Saturday, January 27, 2018

Photographing Decay with the Olympus Trip 35 (Good Things in Tiny Packages)

The Olympus Trip 35 is a compact 24×36mm-format point-and-shoot camera that was sold in the millions in the 1970s and 1980s. The specifications are pretty modest, but it takes amazingly good photographs when you use fine grain film. With the recent revival in film photography, the Trip 35 has become somewhat of a cult classic because it is compact, has a precision feel (like most Olympus cameras), and is fun to use. Prices range from about $30 to over $100, depending on condition. Sure, it is no Leica, but for many situations, the negatives from this Olympus are highly satisfying.
As you can see, this is a simple device. Film winding is via a wheel on the back. Exposure is automatic, controlled by a selenium meter that is coupled to the aperture and shutter. If the light is too low, a red flag pops up in the finder to tell you that the shutter button is locked.

The 40mm f/2.8 lens consists of 4 elements in 3 groups, so it is probably a Tessar-type optic. Tessars have been in use for a century. Because of the limited number of glass-air surfaces, they are resistant to flare and are contrasty. And they have a characteristic that is sometimes called edge effect, where density builds up at abrupt feature edges on the negative. This gives the appearance of enhanced sharpness. Wide open, at f/2.8, the sides of a frame are not too sharp, but stopped down, the scene is uniformly crisp (examples below). The lens is not as well corrected as a 6- or 7-element Sonnar- or Summicron-type lens, but those are much more expensive and complicated designs.
This little Olympus has limitations:
  1. There are only two shutter speeds: 1/40 sec and 1/200 sec. The camera sets them for you based on the amount of light, but if you turn the aperture dial off "A" to one of the f-stops, the shutter is 1/40.
  2. The light meter, being a selenium cell, does not have low-light capacity. The selenium cell (behind the bubbly plastic) surrounds the lens. If you want a low-light camera, you need one with a battery-powered CDS or SBC cell.
  3. The viewfinder does not have a focus aide, so you need to estimate the distance. The lens has some symbols to help you, such as a mountain or a person. Really, it is not difficult. Millions of photographers in the 1970s and 1980s successfully used the little Rollei 35 cameras with their zone focus lenses.
  4. The filter size is a unique 43.5mm fine pitch. Why did Olympus do this? Filters are very hard to find, and they do not screw in easily.
  5. For some unknown reason, hoods are rare in the USA. I had to order one from a UK vendor, and it cost as much as the camera did.
Regardless of these limitations, this Olympus is fun. I always used manual cameras, where I set aperture, shutter speed, and focus myself. With this little Trip 35, you can leave the focus at infinity (the mountain symbol), raise the camera to frame, and snap away.  It is so simple, so liberating. But I noticed I still carry it in the same way as my bigger cameras: left hand cradling the lens and right hand holding the right side and index finger on the shutter button. Solid grip, no breathing, and careful press.
11th Street (Route 66), Tulsa, Oklahoma
Route 66, Canute, Oklahoma

Here are two examples of Trip 35 photos taken on Kodak BW400CN film in bright sunny conditions. I used a polarizing filter to darken the sky.
Gray Street (Route 66), McLean, Texas
The lens has some barrel distortion, as shown by the curved sidewalk in the picture of the historic Phillips 66 gasoline station in McLean, Texas. Software could correct it, but I left it just as scanned.
Warehouse, Mississippi Basin Model, Jackson
Pump house, Mississippi Basin Model, Jackson
The long-neglected hydraulic model of the Mississippi River basin in Buddy Butts Park, Jackson, is finally being cleaned by the Friends of Mississippi River Basin Model volunteer group. The buildings are good examples of texture, patterns, and shapes. Here I used TMax 100 film under contrasty conditions. Again, no complaints about this Olympus lens!
Country store, Hwy 457 east of Pattison, Mississippi.
At low light, you can see the limitations of this Olympus. The picture of an old country store near Pattison was low contrast with some flare around the tree branches. The shutter speed would have been 1/40 sec and probably close to f/2.8. Good, but not Leica quality. Still, I will test the Trip 35 some more to learn its limitations, and I have not yet tried color negative film. Its tiny size makes it a good travel camera if you need to pack light. If any of you readers want to experiment with film photography, a Trip 35 or one of the other compact Japanese rangefinder cameras from the 1970s or 1980s is an inexpensive way to get started. Write me and I will be glad to help.

For more information, the 35MMC blog reviewed the Trip 35 as well as many other compact cameras of the 1970s and 1980s. A blog by Peter Vis has a description of a tear-down.

This is the tenth article in my irregular series on tools for photographing decay. Previous articles (click the links):

Decay with the Leica camera
Decay with the Rolleiflex TLR camera
The Leica IIIC camera
Kodak Panatomix-X film
Fomapan 100 Classic film
The 35mm Super Takumar lens
Decline of an industrial giant: Eastman Kodak
Ilford XP-2 film
Kodak Ektar 25 film

1 comment:

  1. Very great post with excellent and insightful information. Thanks for sharing.

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