If you were born before the late 90’s, there’s a good chance you have distant memories of your parents taking pictures of you or your siblings as children on film cameras. You probably weren’t aware of what they were shooting on at the time of course. If your folks were anything like mine, a young couple in way over their heads and just starting out, they were probably shooting on an affordable, easy to use, point-and-shoot camera. For many, this would have been the Olympus Trip 35. I can only imagine the number of childhoods and family vacations recorded through the glass of this mass-produced ordinary point-and-shoot. However, it is precisely because of that legacy of critically mundane recording that make this unassuming camera anything but ordinary.
I bought my Olympus Trip 35 camera off of eBay on a whim. These things are everywhere on the used market, and because the D. Zuiko 40mm F/2.8 lens isn’t anything too special, these cameras don’t command a high price. I think I got mine in good working order for around 30 US dollars , though you can pay a bit more for one with a fun-colored leatherette added. I chose to go stock on my example.
The first thing about the Trip 35 you will notice is the selenium solar-powered light meter which surrounds the lens. It looks a little bizarre, however this is what makes the camera so convenient for family vacations. The camera never needs new batteries. The mechanical leaf shutter is simple, and the automatic exposure of the camera (no manual-mode here) is controlled by the solar powered light meter. If there is enough light to take a picture, there is enough light to power the light meter. No need to worry about batteries.
This was a brilliant idea when the camera first came out in 1967, however for those of us shooting in 2019 it is something of a problem. It is becoming harder and harder to find working examples of this camera, as once the selenium cell light meter dies, the camera dies with it. These things tragically have a shelf life, though the fact that so many have made it this long despite their intended purpose as a mass-market camera is a testament to the Japanese build-quality of these things. Can you imagine a smartphone still operating more than 50 years after it was built?
Because of the automatic exposure, the camera is extremely simple to use. It cycles between two shutter speeds (1/40 and 1/200 of a second) and will adjust aperture adoringly when set to auto. Aperture can be changed manually to sync with a flash, at which point the camera defaults to 1/40 of a second. Try to have a steady hand when shooting indoors or in low light, though given that the lens is zone-focusing, sharpness isn’t guaranteed. One funny quirk is that when looking through the viewfinder, if the camera doesn’t have enough light a little red flag will pop up and the shutter will be inoperable. One way to sort of fool the camera into thinking there is enough light is to point it slightly towards a light source behind your subject. While this will force you to change your framing, it will fool the camera into shooting at f/2.8 at 1/40 of a second even if there technically isn’t enough light on your subject, giving low light pictures with this camera a specific underexposed look.
The Trip 35 was an solid companion during some of my summer adventures following high school. However, because of its limited manual controls and needy light meter, it didn’t always have a place in my rucksack. I sold it for about what I payed for it after that summer. Still, the Trip 35 was a fun exercise in analogue snapshot photography. I was able to shutoff my head more than usual and just shoot pictures of my friends. Nothing I produced with this camera felt like it had to be high art, and that was very freeing mentally.
The ethos of The Trip 35 as an unassuming vacation snapshot-taker was a strangely nostalgic experience for me, dispute not being born when this camera was sold. Even though the pictures I took with it weren’t always the most technically sharp or well exposed, they have a charm all their own. Load some cheap CVS brand film into it, and you’ll be able to relive memories years later in film grain and soft focus in a way that feels like decades have passed. In a way, the Trip 35 is an accurate eye of my hyper-nostalgic memory.