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…

Leica IIIf RD DA

Naked beauty
I can’t stop admiring this incredible camera. It is working just about perfectly now, having had its view- and range-finders cleaned following its invasive surgery a couple of weeks ago. It is fitted with one of my absolute favorite lenses – the Canon 50mm f1.2 screw mount. This wonder appeared in 1956, so it is of the right age to fit onto the Leica IIIf, although my copy was made in 1961. An accessory viewfinder is essential as this lens shuts out over half of the viewfinder.
The astute reader will have by now realised that I have a thing for 50mm “standard” lenses. I am ashamed to say I have and use (oh dear) a 1949 Canon Serenar f1.9 collapsible; a 1953 Leitz Summicron collapsible; this wonderful Canon f1.2; a Leica Summicron M from about 1990 (4th version); 3 Super Takumar f1.4’s, as well as a couple of older sibling 1950s Takumar zebra 50mm f2 and f2.2 from well before automatic iris mechanisms appeared; a Tessar from Carl Zeiss Jena (another particular favorite of mine); a box of about twenty other various 50mm M42 mount versions yet awaiting their time; a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 AI from 1981; a Tomioka 55mm f1.2 (the fastest M42 ever produced); several FD 50mm f1.8’s; not to mention my trusty Canon EF 50 f1.4. God help me. Perhaps it’s because my first SLR was a Zeiss Contaflex Super (thanks Dad) that was fitted with a Tessar that could not be easily swapped for anything else, so it became my go-to (read only) lens for a very long while. And that list doesn’t even have regard for the ones I don’t own anymore.
This picture was shot with my five dollar Nikkor 50mm f1.4 lens that was originally fitted to the Nikon FM2n I showed a little earlier. It’s a fabulous lens, now fitted to my Olympus E-P2 (my rangefinder for the digital age) through a cheap and cheerful Chinese made N-to-M43 adapter. That combination shot this image (f5.6, hand held, 400ASA at about 1/30 sec).
If you haven’t yet got into using beautiful legacy glass on a digital camera body, you really do owe it to yourself to trawl the Goodwill shops until you find one, and get an adapter for your particular SLR of choice. They can open up the old fashioned world of think first, shoot second that I believe must only improve one’s image making that is denied to us in the auto-everything non-thinking digital age of cameras.
I am renovating its leather half case now, so a bit more camera pron should appear soon when that little task is sorted out, so stay tuned.

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

Canon P

I know everyone raves about the Canon P, however it comes second in my eyes to its later sibling, the Canon 7. The viewfinder with its 35/50/100mm framelines is just too busy for me. Admittedly a beautiful design, and I will probably be labeled a heretic for this, it just doesn’t do it for me as a camera.

On the other hand, I love the 60 year-old collapsible Canon Serenar 5cm f1.9 from 1949. Six elements in four groups, I am making a guess that its a Planar design derivative.

I had the meter with diffuser, the humpback case, and the original instruction book too. However, its prettiness was not enough to overcome my functional dislike of it, and so I got rid of it. I kept the lens though.

Canon 7 – An available darkness machine

Body from 1961, lens from 1957, so it’s of the same vintage as me.

This was the end of the line for screw mount rangefinders, the Canon 7. Rugged and beautiful, it was equipped with a selenium coupled meter (still works), a long base rangefinder, an accurate and very rugged shutter, and in my case, the wonderful Canon f1.2 50mm lens, fast and sharp. I would still use this lens even if I was fortunate enough to have a f0.95 dream lens. My secondhand shop rummaging has turned up a Canon 135mm f4 lens (a Sonnar design), a 50mm Canon Serenar f1.9 collapsible lens from about 1949, and I also have a modern Voigtlander Snapshot Skopar 25mm f4 zone-focus lens when wide is needed. All of these lenses can fit the Digital Pen through two adapters.

The viewfinder is clean and uncluttered. A dial on the top selects 35, 50, 85/100 and 135mm framelines. It is much better than the cluttered finder in the Canon P, a screw mount  camera that is sought after by just about everybody else. Been there, done that, and didn’t like it at all.

I have found the correct Canon ventilated hood, and its original design ever-ready case too. Oh, and a modern unbreakable strap. Just made for portraits in available light.


Oh dear. The camera that I was referring to in my last post is the beautiful and rare (especially as a working example) Yashica Lynx 14E. This 35mm beauty has just about the fastest lens ever fitted to a fixed lens camera – a Yashinon 45mm f1.4 with a leaf shutter.

This is a worthy son of the legendary Ermanox from the guy who eventually designed the Zeiss Sonnar lens formula. It had an Ernostar f1.8 lens – on a plate camera.

Back to the Lynx – electronic CdS metering, full manual control, viewfinder lights to indicate exposure – and that lens. A 7 element Planar design, made by Tomioka. Just wonderful. And the whole setup is as sturdy as a brick – just in case you need to bop someone over the head to get away safely in darkness.  More words to come.