Cameras, Photography

Olympus 35RC

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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.

Olympus 35RC

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.

Olympus 35RC

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.

Whirlybird

I was struck by the warm, warm tones I got one evening as the sun set. Get a load of that great detail.

Front yard tree 1

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.

Statue at Mama's

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.

Umbrellas

This camera and film are quite capable of capturing bold red, though.

Red Sonic

My 35RC’s electromechanical autoexposure system did a nice job even under challenging lighting circumstances.

Throwaway shot 4

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!

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15 thoughts on “Olympus 35RC

  1. I bought one a few years back and it worked except it had a light leak. It was advertised as CLA’d with new seals. Turns out they forgot one of the seals. But is a really nice little camera. Took it out recently and it is froze up won’t release the shutter.

    I have bought a lot of cameras on SHOPGOODWILL.com and found you are absolutely correct, it is a crap shoot, so, I bid very low and usually don’t get anything. The shipping is what gets me. You can pay $5-10 for a camera and they want $15-20 to ship it. Always check shipping prices before your bid.

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    • Oh yeah – shopgoodwill’s shipping charges are murder. They’re charging for more than just postage, to be sure — perhaps also for handling and for shipping materials, and maybe even a dollop of extra cash just for good measure.

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  2. Those are nice examples of the resolution available from the E. Zuiko lens on the 35 RC. I think the issues you encountered are pretty common, but most are reasonably easy to fix and the end result certainly justifies the cost.

    The meter actually doesn’t quite read through the lens. There is a little photo cell at the side of the lens mount that reads the light: it is placed so that it will read through any filter you might mount. Meter adjustment is actually easy on this camera. You just take off the bottom plate and move a little disk after loosening one screw. Rick Oleson has detailed instructions on his site.

    Thanks for the reminder to pay attention to the little RC. I once found one for $5 at a thrift store. I couldn’t believe my good luck at the time, and it certainly helped ease the pain of some of my more stupid auction site purchases.

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    • Thanks for catching that error; I corrected the text. And thanks for the tip about adjusting the meter. That sounds like something I can do, or at least try. If I can get the meter reading right, I’d put this camera into rotation and use it again.

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  3. bodegabayf2 says:

    This is a camera that keeps coming up on my short list of “cameras I want to try.” Every time I get the urge, I can’t find one that is reasonably priced or one that I trust will work once I get it. As usual, you coaxed some nice photos out of yours. Thanks for the great review.

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    • I think you’d enjoy the RC’s small size and great lens, but not how cheap its controls feel. This is a camera you use because you like the photos it returns — not because you enjoy the experience of using it.

      If you do buy one, try to stick to that $30 price so that you can sell it again on eBay for that much.

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  4. I do agree with you about the quality of the lens of this camera. However I have never really been able to warm up to it. I tend to favor the Minolta 7sII or the Olympus XA for a small rangefinder. Still the 35 RC has earned its place among the classics.

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  5. Christopher Smith says:

    Just had a look on ebay for one of these and ouch! seems like they ask a lot of money for them.
    Nice set of photos Jim all nice and sharp and good composition.

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