Have you ever tried to shoot 36 frames in a single hour? I know… with a modern digital camera you can shoot them in seconds, but using a fully mechanical film camera from the 1970’s this is a true challenge. Why would I do this, you ask? And wouldn’t it be a waste of film not taking your time to carefully compose and frame your shots? Yes, maybe, but beginning of December I did shoot 36 analog photos in one hour, and here is why:
I have never owned a decent rangefinder camera nor did I ever have the chance to use one. My step into photography was a Fuji SLR and after that it had been different SLRs ever since. Two of my Agfa Isolettes have uncoupled rangefinders, but they don’t count. And the rangefinder of my inherited Voigtländer Vitomatic is so foggy that I used it only once and half of the expired Agfa APX 100 from the late ‘90s still sits in this camera unused. Talking rangefinders in most cases means talking Leicas and these cameras even when they are heavily used and beaten up are still so expensive that I always avoided to test one – simply not to get tempted.
Olympus 35 SP rangefinder with 42mm f/1.7 lens
A couple of weeks ago I watched a video portraying a rangefinder camera often tagged as the “poor man’s Leica”, the Canon Canonet. Digging deeper into the specifications of these sharp-lensed bricks from the 1970s, a whole world of poor men’s Leicas sporting more or less the same design and lens quality unfolded on my computer screen. Olympus, Canon, Minolta and many other brands were competing in this market and successfully produced and sold millions of high-quality consumer rangefinder cameras. The good ergonomics, the small size, the often superb performance of the fixed lenses and the affordable price of these cameras made them very popular during the 1960’s and ‘70s, hence their availability on today’s second hand market. However, several models are highly sought after and I was lucky to find one of these for a reasonable amount of money – an Olympus 35 SP, the largest among a whole series of rather similar Olympus 35 rangefinder models. It has a 7-element 42mm f/1.7 lens, which produces pin-sharp images. After cleaning out the disintegrated light seals and replacing them with felt and black cotton wool, I inserted a WeinCell battery and was good to go for my first rangefinder test. The goal was primarily to check the tightness of the new light seals.
That’s why I used Kodak Gold 200, a cheap consumer color negative film from the drugstore. Ruining this film with a malfunctioning camera would have been annoying, but not a big deal moneywise. I wanted to have the film ready for development in the late afternoon on my way back home. So I decided to use my lunch break to shoot the whole film during a short photowalk downtown Berlin. As said it was challenging to step out of the slow motion mode I am usually in when shooting film cameras, but the camera felt so comfortable and was so easy to use that the whole experience was pure fun and the 36 frames were in camera when my lunch break was over.
Doors & Colors (frame 20/36)
The Olympus 35 SP has an inbuilt light meter (with optional spot mode) which together with the auto function of both shutter speed and aperture makes it a manual focus point-and-shoot camera – exactly what I needed to test the light seals and the performance of the meter. A week later, when nervously picking up the developed negatives and prints I was quite surprised how well the camera had performed. Every single shot was perfectly metered and most shots were pin sharp underlining the quality of the G-Zuiko lens. Only some of the short-distance images were out of focus – probably a result of a slightly misaligned rangefinder.
Overall this “one film in one hour”-experience was interesting – and exhausting, because you’re highly concentrated for 60 min without any break and in constant alert to find the next composition worth shooting. It is a very good training to be repeated, especially if I abandon the lazy path next time and switch from auto mode to fully manual. I am already thinking about using this approach for a project, so watch out for this when visiting my website in the future.
Autumn sky (frame 5/36)