A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

By Anders Lewis

There’s something magical about the first roll developed in a new camera. The cathartic release of weeks (in this case, a month) of anxiety is almost unmatched (I don’t have kids though, so maybe that will top it). I started taking pictures on my girlfriend’s grandfather’s Pentax K1000 that had been sitting in her childhood bedroom for years – maybe there’s a story for another time! Since the first roll through that camera came back to me a year ago, I’ve experimented with different styles, film stocks, and succumbed to Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) as many other film shooters do. The camera with which I shot this project was a product of my newly-diagnosed GAS: an Olympus 35RC.

I had been reading about rangefinder cameras for weeks. Without the budget for a Leica, I was intrigued by the Olympus 35 series of compact rangefinders. Simple controls? Check! Automatic exposure settings? Check (for some)! A gorgeous Zuiko lens? Supreme check! I had scrolled through 35mmc and eventually eBay to learn more about them. I landed on a listing for a light meter inoperative Olympus 35RC for only $30 USD. This seemed reasonable and like a good time to learn how to manually meter a scene. Weeks later, I received the camera and found the original mercury battery still nested inside the camera (I’m a Gen-Z-er so naturally I licked the battery!) I replaced it with a Weincell battery as per internet-scholar research and contrary to the seller’s notion, the light meter worked perfectly!

I still hadn’t a clue how to “test” a new camera so in my brilliance, I shot a lot of pictures of family and landscapes; all pictures that would have devastated me if they were casualties of faulty shutter speeds or light leaks. By the grace of the Mamiyamigos above, the roll came back with (nearly) perfectly exposed images (focusing and composition, on the other hand…). It was a satisfying challenge; line up the images in the viewfinder and nail the exposure.  The 42mm f2.8 Zuiko lens rendered the scenes gorgeously; I need to experiment with this lens more! After that test roll, my attention was drawn back to the Pentax and an Olympus Om-1 I snagged from a thrift store and the 35RC sat on my shelf with a look of longing.

Months and rolls of film have passed since then and in February, I decided to embark on a “1-photo a day” project. Initially, the camera and film choice alluded me, yet after some thinking, I decided to go with the 35RC. Its portability, shutter-priority, and easy focusing made it a clear standout for the job. Additionally, I had been trying to experiment with black and white and had grown to love HP5+. This pairing could handle the dreary Western New York winter well. And so, from February 1st to March something-th, I took a photo almost everyday. I focused on geometry and lighting that caught my eyes while trying to capture a snap-shot of everyday life.

Without further adieu, here’s the whole roll of HP5+ through my Olympus 35RC. All pictures were developed and scanned by Reformed Film Lab in Ormond Beach, Florida.

A Corner Library Desk
A Corner Library Desk – Taken with an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Library Window Silhouette
Library Window Silhouette – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Purina Factory on a Frozen Lake
Purina Factory on a Frozen Lake – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A ladder leading down to a frozen lake
A Frozen Ladder – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A jetty leading out into a frozen lake
Frozen Jetty – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A brick storefront of an abandoned building
Abandoned Bricks – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A woman stands in a doorway with curtain shadows around her
“Wait, don’t move… this is perfect!” – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A woman standing in a doorway with the shadows of curtains around her
“Wait let me take one more!” – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A vase of sunflowers and their shadow cast on a wall
Sunflower Shadows – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A calico cat sitting infront of a window
Prudence in the Window – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A curved mirror and exit sign on a wall
Curved Reflection – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
The interior of a library with columns and desks
Reed Library Columns – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A calico cat laying in a window sill
Prudence’s Spot – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A calico cat looking up at a bird in a tree
Prudence’s nemesis… a crow! – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A corner of a house against a cloudy sky
Building Corners and the Sky, Oh My! – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A puddle reflecting a pole
Puddle Reflection – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A reflection in a window of a restaurant
Chipotle Reflection – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A flower basket hangs in a window outlined by paper hearts
Love is in the Air – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A silhouette of a man driving and his reflection in the rear view mirror
Driver, Can You Step on it Please? – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A chair facing a windowsill
Solitary Chair – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A ray of light comes through an open window
A Window’s Light – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A cat sleeping in a chair next to a stand with plants on top and books beneath
A Happy Cat and a Sad Snake Plant – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
The silhouette of a plant in a window with snow outside
A Snowy Silhouette – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A library window with couches in front
Sitting Silhouette – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A snowy zen garden outside a library sitting area
Snowy Zen – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
The interior of a library with tables and chairs
Reed Library Interior – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Scaffolding inside a church
Performance Scaffolding – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Light coming through a far away window in a concert hall
The King’s (Hall) Light 1 – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Light coming through a distant window in a concert hall
The King’s (Hall) Light 2 – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A calico cat sits on the floor looking out of frame
Prudence Posin’ – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Microphones suspended above an orchestra
Views in a Recording Session – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
3 basses laying on their sides at the back of an orchestra
A View From the Bass Section – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
Windows in a tower lounge
Tower Lounge Windows – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
A diamond-shaped sky window
Skylight Streaming – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+
3 metal statues in front of a forest and framed through the window of a walkway
3-Man Hill Framed – Taken on an Olympus 35RC & Ilford HP5+

The results of the project were mostly positive! I was pleasantly surprised with a lot of the photos (the chair in front of the window is my favorite from the roll!) I love how HP5+ handles the balance between highlight, midtones, and shadows (especially when pushed 2 stops, but this whole roll was rated at box speed, ISO 400). The shots of the frozen bay were a mixed bag. I can’t decide if I like the harshness of them or if it’s not for me. I certainly, however, missed focus just enough for softness across the frame.

I learned a lot about my process of photography throughout this project. I enjoyed slowing down when I came across architecture, lighting, or a composition that pleased me. I think there’s a beauty in slowing down to examine the elements of our environment. I too often move through spaces as if I’m competing in a speed run (I certainly would have the any% speedrun record at my local Aldi!) There are infinite interesting compositions to be analyzed every day. Projects such as this one have helped me practice slowing down, looking around, and injecting some intentionality into my photography (and daily life, broadly). Not to overly generalize, but I think this is a skill a lot of people in Gen-Z are beginning to realize; look towards the discourse surrounding other analog mediums such as vinyl records and physical zines.

I carry a camera with me everyday now, though that spot has gone to a hand-me-down Leica Mini Zoom. The Olympus 35RC still sees some action and its lessons have informed my workflow overall. Maybe I’ll do another project like this again in a few years when my compositional eye is a little bit sharper. Overall, I found much more beauty in everyday life when I gazed through the camera’s little viewfinder.

Thanks for reading! You can find me on Instagram and, well, just Instagram for now!

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About The Author

By Anders Lewis
Hi there! I am a musician and photographer based in Western New York. I enjoy taking pictures of friends, unsuspecting family members, and everyday geometry that catches my eye. Analog photography scratches a creative itch I've searched for for a long time.
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Comments

Alasdair Mackintosh on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 15/07/2023

The 35RC is a great little camera. If it had the ability to meter in manual mode it would be the perfect little camera, but it's still pretty great as-is ;-) I like the "Building Corners" one the best. Nice bold composition, and a very tight crop. Lots of other good images there. My only slight criticism is that a couple look a bit underexposed, possibly because the meter got a bit confused by an area of relative brightness in the frame... Re: batteries - I have had good results with this adapter on the 35RC, OM-1, and a couple of other cameras that take the old mercury cells. https://www.ebay.com/itm/130646083632
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Juna on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 14/07/2023

Oh, I love your photos! Just so calm and quiet. Thank you for sharing.
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Anders Lewis replied:

Comment posted: 14/07/2023

Hi Juna! Thank you! That's an interesting thought, I had never considered taking calm or quiet photos. I guess that's what happens when you photograph a small town at the end of winter's darkness! I do find that my eye tends toward isolated subjects... they just seem to fit.

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Charlie Bierwirth on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Thanks for sharing! You had some awesome shots on this roll! As a 35RC owner I will say it's a great little camera, my preferred for travel. Happy to see others are discovering and enjoying the camera as well.
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Anders Lewis replied:

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Hi Charlie! I appreciate that! it really is a great, compact camera. It's the ideal Parka-pocket size and handles the cold relatively well.

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Chan on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Maybe not so weirdly, but a lot of these photos remind me of another WNY photographer from the ‘60s, Fred Lee Lewis! The gradations of blackness (especially in the scaffolding and King’s (Hall) shots share his attention to the power of contrast in composition. But I especially like the philosophical comments about slowing down and learning to look — good for Gen Xers as well. Great write up, and a cool experiment with new gear.
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Anders Lewis replied:

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Thank you! Some of his B&W pictures have been stuck in my mind ever since I was a kid (especially that animal skull... was is a deer maybe?) Taking pictures off of "auto-pilot" has been such a reward in itself!

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Miguel mendez on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Muy lindo rollo has sacado , la nemesis de prudence es la mas linda si tuviera que elegir una, pero las ventanas y la de la mujer tambien son lindas fotos Un saludo desde Buenos aires.
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Anders Lewis replied:

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

¡Gracias Miguel! Prudence is a naturally talented model, especially when she is bird hunting from the kitchen counter.

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David Hill on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Thanks for this - a very interesting article. I have a 35RC and agree that it is a great little camera to have in your pocket - better (and more fun) than a ‘phone. In the UK I use an MR-44 adapter with a 382 silver oxide cell for this camera. It gives the correct voltage without the shorter lifetime of a Wein cell, and I can use it with several other cameras in my collection.
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Anders Lewis replied:

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Hi David, Thank you for the kind words! I've heard great things about the MR-44 adapter, I'll have to give that a try in the future. I've been lucky with the Weincell batteries but I've had a few moments where the internal meter didn't seem right. The adapter with the 382 (which is much easier to find in stores) seems like the way to go!

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Phillip on A Whole Month/Whole Roll – The Olympus 35RC and Ilford HP5+

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Still have an almost new Olympus 35DC (with F-Zuiko 1.7/40mm) inherited from my mother. Worked with Exakta Varex and Nikon F2S and FM2 at the time. 35mm films such as FP4 and Tri-X developed (HC-110) in-house independent darkroom...
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Anders Lewis replied:

Comment posted: 13/07/2023

Hi Phillip! That's fantastic... I need to try FP4 and Tri-X sooner or later, they seem to offer nice contrast.

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