Olympus SP & DC Review – Two Olympus cameras, one family holiday – Guest post by Chris Pattison

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.― Benjamin Franklin

A clever chap was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. He knew a thing or two about preparation. I, on the other hand, found myself to be a floundering father, when I decided soon before a family trip to New York to dispense with common sense and take two newly acquired and untested Olympus rangefinders with me.

The stakes were as high as the Chrysler Building, as I loaded an Olympus 35SP with Portra 400 and an Olympus 34DC with Superia 200. I figured a city like New York called for colour and I believe I got that much right.

Staten Island Bus Terminus.
Baseball in Central Park.
Park Avenue (ugh! underexposure.)
Central Park.

The plan was to get out on my own with the Olympus 35SP and take the Olympus 35DC when going about with the family. The DC, as you may know, has fully automatic exposure. It’s simply a matter of focussing the rangefinder and pressing the shutter button isn’t it? The 35SP, with it’s meter readout in EV, initially takes a little more thought and attention, and some fiddling with the aperture and shutter values wrapped around the lens to match the EV value the meter is giving (or to modify the value to ones own judgement).

No doubt, if the Statue of Liberty had ears, she would be dropping the torch and tablet into the Hudson and giving it a full facepalm, had she just read the above. It turns out my simplistic rationale held as much water as a sieve.

My first assumption that the Olympus SP had a fully functioning meter imploded almost immediately after stepping out of our hotel room and into the brilliant midtown sunshine. It never gave a reading above 9EV, even when pointing it directly up at the sun. Bugger. That meant it couldn’t be relied on. No spot metering either, which is the SP’s USP, if you catch my drift.

Fortunately I wrapped my head around the Sunny 16 rule, and then added a bit for slight overexposure, and used the camera, with unease at first, but then growing confidence, as the week went by. I had no foundation for this confidence of course. It was just I was relaxing into the holiday. The one niggling thought was the condition of the light seals, which were as tacky as the lobby of Trump Tower.

East 56th Street.
Hat seller at end of the High Line.
Brooklyn Bridge.
An audience with the President. Midtown.
Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge Park.
“Truth Has Its Merits”. Midtown.

The Olympus DC is smaller and lighter than the SP. It too has a 40mm 1.7 lens, but with a bit less glass in it and not quite as well corrected apparently. It also teases you about the exposure via a readout in the viewfinder, letting you know in advance with a half depress of the shutter button, what it intends to do. Apart from that, you don’t have a lot of say in the matter. There’s no program shift function here. Oh, but there’s the white button on the back, the Back Light Compensation button hidden in plain sight that I totally forgot about the whole week. Aaarghh!

Anyway, did I get a way with my lack of planning? Well, sometimes. I had plenty of nasty underexposed shots too I’m afraid and slightly embarrassed to say. There’s an acronym in my line of work that crops up now and again; SISO. It refers to what information you can glean from a database can only be as good as what was put there in the first place. If the information is pants then it’s a case of SISO. I will let you work out the acronym.

The same is true of image capture. Failing to give the film enough information will surely lead to less than acceptable results; images as amorphous and grainy as the whole grain mustard on a pastrami on rye.

Fifth Avenue.
Central Park.
East 56th Street.
Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Which camera gave the best results? The one I had more control over; the Olympus SP. Which camera did I enjoy using the most? Again, the SP by a country mile. It’s just a better quality of experience using the SP over the DC. As well as the easily quantifiable better finder and easier focusing, there’s the bigger, heavier body and the mechanical shutter sound which gives the SP a more ‘premium’ feel. It’s the difference between eating a midtown McDonalds and a burger at Friedman’s in Chelsea Market.

You can find more of Chris Pattison’s photographs at https://www.instagram.com/christopher.pattison/

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17 thoughts on “Olympus SP & DC Review – Two Olympus cameras, one family holiday – Guest post by Chris Pattison”

  1. Chris, unfortunately you’ve paid the price for ignoring THE golden rule when buying a film camera, especially a used one – run a test film first before talking those all important shots later. Still, you have salvageable negs as great memories of your trip, and the grain does make them somewhat “arty”. :D)

    Can you explain the message on the sign on the Brooklyn Bridge shot? It’s got me puzzled.

    1. Hi Terry. Yes I know, I know. I have publicly shamed myself so that others may learn from the error of my ways! It’s a cautionary tale. I’m not sure if the pictures are more ropey than arty. As for the Brooklyn Bridge sign, I believe its intent is to warn people off attaching padlocks to the bridge, but the fish pun gets lost in cultural translation. Lox is apparently a fillet of brined salmon, most often shoved into a bagel and slathered in cream cheese.

      1. Hi, Chris. Thanks for the explanation. I have to say that I’m none the wiser. :D) I’m still puzzled as to why would anybody want to put padlocks on the bridge? Is this a New York pastime? Still, quite a fine if one gets caught! I sort of get the pun, better to eat a lox, but why does this appear on what seems to be an official departmental sign?

        1. Locks on the bridge is a French thing: Some bridge in Paris, I don’t remember which one, is so loaded with padlocks left by visitors that it’s about to collapse. I think leaving the lock means you’ll return, or maybe it means a long, happy life with the person you’re visiting with, or just that you have a spare lock in your pocket that you want to get rid of. Whatever, the Parisian gov’t is spending a fortune on man-hours and bolt cutters to clear the bridge of padlocks. Apparently, folks in NYC think it’s a great idea, and have started doing the same thing – which the city wants to nip in the bud. The “lox” reference is to smoked salmon, often enjoyed in a bagel, with cream cheese, onion and, sometimes, tomato. It’s the classic NYC Jewish food, frequently eaten at breakfast. “Lox” vs. “locks” is something of an insider joke, one that any New York City native will get immediately, and wonder how the city gov’t dared such an attempt at humor on a street sign. Visitors, especially those who have never enjoyed the lox/bagel/cream cheese concoction, might not pick up on it.

          1. Chris, Mike. Thanks for the information. I hadn’t heard about this phenomenon, and an example quite close to home to boot, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Clearly, the world has passed me by! The pic of the bridge in Paris shows what an eyesore it can become if it gets out of hand. And all this in the name of love/romance. Not a patch on throwing coins in the Trevi fountain, is it?

          2. No, not quite the Trevi fountain. I even found a lock on the High Level Bridge not with the names of two lovers, but the word ‘Brexit’ boldly spelled out in indelible black marker.

  2. Dear Chris,
    I really enjoyed reading this, and I can totally relate to the experience of newly acquired used cameras and being suboptimally prepared 🙂
    Except one thing: you said «light seals, which were as tacky as …» ARRRGH I now need brain bleach!

  3. The 35SP has a fully automatic mode too, if you twist both aperture and shutter dials to ‘A’. Incidentally this wouldn’t have helped you much as your meter wasn’t working—but if it does work it means the 35SP alone can fulfil the needs of a fully manual camera and also an automatic one for family shots. No need for both. Unfortunately my SPN has the same issue as yours, despite replacing the entire meter circuit in the past: seems to work roughly OK with a bit of ASA-dial fiddling to compensate for 1.5V batteries, but then you point it at a bright sky and the needle refuses to bump up.

    I enjoyed all your pictures however which is the important aspect, especially your use of reflections.

    1. Hi Callum. Yes, I was aware of the SP’s auto mode, but I wanted to compare two cameras and two ways of making images. As you say, it would have been useless in auto mode anyway. 🙂
      I did get a quote for repair of the meter, and decided against splashing the cash.
      I am pleased you enjoyed the pictures. My personal favourite is the blue cracked mirror on Brooklyn Bridge.

      1. Chris, I recommend you DO have the meter in the SP repaired. Three reasons: 1. The SP had a spot mode, which, as far as I can remember, was unique among fixed lens rangefinder cameras. 2. The SP’s lens was one of the most sophisticated ones compared to most on compact cameras of that era. 3. The SP was a “premium” compact, the best of everything that Olympus could engineer. Think of it as an inexpensive Leica as long as you are fine with that one focal length. Enjoy!

  4. Hi Chris,
    I enjoyed the read…I’ve shot the hat man a few times from eye level, but your bird’s eye view is so much better. Nice shot. I’ve also shot the storefront in Chelsea w/that sign, creative & funny people work there.
    I don’t know anything about the Olympus R/F cameras, but you did a nice job snapping around the big apple. You did capture those slices of humanity that defines New York.
    Not a fan myself, but my wife loves bagels & lox,,,I’ve got to get to shoot that sign next time I’m in NYC.
    BTW, My father (when he was 2 years old) wandered away from my grandmother when they were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge way back in 1916. He was snatched up by a NYPD officer and reunited with my grandmother. She had arrived from Italy 4 years earlier, got married and walked to work every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

    1. Hi Dan,
      Thanks for that nice anecdote about your family. I went to Ellis Island National Museum Of Immigration during my visit. I could have stayed much longer, but the kids wanted to move on. On my next trip to New York I will leave them here! My great uncle Jacob came to New York before the first word war and went on to Ohio. Anyway, that’s another story, but thanks very much for sharing yours. Next time I stand on Brooklyn Bridge I will recall your father and no doubt distraught grandmother, and the happy ending.
      I would like to explore Chelsea more for sure, but no, Lox won’t be the top of my list either!

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