There are quite a lot of options available if you’re looking for a 70’s rangefinder. Some good, some bad, some just mediocre. This variety however produces opportunity to find something interesting or “quirky” that may suit your style or at the very least be a lasting memory of someone’s (or some committee’s) inspired design. There is one model however that stands out amongst many. The brilliant Olympus 35-SP.
Built between 1969 and 1976, this compact rangefinder packs in an unrivaled set of features that puts to shame many of even the most modern rangefinders. Its tack sharp 42mm f/1.7 G.Zuiko lens renders pictures with brilliant colour and contrast. The large bright viewfinder contains parallax error indicators and an accurate rangefinder patch. Then there’s the sophisticated metering system.
The Olympus 35-SP has the distinction of being the first ever 35mm rangefinder with dual metering options. Both centre weighted and spot metering is available to the user, which is quite amazing when you consider its age and compact size of the camera. After the SP was produced, Leica included spot metering on the Leica M5 and CL but they were already beaten to the punch, and quite frankly were inferior to the accuracy of the 6 degree spot that came with the SP. Unlike many other rangefinders from that era the light metering works in full manual mode also, which is quite useful when shooting in tricky lighting conditions or if you’re after a specific effect only manual control can produce.
Besides a revolutionary metering system, the Olympus SP came with a brilliant lens mentioned earlier. This 7 element 42mm f/1.7 G.Zuiko is regarded as one of the finest rangefinder fixed lenses ever produced. The Olympus RD (which came after the SP) has a similar lens, and although a great camera in its own right it lacked the 7th correcting element. Don’t let anybody try and tell you that they’re the same lens, because they’re in a different league. The SP lens focuses down to about 2.8ft and has a super smooth focusing action with a convenient lever on the side of the barrel. All automatic and manual exposure options are contained on the barrel rings as is the timer. After a while you can adjust these without taking your eye from the viewfinder, but admittedly it will take a little practice.
So with the SP you get a bright accurate viewfinder, unrivaled metering options, one of the best rangefinder lenses ever produced, all squeezed into a tough and compact body that manages to weigh less that comparable rangefinders of that era… What more do you want??
Oh yes, it comes in a (scarce) black finish too, and I was lucky enough to find one 🙂
(picture taken with my homemade light box)
*EDIT: I just got a Silver one also, check out a picture of them together here