Vivitar 35ES

Vivitar 35ES

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WOW I could almost verbatim repeat my schpiel from the Hi-Matic E page:

“Camera companies are funny. If you look at any specific type of current camera you’ll see that across several brands they’re practically identical. Here is another example of a compact rangefinder from the 1970s which has very similar features to others we’ve seen such as the Yashica GSN, New Canonet QL17, Konica C35 etc. This one is particularly small, light, and cute, with a fast and sharp VIVITAR 1.7 lens. It’s somewhere between the New QL17 and Konica C35.”

Crazy, no? This one, like the original Konica C35 (not the Automatic), works without a battery…! Not fully auto-manual like the Auto S2 or QL Canonets but with a default GN-based aperture I guess…. But with a 675 battery it is fully automatic, with a GN system just like on the Konica C35 and Minolta’s ‘Easy Flash’ system. The main difference is a manually-set shutter speed, otherwise it is almost exactly the same size and weight as the C35 but with much bigger and faster glass. Auto metering is outstanding as well. Sweeeeeet.So anyway it’s a great little camera, I’d choose it over the slightly larger and more problematic Hi-matic E any day, or even my beloved (sniff) companion the C35 just because of the faster glass. No big surprise, eh? BUT the REAL question is, why did I think Vivitar was a Japanese company all this time and not know that it was founded right here in California by German immigrants? Apparently it used to be called ‘Ponder and Best’, after the names of the founders. Hollywood. California. It almost makes sense, that’s where the film industry is centered, not that that’s their focus (ouch). But a world-class American optics company? I’m shocked, stunned to learn this. Are we sure they’re not Japanese? Seems like all the optical products I’ve seen from them are actually manufactured in Japan, maybe that’s why I thought it. Maybe they’re like Pete’s Wicked Ale, who contracts with Budweiser to have their beer brewed at Budweiser’s facilities in lieu of building and maintaining their own. No, I’m not trying to say that Budweiser manufactures optics (or anything world-class for that matter OOOF body blow), you know what I meant.

Speaking of who made what, I’ve been asked whether the 35ES a Minolta Hi-Matic 7sII in disguise, as they share more than a few similarities. In fact, it looks like if you merely replaced the GN-flash system with a more expensive manual override, it is nearly identical to the 7sII. WELL I may have the answer, read on.

There is also a near-identical German camera called the Revue 400SE which differs only in that it has PC sync terminal while the 35ES does not. Revue is the name that the German drug chain Foto-Quelle used to brand its cameras like Sears and Wards used to do with Pentax, Ricoh, and Minolta cameras. And Cosina. Cosina is the venerable camera company that has been making cameras and lenses for other brands since the 60s, and has long been Vivitar’s primary manufacturer (the shock!). I think that Cosina made this camera for Vivitar and Foto-Quelle, and manufactured at least the body for the 7sII if not the entire thing under contract for Minolta. Otherwise my guess is it would have shared the Hi-Matic E body which is certainly compact enough and had nearly the same specs (minus full-manual mode…like the 35ES!). Cosina was already known for making small Konica C35 clones, so why not? Then the question becomes did Cosina contract to make the Rokkor lens in the 7sII as well, since they were already in the lens manufacturing business, making Vivitar lenses? I have no idea but it’s certainly possible.


Frankly, it has very ugly foam light seals, not as simple to replace as some cameras, more like on the QL17III. I’ll wait & see how the test roll looks. Can’t wait long though, if it’s to be my new companion. Had a pretty major filter ring ding, easily fixed with my lens ring vise (if you have more than a couple user cameras – and I did – with this problem, it’s worth the $40 investment). Also missing the self-timer lever as I mentioned, not that I ever actually use a self timer. I could probably replace it with one from a broken Hi-Matic E. To get inside the top cap to clean the rangefinder glass I actually had to drill out one of the two little screws under the rewind knob as it was completely frozen with rust or corrosion (hey, sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do). I figured one was enough to hold it in place afterward. It was worth it, seeing the brighness of the viewfinder after the vodka treatment.

It did have a funny winding problem, where sometimes it would catch while winding, sometimes resulting in overlapping frames. I tested this with the back open and it was very smooth until I lowered the rewind knob, which turned out to be causing extra resistance. I then greased the upper portion of that shaft and now it’s all good.

Tips & Tricks

The best one: 675 batteries at Radio Shack, $5US for a pack of 8. So you replace it every couple months, big deal.

Did I mention that it has a pin-sharp 40mm f1.7 lens?

The lens barrel has two separate distance scales, one for meters (green) and one for feet (white) that line up with different index marks, can be confusing at first.

Lastly, and I don’t know that this would be an issue for anyone, it doesn’t have a PC sync terminal, only (!) a hot shoe. The only other camera I have that I can say that about is my old friend the P30t, and I’ve never ever missed having a PC sync terminal. Especially now that I have one of those multi-purpose hot shoe attachments that covers all my flash sync needs. For flash photography you use the now-familiar (?) easy-flash system, change the GN ring from AUTO to the GN of the flash you’re using, the camera then syncs at any shutter speed, being a leaf shutter and all. I still recommend 1/60 or higher.

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