Analogue photography certainly has its limitations when compared to what’s available with modern digital cameras. This however doesn’t have to stymie creativity or the enjoyment taking photos. Many will agree that imposing some limitations can help to focus the mind. Surely, this can only serve to make you a better photographer, right? Well, maybe. This is my first 5 frames with the amazing Rollei 35 and a roll of my favourite Kodak Tri-X.
A box with a lens
In the sixties and seventies, cameras were much simpler things than they are today. Basic controls for shutter speed, aperture and ISO were order of the day. A few handy rather than fully automatic features might protect you from over or under exposure but that was about it. Newer cameras had autofocus but most simple cameras from the early 70’s relied on mechanical operation, approximation of distance and therefore zone focus. This simple combination worked rather well.
People would take their cameras on holidays, out with the kids and to family or social gatherings without too much thought about what they were using to capture some nice photos of meaningful events and document their social lives.
Thanks to some clever marketing with a major camera manufacturer and David Bailey, small point and shoot cameras like the Olympus Trip and Rollei 35’s were very popular at the time. Fitting in the palm of your hand and more conveniently in your pocket, cameras were easy to carry around. A few people still used box brownies or folding cameras like the Zeiss Super Ikonta. Enthusiasts might prefer more capable cameras from Yashica, Pentax or Rolleiflex allowing greater creative control and Medium format film for higher resolution. For the masses however, 35mm in either half-frame or full-frame was commonplace and very convenient.
I doubt my parents knew anything about film types, zone focussing, exposure or depth of field but in 1965 they bought a half-frame, Olympus PEN-EE. They wanted a camera to document their adventures after they got married. I’m assuming my dad would have read the manual but that was likely the extent of his photography knowledge. Film purchased would have been whatever was cheapest at the time. Many companies offered free processing or prints with a film purchase.
My parents took photos of holidays, their home renovation, family gatherings and the first 8 years of my life. I know this having recently scanned 620 slides found at my Mum’s house while clearing it for sale. Like many of their day, my parents hosted the dreaded ‘Slide-Show evenings’ to show off their holiday pics and I definitely remember those. They took loads of photos. No masterpieces but definitely some precious (to me) memories of my childhood and their early years together as a young couple. With all these now digitised memories, I will eventually put together a photo book.
Rollei 35 & Kodak Tri-X
The Rollei 35 was introduced in 1966 as a pocket sized, viewfinder camera. It has an exceptionally sharp, collapsible, 40mm Tessar lens from Zeiss. The design was a little quirky with all the main controls on the front of the camera. Even more quirky, some more controls on the bottom, including the hot shoe and film rewind. To use flash, you’d shoot the camera upside down. The Rollei is a mechanical marvel, capable of stunning images thanks to that Zeiss lens. To my eye, it’s a very smart looking camera in use or on the shelf. It would have been aimed more at ordinary people than serious photographers. However, the selling point would be the high-quality lens for better photos. Kodak Tri-X is a professional film extensively used in the past by photo journalists and one of my current favourites. It’s perfect for the little Rollei and a great choice for my first time out with it.
There were several variants of the Rollei 35 and when I first saw it, I wanted to own one. Looks alone sold it for me but I was also curious about the 40mm Zeiss lens that people rave about.
Looking around the internet, I stumbled on Jeremy Rata who runs Film Furbish. They have a huge collection of beautifully restored Rollei 35’s covering all models. Some of these cameras have custom skins and fancy finishes. All are boxed and presented like new with a leather case and wrist strap.
Rightly so, these cameras are not cheap and despite wanting one, I didn’t really want to pay £600 for the pleasure. I kept an eye on eBay and also at my local camera store. I figured sooner or later one will come up for sale and hopefully at a good price.
After some time and for under £180, I was the proud owner of a mint, Singapore made Rollei 35. Sold in full working order and presented with a leather carry case and wrist strap.
Loaded up and ready
The Rollei has sat around for a few months before I used it, but I always planned to take it out for some street shots. I loaded it some Kodak Tri-X 400 and dropped it in my work bag to take to London. Even if it turned out to be no good, it would look great on the shelf in my office.
Heading home one evening from work, I shot a whole roll quickly so I could develop it later the same say. I took some street photos on the way to the station, a few inside the station and a few more when I got off the train at the other end of the line to walk home. I developed and scanned the images the same day and loaded the images into Lightroom for some basic processing. All images were exposed beautifully, confirming the camera and light meter were working properly.
A great street camera
I really enjoyed using the camera and loved the fact that it was so small. I doubt anyone even noticed me using it, making it well suited for street photography.
The Rollei will get a mention for sure in my ‘Year shooting film’ project and I’m already looking forward to doing more photos and ‘street’ shoots with it.
Images were a bit rushed as I wanted to use up the roll quickly. I picked 5 for this article which I like. I’m very happy with the contrast and sharpness of the images even if composition was a little rushed.
Using the little Rollei 35 has given me another effective tool for Street Photography. It’s easy to carry all times and fun to use. I look forward to many more adventures.
For more of my film adventures take a look at my project ‘A year shooting film‘.
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