When I'm out walking around I must admit I do what I believe that most other people - that are interested in cameras and photography - do: I check out other people's camera gear. In these 'digital days' I have on several occasions noticed that there is some sort of acknowledgment or 'nod' between people that sport some sort of film-camera and it often leads to a casual, passing conversation about the equipment used.
Browsing a larger department store a few weeks ago I came upon a gentleman that I spotted - or should I say his Leicaflex - at quite a distance. I was carrying a black Olympus 35SP over the shoulder and the previously described 'You too?' expressions were soon exchanged - along with a photo. The 'unknown photographer' was visiting from Taiwan and when I commented that it was a great camera he had brought with him he was quick to comment on that the Leicaflex SL 2 was a much better version. A few minutes later we were both on our separate ways, disappearing into a sea of camera phones and digital points-and-shoots.
They are disappearing - but when you find a good one it's truly heavenly.. I'm talking about good old fashioned camera stores.
In 2003 David Tran opened up his camera store Camera Heaven in what is now San Francisco's "Little Saigon" neighbourhood. It's one of those smaller stores that it would be easy to walk straight past if you didn't know it was there - but once you step through the door you can feast your eyes upon hundreds of cameras ranging from older models from Rolleiflex, Contax, Leica and Canon to the latest in digital P&S and dSLR's.
David himself is often found behind the counter with camera parts in his hands as camera repair represents a significant part of his business. On my latest visit a few weeks ago he happened to mention that the sale of film cameras was steadily going up. Maybe there is life after the pixels.
If you get a chance drop by. Who knows - maybe you'll walk out with that nice, black little Contax I or Pentax Spotmatic I saw there.
David at Camera Heaven Photo taken with an Olympus 35SP and Kodak BW400CN film
Note: Little Saigon is part of the Tenderloin district and spreads over about two city blocks. While it may not be the most upscale area of the city it is the home of many smaller, quality stores such as Camera Heaven. In 2004, with about 80% of the store owners being of Vietnamese heritage, the area applied for - and received - a $20,000 neighbourhood fund from the city that is being used for clean-up and branding.
Introduced in 1968 the Olympus Trip 35 camera still have a huge user base and is somewhat of a cult camera.
Being a fan of the Compact 35-line of Olympus cameras I obviously have one (actually two or three - but who's counting) but the sad thing is that I couldn't remember how well - or if 'well' at all - it performed so I loaded it up with a roll of Tri-X 400 and took it to the streets of San Francisco this past weekend.
I will post the actual results in a few days but until then here is some information about the camera itself.
My black Olympus Trip 35
Another 'glamour shot' of it
Production As mentioned above the Trip 35 was introduced in 1968 (even though you may read some incorrect statements about 1967 on some sites) and until the production was discontinued in 1984 supposedly 10 million cameras were produced. This also means that finding and buying a Trip 35 today is very easy and you won't have to break the bank to get one (expect to pay anything from $5 - $40 depending on the shape the camera is in).
Using the camera When talking about the controls of this camera 'less is more' comes to mind.
First of all there are no batteries in this camera. It has a built in selenium meter (the metering cells are located in a circle around the lens giving the camera that special look that some love - and some hate) that works independently of batteries. What is interesting here is that selenium cells don't last forever and many cameras that depend on them are no longer functioning - but the meter in most Olympus Trip 35s seems to hum along just fine (however DO ask if the meter is working before buying one because if it doesn't the camera will not work).
Tip: One easy, rough test to see if the meter is active is to 1) point the camera towards a very dark - or very bright - area and press the shutter. If the meter is active a red flag should appear in the viewfinder and you won't be able to take a photo (this also implies a shutter speed slower than 1/40th or faster than 1/200th) and then to 2) use the camera in daylight where you should be able to fully depress the shutter.
So how do you focus? Well, the camera is using what is commonly referred to as 'scale focusing' (also often referred to as 'guess focusing'...). Note though that when shooting at 1m (or closer) you should pay attention to the small 'parallax frameline markers' in the viewfinder).
As far as aperture settings are concerned you have four options: 'portrait', 'couple', 'group' and 'far away' - these settings are all available on the lens mount, represented by icons, and is the only kind of focusing you will have to worry about.
When you are looking through the viewfinder the distance-icon you selected is cleverly displayed in the lower right-hand corner as per below:
In the smaller window one can see that the (A)utomatic and 'couple' settings are active
Tip: If you look at the opposite side of the lens mount you can see the 'actual' distances that these icons represents (1m, 1.5m, 3m and infinity). There is no way of adjusting the shutter speeds. Unless you're using a flashgun - set the aperture ring to "A" (for automatic) and the camera will automatically determine if to use 1/40th or 1/200th (which are the only two shutter speeds available). In 'manual' mode only 1/40th is made available. Note: See in the Link-section below for some 'advanced' tips on how to modify the camera to work around this limitation. The lens is a four-elements (in three groups) D.Zuiko 40/2.8 and I will hopefully later this week find out for myself if how it performs but knowing the Zuiko line of lenses I have fairly high hopes.
So far it's been a really fun camera to use and when the photos comes back later this week I hope I will be able to recommend it based on performance as well. For approx. $15 it seems hard to go wrong...
Trivia * A series of Olympus TV and print commercials in the 70's and 80's featuring the famous British photographer David Bailey using the Trip 35 helped elevating the camera to the cult status it holds today. The catchphrase from these commercials was "Who do you think you are - David Bailey?" One of the original commercials can be seen here: LINK (requires Realplayer). * Bailey is still actively involved with Olympus and their advertising work - example.
* The Trip 35 came in three versions; a) Chrome body and chrome shutter release (first version), b) Chrome body and black shutter release, c) Black body and black shutter release
Version 'a' above features a brass gear driving the take-up spool while versions 'b' and 'c' uses a Delrin (plastic) gear. *Filter thread is 43.mm and the camera will accept a hood as well