Review: Olympus 35RC rangefinder

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 35SP35RD 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.

Terminal 5Olympus 35RC + Kodak TMax 100 (Stockholm, 2018)
StockholmOlympus 35RC + Kodak TMax 100 (Stockholm, 2018)

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. 

Centraal StationOlympus 35RC + Kodak TMax 100 (Amsterdam, 2018)

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).

Amsterdam CanalsOlympus 35RC + Kodak TMax 100 (Amsterdam, 2018)
CineacOlympus 35RC + Kodak TMax 100 (Amsterdam, 2018)

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.

DepartingOlympus 35RC + Kodak TMax 100 (Stockholm, 2018)

Sprocket Holes in Scotland

Kyle of TongueSutherland, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Ilford Delta 100.

This is the second installment of my adventures using 35mm film with a DIY adapter in a Bronica SQ 220 back. For this trip I intended to shoot one roll with some 5 year expired Ilford Delta 100 and hoped they'd turn out well. I find these shots give an interesting perspectives, a narrow window into the landscapes, which I think works quite well in the images shared here. As for the expired film, it looks ok, but lacked quite a bit of contrast in the original scans so I've improved this using digital methods. You may also notice some damage apparent on the outside of the sprocket holes: I self developed this roll and I realsed the ball bearing in the intake of my patterson film spiral are corroded and scratch the emulsion. Not an issue normally, but a bit of a shame when you're exposing the entire film height.

Buachaille Etive MorGlencoe, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 80mm f2.8 + Ilford Delta 100
Duncansby HeadCaithness, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 150mm f2.8 + Ilford Delta 100.
QuiraingIsle of Skye, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Ilford Delta 100.
Old Man of StorrIsle of Skye, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Ilford Delta 100.
Highland ReflectionsHighlands, Scotland (2018). Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Ilford Delta 100.

Bronica on Tour: Cornwall on Portra

Cornwall, the toe of Great Britain, is a truly magical place of pastel colours. The blue sea and the rocky coast are sights to behold and the driving between destinations through small villages and farms makes you wonder how tranquil it must be to live around here. Well, except for the hordes of tourists, of which I was one.

St IvesCornwall (2018). Bronica SQA + 80mm f2.8 + Kodak Portra 400

This was only a long weekend trip with my wife and in-laws, but still somehow I managed to bring a whole bag of camera gear. I had such a good time using my Bronica the prior month in Scotland that I just had to take it. Then I also decided to take my D7100 resulting in a rather full backpack. I have a Kata split camera backpack where the bottom will fit in a DSLR an a few lenses whilst the top portion is open to take other items like books or a packed lunch. Unfortunately keeping the Bronica in the top compartment was a bad idea - one of the backs with still to be fully exposed opened during the journey home. It was my colour roll of Portra and I was sure I'd lost most of the shots (I'd taken 10 so had 2 left). I resolved to pay for its development anyway thinking that at least a few from the beginning would be ok. Turns out 8 were not affected which was a very nice surprise! For my forthcoming Iceland photo trip I have decided to upgrade to a Lowepro pro runner 450 which can take an incredible amount of gear and still fit (fingers crossed) as a carry-on.

Lands EndCornwall (2018). Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Kodak Portra 400

As with most trips traveling with non-photographers its a compromise in visiting locations good for photography but typically not at the best times of day. With my trusty "Photographing Cornwall and Devon" guide from the Fotovue series that had served me so well in Scotland I picked out some key coastal locations, my favourite being secluded Porth Naven, in contrast to the the touristy Lands End (which still has some epic rock formations in the sea) and the charming St Ives where we stayed in the fantastic Pedn Olva hotel (every room has a sea view!).

Porth NanvenCornwall (2018). Bronica SQA + 80mm f2.8 + Kodak Portra 400

Using 35mm Film in a Bronica

Did you know that you could easily use 35mm film with a Bronica SQ? In fact they made two 35mm backs: one denoted N for a normal 35mm frame and one denoted W for wide panoramic shots. Both of these are pretty expensive and the latter is rare enough that I have never seen one listed on eBay. I understand that these backs run the 35mm horizontal through the back and do not expose the sprocket holes.

220 backs however are far more plentiful (and cheaper!) due to the lack of native film available for these. However they also made a great candidate for using 35mm film (here is a great guide of how you can adapt a film reel to do this). Using this method the film travels vertically through the back, the same way a medium format roll would, which makes landscape shots a little awkward as you need to rotate the camera 90 degrees. The frame is nice and wide and I typically get 12-14 shots per roll of 35mm depending on how much film is wasted on the leader (as although I use a DIY paper leader taped to the film, I think my measurement is a bit off). With the waist level finder showing an inverted image this is really awkward, so I've found it best to use a prism finder and mount the camera on a tripod for landscape oriented shots. The other annoyance is that once the roll is finished, there is no rewind method, as this wasn't a requirement for 220 film, so it requires a dark bag to unload the film or at least open the back and rewind the 35mm canister. This method also exposes the whole film width, including sprocket holes, which depending on your point of view is excessively hipsterish (as someone pointed out to me on reddit) or very cool.

Whilst I haven't used this method excessively (after all I own a medium format camera to use medium format film) I did decide to try it out in an extra back I took on my Scotland trip with some expired Ilford Delta 100 which I'll post separately soon. I then went back to revisit some shots from when I had first moved to NYC in 2013. I was big on double exposures back then, as you can tell.

London Sights

From the same Kodak TMax 400 roll as my last post, here are some shots from London. Again these are from my Nikon F2 - which is an absolute joy to use.

Fire in Central LondonNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
Hampstead PergolaNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
Gursky at Hayward GalleryNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
Tate Spiral StaircaseNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
Southbank StepsNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400

Snowstorm in Harlem

The new year of 2018 saw the East Coast USA dumped with a ton of snow in a massive storm. I was staying in Harlem at the time and the below are a few snapshots from a short cold walk around the block. This is from my second roll of film through my Nikon F2.

Snowstorm in HarlemNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
DispenserNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
CharlotteNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400
BenchesNikon F2 + 50mm f2 + Kodak TMax 400