I was gifted an Olympus 35 RD rangefinder camera by my friend GravelDoc at the end of summer. It was inoperable, a victim of “sticky shutter syndrome” synonymous with this model. So I dropped it off for repairs and a full CLA (clean, lube, adjust) at Advance Camera in Raleigh Hills. It came back right before Thanksgiving. Since then, I’ve used this camera a lot, putting it through the paces. Turns out I like this camera a lot!
For one thing, it’s my most compact rangefinder. The 1970’s were chock-a-block with small Japanese-built fixed-lens rangefinders. But many of them are auto-exposure: the only controls you have are focus and ASA/ISO adjust. The 35 RD was part of a more elite group of compact rangefinders like the Minolta Hi-Matic 7sii that have semi-auto exposure plus full manual override. Having the ability to control exposure exactly how I want it is a big plus.
Of course, I rarely do that with this camera. I have it usually in shutter priority mode, only switching to full manual when I need to. That’s because the 35 RD almost dares you to go full manual. The aperture control ring is flush against the body, and is hard to move even after getting freshly lubricated. Any time I attempt to move that ring, I will no doubt move the focus ring as well. So shutter priority it is. I’ve gotten pretty used to this way of doing exposure, but it does take a little time to adjust after moving from either the Olympus Pen EES-2 or Olympus XA2 (full auto-exposure), Minolta SR-T 101 (full manual exposure), and Minolta Hi-Matic 7s (choice between full auto or full manual, and I have it in manual mode 99% of the time.)
When I received the Olympus 35 RD in September, I thought that it might become the one rangefinder. The 35 RD has a slightly faster lens than my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s, and is smaller and lighter. What would be the point of keeping the Hi-Matic around after getting the 35 RD back from the shop? I was plunking down $125 for a CLA, something had to give. That’s what drove me to get a Minolta SR-T 101: I figured I’d still want a Minolta of some sort around, might as well be an SLR. But even as great as the 35 RD turned out to be, I’m still keeping the Hi-Matic 7s. There’s the sentimental value, the great lens. But most importantly: the Hi-Matic 7s is much easier to shoot fully manual. I know that some folks complain about the narrowness of the shutter/aperture rings, but I find them to work just fine. And I wanted to have one rangefinder that would be my “manual exposure” shooter, heft be damned.
I realize that the last few paragraphs don’t seem like a ringing endorsement of the Olympus 35 RD. So what do I like about it? Well, there is the compactness of size. I don’t notice it that much when I have it strapped around my shoulder, riding my bike around town. (I definitely notice my Minoltas more, especially the SR-T 101.) This is a big deal for me. But the best thing about it? The photos. That F.Zuiko f/1.7 40mm lens is fast and sharp, and I’ve been impressed by the results. The combination of size and lens means it’ll be a go-to for things like bike tours and overnights, and when I travel out-of town by train (whenever that happens again.) I won’t have the multiple lens options of an SLR, but one lens means less to worry about.
Would I recommend the Olympus 35 RD? Yes, with reservations. You’re going to want that small size and be happy shooting mostly in shutter-priority mode. If you’re looking for more of a full manual exposure shooting experience, I’d steer towards those bulky Japanese-made fixed-lens rangefinders of the 60s, like my Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. (Or find a changeable-lens rangefinder like a Leica, if you want to plunk down that kind of change.) And you’re going to want to spend some money, as the 35 RDs are uncommon and coveted. There only seems to be a handful on eBay at any time, and usually north of $200. If you find one for less, you’ll most likely need to CLA it to make it functional. (You’ll probably need to do that with the ones you find over $200, unless it’s been recently CLA’d.) You may want to keep an eye out for the Olympus 35 RC, the RD’s “little brother”: it’s slightly smaller and has a slower f/2.8 lens.* But they are more plentiful and usually cheaper. I know a few cyclists who have this camera and love using it.
Me? I’m keeping my Olympus 35 RD and hope to get many years of use out of it!
For photos from my Olympus 35 RD, see the dynamic flickr album below. Or, click here.
*The Olympus 35 RC also has the oddball 43.5 mm filter size. The RD thankfully uses the more common 49 mm size.