THE OLYMPUS TRIP 35 by Ray Goulter

The Olympus Trip 35 camera was a point-and-shoot 35mm viewfinder camera aimed (hence its model designation) at the travelling as well as candid and family photographer who wanted a simple-to-use camera that would suit travelling, was lightweight, relatively small, robust and could be coupled with a flash unit and would give photographs with excellent detail. Steel and aluminium comprise the camera body. There is very minor use of plastic, and weight at about 400gms gives a nice solid “feel” to the camera without it feeling too “light” or too “heavy”. It has a bright optical rangefinder incorporating lines to correct for parallax.

Olympus began producing this model in 1967 and continued production until 1984. Over 10 million units were manufactured. That, itself, says something very positive about this little gem of a 35mm film camera and it’s probably a record for a single camera model. An advertising campaign for this camera when it was launched featured photographer David Bailey.

The dimensions of the camera body indicate its appeal for travellers: 7cm deep, just under 12cm long and just over 3cm wide. The lens extends its width by a mere 2.5cm.

Within this relatively small package is a system that repeatedly produces images of correct exposure without the need for a separate light meter or manual “match-needle” adjustment. It can easily and quickly be made ready by simply changing the focus ring and ensuring the film has been wound on. Then it’s just compose and shoot! This allowed opportunities for images to be taken on the spur of the moment without having to give too much thought to the camera’s settings, thus the risk of losing a photo opportunity is reduced.

Front and rear views of the Trip 35

The simplicity of the controls for the Trip 35 belies its sophistication. It has a Zuiko coated 40mm f/2.8 fixed lens (4 elements in 3 groups) that became famous for its excellent sharpness – reportedly still being sharper than many modern digital cameras. Three rings – all incorporated into the lens barrel – control the settings.

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Set to A (Automatic) general use.

The ring at the front of the lens is used to select the film speed. Film speed settings range through 25-40-50-64-80-100-125-160-200-250-320 and 400. These 12 settings easily covered the majority of films (yes – I know you just counted them!), from B&W through colour negative to slide, available during the camera’s production run. Whilst 400 ISO may not seem high by today’s digital ISO range, it was more than adequate for films of its time, like Kodachrome 25, Ektachrome Type B (artificial light) 50, Ektachrome 64, 100 and 200 (daylight) slide films and B&W films from Adox Pan 25 through to Kodak Tri-X at 400 ISO. Intermediate settings catered for Ilford FP4 (125 ISO), and specialist films in other ISO speeds such as Ektachrome Tungsten 160 (artificial light).

The second ring controls focus. This is simplified to four click stops from close portrait (head & upper body icon), several people (head and torso icon of a grown-up and child), larger groups of people (full bodies icon), and infinity (mountains icon). A check of a scale underneath the lens, in both feet and metres, shows the equivalent distances for those who wanted to ensure their subject was in more critical focus. These are 1metre, 1.5 metres, 3 metres and infinity that are white and coincide with the icon clicks. The orange scale is in feet. It’s therefore easy to select a setting, outside the click stops, for critical focus.

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The focus distance scale on the underside of the lens.

The third ring closest to the camera body controls aperture, with “A” for automatic to be used for “normal”, or everyday, use. The aperture range clicks to 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 and 22. These familiar stops are still standard on the majority of lenses today but there are no ½ stop “clicks”. The aperture ring can be set between the click stops but this is hardly necessary. The main reason for manually using the aperture scale was for the use of a flash unit on the hot shoe. In fact, the words “for Flash” appear after the f/22 aperture number. Thus, when a flash unit is fitted, it’s simply a case of selecting the flash unit’s f/stop to be used, setting the camera’s aperture ring to the same f/stop, and shooting. Very easy if a flash with controlled output is used.

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The flash aperture stops – set to f/11 in this image.

One of the major attractions of this camera is it doesn’t require batteries. This was a definite plus for travellers who could not be sure of the availability of special batteries, usually the “button” type, in many countries, although they would need the more readily-available AA batteries for a flash unit.

A selenium light metering ring that encircles the front of the lens barrel serves the camera’s automatic control function. It is remarkably effective. The selenium cell determines which of two shutter speeds is used: 1/40th second or 1/200th second. Thus multiple combinations for exposures from 1/40th second @ f/2.8 to 1/200th second @ f/22 are available – more than enough to cover the majority of lighting situations most travellers and candid photographers would be likely to encounter. 1/40th second is always selected for flash as soon as the aperture ring is moved away from “A”. The shutter is also very quiet, with barely a “click” being heard. The shutter button is also threaded to accept a remote release cable. That is a definite plus if the camera is set onto a tripod, and means a long bulb cable release could be also used so the photographer could be included in the image.

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The all-controlling selenium light cell. Note the coated lens.

Whilst there’s no “manual” mode, there is a means of taking some manual control if you want, and this is by using the aperture selections when the camera makes all exposures at 1/40th second. You will, however, need a light meter or work on the f/16 rule. Simply set the light meter to the ISO speed of the film being used, and, after taking a light measurement, read off the f-stop coinciding with 1/40th second. Set the aperture ring to that and you have been able to gain manual aperture control. I’m not sure this is needed by anyone but a purist, as the major attraction of this camera is that it’s designed for removing the thought process needed for manual control or match-needle setting, in order to allow the photographer more time to actually concentrate on composition and “get the shot”.

I’m unsure when I came by my Trip 35. I’ve had it for years and never used it. I think it was part of a number of photographic items in a jumble box at an auction several years ago when I was only interested in a bunch of step-up / step-down rings but had to bid for the lot. I’m not sorry I came by it! The serial number of mine is 5221973. I don’t know the S/N protocol used by Olympus but if it was consecutive numbers mine is about mid-point through the full production run, which seems about right.

Julie recently got a pack of 10 boxes of Kodak 200 colour negative film to use in her Nikkormat, so I purloined a cassette to put the Trip 35 through its paces. Julie and I attended a fund-raising function to aid the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (tax-deductible donations to www.ocrf.com.au) at the Hotel Richmond in Rundle Mall, on Sunday 21st October. I took the Trip 35 along, coupled to a Metz 38 CT3 flash unit. The Metz 38 CT3 is also a gem of a flash unit ideally suited for coupling to the Trip 35 so maybe I’ll do a report on it at a later date.

One aspect of the Trip 35 is that, due to the layout of the controls and the camera’s relative compactness, it’s quite easy to use the camera single-handedly. Advancing the film is by way of a circular thumbwheel nicely positioned at the right hand thumb level. The middle focussing ring of the lens barrel, with four positive stops, means the tips of the fingers can easily select the focus position. Then it’s a case of lifting the camera to the eye and shooting – all done with the right hand.

There are two means by which a flash can be used with this camera. Firstly there’s the flash hot-shoe – not just a flash shoe, and secondly the standard Prontor-Compur sync connector nipple for attaching a flash cord. Both can be seen in the first image, with the sync connector just below and to the left of the lens viewed from the front, and the flash hot-shoe in the usual position above the viewfinder. The flash sync connector is handy for using a flash extension cord to move the flash away from the camera and avoid the problem of red-eye.

If the selenium cell determines there’s not enough light, a red tongue appears in the rangefinder and the shutter is locked to prevent exposure. This can be over-ridden by moving the aperture ring to 2.8 @ 1/40th exposure, but the photo will still be under-exposed because the automatic exposure mechanism via the red tongue told you so!

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The red tongue indicating low light.

Loading the camera with film is straightforward. Simply push down the metal tongue at the bottom of the left side of the camera (viewed from behind) and the back pops open. The metal tongue is small enough to avoid accidental opening. Lift the film rewind knob and insert the 35mm film cartridge, pull out the first part of the film and insert it into the take-up spool then wind the film advance knurled wheel to tighten the film and ensure it’s securely locked into the take-up spool. Close the back and wind the film on until the wind-on wheel stops. Frame 1 will be visible in the film counter pane at the top right-hand side of the camera, and it’s ready for immediate use. Once a photo has been taken the film has to be advanced before another photo can be taken, so there’s no risk of double-exposing any frames. There is no over-ride to allow deliberate double exposures.

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The open back ready for film to be loaded.

Removing the exposed film is straightforward: Press a small button in a recessed section at the base of the body then swing the lever out from the rewind knob and wind the film back into the cassette. Lift the rewind crank fully up then open the back and remove the cassette. It’s now ready for re-loading. If you want to leave some film tongue out it’s easy to listen for the sound of the film coming off the take-up spool. This is usually accompanied by the rewind crank losing tension.

 

Lacking the abundant “sophisticated” controls of modern computerised circuitry cameras, this camera can be likened to a “programmed automatic” modern digital point-and-shoot – but with a much better lens. Consider also when this camera was introduced: 1967. The majority of 35mm cameras aimed at the amateur market were fully manual rangefinder models, and the TTL models coming onto the market were either fully manual requiring a light meter, or had an inbuilt light meter where the shutter speed or aperture required manual adjustment to match the needle. So a fully automatic camera that delivered results like the Trip 35 was quite revolutionary and this no doubt added to its continued appeal and established the long production run for Olympus. This little camera even has its own Internet cult following, and I can understand why!

I had intentions of selling this camera on one of the Internet sites, which is why I decided to give it a run before sale. I intend next to put a roll of B&W through it to make prints for club competitions, then a roll of the newly-released Ektachrome slide film, trusting the selenium light metering to handle the narrow latitude of slide film. I have that much faith in the sharpness of the lens and the camera’s ability for automatic correct exposure.

If there’s one thing this camera does that beats most modern cameras, and in fact many of its much higher-priced contemporary film cameras including Leica, it is this: it leaves the photographer free to actually concentrate on capturing the image instead of having to go through a process of deciding camera settings, with the distinct bonus of getting an image that was sharp throughout the whole image from centre to every corner. Colours are faithfully reproduced. An internet report I read indicated the 40mm lens of the Trip 35 was equal to a 40mm Leica lens in sharpness throughout the whole image because there was no need to make a lens that had to allow for the bulk of an internal SLR mirror – the same as for Leica rangefinder cameras. Rating the Trip 35’s lens equal to a Leica lens for sharpness is praise indeed, especially when the price of a Leica rangefinder 40mm lens was considered.

Does it have any pitfalls? Yes it does but remember the target audience wasn’t at the high end of the market, so some things have to be forgiven. When the film has been wound on for frame 1, it’s quite easy to accidently trigger the shutter as there’s no shutter lock. It’s best therefore to insert the film and ensure it’s well captured by the take-up spool, use the rewind lever to make sure any looseness of film in the cassette is removed, then close the back. As soon as it’s time to take the first frame wind the film on to frame counter 1 and take the shot. After that, don’t wind on the film to the next frame until it’s time for the next shot. Keep in mind, however, that this adds time before the shot can be taken, so if you’re at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona and a bull gets its own back on a spectator,  courtside at Wimbledon, or trackside at the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races, you’d be better to wind on to the next frame immediately after taking a shot so as not to miss the next opportunity.

One other matter is the 1/40th lower shutter speed. It takes a calm hand to avoid camera shake under 1/60th second. Thus, when the light begins to decrease, a tripod – even a small lightweight one whilst travelling – would be beneficial.

There’s also the filter size: 43.5mm thread. Mine has obviously been dropped or bumped against a hard object at some stage because there’s a small dent near the bottom of the threaded edge. It’s definitely an odd size filter, so the best thing to do if filters are to be used, such as an orange or red filter for B&W landscapes to enhance clouds, would be to get a step-up ring to 49mm, 52mm or 55mm. I checked my reasonably large number of step-up rings and I don’t have a single 43.5mm one. Nor could I find any 43.5mm filters in my collection, and my favourite photographic supply shop, Total Photographics at Kent Town, didn’t have one nor is there any listed in their supplier’s list. I’d firstly have to ease out the bent edge at the front of the lens and I doubt I could get it in a good enough true circle for any filter or step-up ring to comfortably screw in. One redeeming feature is the position of the selenium photo-cell, which means that any filter’s light reduction factor is automatically compensated for. I often place a filter in front of my light meter to take a reading instead of calculating the filter factor to apply to the light meter reading sans filter. There is, of course, always the ability to hold a larger filter in front of the Trip 35 lens when taking the shot. Thus the use of an orange or red filter for landscapes with cloud is possible.

There is some fall-off of light in the corners of some images taken with flash, but this is something that is generally beneficial to images being entered in competitions. How often do we hear judges comment that some vignetting would benefit the image?

Apparently many of the Trip 35 cameras suffered from the leatherette body covering peeling with age, but my example still has the leatherette is very good condition and no peeling at all – unlike my much later Nikon D300 that has the rubberised covering peeling off in some places. Some Internet reports indicate there is a problem as the cameras age with hardening/drying of the original grease lubricant on the aperture blades causing sticking resulting in over-exposure. I also couldn’t see any evidence of this in any of the images from the film I put through it. The example I have is a later model with the black shutter button. The earlier models had a chrome shutter release button. According to the code on the back of the film pressure plate, mine was made in May 1982, towards the end of its production run.

The following shows two of the photos taken at the OCRF function, which was interrupted by a fire alarm and building evacuation. Don’t expect these reproductions to show the fine detail evident in the prints as they had to be converted to digital. Even so, the sharpness of the lens and correct exposure is still evident. The first image showed the use of flash and the second was taken outside on the “A” setting. There’s good contrast, good colour reproduction, overall sharpness, and detail in shadows and highlights.

The last image is one taken of our backyard. There is detail in the print in both highlights and shadows and sharpness throughout the entire image. This is also straight from the automatic setting.

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Summary:

The Olympus Trip 35 is a delightful lightweight functional 35mm film camera with much still going for it. This camera is ideal for anyone contemplating dabbling in film for the first time. Even though it’s restricted to a 40mm fixed lens that is ideal for most photos taken whilst travelling on holidays, the lens is as sharp as you would want and sharper than many modern lenses. The results speak for themselves, and over 10 million customers can’t be wrong! I would find it hard to deny this little camera hasn’t seduced me. This one stays in my collection and will definitely get more use, especially when I’m on holidays!

 

Ray

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