The Olympus Trip 35 was designed to be the ideal camera to take on vacation when it was introduced in 1967. It was small, light, and rugged; it set aperture and shutter speed automatically; it was easy to focus; and its price tag was enticing to someone ready to step up from an Instamatic. Best of all, it had a great lens – a 40mm f/2.8 D.Zuiko, of four elements in three groups. A traveler could be assured of crisp photographs with what, in those days before auto-everything cameras, amounted to very little fuss.
By 1984, the Trip 35’s around-the-lens selenium light meter looked pretty dated. But that selenium meter meant no battery, which vacationers enjoyed because all they had to carry was film. Today, collectors love that feature because most cameras with coupled light meters take discontinued batteries, and finding suitable substitutes can be challenging and is usually expensive. Left uncovered, selenium eventually stops responding to light, so if you are thinking about buying a Trip 35, get one that has been stored in its case or with a lens cap on. You can use a Trip 35 with a dead meter, but the shutter fires only at 1/40 second and you must set the f stop yourself.
Even when the meter works, the Trip 35 always chooses the shutter speed for you, either 1/40 or 1/200 second. That limits the Trip 35’s versatility, but keeps with the camera’s mission of easy good results. Indeed, after you set the film speed (25-400 ASA) and enable automatic mode (twist the aperture ring to A), taking a picture is almost point-and-shoot simple. Almost, because you do have to focus. But the Trip 35 simplifies focusing by providing just four zones, which translate to 1, 1.5, and 3 meters, and infinity. A little window inside the viewfinder shows you both the aperture and focus settings, so you can fiddle with both while framing your shot.
This little camera really caught on. Olympus spit out a whopping 5½ million Trip 35s. They are easy to come by today and can be had for under $20.
Since it went out of production, the Trip 35 has developed almost a cult following. Flickr has several groups of devoted Trip 35 photographers and there’s at least one Web site devoted to Trip 35 photography. There’s even a fellow in the UK who sells Trip 35 accessories and cameras and often replaces the original black material around the camera’s middle with custom skins in many colors and materials.
Of course, I wanted to know what all the hubbub was about, so I bought one. (My Trip 35’s date code says it was made in December, 1977.) A heavy, wet snow fell the day after the camera arrived, so I loaded a roll of Fujicolor 200 and headed outside. This tree, which is actually a badly overgrown shrub, sagged under the snow’s weight. I framed this tighter and am disappointed that so much that’s not tree or dog appears in this photo – the viewfinder simply shows a little less than what the camera actually captures.
The viewfinder also doesn’t accurately frame the shot horizontally. I centered this late-1960s F-250 in the viewfinder, but as you can see it is off center in the photo. [Update 14 May 2010: An e-mail from a reader suggested that I may not have been using the viewfinder’s framing rectangle properly. I checked the camera and found that I may have been ignoring it entirely. So take my complaints about framing with a grain of salt.]
I tried a close shot and am impressed with the detail. Notice how the bricks closest to the camera are slightly out of focus; turns out the lens can’t focus closer than about three feet. And yes, my window frames need painting. It’s on my to-do list for this summer.
The Trip 35’s shutter button freezes when the light meter says there’s not enough light. The manual says that’s your clue to use flash. I’m not sure why it struck me in the middle of microwaving bacon that I ought to try my Canon Canolite D flash on my Trip 35, but as you can see it worked out okay. (Yes, that’s a Vise Grip on the counter behind the salt. You can tell I am not married! And that’s my swear jar behind it; empty because I made it to 30 days clean!)
I walked up to the corner church to shoot this cross. I just liked how this one turned out.
I am a bit put off that the viewfinder isn’t more true, but otherwise I enjoyed using this camera. I especially liked how I didn’t need to buy an expensive battery just to try it out. But I had more fun with, and got better photographs from, my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III, despite its need for a battery. I’d rather take the Canonet on vacation, and be sure I have enough of those wacky Wein cell batteries along.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection.