Why I love the Olympus Trip 35

RIP 1968-2018.  Unfortunately after shooting this camera for 3 years the shutter is now stuck halfway open and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it yet.

It will happen though, because it’s small, light, easy to use, gives me spot-on exposure, and has an absurdly sharp lens.  The Olympus Trip 35 and it’s my favorite mirrorless camera.  Reading about some of my photo friends’ experiences with the Trip and also finding this fantastic store made me want to sing again the praises of this mechanical wonder that I found at the thrift store for all of $8.00.

It needs no battery: it has a selenium meter which gives perfect exposure, something I tested by shooting slide film in it.  After reading about “night tripping” (which basically means using high-speed film in the Trip manually set to f/2.8 and its slower speed of 1/40sec), I’ve felt comfortable using the Trip in all kinds of situations indoors and outdoors.  One thing that I’ve talked about a lot (though never tried yet) is putting a few rolls of Cinestill 800T through it; or now that T-Max P3200 is back that might have to happen.  Either way I’ve yet to test the extremes of film latitude yet, but it will happen.

And the Trip 35 does indeed live up to its name: it travels so well!  I took it to Wales where it was my camera for color film, and threw it into my bag for a last-minute trip to Ohio.  Though the lens sticks out a bit it still easily fits in a jacket pocket without getting in the way.  Speaking of the lens and its zone focusing, you do have to be careful when shooting inside, but made it perfect for shooting my William Klein masters’ study.  Since then focus doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to, though most of the time I’ll get it right.

When looking through all the shots I’ve taken with this camera I couldn’t believe just how much I’ve used it in the last few years!  It’s a large gallery–in order we have: Tri-X (6), Velvia 100 (3), Double-X (4), Provia 100F (3), T-Max 400 (4), Fomapan 100 (2), Kodak Gold 200 (2), Fuji Neopan Acros 100 (2), and Ferrania P30 (2).  There will be other films shot in this camera one day, but for a while now I’ve been concentrating on the Spotmatic for my photo project that’s been going on since January (and long before).

I would definitely recommend this camera for people who don’t want the bulkiness of an SLR, don’t like relying on batteries, but still want an AE camera.  My camera’s shutter still had accurate speeds after nearly half a century.  Zone focusing can take practice but is doable, so don’t let that dissuade you!

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My precious…

It’s finally happened.  Took a few months, but I finally sunk some major dough on a camera body and lens, and it very nearly eclipses the total amount of money I’ve spent on camera equipment since I started in 2009.

My history with rangefinders:

First of all, the Minolta Hi-matic 9, which wasn’t at all a bad camera, but my copy had a problem with the shutter only firing about 50% of the time.  Then, there was the Petri 2.8 Color-corrected Super, which handling-wise wasn’t too bad, but with an annoying self-timer lever that I wanted to break off…also it was badly infested with fungus.  Interestingly enough, I mentioned the Canon P back then, so I guess I was already on my to wanting a good Canon rangefinder.  I suppose I’ll also mention the Olympus Trip 35 which is a great little AE camera with zone focusing, and one I used quite a lot last semester for photo projects.

On the mirrorless film body food chain, if you start from the bottom, you have the point & shoots (though some, like the Olympus Stylus series are considered quite good), followed by zone-focusing viewfinder cameras like the Trip 35 or XA2, then all manner of fixed-lens true rangefinder cameras from Canon, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica, and others.  These are where the true value lies as there are plenty of great quality cameras out there for bargain prices.  I bought that Hi-matic 9 for $25, the most I’d spent for a camera up to that point, and as recently as December I came across a Yashica Electro 35 also for $25 (sadly I was completely broke at the time and didn’t buy it).  At the top of the food chain, is of course all the Leicas…$5000 new for a body alone, and probably $1200 for a beat up M3 with a lens, more than I can afford, and the gulf between the Leicas and a good fixed-lens Japanese rangefinder has me continuously asking the question, starting at 50 times the price, are you really getting 50 times the camera, 50 times the image quality?  That question is especially relevant in my class right now, because our resident Leica guy sold the lens he had and now owns the exact same lens that I do (it’s in worse condition and he paid more for it).

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My local camera store just put out a handful of vintage M39 Leica screw mount lenses, of which I snagged a Leitz 5cm Summarit f/1.5 (you convinced me, Mark).  I then immediately started shopping around for a body.  I’ve been doing my research for a while, and ultimately chose the Canon 7, though I also considered the P and VI-L models.  There are a lot of these coming out of Japan right now so it’s the best time ever to buy one (or two?) of these great old cameras, a body can be had for under $100 if you’re patient.  It’s a great camera, and has all the modern features: integrated rangefinder/viewfinder, thumb winder, swing open door with SLR-style film loading (which Leica will never adopt, it seems), and a selenium light meter (which still works and appears to be accurate).  And it’s a solidly-built hunk of brass, not at all unworthy of carrying a well-made Leitz lens (and that lens is a beast, weighing more than the body).

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So I think I’ve found the perfect middle-of-the-road price point for me to get into rangefinders without having pay more than I did for my last car, yet still having the ability to shoot a wide variety of Leica glass (the older and more affordable kind), plus lenses from many different manufacturers if I want them.  There are even modern lenses out there from Cosina/Voigtlander, and this just came out as well.  I’m going to have to save up quite a bit but man, I do so want a brand new Jupiter 3+ kind of badly…

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So how is shooting the Canon 7?  Pretty nice.  Despite its reputation of not being as well-made as the Canon P, to me it feels extremely solid.  It has the same style thumb lever as my AE-1 in that it can be moved out from the body a good ways without locking, which can take a bit of getting used to, but aids in rapid winding situations as my thumb fits in between the body and the lever.  The strap lugs seem a bit oddly placed, and from what I’ve read the camera only balances correctly when sporting the f/0.95 dream lens.  The shutter is definitely quieter and smoother than any of my SLR shutters, and I expect sharper handheld shots down to 1/8sec.  The light meter works and appears to be relatively accurate, though I would prefer something that reads through the lens, but for that I’d need a much more modern (and expensive) camera.

Considering that I bought the camera for the purpose of mounting Leitz screw mount lenses, I should be talking more about that lens.  It has a bit of a bad reputation for being really soft wide open, but then again that might be because Leitz had them optimized for f/2.8 (I hear they can be modified).  I’ve seen pictures around here and there, and it seems like the lens has the potential to give just stunning bokeh wide open.  It’s not something I’ve really obsessed about in the past, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, especially for black & white, where the lower contrast does not prove a hindrance.  And being a lens that was made in 1953, it definitely doesn’t have the multicoating, flare resistance, contrast, and look of modern lenses.  For color work, I’m not convinced, but then I’m not doing a lot of color work; that said, a low contrast lens like this could work great taming the wild colors of films like Ektar and Velvia 100, and right now I’m testing that assumption by shooting some Ektar.

But that said, I’m happy with the results I’ve had so far in black & white.  The lens is plenty sharp stopped down, and contrast is good as well.

Edit: OK guys, I’d better own up…mere hours after posting this, it developed a problem with the shutter speed/ASA dial, to the point where it no longer changes shutter speeds now.  I tried taking it to my local camera store, but they don’t have the parts to fix it, so unfortunately I had to contact the seller.  Per the money-back guarantee I would still have had to pay shipping back to Japan, we came to an agreement and I was refunded the price minus shipping costs but kept the camera.  I’m going to donate it to my local camera store as a parts machine.  So much for trying to get a good deal on this one.  Looks like it’s back to the hunt…

The Snow in Black & White

I’ve been busy scanning things.  Well, actually the scanning part is easy, it’s the getting things just perfect afterwards that really chews up time.  Unless someone is in a big hurry, I’ve found so far that with black & white and the F335 it’s best to just take the raw files and do all the corrections myself in Photoshop instead of relying on PSI to do it.  Unless they’re really low contrast images PSI will overcompensate, and while it’s feasible to just turn down the contrast right there, I’d rather get my black & white images just right.  And it takes lots of work.

This is Arista Edu.100/Fomapan 100 which I developed myself in the school darkroom (first roll in a year!) using D-76 1:1 developed for (I think) 9min.  I had already bought my Pakon F335 so I waited until it arrived and this was the first roll through the scanner.  edit: I forgot to add, most of these shots are in my local neighborhood, just took them as I walked along one day.  #4 was taken from the Wal-Mart parking lot.

I shot this roll in the Olympus Trip 35, more from the same roll as this.  I have to say, that little camera is quite handy to have, especially in winter.  It’s simple to use, even with gloves on, and it fits quite nicely in a coat pocket.  This is only my first roll through it, but I could already tell it wouldn’t be the last.  It’s got a sharp lens and I don’t think the Fomapan does it justice, I have a feeling this would be a great camera for landscapes with Ektar 100.  With a 40mm f/2.8 lens I would have thought that it would be exclusively an outdoors camera but reading this post has changed my mind a bit.  I suppose that with the right film, you could get away with just about anything.  Cinestill 800T, anyone?

I don’t know what to think about Fomapan.  Its grain isn’t too bad and it has a classic grain structure, but nothing really stands out to me about it, it’s hard to form an opinion one way or another.  With Kentmere 100, even though its grain is huge for an 100-speed film, I at least think that it has a fantastic character and look to it, and would prefer using it to Fomapan 100 for most things, except maybe landscapes like we have here.  I suppose the price being right, it was a good film to try out, and I do have another roll which I plan on putting through something I’m a bit more familiar with like a Spotmatic, but I don’t think it will become a standby for me.  It is however, quite cheap to buy.  One thing I remember reading (after the fact, unfortunately) is that it really should be pulled somewhere under 100, and also the developing times are too aggressive and if overdeveloped the highlights can bunch up quick.  The chart hanging on our wall said 8-10 minutes in D-76 1:1, I really should have gone for 8 (or less) instead of 9, especially with all the snow and overcast skies, but I suppose I’ll know for next time.

This guy

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I never even got his name.  I saw him sitting on the side of the road in a wheelchair with a sign that read “No job.”  I usually ignore those with signs and especially those who will come up and ask you for money (bad experiences), but today, I felt something telling me to make an exception this time.  I bought him some Chinese food, listened to him talk for an hour or so, heard his stories.  He showed me his gunshot wound he received for walking into the wrong alley back when he lived in L.A.  He kept his head down, didn’t look me in the eye much.

He has no legs.  While he lives in a retirement home now, he spent a few winters outside and lost them to frostbite, a year apart.  Now he has throat cancer and was a week away from operating when I spoke to him.  He told me they’ll have to remove part of his jaw.  For the last week that he could, he was planning to smoke and drink as much as possible before he has to stop entirely.  He thought maybe he had run over a witch and now she had cursed him.  I tried to explain that even with only a week left, he could take control of his life at least a little bit by choosing himself when to give up booze and cigarettes, not waiting to let his health circumstances dictate it for him, but I did a bad job of it, don’t think I got my point across.

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I took a few pictures of him on my camera, he took a few of me with his.  Eventually he had to get going, so did I, before the snow caught us both.  It’s Tuesday now, he’ll be up in Denver for his operation, he says he won’t be coming back down this way.  He has a 75% chance to make it through, thinks they’re pretty good odds, and has a feeling he’ll live to be 94.  Whoever this guy is, I’m thinking and praying for him.  If he’s right, then he has a lot of life left to live, and I hope he is able to live it well.