Written by Tom Box
I would imagine most, if not all, of the people reading this have heard of the Olympus Trip 35 (find at KEH Camera or on eBay). Over 10,000,000 units of the camera were sold during it’s lifetime, and the solid build, simple operation, and wide availability have made the Trip a hugely popular option for the modern film crowd. I’m not going to review the camera, as this has been done dozens of times across the internet, but instead explain how to use the Trip outside of its limits, specifically with low light and night photography.
Hacking the Olympus Trip 35 to Work in Low Light
The Olympus Trip 35 uses a selenium light meter to adjust aperture and shutter speed automatically, locking the shutter release if there is insufficient light which would result in underexposure. However, the Trip also has a flash sync mode, whereby the aperture is manually selected and the shutter is set to it’s slower speed of 1/40th of a second. This is, of course, designed to be used with a flash, but the manual aperture settings coupled with modern high speed films means you can also use the flash setting to successfully shoot the Trip at night. Don’t let that little red flag stop you…
Load a roll of 400 or 800 speed film, set the ASA to 400 and the aperture to it’s widest setting of 2.8, and you’re ready to go. That’s all there is to it. If the scene is too bright for the set aperture of 2.8, don’t worry, the Trip’s meter is still active in flash mode and will stop down the aperture to prevent overexposure.
Working With the Shutter Speed and Aperture Limitations
Now, 1/40th at f/2.8 really doesn’t seem slow or wide enough to shoot at night, even with 800 speed film. But I’ve found that I get excellent results if there are enough bright lights in the scene. I used to shoot SLRs at night on aperture priority, lens wide open to f/1.4, and, even pointing at a shop window, I’d be struggling to hand hold the camera’s chosen 1/15th or 1/8th shutter speed.
The thing is, most auto-exposure cameras will be metering for the whole scene, taking into account the vast expanse of black just as much as any light sources. More often than not, auto-exposure for a scene like a shop window at night would result in a blown out light source and mucky shadows, and not look at all how you remember seeing the scene with your own eyes. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a sunset with your phone camera and it’s blown out the colours and tried to expose for the foreground? Every time.
What to Expect While Shooting the Olympus Trip 35 at Night
I won’t lie and tell you that using the Trip at night will always produce perfect results. (It works best in an urban area with lots of artificial light.) But I do believe that shooting film at night can be as simple as setting the exposure once and getting on with taking photos. An underexposed photo is better than a 2 second long exposure of motion blur!
Any grainy shadows can be clipped in using Photoshop or another image editing program to bring true black back into the shot and increase contrast. That and slightly boosting the mid tones is pretty much the only editing I need to do to my Night Trip photos.
The Olympus Trip 35 is a quintessential point-and-shoot camera, and that doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down. Try it yourself with some 400 or 800 speed film and see if you agree that night photography doesn’t always require tripods and fast lenses…
All of the photos in this post were taken on a trip to Japan, using Fuji Superia Premium 400 speed film and my Trip 35 set up as I’ve described. Developed and scanned at home. I also double exposed a roll of Cinestill 800T in the Trip. Photos below.
On a tangent…
It’s always worth checking over a ‘dead’ Olympus Trip 35 because it’s quite likely the meter is fine, and the problem is with gummed up aperture blades or other internal gubbins. On two occasions I’ve acquired a Trip which refuses to raise the red flag, suggesting the meter is dead, only to remove the top plate (held on by 3 easily accessible screws) and see that the meter needle is moving fine. The problem both times lay in the sliding plates that determine aperture and shutter speed. A quick clean with naptha and it was working perfectly. I’ve had a similar experience with an Olympus Pen EES-2 (basically the half frame Trip 35) which merely had sticky aperture blades. Half an hour of disassembly and cleaning and it’s working beautifully.