Saturday, August 22, 2020

Spotlight: Olympus Trip 35


The Olympus Trip 35 is a point-n'-shoot 35mm camera designed for tourists, and was first manufactured in 1967. The Trip 35 features fully automatic exposure, and requires no batteries. It's solar powered by the hard-to-miss selenium cell that surrounds the entirety of the fixed 40mm f/2.8 lens. It works with 35mm films that have an ISO between 25 and 400. The Trip 35 has become somewhat of a cult camera lately, popular with hipster Youtube influencers. It can fetch prices close to $100 online! I found a working one at an antique mall for 20 bucks (thanks to a family connection to the dealer). 

At first glance, the Trip 35 looks like an aperture-priority camera, but this is not really the case. The selectable apertures on the aperture ring (f/2.8 ~ 22) are only there for flash photography. The shutter will only fire at 1/40 if one of these manual apertures is selected. For non-flash, general photography, the aperture ring should be set to "A." In "A" mode, the camera will select an appropriate aperture and shutter speed for the amount of available light. Apertures vary between f/2.8 and f/22, but the camera only has two shutter speeds: 1/40 and 1/200! This may seem pretty limiting, but the Trip 35 can handle anything from bright exteriors (f/22 @ 1/200), to well-lit interiors (f/2.8 @ 1/40). If the current lighting situation is too dark, a red indicator will pop up in the viewfinder and the shutter will not fire. It's a simple exposure system, but it works in most situations. 

Even simpler is the focusing system. It's a straight-up viewfinder, with no rangefinder focusing aid. You choose between four zones, which are represented as symbols on the focusing ring. You can focus between the zones, and there is an exact distance scale on the opposite side of the focusing ring. The focus range is 3ft. to infinity. There is a little window in the viewfinder that shows your current focus zone setting, as well as your exposure setting. 

The build quality and handling is excellent. Like most products from Olympus, the camera feels light, yet robust. A lot of point-n-shoots feel like they might spontaneously crumble in your hands, but not the Trip 35. Most of the camera seems to be made out of metal. The only aspect of the Trip 35 that feels cheap is the thumbwheel film advance, but it works fine.

I shot a roll with my Olympus Trip 35, where I mainly focused on documenting family activities. My exposures came out pretty much perfect! I found the 40mm Zuiko lens on the Trip 35 to be sharp, though hitting exact focus proved difficult with the camera's zone focusing system. The camera seemed to use the 1/40th speed at times when 1/200th would have been more useful to freeze the action. Overall, the Trip 35 is a fun camera for film newbies and hipsters, but it's not something I'll ever use again. Anyway, my results are below. I used Ilford HP5+ 400 film. 


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Spotlight: Canon A-1

The Canon A-1 is an enthusiast-level 35mm SLR camera that was first released in 1978. The A-1 is a manual focus camera, and accepts all FD-mount lenses. It's fully electronic, and requires a 6V PX-28 battery in order to function. I bought my A-1 off Craigslist from a nice lady named Barbara, who was the original owner.

Essentially, the A-1 is an advanced version of Canon's amateur-focused AE-1 model. The AE-1, released a couple years earlier, featured a shutter-priority automatic exposure system, where the user picked a shutter speed, and the camera automatically selected an aperture at the time of exposure. The A-1 adds to this by including an aperture-priority mode, as well as a program mode. With program mode, the camera decides both the shutter speed and aperture for the user, based on the selected ISO speed. The A-1 is the FIRST SLR camera to feature such a program mode.

For a first-time user, the controls of the A-1 can be pretty overwhelming. I've used many different film cameras over the past ten years, but the A-1 had me scratching my head at times. The most confusing aspect of the A-1 is how it has two overlapping dials next to the shutter release. These dials, selectable by a switch beneath the release, are marked "Av" and "TV." These two dials interact with the lens aperture ring to give you the A-1's four different exposure modes: manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and program. Here is a quick guide on how to access each exposure mode:

Manual Exposure: Set top dial to "TV." Use the "TV" dial to select the shutter speed and the aperture ring to select the aperture.

Shutter Priority: Set top dial to "TV" and the aperture ring to "A." The camera will automatically select an appropriate aperture based on the shutter speed you select.

Program: Set the top dial to "TV" and the aperture ring to "A." Then, turn the top dial until "P" is selected. The camera will now choose the aperture and shutter speed for you.

Aperture Priority: Set the top dial to "AV" and the aperture ring to "A." You must select your desired aperture via the top dial (feels weird, I know) and the the camera will automatically select the correct shutter speed.

The TV dial (left) is used for manual, shutter priority, and program. The AV (right) dial is only used for aperture priority

This setup, in my opinion, is an unintuitive mess. But, as the A-1 is the first SLR to incorporate four different exposure modes, I'll cut it some slack. Once you get used to the quirky mode selection, the A-1 turns into a very capable camera.

Shutter speeds range between 30 seconds and 1/1000. The light meter works with films sensitive between 6 and 12,800 ISO. There's an exposure compensation dial that adjusts to +/-2 EV. Multiple exposures ARE possible (Hooray), via a little lever below the advance lever. There's a self-timer with a two second option (for when you forget your cable release) and a ten second option (for when you want to get in the picture).

The viewfinder is extremely clear and bright. The focusing screen has a split-image/microprism assist, and is not interchangeable. In the finder, exposure settings are viewable below the focusing screen. The settings are displayed with red LED digits. The display is only viewable while the shutter release is half-pressed. These LED's can be a tad bit hard to see when using the camera in harsh sunlight. The readout system works fine for the A-1's automatic modes, but isn't well-suited for manual mode. In manual mode, the meter LED shows the selected shutter speed, as well as the aperture it thinks is best for the current lighting situation. However, there is no way to tell what your current aperture setting is while looking through the finder. So, to shoot manually, the process looks like this:

Choose your shutter speed, look through the finder, half press the release, see the aperture the camera wants you to use, take your eye away from the finder, match the aperture setting on the lens to the suggested aperture setting, then look through the finder and shoot.

Pretty annoying. This could have been fixed by adding an aperture window to the finder (like in the Pentax MX or Nikon FM), or implementing a separate over/under meter for when the camera is in manual mode. It kinda feels like Canon didn't intend for the A-1 to be used in manual mode. I mainly used the camera in aperture priority mode. I wonder, is the Canon A-1 the first interchangeable-lens SLR to have aperture controlled by a dial on the body, rather than by the lens aperture ring? It could be.

Overall, the A-1 is a quality camera, but not one I would suggest for beginning photography students, due to its complex controls. Here are some photographs I made with the Canon A-1. I used a 50mm f/1.4 lens and Ilford HP5+ film.