- Olympus 35 Rangefinder Cameras -
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Olympus 35-RC
Olympus 35-RD
Olympus 35-SP

Medium Format Rangefinders
Leica LTM Rangefinders

The Olympus 35 Rangefinder Cameras.

This page was compiled by Andrew Yue


Three Fixed Lens Rangefinders

The Olympus 35 Series feature both a semi or full auto mode and full manual override capabilities.

With today's very good digital SLR's and smaller all-in-one digicams, why would anyone shoot with a 35 year old film camera which has a fixed-lens?

These mechanical marvels of a bygone era offer the superior optical performance single-focal-length lens over the now common zoom.   Secondly - these rangefinders are a full-frame 35mm film camera.   Therefore, resolution captured on film should outperform any digital with under 12 megapixels or those with a much smaller than full-frame 35mm sensor.

Ergonomics: just remember there are only three controls on a rangefinder camera.   There are no menus to scroll through as opposed to a multitude of buttons and menu scrolling.   In a pinch, the fixed-lens rangefinder can be operated manually without using a battery.

All in all digital is much more convenient.   There's no film to buy or to check through at an airport security gate.   Digital offers the instant gratification of an image that will appear on the camera's 3 to 4 inch display.   With film you have to wait for the print to made.

There is a lot that digital does well, but there are times when electronic imaging becomes an encumberance, (for example when the batteries quit or the autofocus has difficulty selecting the intended subject or when you become disoriented while menu surfing the camera's special functions).   All of which can lead to missing the decisive moment.


The Olympus 35-RC

The Olympus 35 RC is the smallest camera at the top of the page and the one with the best ergonomics.   Although the 35RC is essentially an entry level 35mm rangefinder camera, its metal body has a a superb fit and finish which is rarely scene on today's cameras.   In addition to being small, (a 35RC kit fits in a very svelte belt pouch), the 35 RC has a highly regarded, traditional ergonomic design common to larger 35mm cameras.   There are more advanced rangefinder cameras to choose from, but the Olympus 35RC captures the essense of 35 mm photography in a wonderfully executed compact package.

Introduced by Olympus in 1970, the 35 RC is the smallest classic 35mm camera with rangefinder assisted focusing.   It includes a semi-automatic exposure mode in addition to its full manual override mode where the user sets everything.   That manual mode is important, as it insures that the camera will be operable should its battery fail when on vacation.

A step up from the base Olympus Trip 35, the 35 RC keeps it simple and affordable by only providing six shutter speeds, something which becomes a weak point in low light.   It's shutter assembly is behind the lens.   The shutter speeds range from 1/15 to 1/500 of a second, which suffice for hand-held photography.   Both its manual mode and flash mode are meterless.   Its auto exposure mode relies on a CdS light cell that is mounted in the lens barrel.   Most users will prefer this battery dependent semi-auto mode, but for keep in mind that the 35RC is able to provide for an old-school photography by switching to the camera's unmetered manual mode.

With regards to optics, the E. Zuiko, five element lens offers tack sharp resolution by f/5.6 and delivers very good contrast.   The aperture can be set manually from f/2.8 to f/22 or one can select the AE setting, which will allow the RC to select the aperture automatically provided that the user installed battery is up to speed.   The lens uses the same 43.5 mm filter size as the lesser equipped Trip 35, - which are now very difficult to source.

For indoor shooting one installs a manual flash unit with a known guide number and let the mechanically coupled flashmatic-mode automatically select the correct aperture.   If needed, the little RC is capabable of performing a manually set fill-flash technique in daylight, as its flash is synched with the shutter at all shutter speeds.

With its traditional ergonomics, rock solid dependablity and superior range finder, the Olympus 35RC is consistently easier to focus than the Rollei 35 and its larger viewfinder/rangefinder are vastly superior to the micro-rangefinder fitted on the Olypmus XA.   In stark contrast to the XA, the 35RC accepts the same filters and lens hoods as the Trip 35, 43.5mm.


The Olympus 35-RD

The more evolved Olympus 35 RD is a higher-spec'd derivative of the Olympus 35RC.   The purpose of the RD was to replace the well regarded 35SP in the Olympus line up.   Introduced in 1975, the 35RD was to be final compact 35mm rangefinder from Olympus to allow for a battery-free manual mode.   Electronics and plastic were poised to take over the market towards the end of the 1970's.

If the Olympus 35 RD weren't today so in need of repairs, this would be the compact 35mm rangefinder of choice.   Essentially, the 35RD is a 35RC on steroids.   It is a splendidly compact, but heavy shooter for its size.   The 35RD is densly packed with a new set of mechanicals which extend the shutter speeds down to 1/2 second and its 6 element lens adds some heft as well.   It's pocketable - but it does require a strong, well-made coat pocket.

The Olympus 35 RD has a full range of shutter speeds from 1/2 second to 1/500th of a second.   Its fast F Zuiko, f/1.7, six element lens is a unit focusing design and is twice as bulky as the old-school front cell focusing E Zuiko fitted to the 35RC.   The lens allows for low-light shooting. The F. Zuiko lens is not as clinically sharp wide open as the seven element, G. Zuiko lens on the older 35SP.   One improvement over the 35SP, is the shutter preferred AF mode on the 35RD is much more capable in low-light than its older brother.   Also, its metering cell is inside the filter ring of the lens, so that filter compensation is automatic.

Service Issues:   The 35RD will need to be properly repaired to bring it up to speed before using it.   The Olympus 35RD has a nice grease dampened, unit focusing lens, that carries with it the curse of impending doom.   On the 35RD, the helical grease for this assembly has a definite tendency to separate into so that the liquids componenenst migrate onto the between the lens shutter and aperture blades.   The behind the lens mounted shutter of the non-unit focusing 35RC does not have this problem, nor does the unit focusing 35SP.   Bottom line: there is a 99% chance your Oly 35RD's will eventually need the shutter/aperture assembly to be serviced and be sure to have the helical grease replaced with a modern silicone grease that doesn't migrate.   This is a professional repair that makes an already expensive camera even more expensive.


The Olympus 35-SP

Introduced in 1969 and based on the mid-1960's Olympus 35 LC , the Olympus 35 SP is a mechanical testament to the best camera engineering of its time.   In many ways the 35SP resembles a late 1950's or early 1960's fixed-lens rangefinder, albeit on steroids.   As such, it is as large as today's compact SLR's.   However large it may feel, it is still the best image taker in this class of rangefinder cameras.

I like the 35SP because it offers two unique features.   First, Olympus 35SP features an uncommon metered-manual mode.   Unlike nearly all of the rangefinders of its day, there is no need to switch over to the auto mode to take a light reading.   Second, the 35 SP is the only compact 35mm rangefinder camera with spot-metering capability.

If those two features aren't enough to give the Olympus 35 SP a test spin, let me add that the seven element, G. Zuiko lens is the best I've ever had the pleasure to use on a fixed-lens 35mm rangefinder.

Many photographers find the Olympus 35SP to be a bit archaic.

Like its 1950's predecessors, its metering cell is still located outside of the lens barrel.   In this case, it on the camera body adjacent to the viewfinder.   The downside of this location for the metering cell is it does not automatically compensate for different lens filters as later cameras do.   Thirdly, in a true throw back to the late 1950'ergonomics, the meter is calibrated in exposure values or EV numbers, which confuses anyone who has become accustomed to an auto-everything camera.   Obviously, these folks have forgotten or never discovered what it was like to use a hand-held meter.

Although its old-school ergonomics may set more than a few modern photographers back a bit, don't worry.   The Olympus 35 SP has an auto-everything AE mode that does everything except wind the film, focus and then press the shutter release for you.   The AE system works very well in daylight and in brightly lit rooms.   It is limited to EV 6 or above.   For greater exposure accuracy, the photographer can utilize spot metering while in the AE mode, by simply holding down the spot metering button.   Then slowly pressing down on the shutter release to take the exposure.   If the shutter speed falls below 1/15th of a second as a result of low light levels, the AE mode locks the shutter release to prevent an exposure.

Why is the old school shooter so special?   First, the 35-SP is the only fixed-lens rangefinder of its time that came with both center weighted and spot metering.   Second, it's is also one of a very few that has a metered manual mode.   99% of the fixed-lens rangefinders from this era onward do not meter in the manual mode.   Third, the G. Zuiko lens alone makes the camera extraordinary.   This lens yields excellent color rendition and is extraordinarily sharp throughout the frame.   Your prints will be stunning.   Finally, while other fixed-lens rangefinders have a slowest shutter speed of 1/4 or 1/8th of a second, the SP also has an extended range of slow shutter speeds range that go to a full 1 second.   In conclusion, no other Japanese fixed-lens rangefinder from the 1970's is better equipped for serious 35mm photography than the old-school Olympus 35-SP.


"Flashmatic, what is it?"

Most rangefinder cameras on this page will take a superb photo in daylight or in a brightly lit room.   Something that may seem insignificant at first glance is each of the above Olympus cameras include a "flashmatic" mode that will set the aperture automatically as the camera is focused when using an indoor flash.   With the correct guide number flash unit, one can expect near perfect flash exposures, so long as he or she accurately focuses on the subject.   It works extremely well.

What makes it a rangefinder camera?

In a single-lens reflex camera, (SLR for short), you look at a viewfinder image that is gathered directly through-the-image-taking-lens of camera.   When focusing an SLR you see an image is usually at wide open aperture and areas that are out of focus are apparent.   This is not the case in a camera with an above-the-lens extenal viewfinder fitted to a rangefinder.

In short a rangefinder camera utilizes two separate sets of optics, one for viewing the subject and a second which is the imaging lens itself.   On most rangefinder cameras the image you see in the viewfinder is does not exactly match the image which will be recorded on film.   This difference is a phenomenon called parallax.   The image below shows the effects of parallax when shooting an extreme close up from a distance of about 3 feet.

Parallax correction: professional-grade rangefinders have bright lines in their viewfinder that move as you adjust the focus.   This allows the photographer to accurately see what will be captured on film when framing close-ups.   Viewfinder and rangefinder cameras without bright-lines need to be tilted up slightly when shooting extremely close in to the subject or you'll have photos of people without most of their hair or hat missing in the final photo.

Olympus rangefinders, have framelines that don't move.   Therefore, a second set of framelines are provided for close ups.   Just remember what is inside the frame-lines is approximately what you'll capture onto the negative.  : Anything outside the frame lines will be cropped.

Cameras with built-in range finders are available for a variety of film formats and have been around since the 1930's.   Rangefinder-assisted focusing is what made 35mm film-based photography popular during the 1950's.   35mm rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses reached a high water mark amongst serous amateur and professional photographers alike.   Then came the interchangeable lens SLR, which is another story.   Due to the SLR onslaught, fixed-lens rangefinders as shown on this web page occupied a price point below the SLR camera until the introduction of auto focus cameras.

Prior to the popularity of rangefinder cameras, the photographer either had to guess the distance to the subject or use a separately puchased clip-on rangefinder attachment.   This attachment could be slid in to what was then called the accessory shoe, which has since become the flash shoe.

The "old timer" shown in the above photo has has such a rangefinder attached to its accessory shoe.   This non-coupled rangefinder has a dial which is adjusted as the user peers into an eye piece.   It is not mechanically connected to the lens.   So, the photographer must then adjust the lens focus as separate step.

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A coupled-rangefinder is a built-in device found on 35mm rangefinder cameras from about 1935 onward.   The coupled-rangefinder allows the photographer to focus the lens in one step.   Around 1950 camera makers began combining the rangefinder image with the viewfinder image.   With a combined VF/RF is that the entire apparatus is now not only linked directly to the focus ring on the lens, but only needs one viewfinder eye piece instead of two.   All Olympus rangefinder cameras on this web page use a coupled-range finder focus system.

Take a closer look at any rangefinder camera and you should see two or more windows on the front of the camera's top cover.

Rangefinder focusing is accomplished by lining up to separate images until they are superimposed with each other.   This requires at least two separate windows to produce the two images that appear in the viewfinder of a rangefinder camera.   The larger of the two windows is usually the viewfinder window.   The viewfinder window gathers the main image that is seen in the viewfinder eyepiece.   Not noticed by novice users, is a second window, off to towards the center of the camera by an inch and a half or more.   This is the rangefinder window and it is usually smaller than the main viewfinder window.   The smaller window gathers the second image which will be observed as a yellow square or diamond superimposed over the main image in the viewfinder.   The second image is referred to as the focus patch.   One can put their finger over the rangefinder window and watch the yellow focus patch disappear when viewing a scene through the viewfinder.


As the focus ring of the main lens is adjusted, the scene within the rangefinder patch moves from left to right in relation to the main image.   This double-image focusing system provides the photographer a quick and accurate means to set the focus.   One simply adjusts the focus until the two images line up as a single image.

In case you're curious, the frosted glass or plastic between the rangefinder and viewfinder windows is for the lit backdrop.   Essentially it superimposes a third imaga into the viewfinder eyepiece.   Behind the frosted window is housed the meter needle, the bright-frame marks and any other printed info that that are displayed in the viewfinder.   Put your finger in front this frosted panel and watch the viewfinder info disappear.

Again, all that you need to really know about the rangefinder mechanism is that the image within the yellow patch moves as you turn the focus ring on the lens.   Simply, rotate the focus ring until the two superimposed images match and you're done.   That, in a nut shell, is how a coupled double image rangefinder works.

How do 35mm rangefinder cameras compare with 35mm SLR cameras?

First and foremost, - beginning about 1960 - single lens reflex cameras are what literally replaced classic rangefinder cameras in popular photography.   During the 1960's Japanese optical companies introduced compact fixed-lens 35mm rangefinder cameras with simple to use AE modes as low cost alternative to the what were at the time expensive SLR's.   It wasn't until the mid-1970's when moderately priced, compact SLR's were introduced which included an added auto exposure mode that the sales of 35mm rangefinder cameras plummeted.

There are three things a fixed-lens 35mm camera is never going to do very well.

  • Use a long telephoto lens or zoom lens.
  • Macro or micro photography.
  • Impress your friends who have the latest technological marvel.

It has always been diificult to get taken seriously by professional and semi-professional photogs, if one chose to use a Japanese fixed-lens rangefinder camera fitted with a leaf-shutter.   Even though the may not be taken seriously, there are some advantages to the 35mm RF.

  • An RF rangefinder camera is less intimating when doing candid shots
  • In a quiet room, the leaf-shutter on a fixed-lens rangefinder camera is nearly silent.
  • Easy and quick focusing in low-light, especially when filters are used.
  • The ability to perform a daylight fill-flash when using ISO 400 film at any shutter speed.
  • A rangefinder fits into a smaller camera case and easier to carry around by the end of the day.

Just a side note, in addition to my Olympus rangefinder cameras, I own a pair of 50 year old Leica IIIf 35mm rangefinder allows for interchangeable lenses.   These two Leicas are more or less a 70 year old design and their ergonomics are a bit primordial.   With that said, you do have the benefit of fitting some superb 35mm, a 50mm, 90mm and 135mm focal length optics to the camera.   The photos are truly great, but keep in mind the cost of this entire outfit easily equals the purchase 10 to 20 fixed-lens rangefinder cameras.

Will a vintage 35mm rangefinder camera make you better photographer?

In a word, the answer is no.   Frankly, with a rangefinder camera, one must be able to multitask, as is the case with most cameras that are not fully automatic.   A rangefinder will take a bit of practice to get it right, if one is used to an automated camera.   Keep in mind that while one is multitasking with the camera, they need to think about the composition of the photo.   Good composition depends on the person not the camera to make an image interesting.   Good photography is also about when and what the camera is pointed towards, not the the type or brand of camera used to take the photo.

Finding Replacement Batteries for the Old 1.35 volt Mercury Cells.

Vintage 35mm rangefinders don't need their batteries installed to take a good photo in daylight, which is a major plus in my book.   As a sign of the times, most rangefinder cameras were hand assembled with a multitude of mechanical gears and springs to operate the shutter mechanism.   These gears and springs do not rely on a battery to function properly.

With that said, the built-in light meter is battery dependent and that meter is essential to the camera's auto mode or semi-auto mode in addition to shooting manually indoors.

The original 1.35 volt mercury cell batteries used to power the light meter on most rangefinder cameras are no longer available.   Alternatives do exist.   First and foremost, do not use an alkaline replacement cell.   Alkalines do not provide a stable voltage during use.   Many camera repairman recommend having the light meters in older cameras modified to take modern, 1.55 volt, silver oxide battery cells.   A good suggestion for sure, but there is a suitable 1.35 volt replacement which I personally use.

My solution is to use a zinc-air replacement cell.   It's a essentilaly a modified hearing air battery that produces a close enough 1.4 volts.   Some but not all camera shops carry them under the Wein brand name and the don't last nearly as long as the old mercury oxide batteries.   With a little ingenuity a $1.00, #675 zinc-air cell made for a hearing aid will work just as well.   If you use zinc-air cells bring along a spare or two when travelling.   If you are too lazy to make a battery holder out of a rubber o-ring, then try Photobatteries dot com.   They sell their ready to roll Z625PX zinc-air replacements cells for $4.50 a piece, shipping included.

Pocketable Full-Frame 35 mm Cameras

Need a smaller camera than all of the above rangefinders?   There are some widely available used pocket 35mm cameras that come to mind deliver good to excellent 35mm photos.  But, they do so with some definite compromises.   In other words, the cameras below are full-frame 35 mm cameras, but not full-featured 35 mm cameras.   Their smallness is a result of a less than conventionals design which involves trade-offs..   The two classic compact 35mm designs that fit this genre are the Rollei 35 series and the Olympus XA.   A third camera, not reviewed here, is the Minox, by Leica.

The Rollei 35

Introduced to the public in 1966, and about the size of a pack of cigarettes, the original Rollei 35 set a benchmark that all succeeding compact 35 mm cameras would be compared to.   Rollei's early ads had the slogan, "The world of 35mm photography in the palm of your hand."   A masterpiece of function and form, the Rollei 35 draws heavily on a fine German heritage.   It definitely found a niche and by 1977 two million Rollei 35's were produced.

The original Rollei 35 incorporated components from the big three German suppliers, (Compur, Gossen and Zeiss), into a very compact and light weight package.

For optics, the diminutive Rollei was fitted with its own version of the legendary, Carl Zeiss, f/3.5, Tessar lens in a 40mm focal length.   The Zeiss Tessar, with a lens formulation of four elements in three groups had been an old stand-by on a multitude of German made cameras in various formats for 50 years previous to the debut of the Rollei 35.   Later versions, included a less expensive Triotar and a superb Sonnar lens.

The Rollei 35 was the last completely new camera system from a German manufacturer to take the camera industry by storm.   The legendary Tessar would be coupled to a Compur mechanical shutter, which is a spring and gear driven mechanical design.   Compur shutters name had been a favorite of Rollei and Zeiss-Ikon owners through out the 1950's.   Shutter speeds ranged from 1/2 to 1/500th of a second and includes B on this shutter.   A final German touch was the use of a Gossen designed CdS match-needle light meter at the top of the camera.   The match-meter is coupled to the aperture, shutter and film speed controls, which are located on the front of the body of the Rollei 35.   There is no rangefinder fitted to the camera.

The Rollei 35 really represents the last horah for the world of old school photography with regards to pocket 35mm cameras.   As such was built to a standard that was rarely met by its later competitors.   For example the lens barrel is threaded to accept filters and lens hoods.   An additional professional feature is the aperture settings on the tiny Rollei are adjustable to a third of a stop.   With the aperture lock off, anywhere in between.   The aperture diaphram is comprised of six aperture blades, verses the usual five or four leaf aperture openings found on the lenses of more recent designs.   Lastly, but not least, when used at f/8 to f/11, the Rollei-built Tessar will deliver images that are on par with full-sized 35mm SLR's with regards to vivid color rendition and contrast.   More than just a travel camera, the Rollei 35 is a precision 35mm that fits in a shirt pocket and is fitted with everything essential for a day of serious photography.

The two big drawbacks to the Rollei 35 design for the uninitiated are its lack of an auto exposure mode and a built-in rangefinder to aid in focusing.   One must guess the distance to the subject, then manually set the focus ring on the lens.   Zone focusing and a good understanding of exposure values are the name of the game when using a Rollei 35.   This is no point and shoot 35mm camera.

Rollei 35 production, which began in Germany, was eventually moved to Singapore by 1973.   The majority of the Rollei 35's that I see available today were assembled in Singapore.   Priced at $190.00 in 1969, the original Made in Germany Rollei 35 was somewhat overpriced for budget minded consumers.   So, in addition to building models with the highly regarded Tessar coupled with a full range of shutter speeds, Rollei offered also series of economy versions built on the same chassis. These include the B35's, C35's and the later 35 LED's.   In order to economize, these models came with the less expensive three element Triotar lenses, a less capable light meter and a narrower range of shutter speeds.   The B35 used a selenium cell meter, so it's a battery free camera.   So is the Rollei C 35 for that matter, it has no meter at all.

The Rollei 35 S and 35 SE

The above photo is a view shows the business end of Rollei 35SE.

  An early advertisement pictured it accompanied by the slogan, "The world's smallest precision 35mm camera".   The lens makes the 35S and 35SE stand out from all the pocketable cameras that followed.   While the Tessar lens is a repectable performer at f/8, the 40/2.8 HFT Sonnar lens delivers crisp resolution in a flat field all the way to the edges of the frame, even at f/4.   This is yet another Zeiss lens used by Rollei with a long proven track record in the German camera industry dating back to the 1930's.   The Rollei-built version of the Sonnar uses a lens formulation of 5 elements in FOUR groups, (see Rollei 35 SE manual, page 42).   Rollei added their in-house professional HFT mulitcoating to reduce lens flare and increases contrast.   Color rendition is rich and breathtaking beuatiful.   When in proper focus and a tripod is in use, the resolution of the Sonnar HFT will exceed that of most prime lenses available for professional use on full-size SLRs.

Both the S and SE models retain the Compur mechanical shutter, retained from the original Rollei 35.   Hence, it still has a range from a 1/2 sec. to 1/500th of a second.   The difference between the 35 S and SE is the Rollei 35 S still uses the traditional Gossen, match-needle meter on top of the camera, while the 35 SE uses an array of electronic LED exposure indicators located within the viewfinder to set the exposure.   Both the 35S and 35SE will yield stunning photos or slides in capable hands.

The Rollei 35 Eccentricities

There are those who can master the Rollei 35 and those who can't.   To call the Rollei 35's design eccentric, is an under statement.   Starting with the flash hot-shoe that is located at the bottom of the camera, everything on the Rollei will seem foreign to the typical SLR user.   As mentioned, there is no automatic exposure mode or a even a rangefinder to aid in focusing with a Rollei 35.   Much like the original Leicas from Oscar Barnack or the lesser known Zeiss-Ikon folding cameras of previous generation, the lens manually retracts into the body for pocketability and in the case of the Rollei 35, the film must be advanced to cock the shutter before stowing away the lens assembly.   Also like a Leica and more than a few Zeiss-Ikon 35mm cameras, the bottom half of the camera must be removed to load the film.   With the bottom removed, a hinged, spring loaded film pressure plate is revealed.   Its purpose is to keep the film on as flat a plane as possible, but the design means that film loading is a fiddly for the amateur and pro alike.   Yet, by pressing the film into as flat a plane as possible, exposures are more uniformly focused across the entire frame.   In short, convenience takes a back seat to Teutonic overdesign on a Rollei.   Hence, the Rollei 35 can be a slow and deliberate shooter.   It isn't a camera for the impatient photographer.   Rollei 35's definitely have character and are guaranteed to put the casual photographer through a full work-out.   In the end it makes one wonder, if there ever was photography on the planet before cameras had an AE mode.


The Olympus XA

As a user friendly alternative to the Rollei 35, there is none other than the Olympus XA .   Introduced in 1979, its clam shell design was nothing short of revolutionary for a Japanese rangefinder and it was tiny for its time.   More like the Yashica Electro 35 in its operation than the Rollei 35, the Olympus XA uses an electronically controlled shutter which only allows for an aperture-preferred automatic exposure mode.   Unlike the Yashica, the XA does have a meter needle in its tiny viewfinder to at least let you know what shutter speed auto exposure system chooses.   Better yet, the Olympus XA is only one third of the size of a Yashica Electro 35.   All the user needs to do is set the aperture, focus and trip the shutter.   Thankfully for those of us who wish to override the automatic exposure control, the filmspeed is still set manually.   The XA benefits from a superb light meter, which is coupled to an electronic shutter control that will permit exposures in low-light for up to 10 seconds.   No provisions were made for a separate flash hot shoe, but the available proprietary flash units are convenient to install and use.   Finally, there is an electronic self-timer and exposure compensation lever, but both cannot be used simultaneously.

The Olympus XA is essentially a modern replacement with for the company's older more classically-built line of line of 35mm rangefinders.   Introduced in 1979, it quickly gained acceptance as a back-up 35mm to the by then prerequistie SLR outfits.   It does come with a few trade-offs.   As is the case with any 1980's camera, all metal construction started to give way to plastic.   Sadly, one of the items compromised by Olympus was the XA's optics.   The lens on the Olympus XA is an original 6 element Zuiko design with an ingenious use of reverse focusing optics designed to fit the cameras dimensions.   It performs well enough between f/8 and f/11 for an 8 by 10 enlargement.   Although this clever design eliminated the need for a retractable lens assembly, which would have to be pulled out from the camera's body, its resolution does drop off quite a bit near the corners of the frame when used at f/2.8 or f/4.0.   Yet another trade-off with the XA's modern design is that it doesn't accept filters.


The Great Olympus XA versus Rollei 35 Debate

In defence of the Olympus XA, its design is so elegantly simple a novice photographer can begin using it immediately.   Also, because it has some automation, while the Rollei has none, this speeds up the shooting process.   In a nutshell, while the XA doesn't match the level of manual control or the superb optics of a Rollei 35 SE, it is far less of a work out to shoot with.   Its far from perfect, miniscule rangefinder focusing patch offers a more precise means of focusing in daylight than the Rollei's guesstimation method.   That said, the XA's rangefinder is problematic indoors or in low light, since it's rangefinder patch isn't as large or bright as any of the full-featured fixed-lens rangefinder cameras from the 1970's.   So, in low light situations, one must use the scale focusing just like on a Rollei, but one that isn't as accurate.   Lastly, the lack of the ability to use filters with the XA is almost a show stopper with regards to B&W photography.   Hence, the main advantage of the Olympus is that it utilizes an integrated circuit to automatically operate an electronically controlled shutter, which, as mentioned, makes for convenience and quick shooting.   There is, of course, a not so minor drawback to all this convenience.   The XA, like any modern electronic camera, will cease to function should its batteries ever give up the ghost.   With the Rollei or any of the older rangefinder cameras from the 70's one will be able to soldier on, so long as if he or she can forego using the light meter and instead use the "Sunny 16 Rule" to set the exposure.   In the end the decision as to which is the best pocketable 35 mm camera essentially comes down to choosing between precision or convenience.

The digital revolution has cometh, will film cameras even be around?

The following parargraphes were written in 2002 and it still holds true in 2008.   Since then a number of digital SLR's using a good APS-C sized sensor have entered the market place.   These new APS-C DSLR's are good cameras, period.

Amateur shutterbugs and semi-pros are shedding their film cameras in favor of digital imaging.   Consequently, there are some great deals on used photo gear because of the massive switch to the digital format.   A lot to be said for digital imaging.   Most importantly, this will be the future of imaging for the masses, unless you know something I don't.   On a a digital camera you get an instant feedback.   With a film camera, the name of the game is delayed gratification.   To say that digital imaging is revolutionary is an understatement.   In today's technology driven culture, digital cameras are a crowd pleaser.   I've seen people at a large table passing around the camera paging through the images.   My brother, for example, is able to post his daily digital images from a half a world away.

It's not all doom and gloom in the film world, although there is a good deal to be gloomy about.   Both 35mm film and film cameras will be around in 10 years, but the range their offerings may become a miniscule and a much more expensive slice of the pie in a business environment dominated by a very prolific array of digital imaging products.   Recent 35mm film cameras have already benefitted from the technologies developed for the digital world.   Another new development is that the digital darkroom has arrived.   Making your own prints via an electronic printer, at this point of time, is still more expensive than using a traditional wet lab for printing, but many enjoy being in control of the printing process from the comfort of their computer.   Also, there are digital film scanners which are essential tools for transforming a 35mm camera into a 11 megapixel or even a 25 megapixel digital imaging device.

So, if you have invested in a 35mm camera, you'll still be able to use it in the digital arena and beat the imaging capabilities of currently available digital cameras for under a $800 at the end of 2002.   Let's not forget that there are improved formulations and a greater variety of films available today than was available 30 years ago.   The digitally controlled photo mini-lab, which uses the C41 process, has brought of film processing costs way down as well.

Still, the sales of newly manufactured film and film cameras have plummeted.   Consequently, there is doubt in corporate boardrooms about the film mediums future.   That future has already begun   There are far fewer companies left that offer a full line of film-based SLR's.   Certain B&W film and photographic paper offerings have recently been discontinued.   This type of transformation is nothing new.   It very much resembles what happened to the venerable twin-lens reflex medium format and 35mm rangefinder market of the 1950's when new SLR's began to gain popularity during the 1960's.   What had once been the main stream cameras literally became a niche market within a decade.

In the case of rangefinder cameras, those companies that have carried on with rangefinder offerings since the 1970's, have sold their wares as more evolved, upscale, limited edition cameras, i.e. Minolta's CLE, Konica's Hexar RF and Contax's G2 are some examples.   Production of these cameras have already ceased as of 2005.   Leica plods forward and the Cosina built Voigtlander line up of 35mm rangefinders remain, to include a digital RF built with circuitry care of Epson.   While today's better digitals, by this I mean digital SLR's, do yield images as good as film, the look and feel are different.   The making of images has become a drive by wire affair or more accurately the making of high-grade video stills.

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- Last Updated on July 4th, 2008 -