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The Olympus Trip 35

If you hunt around in yard sales and thrift stores, sooner or later you'll find one of these 35mm cameras for $5 or $10.  And that's really what it should cost, unless you know it's in perfect working condition. 

I wanted one that I knew would work, with no need for replacement parts.  You know, new light seals and the whole deal.   I bought a "refurbished" one on Ebay.   Normally an overhauled camera will work fine, but this one didn't.    First, the aperture blades were not opening.  This was about a two-hour repair job, not counting a trip to the store.  

Testing the Aperture

Want to know if that Trip 35 you bought has a stuck aperture?  That's easy.  The way you tell is to depress the shutter button in low light.   Even if the light meter is dead, the blades should still open up on the manual settings.  (And let's not forget that little red flag.  It's supposed to show in the viewfinder when there's not enough light to take a picture.)

Here is the Trip 35 at its smallest aperture, f/22:

the Trip 35 at f/22

If the aperture is stuck, it will probably rest at f/22 permanently.

   A working Trip 35 aperture should do this:

See how the aperture opens wide in dim light?

When you know what to look for, you can buy one on Ebay with a better likelihood of success. 
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When you press the shutter button halfway, the aperture should open up in low light.  If it doesn't, try the manual aperture settings.  The Trip 35 shutter will still function at 1/40 of a second, even if it has a bad meter.  You will have to hold it extra-still if you're going to use such a one in daylight.  Might as well carry a tripod around with you.   For daylight use at 1/40 of a second, you'll want to use the slower films (ISO 50 to 100).  f/22 at 1/40 second would be just about right for 100 film on a sunny day with no shade.

After Taking Off The Top

There is a notched cam or riser ("B", shown in photo below) that is supposed to trap the light meter needle against a notch.  This notch corresponds to the aperture setting.  Very ingenious, but potentially finicky.   If you take the top of the camera off and press the shutter, watch to see if the cam rises at all. 

If not, then don't make other plans for the day.

Olympus Trip 35 stuck aperture

You will notice in the picture, the meter needle is all the way over to the right.  With or without a working meter, the aperture cam "B" should still rise.  The photo actually shows the cam after I fixed the camera.  It moved to where it should.  The needle is still all the way over to the right because I have the lens cap still on.  (Keep your lens cap on this camera when it's not in use.  Constant exposure to light will gradually cause CdS selenium meters to lose their light sensitivity).

To do this job, you need a good set of jeweler's screwdrivers.  I had a cheap set from the local discount store, but I had to hand grind one of them to fit the smallest screws.  I think I still messed up a couple of the screw slots.  If you want more dependable results, get a set of these and perhaps a set of these.

I'm not going to get into repairing a stuck aperture here.  It's pretty tedious.  There are a couple good web sites that detail the job.   Whatever you do, don't lose those tiny screws!   Put them in an empty film canister or something and label it so it doesn't get thrown away.

After I got the aperture all squared away, I noticed the front lens had a big ol' abrasion in the center. 

scratched camera lens

You couldn't really see it unless you tilted it just right in the light.  Or, like I did, hold the shutter flywheel open and look through the camera. 

Somebody must have had a habit of using their grimy shirt to wipe this lens.  You can't repair that kind of abrasion without getting somebody to re-grind the lens.  I'm sure it costs more than a whole Trip 35.  When it's this bad, it's going to affect your pictures. 

Thankfully, the seller was reasonable and sent me a replacement lens.  

Re-Focusing The Lens

Now comes the fun part.  Whether you had to install a new lens, or whether you accidentally forgot your reference point when taking the Trip 35 apart, it's all the same.  You have to re-focus the lens element.  Otherwise your pictures will all be blurry.  

There is only one practical way to focus the element.  That's with a focus screen.  You can make your own with a piece of wax paper, some clear tape, and a thin, flat piece of glass or plastic.  If you're using wax paper, a piece of custom-cut acrylic would work.   Clear plastic or glass by itself cannot work as a focus screen;  you need something frosted.

I used waxed paper and a plain microscope slide.  A frosted piece of glass would have been nicer.  After spending too much on this camera the way it was, though, I was not going to buy a focus screen.

You have to pretend the wax paper is the film.  That means it faces inward, toward the lens, then the glass or plastic goes over it.  Don't get sloppy.  Make sure the wax paper is flat .  You can't afford to mess this up.  A millimeter of play, and your focus will be in error.  Pretend you are the 35mm film.  Where would you be?  Right against the film rails, with the gear teeth going through the sprocket holes.  That's where you'd be if you were film, and that's where the wax paper should be.

Focus is touchy!  Some of the instructions on the 'Net sound great at first, but I can see they have never done the procedure on a real Trip 35.  (After seeing my article they will probably update their instructions...)  They say you should move the lens in 1/4 turn increments.  No way.  The entire focus range of the camera is less than 1/4 turn.  1/8 of a turn is still way too much.  Think more in terms of a couple millimeters, if that.

Here is how you do the focus.  Get a newspaper with a decent-sized headline.  Set up your camera tripod and tape the newspaper to it, preferably upside down.  Measure 3 feet, 3 inches from the newspaper, and that's where you want the camera.  One meter equals 3.25 feet.  Make sure you set the camera focus ring to 1 meter. 

The Brass Flywheel / Post

This is where it gets tricky.  There is a slot in the brass flywheel for the shutter.  Normally when you snap the shutter, this slotted brass post rotates VERY fast.  You can hold it still by using a screwdriver.  Well, you probably shouldn't use a steel one because it will gouge the brass.  You could use a thin piece of plastic, or maybe a brass shim.  Either way, you have to hold that flywheel open while holding down the shutter button.  Retarding the movement of the flywheel, let it advance only a TINY bit.  SLOWLY is the key.  The shutter will open when the flywheel rotates just a hair... but don't let it go too far, or it will close again. 

Now hold everything in place.  It would be nice if you had two free hands just for this. 

If you really want to see whether the lens is in focus, look at the focus screen with a magnifying glass.  You will need another free hand for this.  If you are really deft, hold everything with your 3 hands while using another hand to turn the front lens element very slowly.  Watch as the image comes into focus.  You will find the sweet spot eventually.  You can do the job with two hands, but if you're not coordinated, forget it. 

Focus screen - newspaper 1m away

After setting the focus with the wax paper, carefully put the lens ring back on the lens.  Keep reading to see why I said "carefully".

Don't Touch The Sides

The lens ring is the piece that says "Lens Made in Japan, Olympus D. Zuiko" on it.  So I'm calling this the "Olympus ring".  I don't know what the real term is for it.  This ring has a protruding piece of metal.  This piece is supposed to go between two dark-colored prongs of metal that belong to the zone focus ring assembly.  Before you try to put the lens ring back on, turn the zone focus ring on the camera and you should see the prongs I'm talking about.  They're the ones that move when you turn the zone focus ring to various settings.  They push or pull the protruding piece of shiny metal from the "Olympus" ring that goes in between them.  You want the metal from the Olympus ring to go right in between those two prongs.

Make sure you don't rotate the "Olympus ring" at all while you're trying to get the metal in between those prongs.  If you do, it will grab hold of the front lens element and turn it out of focus.  You don't want that.  Even when the set screws are not tightened, it could still have enough grab to move the focus.   So, be careful. 

Put that piece of metal between the two prongs.  Make sure your focus ring was on 1 meter, or you will have to do the entire thing over again. 

Now, take a roll of pictures with the camera.  Try to photograph everything at distances you know for sure.  Bring a tape measure around with you.  Yes, people will probably stare.  So what.  Take pictures of them.  (People who stare make great street photography subjects, unless they are surly bikers.)  Besides, nowadays you'll probably get stared at for having a non-digital camera anyway.  (Little do they know, film is still superior to digital in terms of image warmth and depth... but that's the subject of another article).


My repair job worked.  All but two of the pictures on the first roll were in sharp focus.  I've since used this camera quite a bit, even with slide film, and it works well.

As long as all the parts are working OK, the Trip 35 is worth getting. (Buy yours through this link to show your support for my website.)   

Fixing these old cameras is possible, as long as it's just a temporarily stuck part.   If the repair had been more involved, I'd probably have just gotten another Trip 35 and saved a lot of time. 

Victorian Brick House
Olympus Trip 35

This has been a look at re-focusing a Trip 35.   If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, please help me out by shopping through any of the links on this website.  You can pick up 35mm color negative film here, and shop for used Olympus Trip 35's through this link.


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