of a photographic crossroads and considered switching brands as my investment in the system was very low up until this point, and the 4Ti was an expensive upgrade.

The Pentax LX was on my shortlist but after handling one at a show, the shutter seemed far too noisy for my taste (but the build and design was beautiful). Shortly after this I was passing a camera store and stopped off to have a look around. To my surprise they had a 4Ti in stock and the urge to handle it was irresistible. As soon as I had it in my hands it felt right…there were lots of features but it retained the essence of the OM1n in its size and the positioning of many of the controls. The price tag seemed hefty but my justification would be that it should last me many years, being a professional grade model. And it was with these thoughts that I took the camera home.

After more than two decades my justification remains true as it continues to provide flawless service so much so, that I purchased a second one as a backup at the time the OM System was discontinued.

This model carries over much of the DNA found on its predecessor, the OM4 and at a glance they can be easily confused (although there was an early champagne finish 4Ti and the 4 was only produced in black). A closer inspection reveals some subtle changes, apart from the ‘Ti’ inclusion (or ‘T’ in the US) in the model name, two additional hot shoe contacts are present, allowing full shutter speed synchronisation with the F280 flash. The self-timer LED shape has also changed, from circular to oblong (ish). Also, the flash ready light in the viewfinder changed colour from red to green. The 4Ti is 30 grams lighter, no doubt due to the use of titanium in its top and bottom plates. And in well used models a significant difference can be found here; The Ti paint wears to an ugly dull grey colour but the 4 shows a warm gold colour due to it being machined from brass. The paint wears far easier on the Ti too, as it is difficult to get paint to adhere to Titanium. In retrospect the finish should have been anodised similar to the 3Ti. There were also several modifications to the circuit boards to provide better reliability and resolve battery drain problems.

The most noticeable change for me when compared to my OM1n, was the inclusion of a mutli-spot metering system. I must admit to being a little wary of it initially, but after some trial and error it was not long before I got the hang of it and soon became totally dependent, favouring it for 99% of my images. Even today when I use this camera, my ‘go to’ settings include use of the multi spot meter.

Used correctly, it is deadly accurate, giving perfect exposures time after time. Highlight and shadow functions are also provided which do an excellent job of giving rich blacks and white whites.

When the bright ‘2’ series focus screens were made available, I exchanged the standard 1.13 for the 2.13 equivalent. This in conjunction with my 50mm f1.2 lens, leaves me with no excuses for poorly focussed subjects, and makes composing images a real pleasure. Other lenses, such as the slower 300mm f4.5 telephoto and 80mm f4macro lenses are also much easier to obtain critical focus thanks to this screen. My second 4Ti now contains a 2-4 screen providing a view uninterrupted by the spilt image micro prism.

Olympus OM4TiThe viewfinder is one of the best I have used; the image is large, bright and uncluttered, displaying around 97% of the image. Nothing gets in the way of composure other than the viewfinder aids included on the focus screen. All exposure information is defined in a blue and white LED that runs below the bottom of the viewfinder. This can be illuminated by pressing a small button on the prism housing and is very useful when dim conditions prevail.

Features I rarely use are the memory and exposure compensation controls. I have never really found myself in a situation that would benefit from the built in memory and the exposure compensation dial seems moot due to the spot metering system’s accuracy.

The camera has both Auto and Manual modes of operation, and I tend to use it in auto most of the time as it makes shooting in aperture priority a pleasure. Occasionally I will switch to manual but it adds little advantage to my shooting style…I tend to use the 3Ti for this kind of work as it is a fully manual and mechanical body.

The flash technology built into the 4Ti was a real break though when introduced in the mid 1980’s. Combined with the F280 flashgun, it offers synchronisation at all shutter speeds, up to 1/2000th second. This is superb when taking outdoor portraits as it allows a wide aperture to be selected to isolate the subject from the background. The downside to this is that the flash has a very limited range. I have also found it very useful when used off camera with macro subjects; sometimes I like to shoot macro wide open which means the shutter speed exceeds the cameras sedentary 1/60th second flash synchronisation speed. Switching to FP mode gets around this problem and allows incredible control. Super FP mode has been incorporated in many flash systems since, but it is nice to use the model that started it all off.

It is good that in an age of digitized technologies, this type of camera has found a niche. Purchasing an OM camera of this calibre will mean, if not abused, that you will have it for a very long time - possibly for life. I have the greatest respect for todays SLR technology, but I doubt any modern digital counterparts will have anything like the service life that cameras such as the 4Ti have. The impending problem with these 80’s models is one of spare parts. Circuit boards are still available for the 4Ti but supplies will eventually be depleted and then it will be donor bodies that are cannibalized for spares.

I enjoy using the 4Ti very much, and would never wish to be without it. However, my OM1n is more special to me, probably due to having it for so long. Even today I would recommend the OM4Ti for its reliability, exquisite design, incredibly accurate metering system and durability. It also harmoniously keys into an excellent lens and accessory system.Prices for them have fallen greatly in the last few years, so now is the time to try out what in my opinion is the best 35mm film SLR ever made.