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.

Your mileage may vary

Your Mileage May Vary

Some readers may think that this blog seems to be in danger of becoming an Olympus fan-boi debacle. This is not so. I have a major investment in Canon glass and digital (and film) bodies and I use them regularly.

The micro 4/3 camera gets use as my idealised point & shoot camera. Go back a few entries and you will see how much I dislike the output from P&S digital cameras for my use. Everyone has their own opinions about what hardware suits them, and mine is pretty simple:

  • full-frame sensor cameras are ideal for me, and I won’t go back to crop bodies for my quality photographic uses;
  • the tiny sensor inside even the most sophisticated point and shoot cameras precludes them from having any useful depth-of-field properties, and so I won’t use them if I can avoid it;
  • to by-pass the use of P&S cameras when a full-frame unit is too big, try to find another way.

Pretty simple, isn’t it.

The last point is why I am using and writing about my micro 4/3 use. I find this camera format to be pretty useful – both as a hedge against the hated P&S with its tiny sensor, but it is also able to deliver image quality that although not near that of a big sensor is terrific in its own right, and just streets ahead of that from tiny sensors. And this means that I just might have a camera with me when I actually want one, rather than planning on packing a big SLR kit to suit my needs.

The chart above (Image Credit MegaPixel.Net ) shows relative sensor sizes from digital cameras to illustrate my point about hating P&S cameras because they have infinite depth of field.

I suppose I am getting lazy and so I have been not using my 5D on days when I might only get marginal use. This upsets me as it is a truism that the best camera to use is the one you have with you, and I have not been observing my own rules for a while, so my creative output has been miserable.

Enter my micro 4/3 camera. Small, light, unobtrusive, and most importantly, really portable. It has been grabbed for use on short notice, and so it naturally has been taking the best shots as it simply has been the only camera I have been using. And because it has been spontaneous use, it has been responsible for a spasm of creative output. Most refreshing.

The fact that it is made by Olympus is irrelevant. I use it because it is what I have. If I had a Panasonic M4/3 I would be using that instead. Same sensor, same opportunities for re-using old film-age lenses, same quality available out of the RAW file. The only difference that I am aware of is the electronic viewfinder – it is reviewed as being better in the Olympus, but this is an accident of fate for me.

So – observing two of my maxims, get out and shoot some pictures. Just remember:

  • the best camera to use is the one you have with you; and
  • your mileage may vary.

How to modify an underwater camera case to fit a camera it was not designed for and save 93%

This one really appealed to my sense of thrift.

First, stumble across an Olympus PT-043 underwater camera housing in a white goods department store. Second, ring the office (as yet again you have left your camera behind  in your suit coat pocket) to find out what model it is, as you have a mind blank. Third, be disappointed to find your camera won’t fit the case, as it needs a model PT-047. Bah.

Look at the price tag again – reduced from $349 to $25 – yes, just twenty-five bucks. Maybe you might find the right camera at a thrift sale at some point in the future. Yeah, right. So take the plunge and buy it, as you won’t ever see one again at this price.

When I got back to the office, I tried my camera – an Olympus Mju Tough 6000 – and, sure enough, it wouldn’t fit, as it needed a PT-047 housing, also priced at $349 bucks – too long, but the right height and thickness. But it was pretty close, so visions of a bit of DIY goodness crept in. I remembered there was a Dremel in a cupboard, and so I decided to make the case fit my camera. It turned out to be pretty simple. All I had to do was grind off two small plastic lugs, and it fitted like it was made for it. Five minutes work, and three-hundred-and-twenty-four bucks were saved.

Luckily, the Olympus Tough 6000 and the camera the PT-043 was really designed for, the Olympus 1030SW, share an identical rear control button layout, and the shutter release is in the same spot on the top of both cameras. This means that all of the camera controls are accessible from outside the case just as it was designed to be able to do. There is only one fly in the ointment, and I believe that I can address this too – the only issue that remains to be sorted is that the main power button is not located precisely under the right spot to be able to switch it on and off. It is 2 mm too far away from the articulated plastic control lever inside the case, so it looks like I will be fabricating a new button soon. The controls pierce the case, being stainless steel rods sealed with O-rings. The control buttons are hard plastic, held on with a split spring washer so they are removable. Stay tuned.

Media coverage of the fall of Kevin Rudd, PM

I work nearby the Australian Federal Parliament, and I often drive around it as a traffic- and light-free shortcut. On the day of the political death of Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia, the media had firmly got hold of the story and was intent on milking it as far as possible, so I joined them for a few minutes. They set up camp on the lawns of Federation Mall on what was a beautiful winter’s day, and the TV reportage orgy began.

And when I saw orgy, I mean orgy. Peter Overton, the Channel 9 News anchorman was flown in – he’s recently departed from 60 Minutes. Karl Stephanovic from the “Today” show, the guy next to Overton whose name I don’t know from another show, Chris Bath, another news anchor was there, and this was at 2 pm when nothing was happening, with no politicians in sight. The imports were all wearing heavy coats. It wasn’t cold for a local.

It was interesting to see the set up used for OB filming – they make efforts to get the light under control:

Here, Chris Bath is standing in direct sun, and they have set up a shade to soften what would otherwise be harsh shadows on her face. There is a tungsten spotlight with barn doors with a blue daylight gel to add some light ready for when the sky darkened later in the day – they were still broadcasting when the politicians emerged in the evening darkness like vampires with Parliament lit up like a Gothic castle as a backdrop. There’s also a reflector ready to add a bit of light as and when the sun was shaded when clouds moved around.

The sheer volume of gear they moved in was eye opening: tents:

satellite trucks:

cameras in abundance:

All in all a circus, to watch the carryings-on of the biggest circus of all…

All of this was shot with an Olympus E-P2 “digital pen” – the media doesn’t understand small cameras. Here is the quality you can pull from this small marvel, even with the ordinary kit zoom lens:

This is a section of the original of the Overton picture cropped out at 750 pixels wide, and quadrupled in area to 1500 pix wide, via Photoshop re-sampling – if I use a better piece of software and sharpen it up it would be spectacular. Now that’s what I need from a P&S camera.

Olympus Pen Firmware – Version 1.1 / 1.4 Update

I have been following the story of the digital Pen firmware updates on the web for a while. Having updated my E-P2 to version 1.1 last night (on the day this firmware was released) I must say that the Pen focuses pretty quickly. I am guessing, but it feels as though the delay has dropped from more than 1 second to under half a second with the kit zoom lens. The camera is nice and responsive now, but of course any further speed improvements will only keep improving things.

I don’t like Olympus’ approach to the firmware update process, though. Here’s why:

1) The Olympus Master Software through which the firmware is acquired and the upgrade performed has a horribly unresponsive GUI interface. It often crashes, and bleed through from Windows beneath suggests that it is poorly programmed. (Yes, I do have adequate resources and bandwidth. I run Windows 7 on an 8 Gb dual-core machine.)

2) It is a one-way process – once updated, there seems to be no way back.

3) The Olympus Master Software takes an absolute age to acquire the firmware over the web. One can think that the process has stalled, as there is no progress indicator suggesting the activity still remaining. If you are silly enough to interfere in the process, you can kill the camera.

Perhaps Olympus should allow its user base to download and update firmware in a similar manner to that adopted by Canon, where the users feels as though they are in full control of the process.