Roll of film 011 – Olympus-35 SP

“I need to send the Olympus-35 SP directly to a repairman and get it CLA’d” – that was my internal dialogue as I looked at the long anticipated images taken from my newly acquired dream camera. But let’s rewind the clock and start from the beginning instead.

A little over a year ago I decided to restart analogue photography as documented with this blog post I wrote for 35mmc.com Restarting film photography with an Olympus-35 LC

“Restart” as I shot a lot of analogue film as a kid. So buying the Olympus-35 LC was more a return to form, than a new chapter. Since then, I have added a Nikon FE to my collection. Shaken the Olympus-35 LC so violently, by keeping it under the seat of my old motorcycle, that it broke. Acquired a Minolta Hi-Matic 7s to replace it and finally looked for the Olympus-35 SP.

The funny thing is that I had my eyes on it all along. When I initially bought the Olympus-35 LC, I bought it because it had the same lens as the SP. But as I was unsure about how much I would enjoy the analogue photography, I wanted a cheaper alternative to start with. I never really lusted after a Leica, and still don’t. Perhaps some day I will. But the Olympus-35 SP just seemed like exactly the right camera for my use.

Quality without the die-hard fanaticism and status-signalling.

The only Leica that really speaks to me is an all black M6 where the paint has worn off, revealing the sexy brass underneath. But whether I one day will own one, I do not know. The next couple of months will probably tell. If the Olympus-35 SP turns out to be as good as I hope, then I cannot see why I should replace it. If it does not fulfill my needs, then perhaps I need to look in that dark direction..

It has been a bumpy ride. I almost bought one 3-4 months ago. A local camera store had one in stock. I went to see it. I was disappointed to realize that there was no light from above or harp-music when I finally held it in my hands, but perhaps that had something to do with the minimum amount of dragons I had to slay in order to get to it?

The size of it was perfect, the clicking of the focus rings felt just right. Like turning the dials on an old safe. Entering just the right combination between shutter and aperture and then opening for the light to shine and reveal the treasures.

I had two things standing in my way of buying it at that point. One was the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s. I do not know if it is just my copy, but my god the viewfinder is bright and easy to focus. It is almost too easy. This copy of the Olympus-35 SP, can not quite match it. It is not bad, but it is no where near as good. The second thing was my lusting after medium format. Could I allow myself to buy another 35mm film camera when I already had a 35mm rangefinder that worked perfectly? Should I not instead invest in the larger more elusive drug of medium format?

At that point my rational self won and I ended up not buying the SP from the local store. Even more rationality let me to not get a medium format camera either, so after months of swimming around in the calm waters of rationality I was ready to let my hair down a little, steer the board towards more rough waters and throw myself head first into the surf of eBay camera hunting.

A few weeks in I had one in my sight. The seller had answered quickly and thoroughly all my questions, so even though he resided in Japan I was calm enough to dive in. I had already bought a Olympus-35 LC from Japan without issues so why not tempt my luck and try again.

The great thing about buying analog film cameras, whether you buy them locally or online is that although a visual inspection would rate them perfect, then you only really know once you have actually had a roll of film through them.

Which neatly brings me back to where we started. I had received my first roll of film from the lab. A roll of Kodak Ultramax. As we have always learnt in school, engineering and life in general if you want to test something, then make sure to make as many changes at once, in order to be able to make it easier to determine what caused the change.

So yes, this was my first roll ever of Ultramax. In my new camera. Clever thinking, Jesper.

Oh well here I was, looking at the scans from the lab. And at first sight I was not impressed. A number of the images was not sharp or slightly out of focus. Was the camera defect, or somehow out of alignment so the focus point was shifted? My first thought was that I bought a defect camera and I was ready to send it to be CLA’d.

Once the initial disappointment had dissipated slightly I looked more thoroughly. Instead of focusing on the ones that clearly was out of focus I, unlike the camera, focused on the ones that was actually good. It could not be totally out of alignment as some of the images were very sharp.

Some of the disappointment also stemmed from the film stock. I had been looking a lot online on Ultramax and fallen in love with the colors together with the grain. But on my scans from the lab, there was close to no visible grain at all. They looked almost digital in some instances – and that was not a compliment. Admittedly some had great vibrant colors, but others lacked any type of feel. No matter how dull the scene is I shoot with C200 it always renders with a special look and feel. Ultramax did not really do it for me.

But back to the camera. I spend some time thinking about the shots that was out of focus. Looking at the images I could not find that the plane of focus was either before or after the spot I had focused on, so that ruled out misalignment. That also meant that camera-shake was a more viable theory. But why did I suddenly experience camera-shake with this new camera as opposed to my Nikon FE or the Hi-Matic 7s?

My theory stands on two legs. For one I am certain that I shot the images in "auto" and hence let the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed for me. Looking at the spec-sheet for the camera I can see that even at EV 9 which is just in the "green" zone it shoots with 1/30th of a second shutter. That should be doable for hand-held if you are aware of the 1/30th and try to stabilize properly. I sure had not done so.

The second leg of the theory has to do with the weight of the camera. It is smaller and lighter that any of the others. Somehow I find it easier to hold the Hi-Matic 7s still because of the weight, than the Olympus-35 SP.

So the conclusion is to think more about holding the camera perfectly still when I shoot auto and the EV is low.

All that being said, there was still some very good shots from the roll of Ultramax 400. Even though I was not super impressed with all its renderings it was clear to see that it could still produce very nice colors for certain scenes.

Pond shot on Olympus-35 SP Ultramax 400
Here the colors are beautiful but it is also possible to see that it is not tack sharp
It does something with the reds here, but otherwise quite dull or flat
Rose shot on Olympus-35 SP Ultramax 400
This one is okay. Shot with narrow DOF and I almost nailed it on the rose.
Here I really like the colors – it looks like film – as it is
Boats shot on Olympus-35 SP Ultramax 400
I really like the colors here. I would have loved to have some more grain but overall pleased
As seen here and on others it can be sharp if I concentrate
Boats shot on Olympus-35 SP Ultramax 400
There are some “deadliest catch” vibes here that I really like
Here the colors are nice, but it is not too far off a “digital” image
Boat shot on Olympus-35 SP Ultramax 400
I like the colors a lot but not tack sharp as I could have wished

So what is my overall conclusion with the Olympus-35 SP. I have not fallen totally in love with it. I have had other rolls of film through it since this one and I can see that it renders some scenes very pleasantly. But I must admit that my Nikon FE with the 50mm 1.4 is somehow superior. I also ran some C200 through the Olympus to compare and I like the rendering of the Nikon better.

The interesting thing is that if I compare the Olympus-35 SP on C200 with the Olympus-35 LC that I also have, then I must admit that I think the LC comes out on top. And that really surprises me. They should have the exact same lens as far as I know. Perhaps I just need to have the LC repaired again.