Bringing the Olympus 35 SP back into service

Olympus 35 SP

A couple of weeks ago I got my claws on a nice but not-quite-functional Olympus 35 SP rangefinder. If you look back at the lead photo in my post about this camera, you will see that the silver filter ring around the front of the lens is dented. This in itself was of no concern to me, but it was preventing a very necessary spot of maintenance on the lens being performed. You see, the front rings (aperture, speeds, etc) were loose and very wobbly, making it exceptionally risky to use them in the face of unseen internal damage from poorly meshing clockwork controls. This meant that until this was fixed, the camera was effectively a very pretty brick.

The dent in the filter ring meant that the collar inside that ring holding the guts of the lens in place could not be unscrewed. Without access, it would simply stay wobbly. So, I found the wooden filter ring dent-bashing die I had made to fix an earlier rescue, and started judiciously tapping the dent out with a light hammer and a wooden dowel as the drift. Two hours of tapping, being careful not to stretch the aluminium eventually allowed me to unscrew the retaining collar, and then I got the access I needed.

What had happened to make the front cells of the lens wobbly was simply a result of the failure of the Locktite (or whatever) that Olympus used to hold the three front cell screws tightly in place. The screws had wobbled loose, allowing the lens to flop around.

A few turns of a cross-head driver and they were tightly locked back in place. The shutter speeds were thankfully perfect before the surgery, and there was no trace of the dreaded oil on the aperture blades syndrome either, so I had to dig no further into the shutter mechanism. It all screwed back together well.

Time to test the meter. In with a zinc-air cell. Nothing. In with some packing around the cell to keep it centered. Nothing. In with a wad of aluminium foil to make a better electrical contact. The meter sprung to life! It seems to be pretty spot-on at 100ASA according to my Sekonic meter. I have noticed that the ASA / ISO adjustment doesn’t seem to make any difference, so I think it will need surgery under the top cover to fix that problem. It seems that the ASA adjustment is supposed to alter the size of the eyelids that cover the CdS metering cell, and this doesn’t happen when I rotate the adjuster. Oh well, I guess this is gummed up. Into the top cover tonight.

A quirk I have discovered is that there is no off switch for the meter, meaning the battery will drain if it is left in the light. The switch is actually the (n)ever-ready case – covering the meter cell by closing the case kills off the current, so this is one camera that needs its case to be in good shape. Luckily, Olympus didn’t scrimp with the case. Instead of the usual cardboard case covered with glued-on  decaying vinyl, the case is actually a beautifully constructed sewn leather, steel and velvet affair that has lasted the distance, and still does what it is supposed to do – protect the camera, and work as the meter switch.

Still to go after sorting the ASA adjustment is checking the rangefinder accuracy so it focuses perfectly (a trivial job), and replacing the usual sticky goo that the light seals have now become. Again, this is a trivial job, so it won’t be too long before I put a few films through to see how wonderful the seven element G-Zuiko 42mm lens actually is – I wonder if it will live up to the hype abounding on the internet, that has made this camera so desirable and expensive?

Keep watching for more progress…

26 August 2011 – The ASA adjustment was easy to sort out – I removed the top cover, and found that the spring that pushes the cam follower against the ASA adjustment cam I predicted would be there was not fitting properly. A two second fix-up and hey-presto, the eyelids over the CdS cell now work properly. The exposure value for 125 ASA reads the same as from my digital Sekonic meter, so I am very, very happy. The spot meter works properly too. I still have to hunt down some light seal foam for the back door to get it sorted fully. One minor annoyance did made itself known. Every 35SP I have seen is missing the spot meter button fitting from the back plate, and now I know why. The black plastic button surround was originally fitted via a single screw onto the top internal deck. In my camera’s case, someone has been in before, and overtightened the screw, breaking the fitting, rendering it available to loss. I will be building the missing plastic up with two pack rock-hard-when-set adhesive (Araldite), and using a Dremel to shape it back to how it is supposed to be, then drilling and fitting it back properly.

Batteries are easy – the SP was designed to use a now-outlawed and therefore unavailable 625 mercury battery. If tou use an alkaline unit instead there is a voltage drop over its life that affects meter accuracy, so instead I use zinc-air hearing aid batteries, fitted in with an O-ring for diameter size and pack it with cooking foil.

Three views at 125 ASA – left, the camera showing an EV of 7; center. the camera set to an EV of 7 – note that one of the possible exposure pairs is 1/4 sec @ between 5.6 and f8 ; and right, finally my lightmeter reading looking at exactly the same scene – guess what -1/4 sec @ f8 for 125 ASA Pretty darn good for 40 year old camera running on a deaf-aid battery..

28 August – Light seals. What a mess. Lighter fluid (for Zippos) works to assist in dissolving these into a sticky, black, tarry mess. Reminds me of raw road bitumen, but way nastier. It gets stuck to everything it touches when it is scraped off and marks it, so be careful if you undertake this job. I used orange sticks as scrapers to get the dead collapsed foam out. It took about an hour of persistence to clean it up, but now it’s done and I will put in new seals as soon as I get some suitable black foam. I noticed that the 35SP has a seal at the top of the back door, but not along the bottom. I wonder why? Is the top seal actually really necessary? Does anyone know?

29 August – This is getting too easy by far, I must be heading for a problem. Light seals are now sorted. Three small pieces of dense black felt have been glued into their rightful places. Cut to size and glued in with craft glue, a clear, acetone-based flexible fast-drying compound is holding the new seals bits in nicely.  Not much to do now.

New felt light seals fitted. The shiny pock-marked bit is the film pressure plate

The felt seals are at the top and left hand side of the door.

1 September – As predicted, the spot meter switch fell out, fortunately right in front of me. This will be the absolute priority to sort, with then only the rangefinder check / calibration to go. Perhaps a Domke strap will be added – I have an Olympus 49mm hood to use already.

4 September – The spot meter button surround is now sorted out. I found some 2 pack epoxy and added a section of plastic where the original was broken off. Judicious use of the Dremel,  and Hey Presto! as good as new, and fitted nicely back into the camera. The meter now functions properly, switching between average and spot modes. You will need a battery to get it going – I use hearing aid Zinc-Air batteries – 5 bucks for a pack of 4. Same voltage as an outlawed mercury PX625 cell, lasts for months. They only need a bit of foam or an O-ring to fit size-wise, and a bit of cooking metal foil as packing to make a good contact. Only the rangefinder now left to check.

6 September – And hopefully the last. The horizontal alignment was spot on, i.e. at infinity focus the rangefinder patch showed infinity. Perfect. Less-than-perfect was that the rangefinder patch was not aligned vertically – most off-putting. How to fix it? There is not much info on the web about this adjustment, and nearly all of it is wrong. It is not the cross head “screw between the three light meter diodes” as suggested on the normally reliable Rangefinder Forum. It is in fact a knurled adjuster on the right-hand side of the central pane of the internal viewfinder. Rotate this forwards and the patch drops, and vice-versa. Be careful as it looks very, very delicate. I used tweezers – make sure you don’t slip or you will damage the viewfinder… Good luck

I have bought some Ilford HP5+ 400ASA film for this beautiful little gem of a camera. Cross your fingers.

17 September 2011 – Hmm. The lightmeter eyelids jammed again. Out with the film, and off with the top, and a couple of tiny spots of oil on the places it sticks have fixed this issue (I hope). I use a small syringe sold for diabetics to inject insulin as an oil can – with the hypodermic needle I can get an absolutely tiny drop in the right spot. I also cleaned the viewfinder internals, and it is now beyond incredible, just a brilliant view. I am now having trouble deciding whether to use this or my M6 – what a quandary.


Olympus 35 RD – at last

Olympus 35 RD

The power of he internet has come to the rescue for the subject of today’s post – one of my adoring fans contacted me and as a result I am happy to reveal my new buddy, the venerable (and beautiful) Olympus 35 RD rangefinder:

This is the brother of the fully auto 35 DC I showed a few weeks ago, but is a manual as well as automatic, aperture priority unit. It shares the same 6 element 40mm f1.7 Zuiko lens, the same basic body, and well, just about everything else that is wonderful about the DC model. This one, though, has speeds down to 1/2 second, not the paltry (but realistic) 1/15th that limits the DC’s available light use.

Here are the twins together so you can see how much DNA they share:

The 35RD was introduced in 1974, and was was the last ‘classic’ fully manual mechanical shutter fixed-lens rangefinder to be introduced by Olympus. The RD’s 40mm focal length is closer to the “ideal” standard length of 43mm – the diagonal measurement of a 35mm frame – than most SLR standard lenses of 50mm. This is true for most of the classic fast rangefinders of this era, such as the Canon QL17 GIII, the Yashica Electro 35, and my available light secret weapon, the Yashica Lynx 14E.

This one needs some minor attention – light seals, a rangefinder clean, and the usual oil-on-shutter-blades syndrome. When sorted, this will be a beautiful object from nearly four decades ago that can compete and still outclass the current crop of midget sensor P&S cameras. With a fine-grain film, my Nikon 500ED scanner allows this (and all of the others too) to be a 21 megapixel full-frame camera capable of producing nice bokeh – try that with your G12…

The cameras from the Olympus 35 line that I hold span a fairly lengthy family timeline of production.

Olympus introduced the 35LC in 1965.  This was the father of the beautiful SP that followed, as it featured the same fast f1.7 Zuiko G seven element prime lens, but had less ability than the SP as it was equipped with automatic exposure.



The Olympus 35SP, my earliest, ran from 1969 to 1975. You can see the beauty of this fantastic camera earlier in my blog entries.




The 35RC, the smallest fully automatic rangefinder of the time, appeared in 1970, and was still in production after 1975 when I bought mine.




The 35DC followed in 1971.  The introduction of this model seems to mark a very similar genesis as the earlier LC and SP models before it, as this and the RD that followed a couple of years later shared the same body and lens, but the earlier camera had an auto exposure system that limited some functions in comparison to the line leader that followed some time later. Perhaps this is a model that Olympus likes to follow in camera development?


The 35RD was introduced in 1975, using much of the 35DC’s DNA, thereby replacing and effectively retiring the SP as Olympus’ top of the line classic fixed lens rangefinder. This was a generational change, and the RD model lasted until the end of the 1970s when the 35 line as it stood was killed off and replaced by the innovative and ground-breaking XA series in 1979.

During this amazing period of activity and innovation, Olympus still had time to introduce perhaps the longest- lasting quality camera ever, the Trip 35. This first went on sale in 1968.  The TRIP 35 became very popular as a camera that combined ease of use, reliability and a low price with excellent performance. It remained a best-seller for many years, and over the next 20 years over 10 million were produced. I have four of these amazing little workhorses, all of which still work all these years later.

I have been hanging out for a very long while to find a 35RD, and hey presto, one walks into my life with no effort. The internet is truly capable of making magic…

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.


Nikon FM2n

Yesterday I promised an update about another beautiful camera I have just unearthed at a local thrift shop. Yesterday I found a Nikon FM2n fitted with a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI lens. It was five dollars. Yes – you read that right – $5.  The other camera I scored was a Canonet. Come back by in a day or two and I will show you that one too.

The body is in almost new condition, and the lens is absolutely mint. It came with a snout case made by Quantaray, a genuine Nikon strap, a skylight filter and even a Hoya circular polarising filter. At the shop, the sales lady tried it and the mirror seemed to hang closed. She declared that it was broken, hence the price. I almost hesitated to buy it – another broken camera to try and sort out – but I couldn’t help myself and bought it anyway.

I didn’t even look at the lens – I was guessing it was an f1.8, as it was definitely a Nikon product but I couldn’t see the front ring as the polariser was fitted. When I got home I thought about finding out a bit about the shutter in an FM2, tried the shutter and, lo and behold , it worked perfectly. I have put maybe 300 actuations on to it since and it seems absolutely perfect. I opened the back up, and realised it was an FM2n version. The serial number confirmed this, as it started with an N.

I looked through the finder – lovely and clean – and thought it was a bit dark, realised it had a filter – in fact two filters stacked together – removed them and nearly fell off my chair as the lens revealed itself as an f1.4 fifty, my favourite combination of focal length and aperture. Off with the battery cover – not even scratched from fumbling with a coin – and out came two absolutely flat batteries, but thankfully they had not leaked their corrosive innards into the camera as usually happens.

A bit of research revealed the FM2n was introduced in 1984 – I bought my original FM in 1977 or so when they were first released, but that’s another story – and it has a few changes from my old favourite that I made so many great shots with all those years ago. Obvious changes – speeds visible in the finder, a double exposure lever concentric with the wind lever, 1/4000 second top speed (up from 1/1000 on my old FM),  faster flash synch, as well as a different looking set of shutter curtains. It’s great. I love the shutter sound of this model of Nikon – I suppose this might be because it takes me back to my very happy and mostly misspent youth. My Nikon was manufactured in 1989 according to the serial number she proudly displays, so she’s not all that old. The FM2 line ceased in 2001. The lens dates from before September 1981.

Here she is, just as I found her:

A few years ago I found a black FM with a motor for $8 at the same shop. It was in pretty poor condition so I sold it and regretted it immediately. This time I am keeping it. I suppose I need to make some more nice Nikkor glass appear at the shop now by willing it to happen.

Here’s me and my first FM 30 years or so ago:

This photo shows that the Nikon FM hardly changed at all over its lifetime, I have though – much less hair…

I just have one question – why do people throw out these beautiful cameras?

Yashica Electro 35 GT

Let me introduce you to the beautiful Yashica Electro 35 GT camera. In lineage, this is directly related to the Lynx 14E I covered a few days ago in this column.

This is one of the prettiest cameras that I own. It is just like every other Electro 35, in that it has an exceptionally good Color Yashinon 45mm f1.7 lens – a Planar derivative – that can take some of the sharpest images you have ever seen. It has aperture priority, with electronically goverend shutter speeds, hence the “electro” label.

It had the usual run of issues needing to be fixed – the infamous “pad of death”, the usual battery box corrosion issues, and a foggy viewfinder, all now fixed.

The garden chrome version was called the GS, whereas the GT is the black version. Other than a couple of bits fabricated in plastic rather than painted metal, it is the same as the GS. It just goes faster.


A little while ago I wrote about the dreaded Gear Acquisition Syndrome – GAS – grabbing firmly hold of one of my toes. Well, here is tangible evidence of this awful problem. I became keen – read obsessed – with getting hold of a working copy of each of the line of the Canonet rangefinder family. It’s a long story, so here goes.

I was given the front New Canonet QL19 as a non-working to play with. I became interigued with it and saw it as a challenge to see if I could resurrect this nice but oh-so-dead box. It pushed all of my buttons – fast lens, lots of chrome, a rangefinder, fast to use for candids, and so on. It took me a month of my lunchtimes to resolve all of its issues to get it back into working shape. These included battery box corrosion, black wire syndrome, a loosely mounted lens, a non-linked shutter linkage, a stuck shutter, bad door seals, misaligned and dirty rangefinder, and best of all a working but wildly inaccurate meter. If I had known about these when I started out it would have been thrown into the bin. Anyway, the internet provided a trove of repair information, and a month later I covered it in beautiful red skiver book leather in place of the leatherette I had to destroy just to open it up.

Many other Canonets have followed, spanning the golden years of rising Japanese market dominance between 1961 (Canonet) and 1972 (Canonet QL17 GIII). I was even sent a freebie from a Flickr fan in the USA as a gift to add to my collection. All of these have been fixed or tinkered with to get them into good order. The GAS problem was then, what series comes next? I started next on another line of classics, from Yashica. This eventually reulted in me acquiring (among other beauties from the eventual Zeiss partner) a fixed-lens low-light specialist with an f1.4 leaf shutter lens. More to come on that dalliance later.

Voigtlander Vitessa, Ultron 50mm f2

My modest collection of film cameras in the digital age began with a Ricoh 35 ZF zone focus rangefinder-lookalike for $2 at a local flea market many years ago.  Once spotted, it brought back memories of the great snaps I had taken on a similar true rangefinder, a Ricoh 500G, so I had to buy it. Of course, at the dawn of the digital age it sat at home, unused, in its case waiting to see the light of day when I had some film to put through it. Sadly this never happened.

Years went on by, and I developed a hankering, no, an outright promiscuous desire for a fast lens for my SLR. My searching ended with me possessing a Canon 50mm f1.2 Leica thread mount lens, hoping I could adapt it to use on my digital SLR body. No chance, as the flange distance demands were not going to ever allow this to happen without butchering the lens mount. A long re-think led me to decide that if I couldn’t do it digitally,  then I would shoot some film for the first time in years. Serendipitously, I acquired a Canon 7 35mm rangefinder body in beautiful condition, and so began my first taste of GAS – the awful gear acquisition syndrome. The low light images this combination can make is in my mind just about unbeatable – glorious, rich 35mm film images from the technology at the pinnacle of screw mount rangefinders. I reserved using it for personal work involving my family.

However, GAS had by now very firmly grabbed hold of my toe. Any time I passed a welfare shop I had to look inside and see if there were any unloved treasures waiting for me.  Which brings me to the subject of this post. I found a fantastic Voigtander Vitessa, a classic folding 35mm rangefinder with a bellows, sporting the fast, legendary and somewhat rare Voigtlander Ultron 50mm f2 lens. Most of these cameras were shipped with a Color Skopar f3.5 lens, a whole stop and a half slower than the Ultron. I got it with its original, blue-lined leather case for $10. For appreciators of camera pr0n, this is (I believe) the A3 model variant from 1950-54.

Many people believe that this camera is as well finished as any Leica, and it is absolutely beautiful in the flesh. Again, like the Ricoh that started this all, it’s still waiting on a film, but I do have a bit of luxury in the choices I have for film cameras, so I don’t need to rush. In fact I now think I will take it away for Easter instead of my M5 and Summicron v 4…