Camera Review: Olympus Trip 35

When it comes to buying a good quality 35mm point and shoot camera the used market tends to point toward two extremes. On one hand you have a whole lot of cheap plastic pieces of junk built in the 35mm film era heyday for the average Joe Schmoe who didn't much care about good quality photographs. They were basically built for the same crowd of consumers who primarily use their smart phones today as a primary picture making device. While these cameras can be fun to use (hey, I own a few myself) they certainly aren't machines that inspire confidence. Low quality lenses, pointless zooms, bodies that fall apart under the shell of low grade plastic, and silly features like date stamps fake panoramic functions abound. For a few bucks they can be fun to eat through some rolls of film, but usually the novelty wears off rather quickly.

Olympus Trip 35 sitting in a nice nest of grass. :-)

Then on the other hand you have your “premium” 35mm compact cameras. This is where you will find highly coveted items like the Yashica T4, the Nikon 35ti, and the Minolta TC-1 - well built little camera jewels with high quality lenses that were made in relatively limited quantaties commanding high prices with a cult following willing to shell out the cash required to own one. I personally envy people who have that kind of money (the Minolta TC-1 has been on my “must own” list for decades now) however I am not one of them by any stretch of the imagination.

Luckily there are a few camera out there that provide a nice happy medium. Good quality photographic tools that are small, compact, and that are easy to operate. That my friends is where the Olympus Trip 35 comes into play.

I purchased my Olympus Trip 35 for twenty dollars at a camera swap meet. It is in perfect condition and save for a few scuffs on the top plate, it looks like it has hardly been used. If you are patient you can find a similar bargain at a thrift store or a garage sale. If you want to buy one right away expect to pay about sixty to one-hundred dollars on-line. At that price point I would still say ti is worth the investment considering what it costs to buy a brand new Lomo LC-A, and that camera isn't half as nice as the Olympus Trip 35 in terms of construction quality.

Photographed at the Women's March with an Olympus Trip 35 and Kodak Tri-X film. 

The Olympus Trip 35 was made from the late 1960's to the early 1980's. Numerous sources on-line claim Olympus made over ten million of these cameras, which is why they are still so plentiful and so cheap on the used market. As the “Trip” name implies, this camera was marketed as a compact tool people could travel with. Makes sense to me! What also makes sense is why the Olympus Trip 35 had such a long life span on the market. I personally fell in love with mind before I finished exposing my first roll of film the Olympus Trip 35.

Ok, I'll admit that is a pretty bold and epic statement. Maybe I should stop yammering and explain what makes the Olympus Trip 35 so great.

The first thing one notices when looking at the Olympus Trip 35 is the large clear plastic looking bubble material that surrounds the glass lens element. This is the selenium cell that gathers in light and powers the camera. Yes you read that right. The Olympus Trip 35 is solar powered!! There are no batteries required which is incredibly cool and further explains why there are still so many Olympus Trip 35's in operation. Many compact cameras from the 1960's and 1970's used mercury cell batteries which are no longer made and replacements can be a pain in the butt to find. Or worse, many owners left dead batteries in their cameras for years and years which eventually became corroded and ruined the cameras for future use. The selenium cell eliminates both problems. Just pick up the Olympus Trip 35 and go.

The Olympus Trip 35 is insanely easy to operate. I mean so easy it makes boiling water difficult by comparison. On the front of your lens barrel you set the ISO of your film. These days that is typically either ISO 100 or ISO 400. Focus is done through “zone focusing” which is to say you line up a little picture on the lens barrel based on the distance of your subject. A picture of a single person is for close subjects. A picture of a mountain is for landscapes. Click the shutter button. Wind the film. Repeat to your heart's desire. Easy. On the inner lens barrel there is an “A” setting that stands for automatic which is what you will keep the camera set to 99% of the time. Moving this setting away from “A” and instead to one of the marked aperture readouts will default the camera to a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. This is more meant for flash photography as opposed to actual manual exposure control.

Photographed at the Women's March with an Olympus Trip 35

The trick to using the Olympus Trip 35 is to simply not overthink the technical stuff. There is just no reason to. Let's take the zone focus aspect for example. When I first started using the Olympus Trip 35 I was a bit obsessed with making sure I twisted the focus ring to the right setting. I would compose a frame and think to myself, “now should this image be set to the icon of a single person or the icon of two people!?” The thing is, the Olympus Trip will give priority to exposures that have slower shutter speeds (again that 1/40th of a second) and smaller apertures that have a greater depth of field. More often than not if you are in the ballpark, depth of field will work in your favor and the image you get will look just fine. Maybe not insanely tack sharp, but honestly, why are we all so obsessed with that anyway? Composition and being in the moment should far outweigh the goal of ultimate sharpness in your images. So don't fret over the small stuff! Leave that for when you take your Rolleiflex out for a spin. Instead just enjoy the process of taking pictures.

I've seen a couple of sources on-line from people who have modified their Olympus Trip 35's to work fully manually. I really don't understand the purpose of this. The Olympus Trip 35 is a camera that gets some great results BECAUSE it is so simple to operate and yet made of nice quality materials with a better than average 40mm glass lens. If you want precise focus, perfect exposure calculations, and total manual control there are plenty of other options.

From a size perspective I find the Olympus Trip 35 to be just about perfect for those days when you are walking around town and just want a simple camera with you. It fits nicely into a coat pocket, a purse, or a shoulder bag without taking up any more room than your smart phone or a tin of breath mints. In your hands though it feels like a camera. Like an actual real honest to goodness camera. Despite its size it doesn't feel awkward or difficult. The few dials and controls that you need to use have a nice resistance and weight to them and aren't hard to find by touch. The viewfinder is better than one would expect from a camera of this size and I never have difficulty with framing or just popping the camera immediately up to my eye to shoot.

If there is one downside to the Olympus Trip 35 its the fact that this is not a great camera for low light situations. In fact, without a flash, it is pretty darn near useless in low-light. If your lighting situation is too dim for f/2.8 at 1/40th of a second with ISO 400 film then the camera just simply will not fire the shutter. Instead you will see a little red flag appear in your viewfinder indicating there is not enough light to properly expose your film. There are two solutions to this problem. First, you can always pop a cheap and tiny flash onto the camera's hot shoe. I have a tiny little Vivitar flash I bought at the thrift store for three bucks that works nicely. Or second, just move the aperture ring away from the “A” setting and over to f/2.8 and take the picture anyway. More than likely your image will be underexposed with the second option, but negative film often has enough exposure latitude that you may get a useable shot out of it. Ultimately however, the Olympus Trip 35 is really much better suited to outdoor and daylight work where there should be plenty of light and this is all a non-issue.

Self portrait in the early morning hours after a late night concert with the Olympus Trip 35

I should also note that my particular Olympus Trip 35 has an ISO dial that only goes as hight as ISO 200. Evidently for the first two years the Olympus Trip 35 was in production, the camera only went up to ISO 200 and is missing the ISO 400 setting. After the first two years a few chrome parts were replaced with plastic (like the shutter button) and an ISO 400 setting was added. While my camera might be a bit more rare, from a usability standpoint I would recommend finding an Olympus Trip 35 with an ISO 400 setting. It would be nice to load up a roll of Tri-X or HP5 and shoot it at box speed as opposed to what I have to do which is shoot higher speed film with the camera set to ISO 200 and pull my back my home developing a little bit. Not a big deal, but save yourself a little effort if possible and get the more common version of the camera with more ISO options.

The Olympus Trip 35 is one of those rare cameras that I recommend for anyone and everyone that is into analogue photography. There is just no reason in the world not to own one. As soon as I hit the publish button in this review I'm hoping on a plane to Southern California for a little bit of much needed sunshine. Guess which camera is sitting in my overnight bag right now? Yup... The Olympus Trip 35.