The Rollei 35 is probably best described as ‘quirky. It is about the smallest you could possibly make a 35mm film camera, and yet presents you with as many controls as a typical 35mm SLR camera. I bought mine for about £60 from a classic camera store in Manchester to see if I could really get SLR performance from such a tiny little box.
The version I have is called ‘LED’ as the exposure meter is coupled to the lens and shutter and uses red and green LEDs in the viewfinder to indicate under-correct-over exposure. The camera has no automatic mode, so shutter speed and aperture must be adjusted until the meter lights the green LED.
The lens is a collapsible 40mm f3.5 lens (a better f2.8 lens is available on the higher spec models I think) that you have to pull out from the body and lock into position. This caused me much confusion initially until I read the manual and figured it out. The lens has a shutter speed ring around it where it joins the body, and aperture and focus rings around the front element.
As you are not seeing though the lens you have to guess the focus distance, or use a smaller aperture and the marked depth of field scales to set a zone of focus. It’s not too hard to get the hang of, especially with fast film loaded so you can use f8 or f11 most of the time.
It’s a neat little thing to shoot with and feels very solid and well built without being at all heavy. I do have two issues with it though.
Firstly, the meter is designed for an older type of battery that is no longer available so While a modern battery fits it is of slightly the wrong voltage. From my negatives this seems to manifest itself as a slight underexposure (the extra voltage could be over-amplifying the signal from the meter cell) although nothing too serious as the exposure latitude of film makes it possible to rescue the images in Lightroom.
My second issue of that most of my images came out with wonky horizons. I can’t exactly blame the camera for this! But it was strange as I am normally good at framing my pictures squarely.
It was great being able to carry such a small camera around knowing I was getting a full frame of film to scan afterwards. The 40mm lens could be a tiny bit wider for my taste but it gives nice results and doesn’t seem to suffer from any major distortion issues.
The images shown here are from my first roll of film and they took a fair bit of post-processing due to the under-exposure. However, I really like the look produced as they are quite dark and moody with an old fashioned feel to them. This is a result of a wonky tone curve as I tried to pull the highlights back to white without blowing out all the mid tones.
A bit benefit of the Rollei 35 is that it is small and discrete and almost looks like a toy camera. I found this made me less self-conscious while out and about shooting, leading to some interesting photos I may not have stopped and taken with more ‘serious’ gear.
It is an intriguing camera to use and certainly hasn’t disappointed me in terms of the quality of the images produced. There is a bit of luck and guesswork involved, but that being said I don’t see any out of focus of badly mis-exposed frames on my 36exp roll of Tri-X so anyone with a modicum of photographic intuition should be at home with it’s controls.