-The Olympus 35 RC -
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Olympus 35-RD
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Olympus 35-SP

The Olympus 35-RC Rangefinder Camera,
the essence of 35mm photography in a small package.

This page was compiled by Andrew Yue

© 2002 - All Rights Reserved:
See bottom of the page regarding fair use.

    Olympus 35-RC Specifications:

  • Automatic Exposure Control: shutter-preferred AE, with full manual override
  • Battery: PX625 1.35 volt mercury cell or MRV625 1.35 volt mercury free air/zinc cell
  • Exposure Meter: cadmium sulphide (CdS) photo resistor and galvonometer needle
  • Exposure Modes: Metered shutter-preferred AE, unmetered-manual override and flashmatic modes
  • EV Range: EV 7 to EV18
  • Film Advanced: Lever type - single stroke or several smaller stokes
  • Film Rewind: Film release button on the bottom of the camera.
  • Film Speed Scale: ASA 25 - 800
  • Filter Size: 43.5mm
  • Flash Synchonization: at all shutte speeds using the X contact or PC socket
  • Flashmatic System: Guide Number Scale {10m to 40m, ( 32ft to 130ft)}
  • Focus Range: .9 meters/3 ft. to infinity
  • Focusing: double image coupled rangefinder
  • Lens: E. Zuiko f/2.8 5 elements in four groups
  • Self Timer: Lever operated with a 10 second delay
  • Shutter: Mechanical leaf shutter, behind the lens
  • Shutter Speed: B, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500,
  • Viewfinder: 0.6x, f stop and shutter speed indicators, red zone for insufficient light
  • Size & Weight: 4 1/4" x 2 3/4" x 1 15/16" - 14 1/2 ounces. (410 grams)

Basic 35mm photography in a well executed, compact design.

With the Olympus 35 RC, you have the basics of 35 mm photography in the palm of your hand.   A true classic among 1970's fixed-lens rangefinder cameras, the 35-RC is a traditionally built metal bodied 35mm rangefinder, with the superb fit and finish that were a hallmark of Olympus cameras before the predominance of plastics and electronics became the norm.   It is a basic no frills camera with desireable features for the serious photographer and novice as well.   The 35-RC has an easy to use shutter preferred automatic mode, with a full manual override to allow for experimentation and compensation of tricky lighting.   The 5 element Zuiko lens provides surprisingly sharp resolution and contrast when used in its intermediate aperture settings.  Without a doubt, thirty years after its introduction, the diminutive 35 RC is still a reliable performer, delivering the essence of 35mm photography in a small, easy to carry package.

Using the Olympus 35-RC

A view of the top of the 35-RC shows the prominent shutter dial.   Most of the controls are on the lens barrel.   A good place to start is the inner most silver control ring on the lens barrel.   It is usually referred to as the aperture ring, but it is used also to select the different exposure modes of the camera as well.

  • The unmetered manual mode is selected when the aperture ring is set to an individual aperture settings
  • An OFF Setting to extend battery life, when the camera is not in use.
  • The metered automatic exposure mode is selected when the aperture ring is set to A.
  • The flashmatic mode is selected when the aperture ring is set on the lightning bolt.

Other controls include - the shutter release, which when held in the half-way position locks the exposure selected by the AE and flashmatic modes.   Below the shutter release, located on the front of the camera, is a self-timer lever that when turned downward winds a spring clockwork which will release the shutter 9 to 10 seconds after the shutter release button is pushed.   On the top right side of the lens barrel, located behind the black plastic focusing ring, is the tiny lever for setting the appropriate guide number for whichever flash one will be using with the 35RC.   Lastly, the only other control setting is the inconveniently located film speed setting.   The ASA set by carefully rotating the serrated ring inside the front facia of the lens barrel.  : There is a small window with a numerical display opposite of the CdS light cell.

The 35RC Features

The 35RC is a very compact design, with the serious amateur in mind.   Rangefinder assisted focusing simply means aligning two segments of the main image within the rangefinder patch in center portion of the viewfinder.   For old-school photographers - the 35RC utilizes a spring wound, gear driven all-mechanical shutter mechanism, that allows for manual photography, with or without a battery installed.

In its manual exposure mode, the photographer has full control of the camera, but alas with no light meter.   Like many compact 35mm rangefinder cameras of the this time period, the light meter on the RC only functions when the automatic exposure mode is selected.   To use the light meter in the manual mode, one essentially has to switch back and forth from the manual and the automatic modes to get a light reading before selecting the final aperture/shutter settings.   It's not terribly convenient - but fear not, the 35RC also has an automatic exposure mode, which only requires the photographer to select an ASA speed, then set the shutter speed and focus.

Shutter-Preferred AE Mode

Rotate the aperture ring so that the letter - A - lines up with the center of the lens and the camera will be in its auto exposure mode.   As mentioned, in the AE mode, the photographer needs to select an appropriate, ASA setting on the serrated ring around the lens, choose a shutter speed that is appropriately for the situation, set the focus and then slowly press the shutter release.   Squeezing the shutter release slowly to the halfwway point and holding holding it their acts as an exposure lock.   The photographer can then move the camera to recompose the photo, before releasing the shutter all the way.

Keep in mind that the AE mode is an older design that relies on a light cell, (in this case a CdS photoresistor), to regulate the movement of a galvonometer.   The galvanometer is coupled to a mechanically operated trap-needle mechanism, which locks the viewfinder needle into position as the shutter release is depressed.   This mechanism is 100% mechanical, that relies on levers and moving plates, which operates more accurately when the shutter release is pressed slowly.

To prevent a wasted exposure, there is an over and underexposure prevention shutter lock in the AE mode.   It locks the shutter release when the metering needle in the viewfinder falls below or above the camera's available range of apertures.   Should the shutter release not operate the shutter, try selecting either a slower shutter speed, if it is a low light situation or a faster shutter speed in a very bright setting.   Do note - if the battery is dead or not installed, the AE mode will not work at all, and the shutter release will be locked.   Don't fret, the camera will still operate in either the flashmatic or manual override modes, with or without a battery.

A word about light meters of this era is in order as well.   The light meter on the 35RC is an averaging meter.   If you have a dark shaded foreground and a lot of brightly lit sky in the background, any intended subject in the foreground will typically be underexposed.   In portraits of people, I often take a light meter reading with the camera pointed towards the ground to elimate most of the overpowering background light from the sky.   If one carefully holds the shutter release in the half-way position, before raising up the camera to compose and shoot, the subject will be properly exposed.

One good feature is that the photographer doesn't need to take their eye from the viewfinder to set the shutter speed.   The viewfinder has both shutter speed and an aperture indicators, which is rare feature in a 70's rangefinder.   The rangefinder patch is about average for the time period.   With a viewfinder magnification of .60'ish, the RF patch is rather small.   When composing, whatever is within the projected frame lines represents about 85% of what will be captured on the negative.   There are a secondary set of frame lines for subjects that are within 3 to 6 feet from the camera.   In the above photo, there should be a secondary curved line just inside of the upper, left hand corner.

Shutter Speeds and Aperture Range Are Limited

The Olympus 35 RC was a cost engineered exercise with regards to it design.   In other words, the objective was to keep the 1969 dealer price at just under $90.00 USD, which would be about $600.00 in today's inflated dollars.

To keep the shutter design simple, the engineers at Olympus only provided the 35 RC with only six shutter speeds.   Translation: the 35 RC will be a bit challenged in scenarios with low light levels, such as even a moderately lit interior room at night.   One note, treat the fastest shutter speed as being closer to 1/350th rather than the claimed 1/500th of a second.   In front of the simple two leaf shutter is an E. Zuiko, five element lens - which has a tack sharp resolution in its intermediate aperture range.   This lens is one of the camera's better features.

The aperture on the Olympus 35 RC ranges from f/2.8 wide open and closes down to f/22.   Obviously the designers were not too concerned with the effects of diffraction at f/22 on this consumer level camera.   As yet another sign of cost reduction is an aperture opening which also relies on two blades.   The result is an aperture opening that resembles more of an elongated diamond rather than a perfect square, because aperture blades swing open from the top in scissor-like fashion.

Despite the cost cutting limitations, the 35RC delivers a surprisingly good range of contrast when used within its intermediate aperture range.   Even with the cost cutting, a well focused, properly set exposure at f/8 will yield an 8" by 10" enlargement comparable to a full size SLR.

43.5mm Filters

While the Olympus 35 RC allows the photographer to use threaded filters, the feature comes with two negatives.   First, the 43.5mm filter size is an odd one, that for the most part, are no longer produced.   Second, with a filter installed it is awkward for the photographer to adjust the serrated ASA ring that surrounds the front element of the lens, if for example, he or she wants to perform an easy exposure compensation while using the camera in its AE mode.

The Olympus XA would come on the scene approximately ten years after the introduction of the Olympus 35 RC.   Filter threads were eliminated entirely on the XA series and all future single focal length, fixed-lens 35mm cameras that were to follow.   The lack of any provision for placing a filter on the front of lens, (after 1979), shows that camera manufacturers didn't feel the need to fully support traditional black and white film photography with their future entry level offerings.

Even though he wasn't primarily a 35mm photographer, Ansel Adams would have been appalled by this new direction.   With the Olympus 35 RC, if you can find the proper filters used on eBay - you'll can stil explore your Ansel'esque aspirations with black and white film.

The PX625 Battery Blues

If the battery quits on the Olympus 35 RC, only the AE mode is disabled.   The battery is only used when the aperture ring is set to the auto exposure setting.   To conserve the battery while in the AE mode, simply place the lens cap back on the lens when the camera is not in use or set the aperture ring to the Off postion, which turns on the meter.

The PX625, 1.35 volt mercury oxide battery cell require by the 35-RD is no longer being made.   That's a shame, because mercury oxide cells have a very even and reliable discharge voltage that is perfect for these old CdS light cells.

I use a Kanto MR-9 battery adapter from Japan, which converts the 1.55 volts of modern silver oxides to 1.35 volts.   It is the best long term option.   A single silver oxide cell should last at least a couple of years in typical use.   Now the bad news, this adapter is about $33 to $40 to include shipping to US buyers.

The other alternative is to try using a Z625PX or MRB625 zinc-air replacement cell in place of the old mercury oxide cells.   The downside to zinc-air cells is they have a short lifespan.   In a dry desert climate that limited lifespan may only be two months.   In the humid climate where I live, they may last a few months.   A one dollar #675 Zinc-air cell for a hearing aid works well provided a rubber o-ring - or - metal collar is installed around it to take up the slack.

Beware of alkaline batteries.   In case you are considering the use of alkaline cells, their oultput voltage will decline significantly during use, resulting in a wide range of inaccurate meter readings.   Bottom line: avoid using an alkaline battery.

The Flashmatic Mode

In the days before auto thyristor flash units, the photographer was responsible for calculating the needed aperture opening before each flash assisted exposure, which varied as the subject moved further away from the camera.   Subjects closer to the camera require the use of smaller aperture opening.   While those further from the camera requires a wider aperture opening.   Another needed factor the photographer need to know is how bright is the flash unit's GN rating.   When the Olympus 35 RC is set to its "Flashmatic" mode, the camera will automatically adjust the aperture opening, (to a specifi GN rating), as the photographer adjusts the focus.   The "Flashmatic" feature is purely mechanical and like the selecting an aperture manually, the light meter is turned-off.

For indoor work using the flashmatic mode of the camera or with the next method, set the shutter speed to either 1/15th or 1/30th of a second.   1/15th of second wil bring out a little more of the background from the shadows, but will also pick more motion blur.

The alternative to performing a flash assisted exposure in the flashmatic mode is to utilize a modern auto thryristor flash unit and set the aperture manually.   The flash unit should have a chart that suggest an aperture setting for both ISO 100 and ISO 400 film.   The use of an automatic flash unit by far the most popular choice amongst modern photographers, even though it isn't as precise as relying on the camera's built-in flashmatic system with a known flash.

In the flashmatic mode, the aperture indicator needle in the viewfinder will let you know what aperture was selected by the camera.   You can try this while in the flashmatic mode, by varying the focus between shots.   The further the distance, the smaller the aperture number will be, until you reach the f/2.8 limit, which is 16 ft with a flash with a GN of 14 meters/45 feet.

The one technical glitch to the system is it isn't coupled to the ISO/ASA setting.   So different flashmatic settings must be used with different film speeds to maintain a proper exposure.

For a flash with a GN of 15 meters/49 feet at ISO/ASA 100 one needs to compensate by manually changing the guide number setting on the camera.   Doubling the film speed will increase the flash's (GN) guide number by a factor of 1.4.   A quick mention: 1.4 is real close to the square root of 2.   The inference here is there may be an inverse square law being applied to the recommended aperture as the distance away from the flash increases.

For the flash unit in the above image that has a GN with ISO 100 film of 45 ft.   The 49 ft setting on the camera is closest to that GN.   For faster films, set the flashmatic lever to:

  • GN 65 with ISO 200 film
  • GN 98 with ISO 400 film

Last but not least, choose a flash unit that is compact and with GN range that makes sense for use with the "flashmatic" mechanism - which is why I chose one with a GN rating of 45 ft.   My preferred flash unit is a Nikon SB-30 Speedlight.   The SB-30 is as about as compact as it gets and it is very light weight.

After 20 Years of Use

The above photo show an Olympus 35 RC kit consisting of the camera, a protective case, slip-on lens hood and a spare neutral density filter.   Notice how the slip-on filter reverses for stowage.   The entire 35 RC kit fits in a Lowepro Z-10 belt pouch.

It's been 50 years since the Olympus 35 RC was introduced.   I've had my copy for 20 years.   It replaced what was a newer Olympus XA that had been my go to travel camera during 1990s.   While the XA offered a better range of slower shutters speeds and could be easily carried in a pants' pocket, the mostly metal build and larger view finder of the 35 RC makes it seem to be the more luxurious of the two.   With regards to ergonomics - the 35 RC wins out against the pocketable Olympus XA.   As opposed to attempting to put the camera in a pocket to carry the camera, either the above belt pouch works or a small, slim, across the shoulder satchel works with room to spare for a small water bottle and either a paperback book or a snack.   The idea is to have essentially an urban warrior or country rambler kit that is much smaller and lighter than the typical SLR user's camera bag.

Back in 1970, the Olympus 35 RC wasn't as compact the legendary Rollei 35, but was perhaps the smallest 35mm camera with rangefinder focusing.   Cost-wise, the initial buyer was looking at plunking down $89.95 versus nearly $300.00 for full-size 35mm SLR with a 50mm lens, (which would be approximately $600.00 versus $2,000.00 in today's inflated US dollars).   Keep in mind that this was before credit card use was a common practice in the economy.   In other words, other than purchases made at big box department stores - many big ticket purchases were paid for with cash or paid off using the independent merchants layaway program, that often meant the camera would be picked up from the store after the final installment.   So, essentially the 35 RC was an entry level camera for the serious amateur, who was content to work with a camera that featured a fixed, single focal length lens as opposed to an interchangeable lens SLR.

While definitely not as small as the Olympus XA or a Rollei 35, this is very small 35mm camera that still has a cuteness factor when diplayed in public.   A serious 35mm or digital SLR user may look at the Olympus 35 RC and see a toy camera.   It definitely is not.   In fact it is quite capable of producing excellent film images, especially for street photography, (where the photographer often needs to stand close to his or her subject).

In the interest of truth in advertising, other than with a deep pocket winter coat, it is a bit of stretch say that the diminutive Olympus 35 RC is pocket-sized.   With regards to standing close enough to the intended subject in order to fill most of the frame, there are some subjects that I recommend to keep at a safe distance.   To end this web page - below is an Olympus 35 RD ad from the early 1970s.   It portrays for the purposes of marketing, a youthful individual, who is full of vigor using the camera.

To go with above advertisement - Here is a nice short Olympus 35 RC review - courtesy of the Mr. Leica camera web site, a.k.a Matt Osborne.

Last but not least, to show the build of the 35 RC - Here is an image gallery which shows the complete disassembly of the camera - courtesy of the Kiev camera web site.

A note on copyright infringement: Please do not cut and paste any of the above work for publication either on the internet or for anywhere else without first getting my specific permission.   This is a noncommercial web page written for educational purposes and it is intended to be of assistance to anyone interested in amateur photography.   No I didn't invent the wheel, but the above web page is my interpretation of the wheel and I've tried my best to be original, (even to use my own photographes when there are much better ones on other web pages).   Fair use in my book allows for appropriate content from my pages to be used for description purposes by various search engines, reprinting for personal use or links on your web page that state, "See Andrew Yue's web page for more information on the 35RC." after brief description.   The views expressed on this page are my own and do not reflect an endorsement of any kind by the University of Texas at Austin.

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-Last Updated on 10/25/2019-