I’ve written previously about my love for the Olympus Trip 35, though unfortunately the shutter seized on me and I haven’t sent it in for a CLA yet (though at least it can be repaired…I’m looking at you, Contax). Instead of spending a cool hundred bucks on repairing a camera that cost me about $8, I went back to my roots, shooting cheap-as-shit cameras I’ve happened to snap up at my local thrift store. Another rule for me: I wanted to only buy cameras I knew I could make a profit from later on.
First was the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ($4) which has an annoying design flaw in a circular light leak. It also has all the other failings of its ilk, including iffy autofocus, a flash that needs to be turned off every time one activates the camera, slow zoom, zoom at all with the accompanying drop in lens quality. I also bought a few more zoom models at the same time but decided it wasn’t worth it to burn a roll of film in one. Oh, some more downsides: the CR123 battery cost me about $12 and there’s no manual ASA setting or exposure adjustment.
I then lucked into an Olympus Infinity Stylus ($5) with its 35mm f/3.5 prime lens. Sure, I’d prefer the Epic with is faster f/2.8 aperture but I’ll take what I can find at a bargain price. And there are a few nice improvements over the Zoom 80 version. For starters, the prime lens makes this camera truly compact. The ’90s rounded styling make it easy to fit into a pocket though it’s light enough (read: plasticky) to fit around my neck where it hung all of Fall 2019. Having shot the Zoom 80 I already knew many of the failings though this one has at least a couple more: the fiddly shutter release that occasionally doesn’t fire, as well as a truly horrendous shutter lag. The camera doesn’t shoot until the lens is fully extended and it makes a rather loud mechanical whir in doing it. I lost quite a few shots due to this little problem. And the lens flares at the drop of a hat. It’s a camera I found useful for my photo project but it’s something that I will never be able to love unreservedly.
The newest acquisition is a Canon AF35M II ($4) and I’ve got to say I’m happy with just how manual this automatic camera is! I suppose being older had a bit to do with it, but the design philosophy is so much closer to being something that I approve. For starters, the flash needs to be engaged to work, something I don’t ever imagine using. But thank God I’m not having to push another button every time I turn on the damn thing. Another plus is its manual ASA setting from 50-1000, a wide range to handle not only different films but exposure adjustments for things like backlighting, snow, etc. And it has an AE lock mode as well, though admittedly it’s slow, requires both hands, and makes one depress the shutter release twice. The shutter is responsive though, and there’s no ambiguity surrounding pushing that shutter release. It shoots quickly and though battery-dependent, it’s the most ubiquitous battery of all, the humble AA.
The Canon AF35M II is the antithesis of the Olympus in nearly every way which is simultaneously its greatest asset and worst flaw. For starters, it takes not one AA battery but two, which not only increases its weight but also its size by a considerable margin. And most glaring of all, the motor drive makes a horrible and loud noise that would wake the dead. If you want to draw attention to yourself during a quiet meeting, this is definitely the camera for the job. But for now this camera works well for me and ensures that when I drive it’s easy to keep a camera at the ready.
And now that I’ve deconstructed all these cameras and their failings it’s time to bring it back to the Olympus Trip 35, a camera that has caused me many a failed photo due to its lack of automation. Its zone focusing system can be a bit tricky at full aperture, and while it has two shutter speeds, the slower one at 1/40 second is nearly always preferred. I find that I have to be very careful shooting it because if I’m too fast the shot will be blurry. Giving the camera to a stranger to get a picture of me has almost never turned out a good result.
One thing that I’ve discovered along the way is that the longer time went on the more camera design would go toward making cameras so simple even an idiot can figure it out. Well actually, I already knew this. But we’ve come a long way from the days of Grandpa shooting Kodachrome slides with an all-manual camera (something which took a bit of skill). The more they try to make something foolproof, the more I tend to say “Don’t overestimate the fool.” So customers “demanded” simpler cameras that would give them the ability to expose pictures like a pro and this has led to the average photographer being a complete idiot. Take away their iPhone and make them think for any length of time to see that it just keeps going downhill still today.
So the end result: the Olympus cameras went on the ‘bay and I made quite a lot of money off them. I’m keeping the Canon for the moment, as it seems to be less annoying than the others, plus it’s not worth as much.