Olympus 35 SP
5 frames with...

5 Frames with An Olympus 35SP Rangefinder – By Julian Higgs

July 25, 2018

You know that feeling you get when you have just acquired a new camera and wonder if the other one you’d been considering would have been a better option? Yeah… that. I had not long ago gotten myself a lovely Olympus 35 RC – but had been looking at the Olympus 35SP as well.

How much better could it be? Well I suppose the 7 element f1.7  lens may have been a good justification? The spot metering at the touch of a button? Or, like the RC, it’s ability to squeeze more frames from a roll than the stated 36?

Whatever way I looked at it and the more I read glowing reviews I felt it only right to get my hands on one – how could I go wrong?

Not liking the idea of posting something that was this old/delicate, I found one on eBay that was fairly local. It was expensive – not Leica/Contax expensive – but even so… Bidding was quite intense, but I managed to win it. I found out later that apparently this camera had belonged to the former Olympus sales rep in the area. So perhaps it has some provenance? 😉

I’ve not yet had this camera serviced. I changed some of the light seals myself, and have installed a Weinn cell for now. As I did with the 35RC before, I will no doubt get it serviced and converted to modern voltage at the excellent Luton Camera Repairs.

When compared to the diminutive RC the Olympus 35SP is a beast of a camera! It feels solid in the hands, the focus is smooth and quick with what I think is a short throw of movement on the focus lever. Manual metering takes some fiddling, but does work well once you get used to it. However, left in auto, I don’t seem to have had a bad exposure out of it, in either colour or black and white.

I started my book project with this camera, as it was contemporary with the subject; silly things like that matter to me for some reason. The images that came back were in my opinion ‘of the time’, and could have been taken forty years ago as well. They’re just what I was looking for. Holidays, street and family photos followed. All great!

In conclusion, I don’t think this is ‘better’ per se, compared to the RC, just different. OK the f1.7 lens helps in low light, and the spot metering is useful, but it is bigger/heavier and has a louder shutter, which seems more conspicuous compared to the RC. Also, the meter window to the left of the viewfinder could also be obscured by errant fingers if you are not careful.

I still like it though.

Have a look at the selection below, and if you want to see or know more, let me know.

Escalator Riders Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35SP

Escalator rider, London Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35 SP

Natural Pool Bathers

Bathers, both sun and water at the natural pool, Puerto Santiago, Tenerife Lomo 400 Olympus 35SP

Path to Mam Tor Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35SP

The paved path to Mam Tor Derbyshire, England Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35SP

Advancing Cows Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35SP

Advancing Cows – Pegsdon Hills -Bedfordshire HP5+ Olympus 35SP

Record Press Hot Plates Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35SP

Vinyl Record Press hot plates, an out take from my book project at The Vinyl Factory Ilford HP5+ Olympus 35SP

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  • Reply
    July 25, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    An aspect often left unmentioned in reviews of the 35SP is the viewfinder. I think it’s the best out of all my rangefinders (I also own a Canon P and Minoltina S). The split-image patch is incredibly easy to see, even in low light, where the others would be invisible.

    Let me know if you need any parts by the way, as I created my SP by combining bits from a broken SP and SPN, so still have plenty left over 🙂 .

    • Reply
      July 25, 2018 at 8:50 pm

      Hey Callum, yes, it is a lovely finder, very bright.

      The only part I could do with maybe would be the spot button, mine fell off somewhere in Tenerife! So I had to make one out of a ball point pen button and an old radio control servo disc. It seems to work though.


      Incidentally, I do like your WordPress theme, what’s it called?

  • Reply
    Christos Theofilogiannakos
    July 25, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    Great lens and… that’s just about it. I wanted to love it being an Olympus devotee, but my Canonet QL17 GIII is a vastly superior user camera.

    • Reply
      July 26, 2018 at 11:51 am

      Hi Christos,

      I’ve never used a Canonet, but would like to try one so I can’t comment. The lens on the SP35 is lovely, not quite what I was expecting, but has a certain character. Maybe I’ll look at a Canonet in the future.

  • Reply
    Francisco Velazquez
    July 26, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    Hi Julian, lovely pictures, my favorite is the one at the beach. I have an Olympus 35SPN and is the same camera save for the paint job. Do you find the lens flares easily? Do you use a lens hood? I have a lot of pictures which have hot spot in the middle where there is a great loss of contrast that cannot be fixed after. Any thoughts? Thank you!

    • Reply
      July 26, 2018 at 8:00 pm

      Hi Francisco,
      Thanks, I appreciate your comments.
      Yes, the lens can flare, but try to not shoot straight into the sun ( unless you want it to) and it seem ok, I have never used a lens hood, but may consider one.
      As for your problem with contrast, I’m no lens guru, but maybe the coating has worn off in the middle? I don’t know, others on here may have an answer better than mine.

  • Reply
    July 27, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    Nice review, thanks. Collectors really like the 35 SP, but I think there is one major design flaw: the light meter is no longer located at or near the lens. Because of this, you need to manually add filter factors when you use filters. With most other rangefinder cameras of that era, the metering cell was just above the lens, and could meter through any filter that you mounted.

    • Reply
      July 28, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      Thanks! It’s a great camera for sure. I don’t use filters, other than a UV Skylight, so doesn’t make much difference for my needs. My 35RC has the light cell on the lens, yes. I may as suggested earlier try a lens hood, I have a solid one that I picked up from a local charity shop, but fancy the look of a perforated one.

  • Reply
    July 28, 2018 at 4:49 am

    Great review!
    35SP is probably the best 70s Japanese rangefinder around, is is better made, has the brightest viewfinder and sharpest lens, when comparing to the Minolta Hi-matic 7sii, the Canon QL-17 GIII, and the Olympus 35RD.
    I was really surprised when I got the first roll developed, this lens is even sharper than the G. Zuiko Auto-S 50mm f1.4 on my OM1.

    • Reply
      July 28, 2018 at 9:51 am

      Thanks Tianyi, I do love this camera, it has its shortcomings for sure, but it is all about the lens and the image at the end of the day.

  • Reply
    Brian Sweeney
    July 29, 2018 at 2:01 am

    The lens is excellent on this camera, 7 elements in 5 groups. Mine was very contrasty- Francisco, you might try examining your lens with a bright light to look for haze. Haze often builds up on each side of the shutter on some of these older cameras. The one design flaw that I found is the hair-thin spring that is under constant strain for the mechanism that stops the advance when the film is wound to the next frame. Took a while to figure out the problem, replaced the one in my $15 Olympus SP with one from a parts Minolta.

    The Minolta Hi-Matic 9 runs about 1/4th the price of the SP, the lens is as good, and it has auto-parallax corrected framelines compared with the fixed marks in the Olympus SP. I ended up selling the SP for much more than i paid for it (after repairing).

  • Reply
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  • Reply
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