5 frames with... Guest Photos

5 Frames with… #17: A Rollei 35S – by Jack Johnson

In college I shot with a Nikon FG. It was my one and only personal camera for about a decade, and I stopped shooting for about a decade other than family snapshots. The week my daughter was born I went to have some prints made at a local lab and poked at their used cameras while I waited. The next day I bought the Rollei.

If you ask other photographers about the various Rollei 35 models, they’re often regarded as too small, too fiddly. In particular, some say the Sonnar lens is prone to back focus. There’s no way to turn off the light meter. It has all the promise of a pocketable rangefinder with none of the payoff. But despite its flaws it also has a following. It’s reliable. Nail the focus and the lens won’t disappoint. And that discontinued battery? It only ran the light meter, anyway.

I have a sincere love-hate relationship with this little Swiss watch of a camera. It forces you to scale focus. It encourages you to think about exposure and composition separately. It hands you a pocket knife, asks you to build a skyscraper, and kicks you to the curb. As a result, some of my favorite and least favorite images are probably from this camera. Everything bad came from my bad habits. Everything good came from persistence, attention, a little serendipity, and a camera that’s easy to keep with you and won’t let you down.

Chinatown

Good Morning

California wakes slowly

Yin & Yang

Fort Mason

You can find me as @knapjack on Twitter, @knapjack on Tumblr, but @the_real_knapjack on Instagram because there can be only one.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    October 5, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    I have the 35SE. Yes a bit fiddly to use at first but what a great camera and a superb lens.

  • Reply
    Adam
    October 5, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Great little post. Nice selection of images and I love the tonality of the film.

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    October 5, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    I used a Rollei 35S for 15 years. Nice little machine. The slightly larger Olympus trip 35 also has scale focus only (no rangefinder) with its 40mm f/2.8 lens. Really, with a bit of practice, you can get the focus correct most of the time with a 40mm lens. The Rollei is gone, and I am finding the Trip 35 to be as good optical quality.

  • Reply
    James
    October 5, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Really enjoying this series, great idea. What’s with the order though? That I can see, we’ve had the pinhole camera, then #04, #05, #07, #08, #09, #13, #14, #18 and now #17… seems a little unorthodox and it’s nipping my OCD!

  • Reply
    Reinhold Graf
    October 6, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Well done!
    You made some phantastic b&w pics with this little beauty, which proves the reliability and excellence of this little tool.
    Indeed I can agree, that handling maybe a bit fiddly, but as you mention, it’s all about reduction to the absolute necessary actions. Set aperture and speed and then zone focus. Thanks it.

  • Reply
    Tom Roth
    October 6, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    “…some of my favorite and least favorite images are probably from this camera. Everything bad came from my bad habits. Everything good came from persistence, attention, a little serendipity, and a camera that’s easy to keep with you and won’t let you down.”

    What a perfect way to describe a Rollei 35. Rollei should have printed that on the box. My Rollei 35 is far and away my favorite camera, and probably for the reasons you describe.

  • Reply
    Stig
    October 6, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    Nice one Jack, lovely photos, been tempted by one of these little marvels for a while !

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