The original Olympus Trip 35 was one of the most popular cameras ever made, and it is a beautiful piece of engineering. It is a fixed focus automatic camera that permits the use of film of only up to 400 ASA, and has a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 second. Manual aperture settings are possible, but only when using a Flash.

As one gets more familiar with the Olympus Trip, the few limitations it has seem trivial. In fact, it seems to possess all the qualities that make for an ideal street camera, especially since it was designed as a ‘visual notebook’ that could be carried anywhere, it is particularly suited for street photography.

Against the few limitations, consider these great features:

# It has a superb, professional quality Zuiko 40mm f/2.8 lens.
# It’s a moderate wide angle – so it can focus close, and has a great depth of field. The 40mm is a good compromise between 35mm and 50mm, and has no distortion.
# It is Automatic in function for daylight photography
# It does not need batteries, so no need to worry about the camera dying in the middle of the action
# It has a rugged all metal body, and can withstand rough use, like being tossed in a backpack
# It has a thumbwheel instead of the traditional cocking lever – its easy to operate with one hand, since the thumb can cock the shutter after every shot, even when carrying something in the other hand.
# thumb wheel allows the Shutter to be re-cocked without moving the camera from the eye. This allows the photographer to focus on the action instead on the mechanics of the camera film transport mechanism.
# It’s size and weight make it easy to hold, and it feels solid and steady.
# It is nearly silent, except for a soft click when the shutter is released, and a soft whirring when the thumbwheel is operated while cocking the shutter for the next shot.
# The camera back is cut away at the bottom so that the film cassette can be just dropped in instead of having to angle it in. This makes for quick and unobtrusive loading.
# It has a threaded lens ring, so it can take a screw on 43.5mm filter, since the CdS cells are located around the lens, any filter is compensated for. (I like using a yellow filter – ideal for Black & White photography)
# It can be mounted on a tripod, but a lightweight monopod is even better – its small, so the monopod is easy to hold, and it does not take up additional space. The monopod also makes a fine walking stick.
# Best of all, it is unobtrusive – no big glass lenses to stick into peoples faces. The camera can be easily concealed until needed against the body or in a jacket pocket.

And that’s not all — there is one other aspect of the Olympus Trip 35 that convinced me that it was DESIGNED for street photography.

I am referring to the Trip’s focusing mechanism. The Olympus Trip 35 belongs to the class of cameras that used a paradigm called Zone Focusing (or “guess focusing”) as their primary focus setting mechanism. The Trip 35 is automatic, so the shutter speed is set by the camera depending on the light conditions sensed by the bubble glass light meter surrounding the lens and the film speed. If the light is insufficient, a red flag will show up in the viewfinder, and the shutter button will not fire. (see photo below)

Zone focusing is a pretty simple concept – for daylight photography, the photographer sets the camera shutter ring to A (auto), and rotate the zone focusing ring to the desired distance setting. The Trip 35 has 4 zones – these are identified by little icons that represent subject distances. The icons are a head & shoulders, person and child, group, and mountains, which indicate 1m, 1.5m, 3m and ∞. The numeric equivalents for the icons are etched on the opposite side of the zone focusing ring.

Zone Focusing – Note the red icon (3m)
Distance scale (opposite side of focus ring)

The photographer simply guesses the approximate distance of the subject using the representative icons, and sets the particular zone icon desired. The Zone system is pretty forgiving, and it doesn’t matter if the guess isn’t very accurate. If a Flash unit is used, the Zones are set as usual, but the Aperture ring is moved off of A to the desired aperture setting depending on the Flash Unit used and the Subject distance.

Flash Aperture settings on Trip 35
Red Flag (insufficient light alert)

Here’s the kicker. The 3 meter icon (Group) is actually marked in RED. I did not understand why for a long time, but one day it hit me. For the 40mm Zuiko lens, 3 meters represents the distance at which a group of people can be photographed full-length, with their surroundings – as in street photography!

I’ve been asking around, and apparently other Zone Focusing cameras had the same type of marking. It seems apparent to me now that for street photography, all one needs to do is load up with some 200 or 400 ASA film. rotate the Zone focus ring to the Red icon, and shoot. The depth of field afforded by the wide angle lens will ensure that everything from 3 meters (approx 10 feet) to infinity will be in focus… so it’s “set and shoot”. Literally.

Note: I am suggesting faster film speed since this will prevent the insufficient light flag from preventing a shot in shadowed areas..

Check out another 40mm f/2.8 camera with similar features, but full Manual capability – the Ricoh 500G Rangefinder
Here’s more information on the Olympus Trip 35


text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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