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.
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.
Specifications with commentary top
35mm fixed-lens, auto and manual exposure, mechanical manual focus rangefinder camera.
0.6x bright-frame, with separate light-gathering window for the frame lines.
Integrated coupled rangefinder and full aperture and shutter speed readouts.
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).
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.
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.
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.
PC terminal for use with studio strobes.
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
Dorky lever on front of camera that flips down.
4-1/4 x 2-3/4 x 1-15/16" (109 x 70 x 50mm), specified.
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.
Maximum storage temperature: 122ºF (50ºC).
Minimum operation temperature: -5ºF (-15ºC).
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.
Back, Olympus 35RC. enlarge.
Olympus Accessories top
PS200 manual flash top
GN 14 meters, 45 feet at ASA 100.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There isn't any visible falloff (darker corners) in real photos.
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!
Load a Battery
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Get one. I'm astounded at how well this dinky thing works.
Tested in Modern Photography, February 1972, page 98.
Many thanks to Chris Nielsen of New Zealand who sent me this.
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