The people’s camera, compact, easy to shoot, always ready, fun! Enter the Olympus Trip 35. The camera designed and sold for the masses to take with them on holidays and travel, thus the name Trip. So popular that it sold for 20 years and well into the millions, which can even be seen today on the second hand market. Further made popular by endorsements from David Bailey!
A recent example where this camera shines is where I went shooting with my 11-year-old son, Alec, and he was trying out a film camera himself. We had two occasions of this, the first time I took a medium format rangefinder. After that I did not want to spend time operating my camera so that we can enjoy the time together, so this camera fit the bill perfectly. As a side note, he was using an Olympus Pen EE2, a half frame cousin of the Trip.
The Trip 35 has an amazing following across the world, people just seem to love this little camera. In fact, there are clubs and websites dedicated to it, and a huge restoration community. I bought mine from a restorer that not only ensures the cameras are functional but also gives them new skins in a multitude of colours. It was restored with a red leatherette mini snake skin finish, which even though I was sceptical, adds to the fun. The camera seems to have suffered significant corrosion before being restored, as can be seen at the hinge for the back, but the restoration is top rate and should keep it going for another 40 years. It also has a dented filter ring. Based on the date stamp my camera was manufactured in September 1976.
Olympus first introduced the Trip 35 in 1968 and continued selling them for 20 years until 1988. In that period they made over 10 million copies, which is a very good indication on how popular they were and still are.
They were always an inexpensive camera and due to the sheer number of them manufactured that continues today, where second hand copies can be purchased fully restored for about $US100 or less. Without restoration anything from $2 onwards.
The initial Trip 35 had a metal shutter button, but during the production this was changed to a plastic button as per the one in this article. Otherwise the camera had very minimal changes in such a long production run.
The design of the Trip 35 was based on the original Pen EE cameras, which were very compact as they took half frames in vertical format. Due to advances, Olympus could produce a camera almost as small but shooting a full 35mm frame, thus increasing the quality and the appeal of the camera. Being so lightweight makes it a no brainer to put into the case when packing for a holiday, thus ensuring lots of memories taken on the Trip. This alone would have made it popular but being a camera that struck a cord with so many people, that also ensured the sheer numbers of cameras demanded and produced!
The Olympus Trip 35 requires no batteries to operate. It does have a light meter, which is embedded around the fixed lens, but within the filter thread to ensure metering through the filter. As the light meter is selenium based, it works without the batteries but does have a finite time before it stops working. The recommendation is to keep a lens cap on when not in use to lengthen the life of the meter by even decades.
The camera operates in programmed automatic (A) exposure mode, limiting the input by the photographer to only focusing. There is a fixed-aperture setting for flash though. The viewfinder is a standard Albada (which means the rear face of the front lens is half-silvered, which reflects a set of frame lines, painted on the eyepiece lens surround). It also has parallax marks. There is a little cut-out square hole in the bottom right of the viewfinder, which you can see the focus selection you have made. While there is a ridged type face/window on the left of the viewfinder window, it is not a rangefinder, that is there purely for aesthetics.
The viewfinder also carries a little red flag, which pops up when there is not enough light to take the picture (below 1/40 sec with f/2.8) which also disables the shutter. This is handy in the case or with a lens cap on, avoiding mistaken shutter presses. What a great design!
The lens is an Olympus D. Zuiko 40mm f/2.8, with 4 elements in 3 groups. Filter size is 43.5mm screw in. Focusing is achieved manually through scale, either visible through the viewfinder or looking at the lens itself. There are several markings on the lens for focusing which consist of a person (1m/3ft), 2 people (1.5m/5ft), a group of people (3m/10ft) or a mountain (infinity). Note that the third setting of the group of people is marked in red, which was done on purpose, as this is the setting you can leave it on and it will focus on pretty much everything in daylight. There is a scale at the bottom which covers both metres and feet. The closest focus is 0.9m (2.9ft). Unless you are shooting with a flash, that is the only setting you have available to adjust.
The camera only has two shutter speeds, 1/40 and 1/200 of a second which are automatically selected. It will stop down to about f/22. For flash the speed will always be set to 1/40 of a second. The exposure range is from EV 81/3 to EV 171/6. Film speed can be selected from ASA (ISO) 25 through to 400 in one third stops, except ASA 32.
Loading film is easy enough, with the leader in the slot, and is advanced using a thumb wheel. The frame number is displayed in a little window on top, with a distinctive yellow arrow pointing to it.
The camera is tiny at 390.5g (13.77oz), and dimensions of W 124.77mm x H 72.67mm x D 57.62mm (W 4.912in x H 2.861in x D 2.269in). The fit is fantastic in your hand with a wrist strap.
The first time I used the Trip 35, I felt a sense of freedom. I had what must be a good camera in the palm of my hands and I did not need to take any further gear with me except some extra film. We were off to the Sydney Easter Show, where there is lots of rides and animals to look at and I could put to my eye, adjust focus and snap. The camera would tell me if I got the shot or if there was not enough light.
The next time was when I went out with my son Alec, and it was also good as I got to concentrate on him and his enjoyment with the other Olympus while I also snapped away. The third time is when I must admit I got a little frustrated. I went out alone and found that the actual aspect which made this camera popular, is also the reason it slightly annoyed me. I could not take any control, could not control subject separation in a lot of cases, and focus was very limiting i.e. I could not focus, but only use the generic focus points on the camera. The only manual override I had was to “trick” the camera by adjusting the ASA setting, if I wanted, for instance, to take a picture of a person with lots of backlight.
The lens is very sharp and Olympus did a great job of building such an over performing lens. The downside is that you cannot focus exactly, and you also do not control the aperture to isolate your subject, but with such a great latitude of focus, this is rarely a problem unless you are after lots of bokeh.
All this means is that is that maybe Olympus did hit the market they were after, and very successfully. This was reinforced when Alec picked it up and instinctively knew how to use it.
In terms of performance the metering was usually very accurate. The hit rate was a lot more than I expected, and to be honest, put a lot of cameras to shame. I used both black and white and colour film, and both came out with well-balanced exposures. Not bad for a little fully mechanical point and shoot. The negatives are nice and thick and did not need much work once scanned. Tones and colours are very well captured and if I had not known that they were from the Trip, I could have thought they were from a much more expensive SLR.
The lens is quite sharp and has a good definition of contrast. When I scanned the film I could pick up details that some other cameras would not have captured. The corners are quite sharp in landscape mode, and the distortion, well there is none! The design of this lens is fantastic for capturing a hell of a lot in focus, especially when you set it to the group or mountain symbol.
One little item which while trivial, I do think to mention, is that I enjoyed using the thumb wheel to advance the film. It became very natural to use and fit in with the experience perfectly.
When you see these for sale, do consider getting one. They are great little cameras and are fully mechanical. So if we are ever attacked by aliens, and they fry all of our electronics, when the fighting is over, you will be one of the few people still able to take well exposed pictures. Best word to describe the Olympus Trip 35 is FUN!
David Bailey commercial for Olympus Trip 35: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_Yo3FRPeQw
Well worth watching.