How do I focus on my old manual film camera?

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by gia_le, Jul 26, 2012.

  1. Hello! My name is Gia. I am a beginner with basic knowledge of how to work a manual film camera. I went to an old thrift store and picked up and old working in excellent condition Olympus 35 IVA (all manual) camera. It is from 1953. Not sure what kind of camera it is, if it is an slr, but my research has only stated that it is a viewfinder.
    I have fiddled around with the camera well enough to know how it works, and that it does shoot. The only problem is manually focusing this camera. I know some cameras without autofocus feature the manual focus in which you would have to superimpose one screen onto another screen and that would be your "focus" but with this camera, while I look through the view finder, even if I twist my range (ft.) there is not two screens or anything that I have to match up. Also, if it helps, this camera does not have a light meter or a range finder.
    My question is, how do I focus this old guy? Do I just set aperture, shutterspeed and Iso, and find the range of my subject and shoot? Or is it more complicated then that?
    I hope someone with more experience in older cameras can show me exactly how it is done :) I do not want to waste any shots!
    Tony Parsons likes this.
  2. Yes Gia, you are answering your own questions. There is no focusing aid on your Olympus. It is strictly a scale focusing camera. Camera-to-Subject distance is estimated by eye and then set on the lens manually. The shutter speed and aperture are set, the subject is framed in the viewfinder and the exposure is made. There are third party rangefinders that can be fitted to your accessory shoe if you decided you wanted a focusing aid. That's a beautiful, classic camera.
  3. SCL


    Hi Gia - Nice camera, sort of like my first one. It is a VIEWFINDER camera, but not a RANGERFINDER camera. You focus by estimating the distance from the camera to your subject and then dialing that in by rotating the lens. After a little experimentation, so that your senses are developed for distance, you can be pretty accurate, and get resasonably well focussed images. I used to use the trick of imagining my where my shadow would fall if the sun was 45 degrees behind me (making my shadow the same length as my height) - that equalled between 5-6 feet. I would then mentally flop my shadow over until it hit the subject (more than 4 flops was just about infinity on my camera - - about 25 feet). There are other tricks, like for street shooting, set your camera to the distance you want the subject to be, and then walk toward the subject until you reach that distance. Hopefully this has helped. Enjoy your new camera.
  4. Olympus 35 IVA
    This is a very basic 35mm film camera. The viewfinder is mounted atop the body. The viewfinder is constructed like a backwards telescope. You see a fixed miniature rectangular view that roughly depicts what will be imaged by the camera. The focus distance is set by estimate. As you compose the picture, you use your best judgment to estimate camera to subject distance. You rotate the lens, which is the focusing mechanism, setting the distance scale to an index mark. Most of us in that era, used this or similar as we stepped up from point and shoot to a more advanced camera. Many used an accessory rangefinder. These were small independent instruments that displayed a duel image. You turned a dial and superimposed the two images and then read the dial which gave you the distance in feet or meters. After the reading, you manually set the focus by rotating the lens. More advanced cameras featured a built-in rangefinder. This was the design that preceded the SLR (single lens reflex) camera. These are fun to collect and maybe use once or twice however my take is, best put these on shelf so they can be admired.
  5. Nice looking camera, Gia. If it works as well as it looks, you got a good deal.
    For cameras that old, it's unlikely there was any kind of focus tool coupled to the rangefinder (and, no, it's not an SLR). Back than, they used to sell separate rangefinders that you could either hand-hold or mount on the flash shoe. The rangefinder was designed to give the kind of focus aid you're looking for. The procedure was to focus the image in the rangefinder, read the distance on the scale, and then set that distance on camera's lens. Ah, the good old days.
    If you keep your eyes open you might be able to find a working rangefinder somewhere. Other than that, your only other option is to guess at the distance or use a tape measure.
    Good luck, and don't forget to post some shots...
    Edit: The young whippersnappers beat me to it...
  6. See below
  7. Wow I am so happy to join this forum! Thank you so much guys!! All of these responses have given me more knowledge then I could ever research! You guys are extremely helpful and knowledgeable. I will be sure to apply all of your feedback to my photography. Thank you, Louis, Stephan, Alan, and William :)
  8. Thank you Jim for taking your time to point out that!! I am sure this will help everyone else that uses these basic viewfinder cameras, as I.
  9. Just recently got mine and this thread was really helpful! Thank you guys and thank you Gia for starting this out.

  10. SCL


    That is like the first camera I bought back in the day. Learning to estimate distances for focusing takes a little ingenuity, so I'll share some ideas from the past. I know how tall I am (5 1/2 ft), so if I fell forward onto the ground, where my head would land would be 51/2 ft from the camera if I held it at ground level. So I'd count the number flips my body would make to the subject and mentally multiple 5 1/2 feet by that number for close focus. Another trick was on sidewalks....I knew the distance between markers place in the sidewalk when the concrete was laid...again, just mentally multiply. When you get beyond 25 feet or so, just place your focus point on 25 ft and close down your diaphragm to f/8 or has the latitude, along with the laws of optical physics to place almost everything from about 12ft to infinity in the range of acceptable focus. This was a trick often used by news photographers, who coined the phrase "f/8 and be there".
    cassiorenan likes this.
  11. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    I would like to see the distance scale on that camera. The smaller the aperture (f/11, f/16 etc) the greater the range of acceptable focus. At f/16 everything would probably be in acceptable focus from 4 feet to infinity. At f/4 everything would probably be in acceptable focus from 4 feet to 6 feet. On a bright sunny day it is much better to shoot at a smaller aperture to keep everything in the focus range.
    cassiorenan likes this.
  12. SCL


    Click here for a free copy of the operating manual for your camera (which should answer most questions you might have). Site owner would appreciate a $2-3 donation so he can continue to scan old manuals and offer them virtually for free.
  13. Lots of us "old timers" who use manually focused SLRs still find it useful to scale focus. Even though we can focus through the lens, sometimes that's not so easy especially in a dark room. And with a wide enough lens and a small enough aperture, sometimes scale focusing is a lot faster. Shooting a class reunion recently I relied on depth of field heavily. Set your lens to say f8.0, and an error of a foot or two or even more depending on the distance won't be a problem.

    Not to get technical, but you might want to look up/google hyper-focal distance. It makes things a lot easier.

    As an example, if I set my 35mm lens to f11 and the focus scale to 10 feet, everything from about 6 feet to infinity will be in acceptable focus.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2017
    cassiorenan likes this.
  14. There is more detail than you may want at Quick Tips : How to Zone Focus / Scale Focus

    Most of these cameras (I think yours is the 50mm f/3,5 lens) have enough depth of field at normal speed settings that the hyperfocal (e.g., LINK) distance range makes exact distances of little importance.
    cassiorenan likes this.
  15. Here James, the manual that Steve provided has an image with the info you're looking for.

    Fixed Focus.png
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2017
    James G. Dainis likes this.
  16. Really great info guys. This is much appreciated!
  17. How much would one of this cost where you guys live ?
  18. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    cassiorrenan, that is great. Thank you. Indoors at parties using flash where it was hard to focus , I would set the aperture on my camera to f/16 and everything would be zone focused from 3 feet to 12 feet or so. Then I could just raise the camera to my eye, compose and shoot. If things were further back I knew that a slight twitch of the aperture ring would be all that was needed.
  19. Estimating everything from distance to exposure is a fun way to use a camera. If you want to go high tech you can buy the latest light meter and a laser distance finder.
    Nah! Actually have both of these devices but I would never use it when going out. Indoor when I set up on tripod for still life? Sure I use them both. One thing about the distance scale on the lens, it's not linear so pay attention as to where the in between marking distance is.
  20. The explanation from the manual isn't so easy to figure out. The scale next to the focus scale gives the depth of field for that aperture setting.

    For sunny day pictures, you probably use f/16. Set the 16 on the scale next to the infinity on the other side, which will give you depth of field (close enough to in focus) from infinity to the distance next to the 16 on the other side, which might be 5 feet or so.

    If you use a different aperture setting, set that value next to the infinity.

    But otherwise, for distance scenes set to infinity and it will be close enough.

    For closer scenes, you need to estimate better, but it is also easier.

    This is one of the lost arts of photography, with modern auto-focus cameras.
    We used to be much better than most of us are today.

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