To my eye there is something quite special about the 70s era rangefinders that Olympus put out. Their design is pure class, optics excellent and build quality solid. There are 3 models of interest: the 35SP, 35RD and 35RC. The former two are both larger and sport a f1.7 lens (42mm and 40mm respectively) whilst the much smaller RC has a 42mm f2.8. I have been drawn to these cameras for some time, wanting to try out the rangefinder experience without leaving a Leica sized hole in my wallet, and during 2012 I ended up picking up a nice condition 35RD for little more than £40 on eBay. Ultimately the Olympus 35RD did not really gel with me (my impressions are summarised here) and unfortunately after a couple of years of ownership the aperture blades became sticky leading me to sell on for "spares or repairs". Despite the shortcomings I perceived, the design/ergonomics (aside from shutter speed selection on the lens itself) and fully mechanical manual operation were things I really enjoyed, and this is what led me several years later in wanting to try out its smaller (and 55 gram lighter) brother, the 35RD.
Needless to say with the continued resurgence of analogue camera popularity this range of shooters are seeing their values dramatically increase. You used to be able to pick up a decent condition 35RC for a much more reasonable price than one can today. A cursory eBay scan shows good-mint condition models to be around the £100 mark. I was not prepared to pay so much and would be willing to take the risk on a more well used model to try out and deduce if this would be a camera that I'd enjoy using. So I went ahead with a £40 purchase of a "functional" camera but with a few warts. Most notably some scratches to the lens and potentially leaky light seals. Nevertheless I was feeling optimistic, and maybe these detriments would not be so impactful to actually using the camera. So in a test roll of TMax 400 went and the camera was packed in my luggage for a couple of business trips to Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
The first thing that stuck me about this camera was the size. Compared to the 35RD this was a far more pocketable camera. The body is indeed a bit smaller, but the huge advantage of the RC's f2.8 over the f1.7 lens on the RD is that it is far more compact. As for ergonomics the shutter speed on the RC is selected via a top dial which I find much more intuitive than the on-lens design of the RD. The film advance lever looks a little unconventional on the RC compared to a more traditional design on the RD but the practical use of it works out quite nice with the thumb easily catching the slightly knurled lever.
The travel in focusing the lens is really short, which could be an issue if you need precise zone focusing at short distance ranges / wide apertures. This didn't bother me too much as I was tending to take pictures between 5m and infinity. The viewfinder nicely shows both shutter speed and aperture used via a needle implementation that fixes on the settings when the shutter is half pressed. One other weird thing is the 43.5mm filter thread but there are plenty of these available on eBay (I myself picked up a Hoya 25a Red Filter to try on it).
Some of the best shots from the test roll are above. Unfortunately the light seals do need replacing (as you can make out on the shot above) but this should be straight forward as I decided to try out a seller on eBay who advertises "Laser Cut" light seals ready for this specific model of camera. The size of the camera and its function of being fully manual without the need for a battery (which is good since this model was made for a dreaded PX625 mercury cell) are the killer attributes for me in this camera. For my test roll I just used Sunny 16 metering but I'll probably try out the in built meter with a Wein Cell to see if it still works.
Overall I'm pretty happy with the camera. I'll fix up the light seals and shoot a few more rolls with it to see if the lens scratches are bad enough to materially impact the contrast.