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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 35mm Rangefinders

The Olympus 35mm fixed-len rangefinder cameras feature both a semi or full auto mode and full manual override capabilities.

Digital offers the instant gratification with an image that will appear on the camera's 3 to 4 inch display.   The photographer is able to instantly see if he or she is satisfied with the composition of each exposure.   There's no film to buy or to check through at an airport security gate.

With a film camera you pretty much have to wait for the print to made to see the recorded image.   Digital is definitely the more convenient option and consumer grade digital cameras are usually much more compact as well.

Today's very good digital SLR's are indeed very capable.   It is in the realm of smaller, less capable, all-in-one digicams that one the photographer much put up with compromised imaged quality and cumbersome menu surfing ergonomics.

Why would anyone shoot with an old film camera that is more than three decades old?

Using film is an expense and a labor versus just downloading images from a memory card - but I can think of a few advantages even an old fixed-lens, mechanically operated,m rangefinder camera has to offer:

  • The superior performance of using a full frames 35mm sensor.
  • A single-focal-length, prime lens offers superior performance over a consumer-level-zoom lens on a compact digital.
  • There is no shutter or focus lag in a low light situation.
  • With an optical viewfinder, there is no electronic viewfinder or display lag, either.
  • The photographer picks the focus point, not the camera.
  • Battery life on a film camera is measured in months versus hours.

Image quality: compact fixed-lens rangefinders are a full-frame 35mm film camera.   Smaller digital cameras may use a sensor whose physical dimensions are small than the finger nail on your pinky finger.   Resolution captured on 35mm film will outperform any digital with under 12 megapixels - especially those with a sensor size that are much smaller than full-frame 35mm sensor.

Image quality, part 2: Most compact digital cameras use a zoom lenses that are built to a minimal cost level.   The typical consumer level zoom lens suffer from lack luster resolution and distortion.   A single purpose prime lens as fitted to an old compact 35mm rangefinder camera will have a wide open aperture of at least f/2.8 versus f/4 and will be optically able produce images that greater definition in fine details, provided that one focuses the camera correctly.

Ergonomics: just remember, there are only three controls on a rangefinder camera.   There are no menus to scroll through, nor a multitude of buttons to search for.   If need be, the fixed-lens rangefinder can be operated 100% manually without using a battery.

The Olympus 35-RC

The Olympus 35 RC is the smallest camera pictured at the top of the page and the one with the best ergonomics.   It is also semi-pocketable, provided that the photographer is wearing pants with baggy pockets.   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 point and shoot cameras.   The 35 RC also has a highly regarded lens, plus a traditional ergonomic design that is 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 fits nicely in svelte belt pouch.   The camera includes a semi-automatic exposure mode in addition to its non-metered, 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 definite step up from the base Olympus Trip 35 - from which it shares the basic chassis, the 35 RC keeps it simple and affordable by only providing six shutter speeds - something which becomes the camera's weak point in low light.   Like a Trip 35, 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 in good light.   Both its manual mode and flash mode are meterless.   Its battery dependent, auto exposure mode relies on a CdS light cell that is mounted in the lens barrel.   Most users will prefer this battery dependent 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 f/2.8, E. Zuiko, five element lens is no slouch at f/4 and offers tack sharp resolution by f/5.6.   The five element Zuiko delivers very good contrasty images.   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.   The lens uses the same 43.5 mm filter size as the lesser equipped Trip 35,   These filters and lens hoods are now very difficult to source - but they do exist.

For indoor shooting one installs a manual flash unit with a known guide number and let the mechanically coupled flashmatic-mode select the correct aperture.   The quote, unquote "flashmatic system" is totally mechanical and it works quite well.

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 progression from 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, old-school, compact 35mm rangefinder from Olympus which would allow for a battery-free manual mode.   Electronics and plastic were poised to take over the market towards the end of the 1970'ies.

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 not really pocketable - unless one uses a strong, very well-made, coat pocket.

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 in such a fashion after a three decades 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: if hasn't been remedied - there is a 99% chance your Oly 35RD's will need the shutter/aperture assembly to be serviced.   Also, be sure to have the helical grease replaced with a modern silicone grease that doesn't migrate.   This is a professional repair and makes an already expensive camera even more expensive.

In order by their price range - I should mention that there were three contemporary competitors to the Olympus 35RD that have nearly the same features:

  • Canonet QL17 GIII as a best buy
  • Minolta HiMatic 7SII
  • Konica S3 for its outstanding lens
With all that said and a plug for three of its competitors - I still prefer a properly serviced Olympus 35RD as my grab and go camera.   I generally shoot in the shutter preferred auto mode, in which I pick a shutter speed appropriate to the lighting conditions and check which aperture the camera will choose.

The Olympus 35 RD has a full range of shutter speeds from 1/500th to 1/2 of a second.   Its fast F Zuiko, f/1.7, six element lens is a unit-focusing design.   The lens on the 35RD is twice as bulky and much heavier than the old-school, front cell focusing E Zuiko, which was fitted to the 35RC.   The fast f/1.7 lens allows for shooting in very low - (do note: that the user must set the focus with utmost care when shooting wide-open).   While the F. Zuiko lens is not as clinically sharp wide open as the seven element, G. Zuiko lens on the older 35SP - the photographer can use the automode in much dimmer ambient light than is the case with its older brother.   Also, its metering cell is inside the filter ring of the lens, so that filter compensation is automatic.

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 some of 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 when using the manual mode.   Second, the 35 SP is the only fixed-lens 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 an old-school, hand-held meter.

A final note regarding Olympus 35SP: It is not a compact rangefinder camera.  If only the lens was able to retract into the camera body like a Kodak Retina from circa 1950.   The Retina II and IIa cameras though heavy were truly pocketable, compact 35mm rangefinder cameras and both featured an excellent 50mm Schneider-Kreuznach Xenon, f/2 lens.

"Flashmatic, what is it?"

Something that may seem insignificant at first glance is that 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 is rangefinder?

For the novice a rangefinder camera is essentially an external viewfinder camera with some extra optics thrown in to assist in focusing the lens.   Originally, a rangefinder apparatus was solely a distance finder.

With 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 through the widest aperture of the lens and areas that are out of focus are apparent.   This is definitely not the case for a camera with an above-the-lens, extenal viewfinder.

An external viewfinder camera therefore utilizes two separate sets of optics - one for viewing the subject and a second to capture the image on film.   A rangefinder camera offers a third optical apparatus that assists the user as he or she adjusts the lens to a desired focus point.

Cameras with external viewfinders either have to be scaled focus by guessing the distance or one can use a rangefinder apparatus to measure the distance to your subject.   The old-fashioned folding camera shown below has an add-on rangefinder, a.k.a distance finder to allow the photographer to determine that distance without guessing.

Rangefinder-assisted focusing is what made 35mm film-based a photography popular during the Mid-20th Century   It was when 35mm rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses, plus a fair number that had only fixed-lens, would reach a high water mark amongst serous amateur and professional photographers alike - mainly because the 35mm SLR was still in its developing stages - awaiting the introduction of instant return mirrors and instant return lens aperture mechanisms.

The "old timer" shown above has what is called a non-coupled rangefinder, which has a dial that 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 a separate step.

A second old timer shown below is my Leica II from 1932.   The Leica II was the first 35mm camera with a rangefinder apparatus that is "coupled" to a cam in the lens barrel.   The linkage coupled to lens barrel allows for single step focusing.

If you are novice user - A coupled-rangefinder refers to the built-in apparatus that allows one to accurately focus the lens via the use of two super imposed images that appear in a viewfinder.   Twist the focus ring of the lens and when the two rangefinder images align perfectly with each other in the viewfinder, the lens is focused to that selected distance.

Not all rangefinder cameras are equal when comes to focusing precision.   That 1932 Leica II will more precisely focus a fast f/2 lens at wide open aperture than any other compact 35mm camera mentioned on this web page.

By 1950 camera makers began in earnest to combine the rangefinder image with the main viewfinder image - so the camera no longer has two eye pieces to look through - as was the case with the Leica II, shown above.   Nearly all rangefinder cameras built after 1956 utilize a combined VF/RF.

Since rangefinder focusing is accomplished by lining up to separate images so that they are lined up with each other - this requires at least two separate windows at the top of the camera.

On a fixed-lens 35mm rangefinder the main viewfinder image that one sees through the eye piece is gathered by an optical lens that is located behind the front viewfinder window.   On some cameras the front viewfinder window is the front surface of this lens.   At the rear of the camera, a second lens is fitted that is usually the eyepiece.

For the rangefinder to work, some type of angled beam splitter needs to be fitted into the space between the two viewfinder lenses.   If the beam splitter has deteriorated - then the secondary image one is suppose to see in the viewfinder will be very dim or nearly non-existant.

The second forward facing window is the rangefinder window.   It is off towards the center of the camera by an inch or more.   More is better.   On an Olympus this window the RF window is directly over the lens.   The RF window is typically much smaller than the main viewfinder window and often unnoticed by the novice user.

Behind the RF window is another pair of lenses to gather the secondary image - which usually is observed as a yellow square, diamond or circle in the center portion of the main viewfinder image.   A mirrored prism or a cheapo, front-surfaced mirror reflects the secondary image to the previously mentioned beam splitter.   The projected, secondary 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.   This may also occur when the photographer uses a wide flaring lens hood.   In short, try not to block the field of view of the RF window.

All a rangefinder novice needs to really know about the rangefinder mechanism is that the image within the yellow patch moves sideways 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-rangefinder works.

On nearly all cameras with an external viewfinder the image crop or frame you see in the viewfinder will not precisely match the image that is recorded on film.   This difference is due to a phenomenon called parallax.   The illustration below shows the effects of parallax when shooting an extreme close up from a distance of about 3 feet from your subject.

Parallax correction: professional-grade rangefinders have bright frame lines in their viewfinder that move as you adjust the focus.   This allows the photographer to more accurately see what will be captured on film when framing close-ups.

Viewfinder and rangefinder cameras without bright-lines that move as you focus will need to be tilted up slightly when shooting extremely close in to the subject.   If not, 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 frame lines are provided for close ups.   What is inside the frame-lines is approximately what you'll capture onto the negative.  : Anything outside the frame lines will be cropped.

I'm about done, but in case you're curious, the frosted glass or plastic between the rangefinder and viewfinder windows is for the lit backdrop with other information.   Essentially it superimposes a third image into the viewfinder eyepiece.   Behind the frosted window is housed the meter needle, the bright-frame marks and any other printed info that will be displayed in the viewfinder.   Put your finger or a piece of tape in front this frosted panel and watch the viewfinder info disappear.

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.   This when an instant return for both the reflex mirror and the aperture on the lens became standard SLR features.

By the late 1960's with 35mm rangefinder cameras were relegated to amateur status.   Japanese optical companies offered compact and some not so compact, fixed-lens, 35mm rangefinder cameras with simple to use AE modes.   Some would set the both the aperture and shutter for a fully automatic exposure.   These 35mm cameras filled a niche for a low cost alternative to the what were at the time expensive SLR's

In the mid to late 1970's moderately priced, compact SLR's were introduced that included an one or more auto exposure modes.   These new cameras relied on electronic circuit boards based on the fore-bearers of the computer chip rather than the mechanical, gear and spring driven exposure modes of the past.   Some of these SLR's were nearly as compact as a rangefinder camera and their electronic operation meant they were much less expensive to produce.   By 1980 the sales of 35mm rangefinder cameras had declined into obscurity.

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 they may not be taken seriously, there are some advantages to the 35mm RF.

  • A compact RF rangefinder camera is less intrusive when doing candid shots
  • In a quiet room, the leaf-shutter on a fixed-lens rangefinder camera is nearly silent.
  • Easier to focus in low-light than an SLR fitted with a zoom lens at its widest setting.
  • The ability to perform a daylight fill-flash at any shutter speed.
  • A rangefinder fits into a smaller camera case and is easier to carry around by the end of the day.

Just a side note - which maybe should be at the top of this page: As of 2014 - there are some very functional semi-compact 35mm SLR cameras with their original kit lens to be found in thrift stores and garage sales for as little as $30.00 USD or less.   The ones I speak of are from around 1990 and you need to bring your own battery to check their operation.   Most have a plastic exterior and will not operate without a battery.

A second side note - the circuit board which controls these newer SLR cameras are an Achilles heel.   When manufacturers transitioned to the next generation camera - these cameras became orphans.   If the circuit board fries - these cameras are usually not repairable.  

My 80 plus year old Leica II on the other hand is very repairable and still going strong.

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.   If one is used to an automated camera, a rangefinder camera will take a bit of practice to get it right.   Keep in mind that while one is multitasking with the camera, they need to think about the composition of the photo.

Good composition and depiction of a scene 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 definitely 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.

My solution is to use a 1.4 volt zinc-air replacement cell - or - an adapter that let's me use a 1.55 volt silver oxide cell.   The zinc-air cell 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.

Pocketable Full-Frame 35 mm Cameras

During the 1970's rangefinders were the compact 35mm option of their time - but most are not pocketable in the modern sense.   There are some widely available used pocket 35mm cameras that come to mind - which deliver good to excellent 35mm photos.  But, they do so with some definite compromises.   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 then a superb Sonnar lens was offered.

The Rollei 35 was the last completely new camera system from any German manufacturer that would take the camera industry by storm.   The legendary Tessar 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 setting.   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.   For example the lens barrel collapses into the camera when not in use.   Also the outer lens ring 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.   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 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 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 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.   The XA is more like the Yashica Electro 35 in its operation than the Rollei 35.

Like the Yashica, 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.   Both cameras are dead in the water when their battery gives up the ghost.

Aperture preferred means that 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.   While the Yashica will keep the shutter open for as long as 30 seconds, the electronic shutter control on the XA 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 single lever that activates an electronic self-timer and a "back light" exposure compensation mode.   Both features 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.   The XA's modern design doesn't accept filters.   In other words, there are no filter threads on the lens.

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.   It is far from perfect, miniscule rangefinder focusing patch offers a more precise means of focusing in daylight than the Rollei's guesstimation method.   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   Lastly, the lack of the ability to use filters with the XA is almost a show stopper with regards to B&W photography.   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.  The XA, like any modern electronic camera, will cease to function should its batteries ever give up the ghost.   With the Rollei or many 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.

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 can be said in favor ofr 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.

Both 35mm film and used film cameras will be around in 10 years, but the range of film offerings may become a minuscule.   Recently 35mm film cameras have already benefitted somewhat from the technologies developed for the digital world - if you chose to go the digital darkroom route to post process your film images.

My old-fashioned wet darkroom more than paid for itself a dozen years ago.   The main expense in transitioning to a digital darkroom are the cost of digital film scanners, profession grade printers, supplies and the software that don't always transition well at the arrival of the next great computer operating system.   Film scanners are essential tools for transforming a 35mm camera into a 12 megapixel or even a 25 megapixel digital imaging device.

A compact 35mm still serves me well and compliments my Nikon digital SLR gear.

Still, the sales of newly manufactured films and film cameras have plummeted.   There is doubt in corporate boardrooms about the film mediums future.   The men in suits want to make an easy buck.   Consequently, there are far fewer companies left that offer a full line traditional products.   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 1960's when new SLR's began to gain popularity.   What had once been the main stream cameras literally has become a niche market in the past decade.

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- Last Updated on July 4th, 2014 -