I love compact, capable 35mm rangefinder cameras, so I’ve wanted an Olympus 35RC for a long time. In 1970, when it was introduced, the 35RC was as good of a pocketable rangefinder camera as you could buy. It features a jewel of a lens, the 42mm f/2.8 E.Zuiko, mated to a shutter that fires from 1/15 to 1/500 sec. It offers shutter-priority autoexposure and manual exposure, and syncs mechanically with any manual flash. It even works with films up to ISO 800.
I searched for several years but just couldn’t find a 35RC for less than my soft $50 upper price limit. I finally found this one at Goodwill’s auction site. Buying there is always a crapshoot. Prices are often a lot lower than what you’ll find at eBay, but the participating Goodwills never know anything about these cameras. You are simply more likely to get a broken camera from them. But I was sorely tempted by this one, and paid $45 for it, before shipping. Gulp.
I crapped out. Gummy light seals, a scuffed lens, a sticky shutter, a weak and inconsistent light meter — this camera wasn’t worth $5. I put it in the box of unloved cameras I keep under the bed, swore off Goodwill, and forgot about it.
Then when I was thinning my camera herd earlier this year, I gave a bunch of cameras to Derek Wong. He took them happily — and to say thanks, he repaired this 35RC and my Yashica Lynx 14e and sent them back to me. Very cool. Derek replaced the 35RC’s seals, made its meter read consistently, and unstuck its shutter. He couldn’t do much about the scuffed lens, but I’ve shot glass more damaged than this and gotten great results.
The 35RC is easy peasy to use. A small but bright viewfinder frames a crisp rangefinder patch. To shoot, twist the aperture ring on the lens barrel to A, set the shutter speed, focus, and press the shutter button. The meter moves an aperture stop inside the camera, and when you press the shutter button, it mechanically closes the aperture blades to that stop and fires the shutter.
The meter works only in autoexposure mode, but if you’re good with Sunny 16 or use a pocket meter you can dial in any aperture and shutter speed you want. Pointy needles show both settings inside the viewfinder. You can also lock exposure by pressing the shutter button halfway, recomposing, and then pressing it the rest of the way to take the photo. If the camera can’t find a good exposure, it blocks the shutter from firing. A dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery powers the meter, but I used a silver-oxide PX625 cell and it worked fine — after I adjusted ISO a couple stops, that is, because the meter read consistently, just not quite accurately.
Eventually I dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200 and got to shooting. I carried it around with me for a few weeks, shooting whatever felt good. I love that about little rangefinder cameras — they go everywhere, no fuss. As usual, I started close to home, where I was watering freshly planted grass.
I was struck by the warm, warm tones I got one evening as the sun set. Get a load of that great detail.
I was not quite as happy one overcast early evening when I met my brother at Mama Carolla’s, a local Italian restaurant, for dinner. I got a lot of haze if the sun wasn’t perfectly behind me.
It was a little too cool and damp to sit outside under these umbrellas. I’m sure past sunny days dulled their color to what you see.
This camera and film are quite capable of capturing bold red, though.
My 35RC’s electromechanical autoexposure system did a nice job even under challenging lighting circumstances.
To see more photos, check out my Olympus 35RC gallery.
The Olympus 35RC does good work — but it doesn’t feel as well made as other small rangefinders I’ve used. The camera body is solid enough, but the controls feel cheap. Enough of these have survived the last 40-plus years that it appears not to have mattered. And used prices have come down, at least at the time I wrote this review — I found several (allegedly) fully functioning 35RCs on eBay today for around $30. If you find one in good condition at that price, buy it.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!