A Small Victory – The Rollei 35 Rangefinder

Long have I awaited the day that I find a Rollei 35 in both a wonderful condition and a low price. Well, let me tell you that that day has come and will continue to give me joy. The compact and cute nature of this camera are nothing short of a marvel. Coming from shooting on a full-bodied Minolta let alone my 750, the size difference is incredible! A telescopic lens allows the Rollei to be pocketed at a moment’s notice, transforming your tiny Zeiss-lens powerhouse into a weekend getaway. I find myself constantly smiling while shooting with this simply due to its form factor. How could you not fall in love with a camera this small!?!?

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While this rangefinder is not as easy to focus in perfectly, it’s definitely worth taking the time to perfect your art. For those unfamiliar with the configuration of the camera, the viewfinder is nothing more than a reference for framing. There’s no mirror redirecting an image towards a viewfinder, so instead, you have to be hyper-familiar with either feet or meters, and more so being able to judge the distance to your subject. Along with the lens, all of the physical controls are spectacular to look at and to use. Beginning with the front dials, you have your iso and aperture to the left of the lens, and your shutter speed and light setting to the right of the lens. What is this light settingI speak of? It’s pretty awesome actually, especially for a body designed in the early 70s. There are four options: Negative, Color Negative, Natural Light, and Artificial Light. As far as the difference in the four go, I’m still experimenting with each decently. I plan on shooting a roll and focusing on each setting per roll, then comparing the rolls to see if there really is a difference or if it’s merely a white-balance effect that it has.

The aperture and iso dials are my favorite dials on the entire body. The aperture locks in as you increase the dial towards f/22, only unlocking when you press a small locking pin at the base of the dial. The iso dial took me a hot second to actuallymove; I found that it’s best to have a bit of nails for this step because you actually have to lift the dial up slightly to then rotate it for the arrow to point at your desired iso. Apart from the directionality of such dials, there’s a wonderfully satisfactory clickas you reach each F stop. Want to go all the way to 22? Sounds like a plan! Click click click clicktimes twenty, and you’re finally there! It’s definitely one of those “smaller moments” in life type of thing where you just have to appreciate Rollei for implementing a wonderfully super analog sound.

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Speaking of sound, I find the coolest thing about this camera, which also makes it a great choice for discreet street photography, is the silent shutter. It’s no more of a click than a Seagull medium format, it’s maybe no louder than the engagement of a Pilot G2 pen. Apart from the silent shutter, the mechanical nature of the film loading is also quite interesting. Due to the compact nature of the body, you slide the entire base and back plate off with the flip of a switch. This reveals a channel for your roll of film to sit it nice and cozy, but that’s not even the best part. The best part is the pressure plate for the film itself. Instead of the pressure plate being on the back plate, it’s a hinge-door that flips away from the body to reveal the inner workings of the lens, and guide marks to place your film. In terms of loading film, I find it to be incredibly fast because you can reverse feed it. Well, sort of. Depending on how you typically load film this may not apply, but with my other 35 and my medium format, I typically feed the film leader in one direction, and rotate along the same direction. With the Rollei, I feed the film opposite, making it stand a bit tall at first, then once you begin winding it becomes taught and flush. Whether that’s the standard way for some of you, I’ve found it to be my preferential method of loading film into this tiny thing. Also, worth mentioning is the location of the hot shoe and winding mechanism. Both of which are on the bottom of the camera, as well as the frame indicator for what you’re at.

It’s these little features of design choice on Rollei’s behalf that make me so happy to look at and shoot with it. As always, keep shooting, and keep it analog!

Below are images from the first roll of 400 TX I shot with on the little Rollei. Enjoy!

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