Rollei 35 Test Roll

Rollei 35

I completely forgot that I hadn’t tested this camera at all after I’d tried unsuccessfully to get the light meter to work after I first bought it on eBay in August 2015. I got a mighty good deal on it, due to its cosmetic condition. The dings and dents and missing cosmetic bits don’t really bother me so much, as long as the camera works. I’d rather have a camera with character, anyway.

(After this roll, I bought a battery adapter and tried it in the Rollei, and the light meter works! It’s not automatic exposure, but it’s a built-in light meter, which promises to be a bit less kludgy than the accessory-mount light meter I used for this test — especially since the shoe on the Rollei 35 is on the bottom of the camera.)

What makes this camera special is that it’s quite possibly the smallest full-frame 35mm film camera out there. The lens can be manually retracted so the camera can quite easily fit in pocket or purse, and the unorthodox placement of the inner workings of the camera makes it interesting to load. I was definitely grateful to Mr. Butkus for posting a copy of the manual online!

I think maybe the mechanics needed a little nudge after sitting stagnant for who knows how long, because the first few frames were definitely not exposing at the right shutter speed. When I select 1/60 and I can distinctly hear the shutter open and close, that’s not a good sign. Luckily, it seemed to right itself after a few frames.

One day in January, I took a walk downtown with my light meter mounted to the accessory shoe of the Rollei 35. It was overcast, and I kept my exposure set to 1/500 second @ f/5.6. I did recheck my meter several times, just to be sure, though.

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My overall impression of the camera: there’s a learning curve. The button to allow the lens to retract back into the camera is right next to the shutter release, and more often than not, I’d accidentally hit that button instead. It’s a challenge to load. The film counter and accessory shoe are on the bottom of the camera. The light meter takes the old mercury battery, so either live without it or get an adapter for a modern battery. The big draw of this camera is the compactness combined with the full-featured manual nature of the camera, though, and it definitely delivers there.

I tend toward fast aperture-priority rangefinders for my go-to cameras, since I do a lot of indoor candids when I’m not outside taking test photos of architecture. The Rollei 35 is wide-open at f/3.5, but it also accepts a wide range of film speeds, from ASA 25 to 1600. It’s also zone-focus (aka guess-focus), which seems to irritate other photographers more than it does me, honestly.

The main draw of this camera is its size, and that’s what would influence my decision to use it as opposed to, say, my Olympus XA (which is my go-to film camera when it really counts, but I don’t want to schlep around an SLR).

Now that I know that this particular camera works, I look forward to trying it in some different conditions and with some different films. And maybe I’ll see if I can find the proprietary camera strap on eBay.

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