Month: March 2011

The Olympus 35 RC – “Richard”

My previous blog post noted that one of my first cameras was the diminutive Olympus 35 RC, known the world over with a degree of familiarity as the “Richard” by Olympus fans. Here it is:

I can’t remember when I bought this beautiful little shooter, but it would have been around 1975 or 76. I remember paying for it vividly, as my student income at the time was $65 a month and it made a big dent in my cash flow…

I am glad I have kept it, and it still works perfectly, even the door light seals are in great shape. This RC model is about 5% smaller all around than the 35 DC I have featured recently, with angled instead of rounder body contours, making this a very pretty unit.  The Zuiko 5 element f2.8 lens is great, and the whole kit is small enough to stuff into a pocket. As well as aperture priority, it even has complete manual control options, with the top deck mounted shutter speed control providing a great degree of familiarity to SLR users. I think that’s why I might have bought it in the first place. Just like the DC model, it has exposure information in the viewfinder, only this time at the top and bottom of the finder. Photographing this is a challenge, and so I present a composite to give you the idea of what the finder looks like on this model:

My opinion:  3 1/2 /5 –  Recommended

It’s been a long time coming – the Olympus 35 DC

You might be  aware that I “collect” Japanese 35mm rangefinders from the 1960s and 1970s. I don’t go out of my way to find these cameras – if there’s one in a junk shop I pass then I have a look, but that’s about it. None of these cameras are rare or valuable, but I feel that all have some special magic that makes me appreciate the beauty of the chrome, glass and black paint that they all share. I especially love Olympus rangefinder cameras from the 1970s. My first point and shoot was an Olympus 35RC I bought back in the 1970s as a carry around camera to use when I didn’t have my Nikon FM with me. Thirty years ago, I was a callow youth with the accompanying attitude of being a gear snob – the Olympus didn’t get much use as it just wasn’t glamorous enough for me. I am glad that I never parted with it, and it is still in the same condition it was all those years ago. It still takes great pictures, having a five element 42mm f2.8 Zuiko lens. The 35RC is different from most other pocket compacts because it has its shutter speed dial on the camera’s top plate instead of around the lens barrel – a nice touch for SLR user’s familiarity.

It eventually led to the development of several small rangefinder models. This shutter priority automatic exposure camera was the basis for several other classic Olympus rangefinders of the time, including the wonderful 35RD – essentially the same camera but a little bigger, with a 6 element f1.7 lens. I have been looking for one of these at the right price for a long while, but no luck just yet. However, I recently spotted a brother of the RD recently, the much rarer Olympus 35 DC auto-exposure camera, and snapped it up:

It has the same body and viewfinder of the RD, and the same great 6 element 40mm f1.7 Planar-type lens, putting this into the small and elite group of fixed lens rangefinders with a lens faster then f2. The rangefinder is the usual split image type, there are parallax marks for framing when using it close up. Most importantly, the shutter speed and f-stop information is shown at the bottom of the finder:

Auto-exposure – and I mean completely auto exposure – means that there is no choice for pairing shutter speeds and apertures. The camera is programmed (mechanically, it’s from the pre-microchip days of photography) to select a pairing of exposure values and you just compose, focus and shoot. Think of it as no different to any digital camera set on the P (program) setting today. Limited as it might seem, it just seems to work. Incredibly, there is a back-light compensation button that provides a 2 stop increase in exposure when you want it.

I want a digital camera, priced the way these were when they were on the market, just like this. It should cost under $400. I know the forthcoming FujiFilm X100 with an  f2 fixed lens probably fulfills this order, but it is $1,200 – far too expensive for what is needed. I want a small, metal unit with a raw-capable big sensor and a sharp, fast lens with a viewfinder that works as a rangefinder camera should with proper manual focus, priced as they used to be – that’s all – is it too much to ask?

My opinion:  3 / 5 – Recommended