Meet the Camera: Olympus 35 SP

I did not set out to buy three cameras in the last month or so. Really, I didn’t. True, the Olympus Pen D3 was premeditated, but the Yashica Electro 35 GSN was purely accidental (I’m being a bit free with my definitions here – indulge me). So it was with this, the third of the newly-arrived triumvirate, my new Olympus 35 SP, a fixed-lens rangefinder with a few tricks up its proverbial sleeve. I saw it posted at a good price (for reasons I will shortly explain), I did a little research, and having decided it was too good a deal to pass up, I bought it.

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The 35 SP has two features that make it particularly desirable. The first and most important is the lens, a G. Zuiko 42mm f/1.7. That “G” is important, because in Olympus-speak it means the lens has seven elements; Olympus produced a bunch of f/1.7 lenses, but the vast majority are F. Zuiko, or six element, units. That extra seventh element makes the SP’s lens special – better correction means sharper pictures with less distortion across the whole frame.

The second notable feature of this camera is that it offers both center-weighted (20 degree field-of-view) and spot (6 degree FOV) metering, something found on no other fixed-lens rangefinder (at least that I’m aware of). The meter is off to the left side, so you do have to correct manually for filters. In a break with the typical behavior of most cameras of this sort, the SP’s meter works in manual mode too, which is nice. There’s a needle-marked scale visible across the top of the viewfinder.

Beyond those particulars, the SP is a fairly typical late-1960s Japanese rangefinder, albeit a very capable one. It’s nicely screwed together, the design is logical and functional, and it does what it’s supposed to do with a minimum of fuss. It’s on the larger side of the scale (though not a big as the Yashica GSN), but it’s not obtrusive and fits well in my hand. The shutter is a bit loud compared to some, but it seems to be solid and precise.

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Exposure is either fully manual or an automatic program mode, at least according to the instruction manual. As far as I can tell, though, the camera will also work in shutter priority – turn the aperture dial to “A” and set a shutter speed, and the camera will vary the aperture automatically. Though I can’t find anything to confirm or deny this, the Seiko-FLA shutter also seems to be odd among leaf shutters in that it prefers to have speeds adjusted after it’s cocked – there’s more resistance and gnashing of gears when you change speeds uncocked. Documentation does not seem to have been Olympus’ strong suit.

The one problem with my particular example – and the reason it was priced as it was – was that the spot meter button (and plastic mount for said button) had gone missing at some point, leaving a big hole in the back of the top plate and no easy way to activate the spot metering function. It turns out that the button does not require any electrical connection; all it does is push on a spring-loaded lever that opens a contact when pressed. So all I needed to to was fabricate a small plate and a button of the appropriate size, fix it in place, and everything would be good to go.

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This turned out to be pretty simple. A mini electrical push button from Radio Shack provided the button, and a small plastic LED mount from the same place worked to locate the button in the plate. The plate itself is just a piece of black plastic cut to fit (bonus points if you can guess what I used for the donor plastic). A little powdered graphite on the button made everything nice and smooth. It’s not original, but I am not in any way a stickler for originality. It works and it doesn’t look hideous – good enough for me.

And so we add another camera to the growing pile here at Filmosaur HQ. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of these (I have a feeling I may need to sell off one or two just to keep things manageable), but for now they’re here and waiting to be used. Unfortunately, I only have two hands and limited time in which even one of them can be holding a camera.


4 thoughts on “Meet the Camera: Olympus 35 SP

  1. Hi, I recently picked up an Olympus 35 SP, also without the spot meter button. I, however am a rank amateur with regard to old cameras and film photography (used to shoot a Nikon FM2 many moons ago, and getting frustrated with old eyes and digital cameras). So I was hoping you could provide more details of your repair, as I really don’t want to damage the camera. I am a decent woodworker, so the fabrication should be easy enough. In particular, how did the plastic plate get attached? Did you glue it on, if so, do you have a recommendation for what to use? Thanks, Bob

    1. The fabrication was not complicated, as the spot meter is actuated by a simple lever; there’s no electrical connection to the button. I used a piece of black plastic as a backing plate, while the button assembly came from a Radio Shack mini-switch. Any appropriately small electrical push button switch should work; you’ll probably have to destroy the mount – I did – but you don’t need it anyway. Fit the button through the backing plate and you’re pretty much done. I simply super-glued the whole thing in after a final check to make sure it fit and actuated the spot function lever.

  2. Thanks, I did find some other descriptions that say the plastic piece was attached via 1 screw inside the top cap. I’m really not included to open this camera up, not a good candidate for a novice. I’d want to learn about cameras on some “throw-away” cameras first, before attempting this one. It doesn’t sound like a replacement part is available, but would be easy enough to fab something if I did get it open. I’m just reluctant to mess with a functioning camera for that feature. I might try a variant of your fix with a glue I know I can remove later. Thanks for the help – Bob

    1. It could well be that the original button was attached by a screw or a nut, but we see how well that worked. Opening the 35SP is pretty much like opening most fixed-lens RFs of the period – quite simple, really; it’s what’s underneath that gets complicated. In any case, you should be able to fabricate and attach a button without pulling the top cover without any additional difficulties. Good luck.

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