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