Olympus 35 SP

Olympus 35 SP

This is another great find, but this time I paid $10 for it instead of my customary five dollars. “Why so expensive?” you might be thinking. Because it is a very special Olympus rangefinder, possibly the best fixed lens 35mm rangefinder camera that was ever made. This one dates from between 1969 and 1974.

The Olympus 35 SP  has two unique features, raising it head and shoulders above the common herd – switchable light metering that provides a spot meter facility as well as three more common center-weighted averaging method, and a seven element G Zuiko 42 mm f1.7 lens with unit focusing. This combination – of an exquisitely sharp and contrasty distortion-free prime lens combined with very precise metering – has made it a very sought-after little camera. I say little, but it has grown a fair bit beyond the 35 RC’s svelte form. It is perhaps a quarter-inch longer than the mighty Canon QL17 GIII recently featured here, but it has a better lens making the slightly bigger size well worth putting up with. Here it is:

Left to right, here’s the relative sizes of the SP – DC – RC:

The 35 RC on the right is absolutely tiny. The comparative sizes displayed  in this image makes the 35 SP appear as a behemoth, but trust me, its not. It’s still small in comparison with a Leica M. Talking of Leicas, the spot meter on the 35 SP appeared in 1969, years ahead of the spot meter in the Leica M5, which doesn’t have a center-weighted alternative mode. Score 1 to the SP. The purists will cry, but the G-Zuiko is every bit as good as glass of the same era from Wetzlar. The G designates seven elements, as it is the seventh letter… The camera that came after the 35 SP, the again lusted-after 35 RD (yes, I want one too) was a great camera, but it only was given an F Zuiko – yes, a 6 element lens. The SP has a 7th correcting element, making this one absolutely outstanding and just about unique. (The middle camera above – the 35 DC – is the same size as the RC version.)

The viewfinder is pure Olympus rangefinder. However, instead of displaying aperture and/or shutter speeds, the viewfinder top line shows – exposure values. Arcane in this digital day, but to anyone who grew up with an exposure meter this is pure gold. All you do is set the EV reading from the viewfinder onto the scale on the lens barrel. The pairing of exposure against shutter speed is fast and accurate – open the lens one stop, reduce the exposure by half – the same EV results. My first SLR, my dad’s Zeiss Icon Contaflex Super had the same system, and it worked very, very well.

Footnote – The background to these images is the cover of the vinyl version of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. I thought it appropriate as it is from the same era as the 35 SP. It’s a classic, too.

They’re both worth more than ten bucks. I love them.

Postscript – See a later blog entry – 25 August 2011 –  about the rehabilitation of this beautiful camera, covering many, many issues – wobbly lens, light seals, rangefinder alignment, removing the top, light meter, and batteries.  If you have one of these cameras in less than perfect condition, don’t despair – either consider getting it fixed, doing it yourself (but be very careful), or contact me and I might take it off your hands.

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6 comments

  1. You have a great looking website! Just found it while looking for answers to a little glitch I am having with my new Olympus 35 SP. I am having trouble with the film door staying closed once I have loaded film. If I just close the camera while empty, the door functions perfectly. But once I load film, if I shut the door and then gently press on the opposite end from the latch (say, under the spot meter button), the film door pops open. I have loaded and re-loaded the film. The camera looks like it is in mint condition except for this one difficulty. Have you encountered anything like this? Do you have any suggestions? I am super excited to use this wonderful camera!

  2. I’ve just recently got hold of a mint 35SP as a step-up from my 35RC I’ve been using for a few years. I’ll probably have to spend another couple of years trying to find an original lens hood! Which leads me onto the question, the lens hood for the 35RC has two cut-out on the front edge, one small and one large. Does anyone know why and which position the lens hood should be fitted in??

    1. I had absolutely no idea until I did a web search and found an image on flickr of a 35RC with a notched hood – it was fitted so that the big cut out is adjacent to the viewfinder, say at about 45 degrees from the top. I am guessing it is to block less of the viewfinder, as you would look through the notch in this position:

      http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3628/3396844919_bdd5113c7e.jpg

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