One of the side-benefits of getting back into film photography is that someone may gift you a camera. It’s usually something that they’ve had for decades, hiding in a closet somewhere. They see that you are having fun with film cameras, so they figure you’ll make good use of it. The gifts aren’t always great ones, as Andrew at Shoot Film Ride Steel will point out. (Though I probably wouldn’t hate on a zoom compact as much as he does.) But sometimes they are. For example, back in February I was gifted an Olympus XA2 by my friend Paul after I told him I got one of those compact zoom cameras. (Maybe getting a zoom compact first is the trick?) And now another gifted camera has arrived.
At summer’s close, my friend Gravel Doc got in touch with me to let me know that he had an old Olympus rangefinder that he hadn’t used in decades and needed some work. Would I be interested? Heck yeah, I would. So he sent it to me. I thought he mentioned that it was an Olympus 35 RC, a perfectly capable and compact rangefinder from the ’70s. If it worked, it could be the small, shoulderable camera for bike rides and such. It would replace the Ricoh 35 ZF, which I had no love for. So I eagerly anticipated its arrival. And when I got it out of the box, I found out it wasn’t the RC, but the RD!
The Olympus 35 RD is also quite a small compact rangefinder, but it’s a bit more deluxe, hence the RD for “Rangefinder Deluxe”. While the lens on the RC has a respectable maximum aperture of f/2.8, the RD beats that, going as wide as f/1.7, wider than the f/1.8 on my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. (Hmm…) The Olympus 35 RD has shutter-priority or full manual modes, shutter speeds from 1/2 second to 1/500 second, plus bulb, and a self-timer. At the time of its release in 1975 (the year I was born), the RD was the culmination of Olympus’s fixed lens rangefinders. After it, this style of camera was phased out, replaced by the XA series, and then autofocus cameras.
Of course, there was one glitch: The shutter didn’t work. Doing a cursory search on the internets, the problem probably was “Sticky Shutter Syndrome”, which was notorious on this particular model. During the past four and a half decades* the oil used to lubricate the focusing ring separates and migrates to the shutter blades, gumming up the works. To make it operable, I would need to bring it to a camera shop for a CLA: Clean, Lube, Adjust. This was going to cost $125 for a camera that was free, a camera that I had not even used yet. But the reputation of these cameras is great, and since the camera was so well-featured and also rare (production stopped either in 1977 or 1978) that working units fetch high prices on eBay. So even if I didn’t end up liking the camera, I could easily sell it.
I dropped it off at Advance Camera in Raleigh Hills in early September, and waited with intense anticipation. Nine weeks later (!)** I got the camera back. Not only had they included a fresh 625 battery, but they adjusted the meter so it could work with modern 1.5 volt cells vs the old 1.35 volt mercury ones. I don’t have to worry about getting a Wein Air Cell for it!
I put a couple rolls of Kodak Color Plus 200 through it to test it out. I admired how small it was, much more compact than the Hi-Matic. There was a bit of a learning curve, though, as I got used to how it operates:
- It really prefers you to stay in shutter-priority mode, as the aperture ring is against the camera body and hard to rotate. But you’ll need to rotate it off of Auto in order to load film since it has a low-light lock: If the meter doesn’t detect enough light, it won’t let you release the shutter. And you’ll need to release that shutter a few times when loading film. For a moment, I thought the camera was already broken!
- The ASA/ISO selector was really hard to move as well until I realized that you have to push the little lever in first in order to move it.
- There’s a pretty typical aperture scale in the viewfinder. But you first need to half-press the shutter button for the needle to move and show you what f/stop it’ll be shooting at. And the needle dips to the red on the left if it’s under and over exposed. This was the weirdest quirk to get used to, as I was pointing the camera into bright light and the needle is zooming beneath 1.7! That was another “Is this camera not working properly?” moment until I figured it out.
Once I got that all out of the way, I found the Olympus 35 RD a joy to shoot with. I took it with me on Emee and my Thanksgiving Day ride to Knapp Falls. Having it strapped around my shoulder made it easy to take shots on the fly. And I put that f/1.7 lens to work in low light and shallow depth of field shots.
I was impressed with most of the shots I got back. That lens is nice! Most of the shots seemed in good focus, so the rangefinder works. A few shots seemed fogged, most likely due to condensation on the outer lens filter. (I’ll need to keep an eye on that.) But it’s safe to say that this camera is a keeper and will be a good addition to the stable.
Now I’m going to be testing it with some black and white film. The Olympus 35 RD uses a much more common 49 mm filter rather than the weird Olympus-specific 43.5 mm filter found on the RC, so it was easy to find one for cheap. It should be fun!
For more info on the Olympus 35 RD, check out this webpage from Andrew Yue.
Photos I took with the Olympus 35 RD can be seen in the dynamic flickr album below, or click here.
*Written out like that to remind myself how old I am.
**During these pandemic times, apparently everyone is finding old cameras to repair.