Friday, July 13, 2012

Granny Takes A Trip

Greetings me old soaks.
There's a slow moving shower with your name on it and it is heading your way. At least that's what it seems like.
This week your Cap'n is in reflective mood. Were times better in days of yore? Is the advancement of society better or worse now? Are we heading to the edge, or will we keep on sailing to some nice sunset?
I don't know. All I do know is me bones are weary and the Goode Shippe FB needs work done, so we're going to lash up in port, get the jobs done, and then put up our umbrellas and go and sit on the Poop Deck, talking Poop and drinking same and getting same.
Also, me old Mog is in the final twelve cats for the 100 metre Kattomeat Dash, so good luck to him.
We also have to recharge our supplies.
Oh and our erstwhile gentleman passenger, Mr.Sheephouse, needs to make some photographs, so we need to accomodate his needs too.
Stay dry Poopsters.


Back in my old Virgin Records days, my manager had a nickname for me: "Granny".
In a weird happenstance I can now apply that nickname to a new acquisition and allude to an altogether more innocent time when you could name boutiques after strange things and get away with it . . . hence the title of today's FB.
My best friend Steve, mistakenly told me a while ago that he had picked up an old Olympus Trip 35 at a car boot sale for a couple of quid. Nothing remarkable in that you might think. But little did he know how I was going to badger him to death about whether he wanted it nearly every week for years! He has been digital for a very long time, so I didn't think he'd be using it, save as a weapon to cudgle me with.
It was an exciting prospect.
He eventually caved in and is still there, at home, curled foetal style in the corner, clutching his head and muttering "lens cap" . . . whilst the Trip is in my pocket.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Olympus Trip 35 (to give it its proper nom de plume) I ask you to cast your mind back to the late 1970's/early 1980's and a TV advert with the tag line 'Who do you think you are? David Bailey?'
The ad showed Bailey upstaging a 'professional' at a wedding, using nothing more than the lowly Trip. I say lowly, but actually the RRP for these small mechanical marvels in 1980 was £55.95, though they commonly sold for £49.99 which, as they say, was not an insignificant amount of money at the time.
In inflation terms, now that is about £225.

 The extremely handsome Mr.David  Bailey in action.
He looks like he should be in a foreign film as an investigative journalist.

To get some idea of relative costs, my first 35mm SLR bought in 1980 was an Olympus OM10 for which I paid the grand sum of £115 from Comet, and that included a flash unit and an ever ready case. So, whilst just half the price of the OM, the Trip was still a decent amount of money.
The Olympus Optical Company must have had an enormous faith and profit margin in the Trip. 10,000,000 were sold over its 17 year lifetime from its introduction in 1967, which in itself is a pretty remarkable thing.

My apologies to 'All Rights Reserved' on Flickr. Yes I have used your scan and yes I have tidied it up - sorry.
This is a Trip ad circa 1980.

With this little round-up, I am not going to go into all the usual doo-dads everyone does when writing about Trips, I will however try and give you an honest and slightly weird new users impression.
First off, it is small, but chunky. It has the heft of an object filled with bits of metal (which it is). It is a wonder of ingenuity, in that it is utterly simple.
You have a dial for setting apertures when using flash, and on the same dial a nice red A. This signifies Automatic mode and is its usual mode of employment.
In front of this is your four stage focus dial, and in front of that an ASA dial for setting your film speed.
The Trip uses Zone Focusing, a concept which meant that even if you were an idiot (unless you were a total one) setting the little focus ring to either One HeadTwo Heads, Three People or A Mountain, meant that you could produce an acceptable photograph. Basically it extends the lens for close focus and moves it back towards the body for infinity. The zones encompass bands of distance and if set properly, everything within those bands should be sharp. The bands are narrower the closer the focus. The automatic nature of the aperture takes care of depth of field, but this can vary quite wildly, so my tip later on about using faster film is all the more appropriate.
Operation is easy, set the zone of focus and click. You will obtain an acceptable result. When I say acceptable, they're actually more than that - they are rather super actually.

The simplicity belies the truth - the 40mm Zuiko lens (a Tessar design) is really good, and whilst it won't produce results that are the same as an SLR lens, I would say it comes as close as a gnat's whisker.
Millions and millions of 'snaps' must have been taken with this little marvel, and yet, despite their current cult status, they are overlooked and old fashioned.
Why use something where the shutter is virtually instantaneous when you can use a more modern camera with that oh so prevalent shutter lag?
Why use something where you have to use a little of that addled lump of offal and electricity between your ears when a device can do it all for you and take away the worry of not getting it right?
Why rely on a beautifully simple fixed lens and your ability to move around and interact with the action, when you can get a modern compact with a reasonably noisy zoom and stand well back.
I can add a lot more things (on film cameras) like noisy motors instead of a simple thumb-wheel, and a crank for rewinding; then there's the dreaded digital pregnant pause where your memory is being stuffed with the image, and all that buffering is going on, shunting and puffing . . .
But I think what I am trying to ask, is who in the world of camera manufacturers decided that us happy snappers wanted a battery eating device which did absolutely everything for us?
To illustrate this go and fetch your compact camera.
I assume it will be a digital one . . if it isn't, well done, take your seat on the other side of the lifeboat and we can compare notes later on.
Now, switch your camera on and listen. There's the whirr as the lens extends.
Point your camera at anything and press the shutter release.
This is where FB gets a tad weird because:

I a . . m . . . .g . . .o . . . i. . . . n . . . . .g . . . . .t . . . . .o . . . . . s . . . . .l . . . . . o . . . . .w . . . . . y . . . . . o . . . . . . u . . . . . . r . . . . . .e . . . . . a . . . . . r . . . . . s . . . . . .d . . . . . . o . . .  . . . . w. . . . . . . n . . . . . .

Your finger has depressed the shutter release button and the gnome crushed by the electrical contact inside has sent a nano-llama cantering off into the depths of the camera. The nano-llama has a bit of paper pinned to it with a message on it. Inside your modern compact camera there's a tiny shrew's brain squashed and laid out on a tiny chip which makes all the decisions. The llama canters up, the shrew gets the message that the shutter has been released and sends more nano-llamas out to the nether regions of the camera with a series of questionaires. These have little check boxes which cover the permutations of light and distance and so on. The nano-gnomes manning the observation stations quickly check the boxes and send the nano-llamas back on their way. They arrive with a thunder of skidding hooves back at the shrew's nest where the shrew reads the boxes and makes a decision and sends more nano-llamas out with the appropriate instructions. The nano-gnomes crank the various cranks and a picture is taken.
Now why shrews you ask?
Well for a start their brains are tiny. Secondly, they might not be totally dim but they are a bit, however their brains are incredibly quick operating and they can pull together a lot of stimuli sharpish .  . you know . .
Earthworm or Beetle?
Snake or Hawk?
Kill or Run?
You might also be asking why llamas?
Well they are sure-footed on unsteady ground and entirely trustworthy.
Why Gnomes?
Well Gnomes are intelligent and cunning, but generally do as they are told.

N . . . o . . . w . . . w . . e . . . a . . . r . . . e . . . c . . .o. . . m . . .i . .n . . g. . b . .a . .c . .k .u . p . t . o . f .u .l l speed.

Listening carefully, what you heard was the sound of your autofocus hunting around a bit for something to focus on - generally the areas in the centre of the picture or even a face with that modern miracle, facial recognition * and then the sound of the shutter working.
You now know how this part of your camera works.
It is fortunate for your sanity that I haven't gone on about the engravers, and the good loaves of bread delivered by the battery bread van.

The Trip is different to your modern camera: a simple light gathering cell around the lens gathers light, generates an electrical current and operates a simple meter. A needle in the meter moves, and as you press the shutter button a series of cams move up on two pivoted arms to clamp the needle, and, depending on how far the needle has deflected, decide how much light is coming in by mechanical means. The shutter and aperture then react accordingly.
If there isn't enough light, or you have left the lens cap on then the shutter locks and red flag appears in the viewfinder telling you that you cannot take a picture.
If you think about it, it is an ingenious straight line road, whereas a 'modern' camera is actually a circuitous route.
The Trip is also fixable by unskilled hands (namely mine) whereas cameras relying on battery power are a lot harder to sort out.
It is also one of the few cameras that would be capapable of taking post-EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) photographs, in that there is nothing silicone-based to get fried.

But this is moving away (as usual) from the main meat and potatoes.
These days in Britain, using a camera in a crowd is often fraught with difficulty.
To any Police Officer or bystander you are a criminal scoping the place, or someone wishing to harm children, or a terrorist.
It's utterly ridiculous if you think about it, but entirely indicative of the suspicious and unwelcoming society we have become . .
I blame Cracker and Prime Suspect and all these TV criminal shows where your neighbour could be about to come around your house in the dead of night and remove your giblets through your nose whilst singing a Spice Girls song . .
And that's me getting away from the point again.
Please take the following with a pinch of salt - If you were interested in any of those dubious activities I would say that the Trip is almost the perfect camera for it, because it is small and light, and so totally simple. Granted you would have to get the film developed and you might be shopped by Boots or Jessops, but on the whole if you want a covert camera and can develop your own film, this is the camera for you.
The camera's beauty relies on a thing which is often ignored in film terms - that is the film's latitude, which in layman's terms is its forgiveness. Any negative film be it colour or black and white has a certain amount of error compensation built into it - this is so that it can deal with varying light conditions. It also meant that when colour film started to be used more commonly, that picture you took of your Gran waving a rubber chicken in the air whilst she was backlit by the setting sun, wouldn't look like Leatherface, silhouetted and coming at you with a chainsaw. The films latitude was able to deal (in part) with such wildly varying light conditions. Obviously it wasn't the panacea, but it helped and with an Olympus Trip 35, if there really isn't enough  light for the film to deal with, the camera will actually stop you wasting a frame. That is not always what you want, but seeing as the Trip only has 2 shutter speeds, it was a nifty bit of design to avoid disappointment.

Phew - this black with grey print is a bit relentless isn't it . . so here's some Daisies to break up your reading and give you a breather and let your eyes have a rest.

Feeling better?
Right, on with the march!
There are two ways around this though. The first is deceptively simple. Load fast film. Up to 400 ASA is fine on the Trip - it is calibrated to deal with that.
I tested mine with Rollei RPX 100 but it would have been better with something like Ilford Delta 400 or Kodak Tri-X. Basically anything of greater speed with a wide latitude to it. If you do decide on those two, then set the metering part of the camera to ASA 320. This way you will have enough balls in your shadow areas and if you use a compensating developer you won't over-do your highlights - pretty simple really.
The second is a cunning trick as deceptive as it is simple. If your Trip's shutter won't release and you get the red flag because it thinks there isn't enough light, point the camera at a brighter light source, depress the shutter halfway, keep holding it down and now get back to your dimly lit subject and make the photograph. Granted it might well be underexposed, but if you are using something like Dilution G HC110, the developer will ensure that whatever might be in the shadow detail is rendered. yes you'll have a thin negative but at least you will have one.

The above is a full-frame photograph made with Trip on the hoof whilst in St Andrews on a dreich and overcast day. The film was Rollei RPX 100 so not the world's fastest, however, as such it shows the extraordinary capability of the Trips simple design. There is shadow detail, there is a broad range of greys, there are good highlights. Pretty much everything I wanted to be in focus is, AND, I was able to take the picture sereptitiously - I doubt anyone was any the wiser for me taking this snap. You can actually see me to the right of the frame reflected in the window. There is an extraordinary amount of detail when you consider it was probably shot at about 1/40th of a second and probably around f5.6 and was shot quickly, so I wasn't being careful.

I was standing around minding my own business when a swarm of Italian youth exchange students came and stood in front of me. I thought Sod It and took a picture on the hoof again. Yes, there's camera shake and the composition is nil, however I was literally about 3 feet from the cool guy with the glasses, so that shows you how unobtrusive the Trip can be, although to be fair he spotted me!
It was a revelation to use it this way. Life-changing? No, but nearly, as, in the Trip, I have found something which leaves me totally free to break my normal photographic bounds and jump into the midst of the action without being obtrusive.
Of course Leica users have known this for years, but personally I have found it to be a revelation.
The Trip is SO simple that I defy anyone not to have fun with it.
If you are an SLR user then you are going to find the instantaneous quiet snick of the shutter a surprise.
If you are a confirmed digital camera user and have never used as simple a camera as this then you are going to be astonished at the feeling of being free from menus and lag and unnecessary fluff.
Forget buying yourself a nice suit and a set of cuban heels in Granny Takes A Trip. There's no need - this is naked photography at its most basic.
Everyone should try it - it is a very surprising and enjoyable experience.
Dear Steve - thanks mate for the wonderful gift.
And for the rest of you, stay warm, stay dry, God bless and thanks for reading.

* Fortunately Peter Gabriel back in 1970's Genesis days was never photographed with facial recognition software, because he would have confused it . . Face? Flower? Flower? Face?


  1. Howdy

    What are you on about, anyway? All this camera stuff! I really enjoyed this one, as it brought back a lot of memories with my struggles with Eric Nikon and some of the great photos I took with him. It also made me glad that "Eric" is now at the Sheephouse Camera Reserve enjoying playtime with his Olympus friend.
    Glencoe 52 the traveller who just better get moving if we are going to get to BC before they close it down.

  2. Great write-up on the Trip, Phil. I think 1980 was about the peak in quality terms of camera design/manufacture. They were still using brass and glass and not a lot of plastic and computers. Think of the OM1and OM2, the RTS, Nikon FE and FM, the Minolta XE1, etc. All superbly made cameras that didn't need anything else to help people take good pics.