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Amarcord: Olympus 35 RD.


We now know that Olympus will release new Micro Four Thirds cameras within the next 2-3 months. As they always took inspiration from their own camera history let’s check back some of the Olympus film cameras. The first one I want to talk about today is the Olympus 35 RD (auctions here on eBay).

This camera has been released in 1975 and is the a compact Full Frame rangefinder and fixed lens camera. It had a couple of what I call “wow” features:
1) It had a leaf shutter which allows super silent shooting (developed by Seiko). For the record, you don’t have many professional digital cameras with this. The just announced Sony RX1 has it! And so my medium format Mamiya 7.
2) it also had a tiny and f/1.7 fast 40mm lens.
3) And than of course there was that super body quality. The Austin University(!) has a lot of appraisal for the RD: “In addition to being versatile, the 35-RD is a solidly constructed, metal bodied 35mm camera with a professional grade of fit and finish that were hallmarks of Olympus quality.

Of course little of this camera can be taken as inspiration for a new modern Micro Four Thirds “rangefinder” styled camera. Leaf shutter is out of question, but compact design and high quality body is certainly something most of us want.


Olympus 35D auctions on eBay or on Slidoo.
Source: info: Camerquest, Utexas, Olypedia, Image samples by Sean on Flickr. Review by Eric Rose.

  • Not entirely true.

    The Fuji X100 also has a leaf-shutter. It’s actually far better suited to off camera flash photography than most cameras out there now.

  • That Austin University page is a personal page of Andrew Yue (as can be seen by the ~yue bit in the URL), a Research Scientist Associate, it’s not an official page of the university – but his review is interesting nonetheless :)

    • Admin, it’s long been obvious you have a thing for that camera ;)

      But I think Olly will look to the PEN F series instead of their RF fixed lens cameras. They were half frame SLR’s, and so no “missing” VF window to mess up the design reference.
      I hope they don’t replicate location of the VF on the back though, as it is in no better a location than a penta prism SLR for a right eyed shooter.
      The other beauty of the PEN F is the slightly tapered ends, making it nicer to slip into a jacket pocket.

  • beautemps

    With a sony sensor, it would be your ieal camera fot the birt of little admin/admoiselle

    • Admoiselle… you cracked me :)

  • Anonymous

    I still wish they would have made that RD35 in Black! :)

    • Me too!

      • Bronica

        Take the Revue 400 SE – it’s almost the same. It’s black and costs only 35 Euro.

  • tom

    The brick style seems more inspirational of the panasonic GF1 and GX1 than the pen styled E-P cameras.

    • It’s funny you say that, holding my GF-1 up against my 35 RD, they are nearly identical in dimensions. Especially with the 20mm f/1.7. The lens is also a 40mm f/1.7. Coincidence, I think not!

  • I have a 35 RD! I bought it when I lost my first GF-1 and decided I didn’t want to spend another $900 on new one right away and shot film until I the price came down! Some of my favourite photos have come from that camera!

  • Mark

    I’d love to see these companies made something very similar to this. Now the RD was auto-only (no manual exposure control besides the possible workaround of adjusting the ISO that the camera thought it had), but many others had shutter-priority AE and manual, which provides for much more flexibility.

    It’d be great to see them use these old fixed-lens rangefinder bodies, with full-frame sensors, and a fixed fast prime lens like we see here, or perhaps a fast, variable aperture standard zoom (a la Fuji XF1, Canon S100, Lumix LX-7, etc.), with a minimum of scene modes, panorama stitching, etc. I’d even be cool with leaving video completely out of it to focus on a proper photography machine.

    • I must correct you Mark, the 35 RD is predominantly a manual camera, with shutter speed and aperture rings on the lens barrel. The aperture ring can be set to “A” which means the camera is effectively in a shutter priority mode (you choose shutter speed, it chooses aperture).

      The 35 SP also has an AE mode, but it chooses both shutter speed and aperture for you without telling you which is which! It does tell you what the light meter value is (in eV), which is no different to what the viewfinder displays in manual mode.

  • I really don’t care for the design of the 35RD, but I like its build quality, its optics and the simplicity of the control layout. Sometimes I really wish for a digital camera with good basics and nothing more. No menu, no LCD, no processing options. But I know it’s impossible. Nobody would buy it.

    • I’ll be completely honest, the 35 RD aperture ring was flush with the leatherette and is a pain in the bum to use in manual mode. The 35 RC and SP are more fun to use.

    • I would. Never use the LCD screen, even for chimping. An PEN F style job with no rear LCD would be a dream. Not going to happen though, unless a limited edition for the Japanese collector market……
      Mind you, I use kerosene stoves for camping, so I would say that anyway!

    • dolo

      I like the LCD for review of photos, since I do a fair amount of flash photography. Other than that, I only want three dials on a camera: aperture (including auto, auto +1 EV, auto -1 EV), shutter speed (including auto, auto +1EV and auto -1EV), and ISO. Also a shutter release button, and a hotshoe. Everything else is fluff.

    • Mr. Reeee

      I’d be tempted.… sort of. I prefer the viewfinder centered on the lens. It’s just more intuitive when shooting. I had a Konica Auto S2 rangefinder. It was much sexier than the Oly.

      I actually keep my GH2 set up as minimally as possible. Manual lenses (mostly), in M mode, rarely chimp.

      I’d love a camera with a dead-simple control layout withdedicated aperture, shutter, EV, ISO and WB buttons and not much else. Even my hi-if has no tone controls. ;-)

  • Yun

    That is my style of camera , RF .
    Go ahead Olympus .
    Go.Go…Go , make it a reality .

  • wrbluepearl

    I shoot a Canon QL17 GIII, which also has an f/1.7 40mm lens. Fun camera to shoot; gets lots of stares when you pull it out! And it’s positively HUGE compared to my GF3/20mm f/1.7. :)

  • Bronica

    OLY 35 RD – nice camera. But I’m pretty shure, that this camera is made by Cosina. Like the Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII or the Revue 400 SE. Except of the selftimer – they are very similar.

    So: It’s a Cosina-Design. Would be fine, if they bring us such a Voigtländer-MFT-Camera.

    • Cosina definitely did not design or make the 35 RD.

      • Bronica

        There are only minor design-differences to Minolta 7sII,same lens, shutter, viewfinder…

        I’m shure, that they are all made directly in Nagano by Cosina. Like the last OM – the OM 2000.

        All this RF-cameras are very nice and still useful. I own two of them.

    • Bronica

      Hey Porky, when you call this little differences “Design” – then your’re right.

      Yes – Kadlubek says, that some of this cameras are made by Nitin.

    • You don’t actually no this for a fact though, it’s just a suspicion right? I am actually really curious to see proof.

  • Ranger 9

    And oh, yeah, the conventional leaf shutters in these cameras were anything but “super silent.” Quiet, yes, compared to SLRs of the day, but noisier than today’s digital compacts.

    Remember, a lot of us are old enough to have owned and used these things…

  • Ian

    I would love an Oly camera with a leaf shutter for strobist work. As of late I’ve been considering a Fuji X100 for this reason.

  • Mymaco on Instagran

    Well. I won’t buy an RX1 simply because it lacks of an integrated e/ovf. I would buy immediately a fixed Zuiko lens bigger sensor rf from Oly.

  • Tulio

    Olympus has already made a digital 35RD. It is called Sony RX1.

  • There is just ONE Olympus camera that the next MFT body should be styled after: The Olympus Pen FT. But, please, this time with included viewfinder in the proper position.

  • Esa Tuunanen

    “compact Full Frame rangefinder and fixed lens”
    Olympus has more pressing things to do than making camera for museums.

    For start four compacts is enough, those don’t grab any sales from DSLRs and gives those people more reason to buy GH3. Existing four models can be better differentiated.

  • Ash

    Why is a leaf shutter out of the question? Is sucha shutter impossible with interchangeable lenses?

  • The main difference between then and now is that cameras were made to last. You could change film instead of sensor. If sensor reached limits to growth, then it would make sense to make a camera lasting 10 years or more.

    In fact compared to their sturdiness these cameras were fairly inexpensive. Now it’s just the opposite, Japanese prices are too high, and that is the main reason J. companies make v. little profits.

    There is a perverse loop that doesn’t bode well. In comparison the RD 35 was born in optimistic times, with v. popular prices. They were not high end at all, either.

    The problem with the E-P5 is that it will reach the 900 $ mark, and in theory last one year. What a waste of money!

    Yes it will bring some radical improvements, but it’s not like it will make you suddenly a pro photog. who can recoup the money.

    So high end Pens are really a living paradox. Sold as luxury items at introduction, only to be sold away two years later. They are ruinous efforts for both the maker and the consumer.

    The RD 35 belonged to a completely different era. That is why I think that Retro is some sort of clowning, trying to hide planned obsolescence.

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in a FF camera or will the Gold Rush suddenly stop? We need cameras that can last at least five years. The perhaps we could compare them to the RD 35.

    • Just a few thoughts… You dont have to sell your camera, it will continue taking pictures for 5 years and it is the same camera you bought for $900.

      I dont think the problem is the manufacturers, but the people who cant find contentment with what they have…

      • I dunno… Both my E-620s have had switches and dials wear out after only 2 years of use. My 14-150, which is a pile of plastic (I took it apart to see the insides), went out of alignment, and I replaced it with another NOS one, which is sure to also fail after a few years. I take good care of my gear, so that’s not the problem. I have 40 year old and older cameras that are more reliable than any of that disposable junk sold nowadays. The same thing goes for lenses. That’s why I refuse to spend over $800 or so for a new body. And yet there are those who even excuse a +$1000 body that comes with hairline cracks and shutter shock. Awesome! :-P

        • There is also the question of usage :) While you may baby your cam it may be safe to assume we also take more pictures.

          Admittedly products are not made with the same permanence today but they also have more moving parts (for an AF lens)… I jus bought a Samyang 85mm f1.4 for $260, it is built well, and has great optics… I am sure it will last me a long time.

          I guess to get parts from front to back and top to bottom in a modern camera that would last a long time would be very expansive… It may even justify the price of an E-5 compared to an E-620… Just saying.

          • The only cameras on which I have ever worn out the on/off switch are my two E-620s. My F4s (1989) has a lot more mileage and none of the controls, including the on/off switch, has ever worn out.

            I shoot a bit more with digital cameras than I did with film cameras, but I turned my film cameras on and off just as much!

            • PS: I didn’t say I was babying my cameras. You said that. I said I was takeing good care of them: I don’t drop them or bang them into things, I don’t use them as impromptu hammers, and I do keep them clean. The non-disposable cameras (pre-2000 SLR’s) get serviced at regular intervals.

        • Anonymous

          I have owned an E-620 and an assortment of mostly standard grade lenses and I have never had a piece of equipment fail me. I’ve also literally taken it around the world, on several month trips ranging from 5200m altitude on Everest Base Camp to -40C in winter, in Lapland.

          • Together we are even-steven.

            My FL36 R also failed without good reason. Oly never told me what was broken, but they charged me $120 for fixing it. A bit odd…

    • WSG123

      You say that like the sensors on FF cameras aren’t also improving.

      If I needed the latest and greatest, I would rather spend $1000 every couple of years than $3000

    • “The problem with the E-P5 is that it will reach the 900 $ mark, and in theory last one year. What a waste of money!”

      As Abraham said you are not forced to buy new body every year. There is something I call “marketing massage” – companies try to convinced us we need a new body every year because it is clearly better, isnt it? And this leads to very short product life cycles with high differencies in price which means what you hinted: waste of money. On the other hand the first three PEN generations were obviously inmature. The OM-D or the E-PL5 have changed this. So what I am asking for is DURABILITY for E-P5. Than I will be happy and wont regret any penny :-)

  • Where has the EDIT feature gone?

    • Tell me about it! I spelled “know” as “no”. I can’t change it and it’s killing me.

      • Han’g in their! :-P

  • Funnily the only long lasting camera,Leica, is issuing less expensive FF models, so at some point there might be a convenience.

    Japanese companies instead are pricing themselves out. We saw it with TV sets, but in the long term it might happen with cameras, if Samsung’s drive succeeds in Asia.
    Some Chinese competitor might appear too.

    Despite high prices at introduction O&P are not able to keep them for long. Therefore we see a crowding of successive models that change features, while the sensor stays the same. How long can you go on playing that unhealthy game.

    By comparison the 1960s cameras were models of durability, and yet Japanese companies thrived, possibly because of a cheap Yen.

    In the end, I argue, you cannot really make comparisons between so different business models. I’ll be watching Leica, because they at least must guarantee some durability. The other success story is the Canon 5D II which is surviving well after its replacement. I dearly hope that Oly’s Pro will follow that path.

  • GLYA

    The finest Olympus camera was the 35SP, fully equipped and with a 7 elements lens.

  • Some cameras are still made to last. The Olympus E-1, for example, will survive rough handling for decades. Of course its price has not held for long, but it’s not due to poor construction or lack of durability.

    In western markets an electronic product is perceived to be as good as its electronics no matter the quality of its materials, mechanics or assembly. You can argue that a camera is much more than its imaging sensor (and I would agree), but most people – including most regulars on this blog – think differently.

    In the current climate all cameras become practically obsolete once newer, “better” electronics are made available (The 5DmII holds its price well partly because its successor is not that much better). Nevertheless, the advances in sensor technology have been slowing down in the past few years and consequently the product life of middle and high tier DSLR cameras is beginning to increase. The same will eventually happen in mirrorless, but not before some issues are solved (predictive AF, EVF quality and some video weaknesses).

    Another trend which helps stabilize the camera market is the wider acceptance of the ‘good enough’ philosophy. I think that fewer enthusiasts are wishing to adopt full frame systems these days because mirrorless technology has defined a new set of compromises. Cameras like the OM-D and GH3 are likely to hold their value rather well because they function well and are durable (both mechanically and perceptually).

    • Yes, I think you have it right. At some point Japanese EVIL cameras, being always more expensive will attempt a more durable incarnation, like Fuji is attempting.

      The threshold will be around 1200 $ I expect since Thom or other analysts are predicting a FF for 1500 $ in a couple of yrs.

      Will we have sensors with diminishing returns? Of that I am less sure. See the snippet about the German chip with 50 times the light sensitivity of today’s sensors.

      It is true too that I am, perhaps we are, reaching the point of ‘good enough’ with m4/3 – I haven’t been buying for a year, and my worry is more about how long plastic lenses will last.

      This must have been understood by Oly and Fuji, who are offering metal lenses, albeit at a price.

  • Andrea

    I hope that Olympus will release something of special for us with a good and modern restyling of this olympus 35rd..look fuji x1pro with his beutiful hybrid’s an amazing camera with an amazing look…I think and I hope that Olympus will produce a micro four third camera with those features and a nice VF!!

  • hillin

    Agree, the construct quality of Olympus recent products are somehow quite terrible. Many of my friends had their dial dropped off.

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