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Olympus 35RC
42mm f/2.8 (1970- )
© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

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Olympus 35RC

Olympus 35RC, about actual size (14.7oz/415g, uses EPX-625 cell for meter). enlarge. You can get them at these direct links to it at Adorama and eBay. It helps me keep adding this site when you get yours from these links, thanks! Ken.

May 2009       35RC Example Photos         Why We Love Film

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

The Olympus 35RC seems like a trivial little rangefinder camera, however it's an astoundingly great performer. Not only does it perform magnificently, it's possibly the smallest 35mm rangefinder camera ever made with auto and manual exposure settings.

Compared to a Leica M7, the Olympus 35RC feels cheap and dinky, but it's also easier to use and faster to shoot, and gives the same results. It may feel dinky, but my 35RC has turned out to be far more reliable and dependable than my Leica M7, and the 35RC is far faster to load, too. Focus turns in the same direction.

The finder stays cleaner than the LEICA because the Olympus 35RC's finder is more recessed, and the 35RC has a flash sync speed ten times that of the LEICA.

You'd have a very hard time paying more than $100 for one, and if found at a garage sale, probably will get change back from a $20 bill.

The Olympus 35RC is a simple camera that just happens to do everything a serious photographer needs. It has nothing to get in the way, and has a superb lens and exposure system that ensures perfect, sharp shots every time with a minimum of weight and fuss.

It provides perfect focus and perfect exposure for every shot, and I got 40 perfect, sharp shots on my first roll of Fuji Velvia 50 slide film. I was astounded. I had thought "Wow, I finally got some decent images out of my 1955 Leica M3," and then I realized it was a roll from the Olympus 35RC!

The Olympus 35RC provides a super-sharp 42mm f/2.8 lens, precise manual rangefinder focus, and amazingly accurate shutter-preferred automatic and manual exposures.

The 35RC is entirely mechanical; even the auto exposure system is electromechanical. The battery moves an exposure needle, and the rest of the camera translates the position of the needle into the correct exposure as powered by your finger pressing the shutter button.

Flower Fields

Carlsbad Flower Fields. Velvia 50, 35RC at 1/60 at f/11, NCPS scan. enlarge.

The Olympus 35RC won't let you make a bad shot. In Auto mode, the shutter locks if the light or your settings would lead to a bad exposure. This makes the Olympus 35RC stupid-proof if you leave the lens cap on, since the shutter will lock.

Unlike any Leica, it shows apertures and shutter speeds in the finder! Leica also tries to position the Leica M7 as a mechanical camera, but it's not. This Olympus 35RC is genuinely a mechanical camera with auto exposure.

The Olympus 35RC uses the Flashmatic system for perfect automatic flash exposure with any manual flash. It predates Nikon's D-system by decades, but it's not smart enough to calculate fill flash exposure.

Olympus 35 RC

The tiny Olympus 35 RC next to a Nikon 50mm f/1.4. enlarge.

 

Specifications with commentary      top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

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Type

35mm fixed-lens, auto and manual exposure, mechanical manual focus rangefinder camera.

 

FInder

0.6x bright-frame, with separate light-gathering window for the frame lines.

Integrated coupled rangefinder and full aperture and shutter speed readouts.

 

Lens      top

42mm f/2.8.

5 elements in 4 groups.

Single coated in blue and amber.

Oddly the lens' identity ring, the focus rings and the finder use commas for periods in f/stops and distances (like f2,8), while the aperture ring uses periods.

 

Close Focus      top

3 feet (0.9m).

 

Diaphragm      top

Two blades resulting in a square aperture opening.

 

Filter Thread      top

Yes, but it's an oddball 43.5mm diameter by 0.5mm pitch.

The light meter reads through the filter.

 

Shutter      top

Two-bladed mechanical leaf shutter.

1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15 and Bulb.

Shutter dial rotates 360º; you can go directly between Bulb and 1/500.

Olympus knows you don't need the slower speeds. 1/15 is as slow as you'll want to hand-hold, and if it gets darker, you'll use Bulb on a tripod with exposures of at least a few seconds.

Few people need 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 second speeds, and by removing them, makes it easier and faster to get to the speeds we do use.

 

Self-Timer      top

Yes, that's the ugly lever on the front.

 

Flash Sync Speed      top

All speeds, including 1/500, for electronic flash.

1/30 in red is just a suggestion and for efficient use with flashbulbs.

Flash Sync: X sync at all speeds. For flashbulbs, use 1/30 to catch the most light.

Hot shoe.

PC terminal for use with studio strobes.

 

Meter      top

CdS, looks through the filter right by the lens.

Meter Pattern: Looks forward. Honestly, it seems roughly center weighted.

Range: EV 7 ~ 18, or 1/15 at f/2.8 to 1/500 at f/22.

ASA range: 25 - 800. Skips ASA 40, ASA 320 and ASA 640.

DIN Range: DIN 15 - 30. Skips DIN 17, 26 and 29.

 

Flashmatic Guide Number Range      top

GN 32, 45, 65, 90 and 130, in feet.

GN 10, 14, 20, 28 and 40, in meters.

 

Film Advance      top

Ratcheted, stamped sheet-metal thumb lever.

 

Frame Counter      top

Numbered to 36, advances to 38 and stops, even if the film still goes.

12, 20 and 36 are in yellow. Even numbers and "1" are marked.

 

Cable Release      top

Standard socket in shutter button.

 

Self Timer      top

10 seconds.

Dorky lever on front of camera that flips down.

 

Size      top

4-1/4 x 2-3/4 x 1-15/16" (109 x 70 x 50mm), specified.

 

Weight      top

14.720 oz. (417.3g), as measured by me with battery but no film, strap, filters or caps

14-1/2 ounce (410g), as specified by Olympus.

 

Environmental      top

Maximum storage temperature: 122ºF (50ºC).

Minimum operation temperature: -5ºF (-15ºC).

 

Power      top

One PX-625, PX-13 or EPX-625 mercury battery.

Today, use the Wein PX625 zinc-air replacement. At $4.50, it's the same price as mercury batteries were, adjusted for inflation, in their day. Crazier people use 675 zinc-air hearing aid batteries and pop a washer in the battery cover to help it fit.

Olympus 35RC

Back, Olympus 35RC. enlarge.

 

Olympus Accessories      top

 

PS200 manual flash      top

GN 14 meters, 45 feet at ASA 100.

5,800ºK.

200 shots per pair of 1970s AA alkaline batteries.

It works automatically with the GN Flashmatic system of the 35RC.

Size: 1-1/4 x 2-1/8 x 1-1/2" (31 x 55 x 64mm).

Weight: 2-3/8 oz. (75g).

 

Olympus 43.5mm filters      top

UV, Y2 yellow, 1A skylight, 81C warming, 82C cooling.

 

Dedicated Hood      top

Dedicated, reversible metal hood which attaches with a friction screw.

 

Close-up lens      top

43.5mm thread, 300mm focal length (3-1/3 diopters). Good luck guessing focus, but if you set the lens to infinity, your subject is now at 11-3/4" (296mm) and the subject area is 6-1/4 x 10-1/4"(173 x 260mm), or 1:7.22.

 

Copy Stand      top

A bizarre four-legged thing with a hole at the top for the close-up lens. The legs are calibrated for various copy sizes.

 

Performance        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Ergonomics

The Olympus 35RC couldn't be better thought out.

Everything is obvious. Nothing gets in the way of great photos.

For instance, you can see the aperture and shutter speeds in the finder, which no Leica does even to this day.

You can spin the dial around and around; you can go directly to 1/500 to Bulb, and the finder display follows along.

The trigger pull (shutter release feel) is smooth and relatively firm, with a long travel to operate the auto exposure mechanism.

 

Focus      top

The rangefinder spot is small and dim compared to a Leica.

It has more than enough accuracy and precision for perfect focus with the 42mm f/2.8 lens.

Because it has a shorter base length then the LEICA, it is much less likely that you'll accidentally focus on the wrong pair of lines of a repeating pattern, like a fence or distant building.

THe rangefinder spot never flares, as it does on earlier Leica M7s.

It's always perfectly accurate at every distance. I couldn't make a shot with bad focus. The 42mm f/2.8 lens has such great depth-of-field that you don't need much to get a super-sharp shot.

 

The Perfect Normal Lens      top

42mm is the correct normal lens for 35mm film.

Because the Olympus 35RC uses the perfect normal focal length, there is no need for other lenses.

Because the Olympus 35RC's 42mm lens is correct, there is none of the added light falloff had when using most 35mm lenses, and none of the spatial distortion had when using a 50mm lens.

Normal lenses are supposed to be equal to the diagonal of the format, for instance, 28mm for DX digital, 42mm for 35mm film and 80mm for 6x6cm.

When Barnack created the Leica, he just happened to have a 50mm lens lying around and kludged that into his first camera. The 50mm lens stuck with us, but it is not correct.

 

Sharpness      top

I was astounded at how sharp it is.

Even at f/2.8, it's very sharp and contrasty. The $4,200 Leica 35mm f/1.4 is only a little bit better if you're looking under a microscope.

Most 35mm and 50mm f/2.8 lenses have only 4 elements. For instance, Nikon's expensive 45mm f/2.8P uses only 4 elements.

By using an advanced 5-element deign, and the perfect normal focal length, Olympus is able to give the immortal 35RC incredible optical performance far beyond that of mere mortal cameras.

 

Bokeh      top

There isn't much ever out of focus with a 42mm f/2.8 lens, but if you shoot at 3 feet at f/2.8, the bokeh is only fair.

 

Distortion      top

Olympus 35RC Distortion and falloff

The Wall of Shame.

There is no visible distortion unless you shoot brick walls, and if you do, it's still pretty good.

For critical use, at 30 feet (10 meters), use a value of -1.2 in Photoshop's Lens Distortion Filter.

Falloff      top

There isn't any visible falloff (darker corners) in real photos.

Shoot a wall like the above, and there's just a little. It's much less than point-and-shoots which use 35mm lenses, like the Olympus XA, XA-2 and Nikon L35AF.

 

Light Meter Accuracy      top

All my exposures, on slide film, were perfect on ISO 50 slide film from LV 8 ~ 14.

Of course you need to know what you're doing; use the AE lock when you need it.

 

Shutter Accuracy      top

The shutter of the beater 35RC shown here measured accurate to within 1/6 stop at all speeds except 1/500, which was really 1/350, or about 1/2 - 2/3 stops slow.

This is as expected, and excellent.

 

Film Economy      top

40 frames on a 36 exposure roll!

How can this be?

Simple: the Olympus 35RC is so small that you don't have to pull the leader out to thread it. This saves a half frame.

Since the exposed area of the film is so close to the canister, you don't have to pull the last frame out of the canister as far as on larger cameras.

Thus while larger cameras may get 38 frames, the tiny 35RC ekes out 40 frames. Yahoo!

 

Usage        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Load a Battery

Olympus 35RC

Olympus 35RC. enlarge.

Pop a Wein PX625 zinc-air into the usual spot on the bottom of the 35RC.

There is no battery tester. Olympus says if the needle moves, the battery is OK.

 

Load your film      top

Wind the camera.

Pull down the little catch at the bottom left of the camera.The rewind crank NEVER comes up; Olympus cut out the base of the camera so we can drop-in film without needing to pull the crank up and down.

Load the film.

Close the back.

Be sure to select the flash mode or a manual aperture so the shutter won't lock while you're advancing the film.

Press the shutter, wind to the next half-exposed frame, and press the shutter again.

Wind to the next frame, which is the first frame on which you'll shoot.

 

Set the Film Speed      top

Front, Olympus 35RC

Front, Olympus 35RC. enlarge.

The film speed is set by rotating the ring around the glass of the lens, inside the filter ring.

Since your 35RC may have had someone screw with the meter, or you may be using a kludge for a battery, be sure to check your meter against another meter (or camera) you trust and set the ASA/DIN to whatever value gives you the correct readings.

For my 35RC, which someone else had "calibrated," I set ASA 32 for 50 speed film.

 

Shooting      top

Top, Olympus 35RC

Top, Olympus 35RC. enlarge.

Turn the selector ring to "A" (automatic aperture selection), choose a shutter speed, and go.

As you press the shutter, you'll see the needle move, stop and lock at the aperture at which the 35RC will shoot.

If the 35RC needs an aperture larger than f/2.8 or smaller than f/22, the shutter locks. Choose a better shutter speed, or a manual setting.

Its sometimes tough to get f/2.8 in Auto mode since it might lock. No worries, just set f/2.8 manually.

For auto exposure lock, just press the shutter halfway. It's locked mechanically.

For manual exposure, check the built-in light meter in A mode by pressing the shutter halfway (or use an external meter) and set the aperture on the control ring.

If the focus ring feels a little stiffer as you reach infinity, no worries: set a higher GN with the little lever on the focus scale.

 

Flash      top

For automatic flash photography, set the silver ring to the bolt. Now the 35RC calculates the aperture for perfect exposure based on the focused distance, regardless of the reflectivity of your subject.

Move the little lever on the right side of the focus ring above to the guide number (GN) for your flash.

To take advantage of the 35RC's automation, leave your flash set to manual power output and set that GN on the camera's focus ring.

The 35RC's flash computer ignores the film's ASA and any ambient light. Set the GN to the actual value at the film's ASA and taking into account any filters.

Of course feel free to use an automatic flash, like the Vivitar 283, in which case you set the aperture the usual way on the lens.

For fill flash, you're on your own to calculate exposures. The good news is that you have all speeds, including 1/500, for flash sync.

The 1/30 speed in red is for the best use with flashbulbs, since the 35RC lacks the special flash sync timing common in its era to make the best use of flashbulbs at faster speeds. If you care, shoot a Nikon SP, Nikon F or a Leica, which provide other flash syncs optimized for flashbulbs.

 

Filters      top

Good luck finding 43.5mm x 0.5mm pitch filters.

You can get a 43.5mm to 46mm adapter ring to use 46mm filters, but I don't know if this ring uses the odd 0.5mm thread pitch of the 35RC or the more common 0.75mm pitch.

If you do have filters, the great news is that the 35RC's meter reads through the filter, so it compensates automatically.

The view through the viewfinder is polarized, so be sure to use a circular polarizer if you hope to view the effects through the finder before you place the filter over the lens.

 

When Done      top

Turn the ring to OFF to save the battery.

To rewind, press the button on the bottom and spin the crank.

 

Recommendations        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Recommendations

Get one. I'm astounded at how well this dinky thing works.

 

Deployment

I use a 43.5mm filter, a Leica strap, and carry a spare PX-625 cell for the meter.

 

More Information

Tested in Modern Photography, February 1972, page 98.

Steve Gandy's 35RC page

Andrew Yue's 35RC page

Scott Young's 35RC page

 

Acknowlegement

Many thanks to Chris Nielsen of New Zealand who sent me this.

 

PLUG

I support my growing family through this website.

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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