A Trip Into The Unknown

Under the lid of an Olympus Trip 35
Under the lid of an Olympus Trip 35

Imagine, if you can, a camera that has no batteries – yet has an automatic exposure mode; a camera with no self-timer; no white balance control; no auto-focus system; no display on the back; and no memory card slot….all in all a camera not designed with selfies in mind! This is a trip into the unknown!

You don’t have to imagine such a camera because it really does exist. It is the ubiquitous Olympus Trip 35 – a 35 mm film camera made in vast numbers between the late 1960s and the early 1980s.

And yes – the Trip really does have an auto-exposure system with no batteries! A simple selenium cell around the lens assembly measures the light level and activates a meter, the needle of which acts as a mechanical stopper inside the camera and determines the aperture opening when the shutter button is pushed. Simple – but effective. Oh – and there is only a choice of 2 shutter speeds allied with the auto-exposure system – 1/40th and 1/200th of a second.

My trip into the unknown began a couple of weeks ago when, on an impulse, I hit the Buy Now button on a TradeMe auction for an “Olympus Trip vintage film camera“…”fully working and functional“.

When the camera arrived it appeared to be in reasonable condition apart from the fact that the aperture blades were stuck and wouldn’t move, the ASA selector ring on the outer edge of the lens focus barrel, the lens focus barrel itself, and the aperture selector were all floating loosely together in a somewhat poor representation of mechanical harmony.

As well as those issues the (in)famous red flag, the one  that pops up in the Trip’s viewfinder when there is not enough light to take a photo, was also missing in action.

Fortunately the lens itself was unmarked and clean, and the viewfinder was clear too.

Also fortunately instructions abound on the web on how to strip down and repair Olympus Trip  35 cameras. So armed with the knowledge that the Trip is a sturdy little camera with a “bulletproof” mechanical system and only one simple electronic circuit that drives the auto-exposure system, I donned my strongest pair of glasses (only just strong enough as it turned out), found my teeniest-tiny screwdrivers (only just small enough), got some lighter fluid for cleaning, and graphite powder for lubrication, then got to work stripping the camera down.

As there is so  much information about how to fix a Trip 35  I won’t go into the fine detail of how to do it, but here is the basic sequence of what I had to do.

I had to remove the top casing (heavens – those screws are tiny!), check the meter was working – it was; remove the bottom casing then the selenium cell and dismantle the lens assembly to get to and clean and lightly lubricate the aperture blades; reassemble the lot, making sure that the tiny ball bearings that “notch” the ASA ring, lens focus ring and aperture ring all line up and go click-click in a smooth manner.

I also had to clean and lubricate the pivot that the red flag arm swings off, then put the whole kit and caboodle back together to complete my trip into the unknown.

My only concern is that when I screwed the front lens back into place I may have set it in the wrong place meaning that photos may be out of focus…oops! Still – it’s not a big job to put that right (I hope…).

Incidentally Olympus had a code to indicate when each camera was made. The code is stamped on the back of the film pressure plate, and unless the film pressure plate has been changed in my Trip 35 at some time, the stamp tells me my camera was made in November 1972 – just over 44 years ago.

Here is what my Trip 35 looks like now after her refurb…

Olympus Trip 35
Olympus Trip 35

As I am about to hit the Publish button on the post, I am 13 frames through a 36mm film, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I am able to post some photos.

And…I am also currently bidding on another, later model, Trip 35 on the same auction website.

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