Rollei 35 Review by David Aureden


by Bellamy /

5 min read

Rollei 35 Review by David Aureden
David Aureden has put together a nice little review of a camera that sometime goes overlooked. The great Rollei 35. Check it out.

The Rollei 35S fits in my coat pocket. My shirt pocket also, but that looks odd. It’s smaller than the Leica Minilux I adored, until the Minilux started to underexpose everything, and Leica twice declined to fix it. The Minilux is still upstairs in a closet, waiting for time or divine intervention to fix it, as it authored most of my favorite shots.

The Minilux is what led to the Rollei 35 – I wanted something small, great lens, bigger viewfinder, and manual.

There are only 1.7ish things in the finder of the Rollei 35s – the view and, most of the time, the frame lines. The frame lines seem to fade when pointed toward sources of even moderately average light. Having 1.7ish things in the viewfinder is wonderful.  It’s even better than the viewfinders of the M2 and M3 (it took 10 years between, “wow, I’d like a Leica M” until I could afford them) because those viewfinders include rangefinders.


Using the Rollei 35s is an ongoing lesson in composition and process optimization. Probably nothing like the lessons of a view camera, but I don’t have the time for that. A former boss was fond of reminding us that “strategy is the art of making choices.” In the case of the Rollei, the strategy starts with focus. And focus is guessing the distance of the subject from the eye.

The first question posed by scale focus: “is this really a good subject matter for a photograph, because there is little point in wasting time (and money) on a picture you don’t want and that might be out of focus. So do you really want this on a print?” That’s a good question, increasingly so in the realm of digital photography, where my daughter can take 30 different perspectives on her subject, correcting with each take until she has a version she likes (and then she starts “developing” it with Photo FX). I’ll hold off on wonderings about Digital Pollution.


If “yes” then I estimate the distance to the subject and adjust the lens accordingly. Turning the lens to the estimated focus requires . . . focus ( J). It’s tactile, physical, precise, fiddly (I’ve got big fingers, the lens barrel is small), quiet. No hum and whir of electronic focusing mechanisms judging the distance.  If I want to continue, the next task is the exposure. Sometimes I’ve got my trusty Sekonic, a partner for the past 16 years. Most times, though, it’s a lightmeter app on the I-phone, which is convenient, as the I-phone is usually along for the ride and doesn’t take up much space. But the I-phone lightmeter app drives me batty –  it features way more shutter speeds and apertures than the Rollei. The specificity of its guidance needs to be averaged out. Another distraction to consider.


Step 4: Compose (ahh, that viewfinder). Making choices up front usually results in fewer/better (the benefit  of strategy). Once distance and exposure are chosen, they are no longer relevant to the task. Gone. Out of my mind. Floating away like so many useless daydreams at the office. Or hours spent looking at nothing really relevant on the internet.
Back to step 4. That viewfinder. Just the view, and how to frame it. I take off my glasses, as it’s ok if the view through the finder is blurry – it’s already focused. Push all thoughts non-photographic away (“got to get to the office in 5 minutes for the conference call; why is my colleague completely ignoring requests for revisions; I ate too much lunch; coffee,coffee, coffee”) and absorb/comprehend/assess/engage/attend=FOCUS completely on what’s framed by the Rollei’s little window. Steadily push the shutter release (an unexpectedly tight mechanism). Click. And advance.


It comes along with me more often than any other film camera. The human factors of the design are so spot on, that it begs to be used. Plus, only the film knows if the shot was in focus – I won’t know until Dwayne’s develops, prints the film, and sends it back.  In fact, I’m waiting on the post today for 6 rolls. Despite the increase in time it takes for a shot, and the number of shots declined, I’m shooting more than with the Leica’s.

I’m not worried about the Rollei 35s and weather, or the bumps and bruises of “out and about.” At $200, it’s both a tool and a treasure. The 35s was not built for obsolescence. It was built to survive, and come along for the ride, taken out  frequently enough to consume 37 shots every two to three weeks). Conversely, I’m increasingly concerned with the Leica’s and their lenses, having spent $600+ on CLA’s over the past few years, and accidently taking my M3 for a swim when falling out of a canoe last fall.


The Lens:

How can an images be smooth and textured at the same time? Faces and objects seem to have been sanded lovingly by this sculptor of a lens. Maybe the size of the camera is less intimidating or intrusive to the people whose picture I’m taking, but, of the good photos, everyone seems more relaxed and closer to their normal look. In a portrait taken by my 8 year old, the sonnar somehow both etches and smoothes my wrinkles and beard. It picks apart the details enough to tell the story (sharpness?), but ignores enough of the secondary detail to direct the viewer’s attention to the main themes of the picture. Which is certainly not the case with the digital oeuvre of today. HD TV. Yuck.


In B&W, the prints feel like something from in the NY Times, before they printed color photos; or the Daily Pennsylvanian, circa the late ‘80’s. Instantly bestowing the weight of time to the image. “Feel” because the subject seems real, touchable, just on the other side, maybe my hand can reach through time and re-unite with them and that moment. With Fomapan 200, the grain of skin reminds of rice, of photos from Moscow, circa 1958.

At a family reunion two weekends ago, an early evening game of croquet including two brothers (both in their ‘70’s, and their cousin (65) were the perfect subject for the Sonnar. Grey hair, evening light, soft summer air at a top of a mountain. An old croquet set, the varnish on the old, wooden sticks flaking off. Of course, not the easiest camera for fast moving subjects, intent on knocking each-other off the course in changing light, but I’m hopeful.

David Aureden

Thanks to David for sharing his thought on this camera with us. Do use use a Rollei? What are your thoughts on the camera?
Please make sure you come and comment.

18 comments on “Rollei 35 Review by David Aureden”

    Yagiz September 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm / Reply

    Great review! Just bought a Rollei 35 few months ago, and working like a charm. And got amazing results on my first-test roll.

    David September 26, 2014 at 4:47 pm / Reply

    I’ve got a Rollei 35T that I inherited from my uncle but unfortunately have yet to actually shoot it. Daily life and a collection of other film cameras gets in the way. It’s quite the handy little camera, though. As soon as this next roll is done, the Rollei is up to bat.

    Carlos September 26, 2014 at 8:00 pm / Reply

    You’ll find many Rollei 35 around, different lenses, and constructions.
    Search for Germany not Singapore made and your prefered lens.
    The Rollei 35B or other cheaper variants are risky in film-guide mechanism. Quiet often the film gets jammed up. I personally have made that experience with 2 out of 2 with 20 years in between.
    Select the finest model you can get and care about it.

    Mike Angle September 26, 2014 at 9:28 pm / Reply

    David and Bellamy, thanks for a great review. I bought my Rollei 35S new in 1979 after my first year of college. I went down to Olden Camera in Manhattan and traded in a bunch of Mamiya-Sekor 35mm SLR gear even-steven. I didn’t seem to have time for the SLRs anymore, but the little Rollei traveled around in my backpack always. Like the VW Beetle I was driving, the design of the Rollei was quirky compared to any other camera – but the quirks were all ingeniously engineered and added up to a camera that works rather smoothly once you get used to it. I still use that little 35S – I had it CLA’d and the meter replaced by Krikor last year – and have added a 35T as well, using the Sonnar for color and the Tessar for B&W.

    The thing I still remember after all these years is the discussion with the salesman at Olden around the 35S versus the 35SE. Neither one us were fans of the LEDs!

    Tom Johnston September 26, 2014 at 11:40 pm / Reply

    Rollei 35S is the Mercedes Benz of small film cameras

    even September 27, 2014 at 1:44 pm / Reply

    Wow, thank you David and Bellamy.
    This is the best “review” i have ever read.
    Words and the pictures, especially your portrait and the one of the two girls, are really consistent. Build by human sensitivity.
    This sensitivity is so often missing in all the speeches about cameras and about how we use these.

    Your way to use the Rollei remind me so much my Minox 35.
    I did its last roll of film lately.
    Too sad. It was mint mint mint. And its first drop was also its last drop.

    Thank you again for this truthful writing.

    stanis riccadonna zolczynski September 27, 2014 at 7:54 pm / Reply

    Memories, dear memories. In 70-ties I used a Nikon outfit ( two F bodies with three lenses). Then I decided to go to South America, kind of vagabonding. I could possibly immagine sleeping rough with bag full of gear so I went to my photo dealer and got myself Rollei 35 ( Tessar, made in Germany).
    It followed me round South America, where on one occasion I traveled by boat on Amazonas from Belem to colombian border. One of guys was a swiss photographer who had a very Nikon outfit I left home. Boy, he was envious of my little gem because of weight. A nice guy by the way, gave me couple rolls when I run out of my meager supply in the middle of Amazon. On the way back I ended in San Francisco where I, short on mony foolishly sold it. Then I got the job on norwegian ship taking me to Hong Kong where I hoped to get myself a Nikonos. There were none so I ended with another Rollei this time made in Singapure. It served me well, with one exception, when spaced out in Laos, I broke retracting latch, trying to collapse the lens without pressing the lock button. It was fixed in factory and since then it followed me faithfully overland back to Europe. All togather nearly three years round the wold with Rollei 35 Later I got Rollei 35S.
    Qualitylike I couldn`t see any differernce between german and singaporian makes. Well a bit thicker brass on german ones. Of course Made in West Germany and Zeiss on the lens commands better price. An there was a model with Schneider Xenotar lens as far I remember.

    Jeffrey September 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm / Reply

    Just picked one of these cameras up at a trade show in LA. I always thought they were really neat being so compact and yet still fully manual. I have been shooting with a Canonet QL17 a bit which has fantastic quality and a fast lens, but I was thinking the Rollei might be a great incognito camera for street photography. I have just started shooting it this week and I hope I get the same quality as your great examples above! So much character and definitely will get me the look I’m going for in my street stuff.

    Thanks for the great review!!

    Jeremy K October 20, 2014 at 2:21 am / Reply

    I gave these out as gifts to my groomsmen. I love these cameras… But if only it wasn’t zone focus!

    Dan October 21, 2014 at 4:45 am / Reply

    I just purchased a 35s with the Sonnar lens. Can’t wait for it to show up! I really want to try it out. The funny thing is that I have a Pax as well. It is as small, except for the lens, which doesn’t retract. No meter. Has rangefinder. My father used a Rolleiflex TLR all his life. The quality of that camera was second to none. I’ve heard the same for the little 35s — we’ll see.
    Thanks for the great review and insights.

    Mike S. December 19, 2014 at 6:23 pm / Reply

    I enjoyed the review, especially regarding the process of picture-taking with the little Rollei. Over the years I have surprised myself with the photos I have created with my 35S. David hits some of the reasons in his review.
    The way the Gossen match-needle light meter functions and the requirement to carefully consider depth of field as each image is captured (the way the dials are marked) lead to better results.
    For candid shots, NOT forcing an 80mm lens opening into the situation makes each shot more spontaneous. For wildlife photography, the nearly silent leaf shutter doesn’t spook the subjects. And the focal length of the lens seems to be JUST RIGHT, not compressing or foreshortening the photo. If you want to take a close-up, get close. If you want to take a long shot, get far away. Use your feet and your mind – it shows in the final product.

    Renaud February 17, 2015 at 4:27 am / Reply

    Hello David ,
    thank you for your review about the rollei 35, it’s very interesting.
    I’m a young fellow whose going to start with a rollei 35 and I wanted to ask you which film did you put in your rollei 35 to make the picture on the beach, I love the details, the contrast..did you develloped the film in a special way to get this smooth result on the picture ? I love it !!
    In your review you are talking about the sekonic that you use since lots of years, which type of Sekonic would you advice me to get ?
    thank you so much for your answers.
    all the best !


    Steve May 1, 2015 at 5:43 am / Reply

    Thanks for this article/review. It’s spot on.
    Inheriting a German made Rollei 35 three years ago reawakened my interest in photography. It is really satisfying, with pictures from the first roll being the most true to how I imagined them of any camera I’d used.
    David’s right, it is the process of making pictures with a little Rollei as much as the results that are so enjoyable. The design encourages the application of a simple, consistent technical method, freeing the mind/soul/spirit to be creative.
    My Rollei led to a bad case of GAS (?!), but nothing really gives the same pleasure or results. I feel the Rollei and I are a buddies. So I’m de-GASing…., keeping the Tessar 35 for B&W, a 35S for colour and a similarly satisfying Nikonos (scale focus, same approach) for on, in and near the water.
    Finally, I use a printout from the ‘human rangefinder’ stuck to the back of these cameras for calculating distance to subject. Works a treat, is free and reliable.


    Eli July 31, 2015 at 7:45 am / Reply

    Great Review! I’ve been shooting with my father’s Rollei 35s for a few months now and I love it. It really does beg to be used. I have always found it to be quirky but still natural to shoot with and lots of fun!

    Matt B. November 17, 2015 at 4:53 pm / Reply

    Great review! Rollei 35 is the camera that cured my Leica GAS. That’s really something, I’d say. I have a great tip for focusing the little thing. It’s a lot easier than you’d thought. You really need to remember just the 2 meter and 6 meter markings on the focus scale.

    – 2m mark: at f/8 or more everything is in focus from 1,5m to 3m.
    – 6m mark: at f/8 or more everything is in focus from 3m to infinity.

    Make a mental note like ‘2m is near’ and ‘6m is far’ and all your images will be sharp.

    Alex Klerks November 17, 2015 at 7:21 pm / Reply

    Thanks for the review.
    I bought my Rollei B35 secondhand in the 80s and never stopped using it. In my ‘digital’ bag It lives in one of the frontpockets. Best streetshooter I’ve ever owned.

    Kamila April 2, 2016 at 2:36 am / Reply

    Hi, please help me, im looking for any information about ROLLEI PREGO AF 3,5/35 , did u here something about that camera?

    Barabas April 2, 2016 at 8:15 pm / Reply

    Nice article! Using many different brands of analog slr`s and compact camera`s and a vast collection of interchangeable lenses, it is the 40mm Sonnar on the 35S that gave me some of the most beautiful results. Both sharp and smooth, with really, really deep blacks. It captures and emphasizes light in a way that what is photographed starts to look kind of `monumental`, or `sculptured` as is mentioned in this article. The viewfinder is so huge and bright, it is the nicest viewfinder I can imagine. Got my 35S on a flea market about 8 years ago, for a flea market price.

    Sometimes I get tempted to get an old Leica II or III, just to experience how it is to use it since there are so many enthusiasts going for it. Then I always come to the conclusion that I already have something very comparable if not at least as good. So most likely it is preventing me to get Leica GAS ;)

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