Ottico Meccanica Italiana

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Società Anonima Ottico Meccanica Italiana (OMI) was an optical equipment maker in Rome. The company was founded by Umberto Nistri in about 1924.[1] Nistri had previously founded Società per Azioni Rilevamenti Aerofotogrammetrici (SARA) with his brother Amedeo in 1921.[2] SARA conducted aerial surveys for cartography, and designed some of their own equipment.[3] OMI designed and made equipment for surveying and photogrammetry, including aerial cameras[4][5][6][7] and later more general aeronautical instruments.[8][9] Not surprisingly, given the period the firm was active, the products included military ones, including a machine-gun camera (for training gunners by filming the target 'shot' with a gun-shaped cine camera in exercises),[10] and a cryptographic machine.[11][12]

The exact relationship between SARA and OMI seems to have varied; patents up to about 1935 are in the name of 'Ottico Meccanica Italiana S.A.',[13] while later ones are in the name 'S.A. Ottico Meccanica Italiana e Rilevamenti Aerofotogrammetrici',[14] suggesting the two companies may have merged for a period, but this distinction is not consistent in all patent filings. Many patents were filed in the name of Umberto Nistri himself.

OMI was eventually purchased in 1981 by the aircraft company Agusta,[15] but several patents were still filed in the name OMI, up to 1987.[16]

SARA was reformed as Società Aerofotografie e Rilevamenti Aerofotogrammetrici S.p.A after the Second World War, by the sons of Amedeo Nistri, and still operates.[2]


OMI is known for two cameras beside its aerial products discussed above. Danilo Cecchi attributes these to OMI trying to find a civilian market after making a great deal of military goods during the War.[17] Dario Mondonico suggests that this conversion to civilian products was compulsory under post-War administration. He states that both of the cameras were made by OMI, but 'presented' by another company, SIRCE (perhaps as distributor).[18]


The Sunshine is a colour-separation camera for 35 mm film, made in about 1947.[19][20][21][22] The camera has an array of three 35 mm f/3.5 lenses arranged in a triangle in a recess in the front; the lens assembly is engraved 'Omiterna'. It makes simultaneous exposures, through red, green and blue filters, in a similar triangular array of small rectangular frames (approximately 8x11 mm[17]) in each 35 mm frame of black-and-white film, which is developed by a reversal process (to give a positive image on the film). For the very small image size, the 35 mm lenses are actually rather long.

The camera was supplied with a projector, to which the camera body can be fitted with the back removed, allowing the developed images to be projected using the taking lenses. The three filtered component images combine on the screen to form a colour image.

The camera is rather simple. The shutter has speeds 1/25 and 1/50 second, plus 'B'. There is a sliding aperture control above the lens, giving f/3.5, f/6.3 and f/9. There is a reverse-Galilean viewfinder on the top, and film advance and rewind knobs, with a frame counter. There is no focus control.

As the very low serial numbers of the cited examples suggest, few of the cameras were made. It is a curious product for its time, when several colour films were already in production in 35 mm size. Dario Mondonico states that it was invented by Giorgio and Camy Machnich, and presented by SIRCE at the Milan Fair of 1946.[18]


The Rollina is a simple 35 mm viewfinder camera, made in about 1950.[17][18] It has a Lunar 50 mm f/6.3 lens, shutter speeds 1/25 - 1/100 second, plus 'B', and an optical viewfinder.


  1. Landini, E.T. and Travaglini, (2001) Le Fabbriche della conoscenza Roma Tre nel territorio e nella riqualificazione dell’area Ostiense (Factories of Knowledge: Roma Tre in the territory and the redevelopment of the Ostiense Region); catalogue of an exhibition of industrial architecture, at the Università del Studi Roma Tre, 23-30 January 2001 (archived at Internet Archive in 2017). Page 52 discusses OMI's headquarters, built in 1937. Sources vary as to the exact date of OMI's foundation; many others say 1926.
  2. 2.0 2.1 SARA Nistri S.r.l. company website
  3. British Patent 182912 of 1922, Method of photogrammetric survey and apparatus therefor, granted to Umberto Nistri.
  4. OMI aerial camera serial no. 87-11519 for 6.5x9 cm exposures on roll film, with 13.5 cm f/3.5 Aerostigmat and roller shutter with speeds 1/200 - 1/450 second, offered for sale at the 26th Westlicht Photographica Auction (now Leitz Photographica Auction), on 22 November 2014.
  5. Pair of 125mm Omigon lenses for large-format aerial surveying use; fixed (and unmarked) aperture stop; offered for sale at the 21st Westlicht auction, in May 2012.
  6. British Patent 253142 of 1927, Improvements in film photographic cameras, granted to Umberto Nistri.
  7. British Patent 255095 of 1928, Improvements in apparatus for obtaining at adjustable intervals of time the periodical operation of a photographic or other machine, granted to Umberto Nistri.
  8. French Patent 653223 of 1929, Appareil de visée périscopique à stabilisation automatique (Automatically-stabilised periscope), granted to Umberto Nistri.
  9. US Patent 2019234 of 1935, Optical device for the control of flight granted to Umberto Nistri (an optical device to combine the displays of several flight instruments).
  10. British Patent 387549 of 1933, Improvements in photo-machine guns with driving device controlled by a windmill, granted to Umberto Nistri.
  11. British Patent 737106 of 1955, Improvements connected with cryptographic writing machines, granted to Rafaello Nistri (son of Umberto).
  12. An example of the OMI cryptographic machine at Jerry Proc's Crypto Machines.
  13. British Patent 363204 of 1931, Compass for aircraft and the like, granted to 'Ottico Meccanica Italiana S.A.'
  14. French Patent 892483 of 1944, Perfectionnements aux gyroscopes électriques de direction, granted to 'S.A. Ottico Meccanica Italiana e Rilevamenti Aerofotogrammetrici'.
  15. Italy - Aviation Industry at (in the last paragraph).
  16. Italian Patent 1171548 of 1987, Perfezionamento nei sistemi di misura del livello di liquidi del tipo capacità (Improvements in liquid level measurement systems of the capacitance type), granted to Ottico Meccanica Italiana S.p.A.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Cecchi, D (2002) L'Industria Fotografica Italiana: Terza Parte - Le 35mm dal dopoguerra ai giorni nostri (The Italian Photographic Industry: Part 3 - 35 mm from the Second World War to the present day); hosted at Nadir magazine.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 OMI cameras, including pictures of the Sunshine and Rollina, and an OMI aerial camera, at Dario Mondonico's site; text in Italian.
  19. McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). p757.
  20. Sunshine camera (serial number 0027) and projector sold at the second/third Westlicht Photographica Auction, on 23 May 2003.
  21. Sunshine camera (serial number 0076) and projector sold at the eleventh Westlicht auction, on 26 May 2007.
  22. Prototype of the Sunshine camera sold at the fifteenth Westlicht auction, on 23 May 2009.