Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus Trip 35

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A handful of film cameras have cult followings. The Olympus Trip 35 is in that exclusive club.

Olympus Trip 35

Rave reviews of the Trip 35 by its devoted fans convinced me that I needed one. Yet in the nine years I’ve owned this camera I’ve shot it but three times. Here’s a photo from my previous outing with it, in 2015. It’s one of my all-time favorite photos. (I drove through Kirklin just two weeks ago, and that Oldsmobile wagon remains parked in front of this building.)

Downtown Kirklin

When I shoot the Trip 35, I always enjoy both the experience and the photos I get. Why, then, don’t I shoot it more often? Probably because I have just too many great cameras to choose from. But that brings up the point of Operation Thin the Herd: to narrow the collection down to a set of cameras I will use frequently. And the Trip 35 is worth using frequently. Check out the excellent color I got on Agfa Vista 200 as I walked around suburban Fishers.

Famous for Steakburgers

I think making consumer-grade film look great is part of this camera’s essential value proposition. As an easy-to-use camera a family might take on vacation, it needed to make memories look great.

Buggy Parking

I’m not sure I needed permanent memories of a walk I took near my office when I needed a mental break. But I have them nevertheless. This photo required a little Photoshopping to bring out shadow detail. The Trip 35’s meter appears to bias for the bright areas.

Service is our Business

Same with this photo. I also corrected many of these photos for perspective, as on this outing I proved incapable of holding the Trip 35 level. Otherwise, these photos needed little or no Photoshop work to look great.

Parked

This camera is just great for walking around and photographing the built environment, something I do frequently. For all of these shots I just left the zone-focus control at infinity. (The other three zones are 1, 1.5, and 3 meters.) There was nothing to think about but to compose and shoot.

Red Umba-rellas

I did set the Trip 35 to one of the closer focus zones for this shot in my neighborhood, since I was so close to that rocky post. Even then I gave focusing minimal thought. I guessed “group” (3m) and counted on the camera biasing toward big depth of field to make up for any misjudgment on my part.

In Royal Run

Its 40mm lens made it easy to get wide things into the frame, but without leaving lots of useless space above and below the subject.

Fence

To see more from this camera, check out my Olympus Trip 35 gallery.

I do not need this camera. I really prefer to shoot SLRs for their versatility. My favorite SLR, the simple Pentax ME, is not so much larger and heavier than the Trip 35 to give it a serious disadvantage for walking-around photography. And when I shoot SLR I can do things I can’t with a Trip 35, such as get in close.

But I like my Trip 35. It’s light and easy to carry, and it’s almost point-and-shoot simple. As I shot it this time I thought maybe I should shoot a road trip with it, or take it as my only camera on my next vacation. When I have thoughts like that about a camera, I know it needs to stick around.

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews

Olympus Trip 35

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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.

Olympus Trip 35

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.

Olympus Trip 35
Film speed, aperture, and focus rings

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.

After the snow

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.]

1973 Ford F250

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.

In close

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!)

Bacon

I walked up to the corner church to shoot this cross. I just liked how this one turned out.

Where I first saw the light

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.

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