Rollei 35 first shots

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I had a chance to borrow a Rollei 35 from my friend George last fall, and I carried it with me a little bit on a trip to Minnesota’s ‘north shore’ along Lake Superior.  It’s a fun little camera that’s beautifully built, a little bit quirky, and has great optics packed into it’s tiny body.

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rollei-35-camera-8I’ve long wanted to use one of these little cameras, and when I first picked it up, it felt as finely built as I had expected. This camera is truly pocketable at about the size of a typical modern point-and-shoot digital mini camera.  As a matter of fact, it’s smaller than my Lumix point-and-shoot, though the body is a little thicker.  I believe this holds claim to being the world’s smallest 35mm camera, and there’s some clever German engineering built into it to make it so small.  When you hold it in your hand, it’s kind of hard to imagine that a 35mm film cartridge will fit in it. The back slides off the camera to reveal a kind of puzzling interior. What’s rollei-35-camera-9puzzling (the first time you open it, at least) is that you can’t see the lens opening – where the heck are you supposed to put the film?  There’s a unique hinged pressure plate that you swing down to load the film, then close it back over the film before sliding the rear door back on. It’s those little touches that make the camera really unique and allowed them to keep it so small. Every piece of the camera seems to have been engineered with an eye toward minimizing the size.  And it worked well.

The little 40mm Zeiss lens retracts into the body for very compact carrying, and slides smoothly out and locks in place with a slight twist. That sliding and twisting motion and how the lens subtly locks into place speaks to how the whole camera feels in your hands — a feeling of fine design and craftsmanship. It feels solid, smooth, finely finished. It has a heft for it’s small size that tells you there’s not much plastic in this camera.

With no rangefinder (that would have taken up way too much space), you’re stuck ‘zone-focusing’, or ‘guess-focusing’. Guess at the distance and set the dial on the rim of the lens. Shutter speed and Aperture are set on the two front dials, as is film speed (yes, there’s a light meter – a simple match-needle meter found on the top of the camera body). I found setting aperture and shutter speed a bit tedious on these dials, but I suppose you’d get used to it.

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And some more photos taken with it…

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Can you spot the ruffed grouse in the photo above? Strangely, he let us walk right up a few feet from him after I snapped this photo, and he just slowly sauntered off into the woods. Usually they’ll flush if you get close to them and stop.

These last two shots are along the Pigeon River, which separates Minnesota from Canada here. So the other side of that river is Ontario. We had fun with our son throwing rocks into Canada. This was an important transportation route for the fur traders up to the 19th century. The North West Company had a post at Grand Portage near the mouth of this river on Lake Superior until 1801, where there’s now a recreated fort and a nice museum. I was intrigued to learn recently that the US/Canada border follows this route, and the many rivers and lakes that make up the jagged northern border of Minnesota, because of the importance of the route for the voyageurs working for fur trading companies in both countries. The route was so important that fur traders from both countries needed to share the route, thus the national border was set up following the main travel path of the voyageurs.

Follow-up Comments about the Rollei 35:  While I love the Rollei 35’s look and feel, I’m not enamored with actually using it. I only shot one roll of film with it, so this opinion is not based on extensive use, but I found it a bit tedious and finicky to actually use. The tiny size is great for carrying in a pocket, but detracts from it’s usability in my opinion. I love holding it and marveling at the beautiful fit and finish, the high-quality machined parts, the overall feeling of a fine quality instrument. It’s a beautiful little camera, and an engineering marvel. But actual useability feels like it suffers from the small size. For a compact camera, I’d rather slip my Trip 35 in a jacket pocket — it’s not as small, but is easier to use, though it lacks manual exposure settings.  But if I’m going to be setting exposure manually, I’d also like to be able to focus through the viewfinder, so I’d rather carry a small rangefinder camera. In the pre-digital camera days, I probably would have been more impressed with it’s small size and would  have liked it more, but today the small size isn’t enough to make me love it. The fact that I shot just one roll of film, and it’s been sitting on a shelf for several months seems to confirm these feelings.

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10 Comments on “Rollei 35 first shots”

  1. Jim says:

    You got some mighty nice exposures from this little camera. I’ve been curious about it for years, but high prices keep me away.

  2. Mike says:

    Great performance from that interesting little camera.

  3. Rick Schuster says:

    Thanks, Jim and Mike. I’ve added some more comments at the end of the post about my overall impression of it.

  4. Chris says:

    Very cool! I especially like the first picture…I’d like to have a little cabin like that someday. I’ve been thinking about getting a Rollei 35 and this has definitely helped convince me.

  5. Derek says:

    I only used mine once because I dislike zone focusing but after seeing your results I might have to try again

  6. ..great shots here, sir!
    the rollei 35 is one of my favourites…i have several types in my collection…the best being the one with the sonnar lens….unbeatable! But….as several people here have said, its a pig to use….that damn zone focussing thing i really hate!
    what i cant understand is….if mr maitani of the olympus xa could get a rangefinder inside his little camera, why couldnt the engineers at rollei do it? much as i love the XA, if a rollei had a rangefinder in it, i’d use that all the time….anyway, great blog, great work…

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Thanks. I think you hit on exactly why I don’t love this camera. Such great engineering, great build, great lens, but no rangefinder. I don’t want to use such a great lens by zone focusing. I don’t mind zone focusing a cheap Kodak Pony or even an Olympus Trip 35, but not a camera of this quality. Thanks for reading.

      • hey, rick!
        yeah, i agree totally…i mean, the rollei 35 costs such a lot of money, and to use it by guesswork, is just..well, a travesty!
        like you, im quite happy using my olympus trips that way, but not a rollei!
        that said, of all the shots i have with the rollei, all bar a few, are tack-sharp, full of contrast and unbeatable, showing what a superb machine it is…but..

  7. James F says:

    So three years later….

    It’s funny that the Olympus XA is mentioned here. I have been collecting and using the XA and XA2’s for awhile. Sadly, although my XA2’s have been holding up, all of my XA’s electronics have been biting the dust.

    Which has brought me to the Rollei 35, the T in my case. First, the images like the ones here are ridiculously sharp and contrasty, but as I understand it thats a signature Zeiss feature. The meter is broken on my unit, but with modern films and the sunny 16 rule, I really haven’t had any bad exposures. Generally I use Portra 400.

    I thought that I would hate the scale focusing, but its not that bad. We’re trained to think we need to focus spot on the dot, but in actual practice we don’t. Even at f/5.6, everything from 20ft to infinity is going to be in focus. If you can guessimate that someone is between 10 and 20 feet, thats a range you can get into focus too. If you can get f/16, thats 7 feet to infinity which is probably 80% of everything I shoot. I generallyy set mine to f/11 and go for 9 feet to infinity. Oddly, this is a trick I learned from the Olympus except on that camera, you set it to f/5.6 and 8 feet.

    But the 35T is manual. No electronic dependencies. None of the heartbreak when your camera starts going into self timer mode only. So now I carry an XA2 loaded with FP4 and the Rollei 35T loaded with Portra 400.

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Thanks, James. Good points about zone focusing! I’ve been probably too concerned about focusing on a particular spot, when in reality it’s not that important, especially at smaller than wide-open apertures. And that’s the beauty of the old lenses with depth-of-field indications on the focusing ring.


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