Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Olympus 35RC - Nearly Perfect Compact 35mm

The Olympus 35RC

This camera certainly hails as one of the gems of 35mm compact rangefinder cameras.  The 35RC has larger siblings with more features, such as the 35RD and 35SP, but the 35RC is the model that you are most likely to run across.  The compact form of this camera does not equate to a lack of features.  Instead, what you have is a small camera that can be taken anywhere and allow you to reliably take photos without a lot of fiddling about.

First appearing in 1970, the Olympus 35RC is a shutter-priority auto-exposure rangefinder camera that has manual over-ride. The shutter speeds range from B, 1/15-1/500 sec. The lens is a 42mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens that focuses from 3 feet to infinity. While the camera's dimensions of 4.5" L x 2.8"H x 2"D is pretty small, the all-metal body has a weight of about 15 ounces. The top-mounted shutter speed dial is easy to use, and has enough settings for most uses.  Having a B setting is especially useful for night photography.  The only oddball thing is that the front filter ring is 43.5mm!  If you can find a step-up ring that would allow the use of a 46mm filter, the ability to mount various filters would be a nice benefit. I used to have the slip-on lens hood, but lost it somewhere.

However, as-is, the 35RC is capable of taking sharp, crisp images with its excellent glass.  All of the controls seem precise.  According the excellent Camera Quest site, the Olympus 35RC is probably the smallest 35mm RF camera with auto-exposure (AE) and manual override.  Both shutter speed and aperture are visible in the viewfinder.  My 35RC's viewfinder has the shutter speed stuck a 1/15 sec, no matter what the setting, but AE works fine at any shutter speed that's set on the top dial. On AE, the shutter will lock if the light is too dim or too bright for the metering range (EV 7-18).  The minimum aperture of f/22 allows faster film to be used at slower shutter speeds.  The ISO range is 25-800, which is pretty much what anyone would need.  Of course, this is a 1970's camera, so no DX-coding is used.  The off switch on the camera's barrel is an excellent feature that saves battery juice and locks the shutter as well. There is automatic flash exposure via the use of Guide Numbers.  That is a great feature that I have only previously seen on the Canon QL-17. In use, you set the Guide Number (GN) to that of the flash, and as you focus, the camera will auto set the aperture, which provides good control of the flash exposure.  Any manual flash can be used. The hot shoe allows flash sync at all shutter speeds - try that with your SLR!

Some Caveats -- 
While the Olympus 35RC originally took a Mercury PX625, you can elect to use a Wein Cell, a hearing-aid battery, or just go with an LR-44 button cell with 1.5V.  If you are using b&w or C-41 film, the exposure difference usually will not matter.  Or, go with a MR-9 Mercury Cell adapter   Note that there are other adapters online with the same name, but do not have the microcircuitry that the Criscam adapter has. The fakes only allow the use of hearing aid cells, not silver-oxide cells.  I have used my 35RC with LR-44 cells and I cannot complain about the exposures.

The manual override does not use the meter - but if your meter is working, you can easily use that for a guide, or just go with sunny-16 if you wish.

There has been some doubt that the 35RC's top shutter speed is actually 1/500 sec, due to it being only a 2-bladed shutter.  My Phochron XA shutter tester gave me the following readings on my camera:
dial      actual
1/15 - 1/14.3
1/30 -  1/29.7
1/60 -  1/60.2
1/125- 1/124
1/250- 1/303
1/500- 1/542 (varied  from 1/530-1/566)

Not too bad, and certainly within the tolerance range. Of course, this is a 45+ year-old camera!

Marc Akemann, 2009 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum
on Ektar 100.
In use, the camera feels precise, and the controls are easy to use.  The camera is small enough that I just used a wrist strap with it.  It fits easily into a jacket pocket, and of course, is a great travel companion.  I think the Olympus 35RC deserves more love. It's certainly a more usable camera than a Rollei 35, and if you can find the appropriate filters and a snap-on lens hood, you will be set for just about anything.  The 42mm focal length is not as wide as some compacts (38 being more common), but it is certainly close to a "normal" lens.  The compact nature of this camera and its simple, yet effective controls make it a classic in any book.  I have previously published posts on this camera, and this will probably be the last one I do on the 35RC, as it is going to the big online auction.  I am trimming down my cameras, and the ones that have been not getting much use lately are leaving. 


Jim Grey said...

I love that you tested the shutter! Very useful.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you're using the Phochron tester Mark! That little Olympus is on my watch list....