I am, if you want, an analogue native. And, for a number of lucky circumstances film photography never really went away. But being slightly lazy, my SLR would rarely follow me on trips and outings: I couldn’t be bothered to carry it around the whole day.
Then, about 9 months ago, something changed, and so the amount of photography I did. The trigger was my honeymoon trip. We were going to visit three main European cities and my, now wife, loves photography (especially when she’s in the frame!). I wanted to take pictures of this trip. it was a happy moment, we would be visiting stunning places, I did not want to be left with a million of rushed pictures on my phone. However, the idea of going the whole time, in the summer heath, with my trusty Fujica AX-3 hanging from my neck, like a postmodern St. Bernard, did not appeal to me.
I needed a camera for this trip, a new film camera, small, very small, but with manual controls. Long story short, I ended with my eyes on the Rollei 35 series. Small for sure, opinions were good, although I realised it had divisive ergonomics, it looked adorable. I wanted this late child of the Bauhaus! Fixed lens? I was OK with the idea, I mean I was going on holiday, no to shoot a reportage.
Now, as this felt somewhat pure indulgence, I decided that I would keep budget in check. The original 35 was going to be expensive, shortly followed by 35S and 35T. All of them seemed to have a common issue: batteries. I am not a very confident ‘Sunny 16’ photographer, so I needed a working meter. Over time I have overcome this MR-9 syndrome, hence the recently purchased Olympus 35RC, but more about that in the future.
So 35B? I can hear voices screaming: “What?! What about the Sonnar and Tessar lenses? A Triotar, really?” … yes. If it had to be a 35B it had to be a ‘no issue’ one: as much as I find selenium cell meters extremely cool, I am aware of their issues when ageing, and the last thing I needed was a sticky shutter. I found a freshly serviced one, sold by a photography shop. A few tenners more, but it gave me peace of mind.
The first roll had all the usual Rollei 35 beginner issues: setting the ISO, looking at the meter, pressing the shutter, realising you haven’t changed shutter speed or aperture; shutting with the setting of the previous picture because… you forgot it again; focusing without seeing.
This last one was particularly interesting, because it made me realise how unaware I was of distance of things. It had the added benefit of extra exercise: countless times I have walked to the subject and back to ‘measure’ the distance. I can vouch you get better over time. On the other side I wasn’t too concerned. I was going to mostly use ISO 400, it was summer, I would be working most of the time at f16 or f22, depth of field was my friend. Shot a couple of rolls before going on the trip, to get to know the camera, developed the film… what I saw was very interesting.
I will not go through the specs, they are exceedingly well known. But I will say, I like the lens, it’s very nice to use, results often striking, generally sharp, and I am a convert in fact of leaf shutters. I have managed to take good pictures in situations where I would not have stood a chance with a reflex; hand-held with seriously slow shutter speeds.
Nowadays I go through the whole routine of shooting with the 35B without too much thought. I don’t do action photography, not many candid shots of street photography – even if I am trying to push myself a bit in that direction – so the 35B is a good companion for me.
Perfect camera? Assuming one exists, it’s not this one. I find the general use easy enough and its size has innumerable advantages. The selenium meter is not too helpful if light goes down significantly (but quite reliable other ways), and, in those same conditions, when you shoot wide open, focusing can become more of a concern. But nothing too bad.
Here are some pictures of our stay in Paris. I quite like the whole effect, the way the details and the tones are rendered, both with natural and artificial light.
I owe the Rollei 35B a great debt. I took lovely pictures of our honeymoon, many more thereafter, it has reignited the joy of taking pictures, also in situations where it would not have happened other way. It’s in my pocket when I go to work, when I take a walk during my lunch, when I go somewhere new. It has pushed me to try new things, new films, new ideas, learning to develop and scan my film, read and understand more, look back at my other cameras in new ways. Dangerously, since then a few accessories and a couple of cameras, somehow, ended in my letterbox… that’s photography for you. But she isn’t going anywhere!
This is my first contribution on 35mmc, hope you will find it interesting. If you’re curious to see a few more shots, check out my Instagram.
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