Olympus Trip 35 - Initial Impressions

22nd October 2009

If you search ebay right now, you can probably find a number of these cameras on sale. I’ve seen them go for as little as £5, and reckoned it would be a nice first foray into the world of rangefinders.

Olympus Trip 35

In many ways this camera directly competes for my attention with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. As you can see below, they are of similar sizes, and both have a nice portable form factor. They both make a welcome change from the chunky DSLRs in terms of weight.

Olypmus Trip 35 and Panasonic LX3 size comparison

One of the reasons why the rangefinder has been so popular in the past 50 years, is due to the fact that it is a very discrete camera to use. It’s because of this, that journalists in the field have often chosen rangefinders for the kind of work that requires them to get close to their subject. The Olympus Trip 35 definitely fulfills this roll. The small size, extremely quiet shutter and zero startup time make this camera very discreet. Your average point and shoot just cannot compare.

The Olympus Trip 35 also has a very distinct focusing mechanism. There are 4 focus zones marked on the barrel, each representing a rough distance to your subject. These focus zones are reasonably forgiving, and as a result you can pick the appropriate one very quickly, and spontaneous street photography becomes very easy.

The Olympus Trip 35 will never run out of batteries. That’s because it doesn’t have any. Light is metered using a selenium photo-electric cell. This controls aperture and hence exposure. Film is advanced mechanically by hand, and focus is handled manually too (as described above). The light meter has one added feature. If there not enough light for an exposure, the shutter will not release. Instead a red flag will move into view in the viewfinder, indicating that there is insufficient light. This has the bonus effect of preventing accidental exposures during transport, simply by attaching the lens cap.

There are, however, a few drawbacks. The most notable of which is the rather slow, but sharp, lens. Unless you mount a flash gun, low light photography is impossible with this lens, as there is no ability to lengthen exposure time. It’s also fixed focal length, limiting composition options in tricky situations.

But these complaints are minor, and if you are finding that you are missing these features, you are probably missing the point of this camera. It’s about taking it anywhere and everywhere, and shooting quickly and spontaneously. It’s so cheap and robust that it’s the camera you take to places you would never take your SLR or your shiny point and shoot. It’s about quick and dirty street photography when you haven’t got time to rigorously compose and focus.

That is where this gem of a camera shines, and for that reason, I cannot recommend it enough. Just check out the results from this flickr group.

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