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.