It’s ten years since I picked up my Olympus Trip 35 in a charity shop for next to nothing. It was certainly a camera I’d heard of, thanks to a very popular 1970s TV ad campaign with British photographer David Bailey. What I didn’t know is what an incredibly capable camera it is. That f/2.8 Zuiko lens has a great 40mm focal length and is super sharp and contrasty. And the battery-free auto-exposure system is a work of genius.
I’ve spent the last year whittling down the cameras I own to the ones that get regular use. I wanted to avoid having more than one camera in any single category. But there was never any doubt that I’d keep the Olympus Trip 35. When you consider price, image quality, usability, and simple good looks, it’s the best camera ever invented in the point and shoot department.
I’ve picked out ten of my favourite Trip photos taken over the last ten years. Tellingly, I can remember taking every single one of them.
The Olympus Trip 35 is a 35mm viewfinder camera. It uses an ingenious auto-exposure system that utilises the photoelectric properties of selenium – no batteries required. There have been many cameras that have used selenium based coupled and uncoupled meters, but I’m not aware of any that have a fully automatic system. Clever.
This was from the first roll of film I shot with my Trip. It may even have been my first photo. It’s certainly one of the pictures that got me hooked. I was walking through an alley in Windsor and came across these characters right in front of me. I was able to focus and click the shutter before they’d even noticed I was there.
One of the great things about the Trip’s zone focus system is that each setting has a very positive click on the lens barrel. Once you’re familiar with it, it’s possible to set the focus without even looking. Perfect for when you have to fire off quick street pictures.
I shot this with Fomapan 100. That’s unusual, as most of these photos are shot with Tmax 400 or Tri-X. I generally recommend using a 400 speed film for the Trip. That means smaller apertures and a wider depth of field – more forgiving if you’re not so good at judging distances.
I darkened the deep blue sky by using an orange filter. The Trip takes obscure 43.5mm screw-on filters, but these are rare, and if you find one it’ll cost you. Save some money by buying a 43.5 step-up ring and using a standard size filter. And because the filter covers the selenium cells, the metering stays spot on.
I sat opposite this thoughtful looking woman on the train and wanted to grab a quick candid. She was probably only about two feet from me, closer than the Trip’s three(ish) foot minimum focus. However, shooting her reflection in the train window managed to keep things sharp, with the added advantage of looking like I was shooting the scenery.
It’s said that you’re a true cockney if you’re born within earshot of Bow Bells. Those bells belong to the church of St Mary-le-Bow in the Cheapside district of the City of London. There’s been a church on this site all the way back to Saxon times, and it was last rebuilt after the 1666 Great Fire Of London.
It’s always quiet here at weekends. I was looking at the stained glass windows, and turning around was surprised to see then-girlfriend Marge in the pulpit, apparently having a bit of a moment. Click.
When I came across this stand in Covent Garden I stood there hoping something would fill the empty frame. Almost immediately a large stomach came in to view. Shortly followed by a man.
I was walking through Trafalgar Square and saw a small protest in support of Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi. This was in 2010 just before she was released from prison. It’s the expressions on all the faces that I really love about this snap.
Another one taken in Trafalgar Square, this time on the plinth of Nelson’s Column. I rested the camera on the plinth and clicked the shutter. Et voilà – Attack Of The Giant Pigeons.
Another clever Trip feature is the inability to take a poorly exposed photo. If the meter doesn’t detect enough light, a red flag pops up in the viewfinder and the shutter release locks.
This photo was taken at a Voices Of Cuba gig in London. The red flag was probably right to tell me there wasn’t enough light across the whole scene. But I knew there was enough to light the musicians.
The Trip automatically chooses one of its two shutter speeds: 1/200s or 1/40s. But if you move the aperture from A to a specific aperture, the camera will default to 1/40s. It will also open up as wide as necessary, but not wider than the aperture you’ve chosen. Whether or not that means a good exposure depends on the circumstances. For example, set the aperture to f/5.6 in bright sunshine, and the camera will still stop down to something like f/22. At 1/40s, this may still result in overexposure. Set the aperture to f/11 for example, and the camera will not open wider than that, even if there’s not enough light.
The reason to set a specific aperture is when you’re using a flash, but it also means you can partly override the auto-exposure. In this case, I moved the aperture off of A to f/2.8, as the red flag was raised and the shutter locked. So this photo was shot at f2.8 (probably) with a shutter speed of 1/40s. Success.
A testimony to the Trip’s fiendishly clever design and success is the fact that it was produced continuously from 1967-1984 with virtually no changes. It’s hard to imagine a smartphone or a car being sold unchanged for 17 years.
This was one of the many times I’ve been crammed into a tube train as it’s stopped between stations for no apparent reason. Like the Trip, the London Underground sometimes seems like it’s remained technologically unchanged since its inauguration in 1863.
I was walking through Greenwich on a summer evening, having just been to The Royal Observatory. The Camera Obscura there completely blew me away. I was intrigued by these three couples each in their own seperate worlds. But looking at the guy on the left, it looks like I lingered just a bit too long.
One final point on the red flag. I’ve seen many people suggest that if you find a Trip, you can test if its meter is still working by seeing if the red flag pops up and the shutter locks in low light. But having come across several Trips over the years, I can say that this mechanism is one of the weaker parts. This feature can be broken but the meter still be fully working. The real way to test is to turn the camera around and look into the lens. Press the shutter halfway down and see if the aperture responds appropriately in different lighting conditions. Oh, and this is a good time to mention that pressing the shutter halfway locks the exposure. This means you can potentially have some control over exposure by locking the meter on something other than your subject.
Stay tuned for the next installment due in 2029….
Did you enjoy the 1970s? Do you hate the fact that you’re now an old git? Cheer yourself up by reading my post on that classic 70s movie The Omen