Rangefinders (Fixed Lens)

Olympus 35RC – A Travelling Review – By Andy Larner

March 20, 2020

My first trip with the Olympus 35RC happened when an invite dropped into my whatsapp in early February last year. Stag-do in Budapest! Long weekend! 

Now, I’m a habitual traveler, I love traveling and the majority of my photography falls in with that. I shoot quickly and on the move. 

A stag-do though poses a specific problem… Late nights, (possible) seedy bars, clubs and ‘activities’. So what camera do I take? Do I take my beloved Yashica Lynx? No it’s way too big and obvious despite being perfect for night photography. Do I take my work horse Nikon FM, veteran of ski trips and really versatile with a 50mm or 28mm lenses to choose from? Let’s face it, no, you don’t want to be the ‘camera guy’ if you end up in a late night bar (though I usually try and hide whatever camera I have under my jacket) it’s still bulky and potentially might get you searched by bouncers. Not something I would relish in Budapest. I could of course have gone digital and taken my X100T but I did not want to have a £500 camera mugged off me in a dive bar. Stag dos often take you off the main trail and I wanted something discreet and hopefully cheap(ish) for this weekend. 

Back to the drawing board then (or my favourite camera review sites). If you clicked through to the Yashica Lynx review I wrote you might notice that I initially went in looking for something pocketable, small and with the option of semi-auto or manual. This is where I started again. After a lot of research I ended up on the Olympus 35RC. Getting hold of one in a month however was a bit of task. I started with Ebay but lost my nerve on the untested shutters and expensive postage. I definitely needed it to be under £100 and ebay auctions tended to dramatically spike beyond that at the end. 

I saw a Ricoh 500G (which does everything the RC does but for £40 and from a shop I trust) in Real Camera in Manchester but I got there too late and it was gone. Heartbroken, I asked if they had anything along the same lines. Thankfully I was talking to Paul and he asked what I had in mind, when I replied I was more looking for an Olympus 35RC, he said the magic words; I’ve got one I’ve not used for a while you could buy it off me? The poor man nearly lost a hand. So for £75 I was the proud owner of an Olympus 35RC. It does everything I needed and this one was in great nick including an Olympus filter to protect the lens. 

The Olympus RC35 is a fully manual rangefinder of a similar size to the iconic Olympus 35 Trip but with more control for the photographer. It weighs: 415grams and it’s dimensions are 110 × 70 × 50 millimeters. For something so small it’s reassuringly solid! As you can see above it’s tiny compared to the Yashica Lynx. 

Olympus 35RC

Firstly size; the 35RC is perfect for a jacket pocket it’s basically a rectangle, the lens is very shallow which allows it to slip in and out of the pocket without much fuss. It’s ok in my (about average) hands but the controls on the lens i.e aperture/focus can be a little fiddly due to their diddiness. That is definitely the trade off of having something so small. The 35RC’s shutter control is a dial on top and that’s absolutely fine to use. Standard shutter speeds of B – 500, with aperture from F2.8 – F22 which is a fairly standard range.

Olympus 35RC in Budapest at night

The focus is smooth though I find that if I focus quickly with the 35RC there can be a little bit of lag in the viewfinder, though this could just be mine. The viewfinder I find a little faint compared to other rangefinders I have used which can make it a little difficult if you’re shooting in shadowy/shady conditions but in bright sunlight it’s absolutely fine. 

Olympus 35RC in Budapest

The 35RC’s auto setting is shutter priority and works fairly well. Though I have missed some shots when it decides it doesn’t want to fire which can be a little frustrating. I think this is largely getting used to the exposure weighting within the sensor so it’s a bit of a learning curve. I tend to mainly trust my eye now and only use the auto if I’m strolling around in sunny 16 weather in holiday mode taking snapshots just for ease of minute changes between F11/16. I certainly didn’t get any duff shots when using the sensor so I can’t complain! The sensor does use a battery and I made the mistake of not switching it off and killing the battery after the first weekend of use. Though it takes standard batteries so it’s not a massive problem if you’re as forgetful as me. 

The lightmeter readout is at the bottom of the 35RC’s viewfinder and it very clear though it doesn’t tell you what shutter speed you have selected (EDIT- the shutter speed is at the top of the viewfinder but is so faint I never noticed it! Could be my eye position or a combination of things. Thank you to Ian in the comments below.) making you use your brain which is unfortunate if you’re me. The lightmeter reads speeds of up to 800asa and this can be changed on the front of the lens which is a bit weird. Obviously anything outside of that and you’re on your own!

The lens on the Olympus 35RC is an incredibly sharp 42mm which is a nice all rounder focal length. Good for portraits and landscapes without specialising in either. I think whether you like this focal length will depend on what kind of shooter you are. I found with my run and gun style it was flexible and I was able to get a good variety of shots while on the move. It’s really discreet and great for shooting up close.

The camera was great for the stag-do, I got some fun shots and was able to just keep it in my jacket pocket the rest of the time. I wasn’t ‘the camera guy’ but I got some really nice shots of the city (which is more my style). After this the 35RC became my traveling companion for short weekends and cabin bag only trips.

I was able to shoot in a way I haven’t before getting really close to subjects unobtrusively, meaning that my portrait shots are a bit more candid than usual. I really liked this aspect of the 35RC and I found that I shot differently when I was using it which was fun.

Olympus 35RC on the beach

This Olympus 35RC is essentially a really good simple rangefinder in a tiny package and I’ve found it an extremely useful traveling companion. Originally I got into film cameras to have a variety of types of cameras and the Olympus has to be the most handy and unobtrusive. It looks like a toy but it definitely doesn’t feel like or act like one.

Olympus 35RC in the pub

I have used is as a secondary to larger cameras and as with the stag-do where our journey began it’s great pocket camera that gives you full control if you want it and shutter priority if you don’t. The Olympus 35RC does everything a larger camera would do so I would also say it would be an excellent beginners camera as well, especially if you can get one in good condition. Even writing this review I’m thinking I might take it skiing next week. It’s small, functional and highly capable. What more could you want?

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Khürt Louis Williams
    March 22, 2020 at 1:24 am

    Beautiful little camera.

  • Reply
    Ian Ronketti
    April 23, 2020 at 11:10 pm

    The shutter speed should be at the top of the viewfinder, aperture at the bottom. A secret weapon of the 35rc for me is the exposure lock. Meter, half press the shutter release and recompose. Learn this and the 35rc is a beautiful little camera capable of startling results. Only downside the battery. Wein cells seem to work fine in my 35rc.

    • Reply
      Andy Larner
      April 25, 2020 at 9:08 am

      Mine is so faint I’ve spent all this time with it and not seen the shutter speed!

      I’ll update the article! Cheers!

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