IN THE FIELD
The OM-3 is a camera for purists: Unlike the vast majority of single-lens reflex (SLR) models, it offers no exposure automation. To set the exposure, the user adjusts the lens-aperture and/or shutterspeed settings to match a liquid-crystal (LCD) bar to a mark in the viewfinder.
Such a system would hardly be worth using just to make conventional centerweighted averaging exposure readings—an automatic camera could do so more conveniently. But in addition to the usual averaging meter, the OM-3 has a narrow-reading “spot” meter. This measures about two percent of the picture area, as delineated by the microprism focusing ring in the center of the viewfinder.
A button next to the shutter-release activates the spot meter, which takes and memorizes a reading each time the button is pushed. In backlighted or spotlighted scenes, one need only make a spot reading of the main subject, to preserve detail where it’s wanted.
With stationary subjects, the user can make up to eight spot readings, which the camera will average. (The user still must set this average value.) Once you figure out the markings on the unnumbered LCD scale in the viewfinder, you can use it to determine if all significant subject areas are within the film’s brightness-recording range. Eight readings are more than you need for the great majority of scenes, but two or three can be very useful in contrasty light.
Meters that measure light reflected from the subject—including all camera meters—assume that subject is medium gray. If the subject is lighter or darker than that, using a straight meter reading will render it too dark or too light, respectively. The OM-3 offers an elegant way around this problem, by allowing the user to “bias” spot readings either up or down.
For example, while covering the Consumer Electronics Show (see our coverage, page 56), I used the OM-3 to shoot some new video products, most of which were black. I would take a single spot reading, then press the small “Shadow” button next to the OM-3’s spot control. This adjusted the LCD readout so that it now called for about 2V2 stops less exposure. With Kodak Tri-X film, this exposure preserved texture in the black areas while retaining detail in the highlights.
The “Hi Light” button causes a similar shift in the opposite direction. I found this quite useful when shooting very light subjects, such as vibrant yellow underwater video equipment. All spot readings are automatically cleared from the camera’s memory when the exposure is made, but because this is a manual camera, the actual settings remain.
In most respects, the OM-3 follows Olympus’ usual design approach: a very small and lightweight camera body, with the shutter-speed-setting ring around the lens mount. Most other controls are conveniently located on the top, including the rewind button, battery check, and combined film-speed/exposure-bias ring.
This knurled ring is used to change the exposure-bias setting, although I don’t know why a photographer with access to the OM-3’s sophisticated spot meter would use an inherently less precise exposure-bias dial. To change the ISO filmspeed setting, you pull up and turn the same knurled ring. As the ISO setting is changed, so is the exposure bias. Thus, you must remember to return the bias dial to its neutral setting or risk an improperly exposed picture.
A knurled wheel next to the eyepiece allows the user to adjust the viewfinder image over a range of -f 1 to — 3 diopters. This should help a lot of people with lessthan-perfect vision.
The OM-3’s shutter is mechanically controlled, which allows the camera to operate at all shutter speeds even without batteries. This is an advantage for photographers who work in very cold weather, which makes batteries less reliable, or far from civilization, where you usually are when the batteries expire.
The Olympus 50-mm Zuiko AutoMacro f/2 lens combines the speed of a normal lens with the close-focusing abilities of a macro. At normal ranges, the lens is fast enough for most available-light work, and at all distances, the large aperture makes focusing easier. Image quality is excellent at normal and close distances, but the lens is heavier and bulkier than I would have liked.
The OM-3 very successfully does what it is supposed to do. But I think that most photographers would be more comfortable with a camera that offers both spot metering and an automatic-exposure option. Two such models from Olympus are the OM-4 and OM-2S. O