Rollei 35SE Review – and some wider thoughts about shooting a zone focus camera

The Rollei 35SE is a beautiful camera, I don’t think there is any doubting that. But for anyone lured by its charming looks, there are no shortage of concerns and caveats spoken about its usability to counteract that lure. I was given mine, and like many gifts it was a surprise; I didn’t choose it. To sound wholly ungrateful for a moment, for various personal preferences I might not have chosen it either. So now I own it, and have got to grips with it, should I have listened to my personal preferences, or should I have allowed myself to get sucked in by those good looks sooner?

I actually have two Rollei 35 cameras, the B35 and the 35SE. The focus of this review will be the 35SE, though I have no doubt that I will come back to the B35 at a later date. As I have mentioned elsewhere, both these cameras were gifted to me by a chap named Ray; a reader of this website. His action that went on to inspire me to give away a Leica iiic. To readdress the lack of gratitude in my leading paragraph, I’d like to add once again that I am of course very grateful, and I sincerely hope my subsequent actions go some way to reflect that. Thanks again Ray!

I’ve actually used a Rollei 35S before, though this was some years ago and not in anger. It was leant to me by a customer when I worked in a camera shop. I’d been aware of them when he leant it to me, it had a dent on the top, and I remember thinking what I had read about them denting easily must be true. The one I now have has a minor dent in it too, so I suspect they are indeed quite easy to dent. Mine is otherwise perfect, and certainly doesn’t look mistreated. Regardless of the dent and the short period of time I spent with the loaned camera, I was left wanting one. I’ve looked a lot of times over the years, but for one reason or another, something else has made it up the priority list.

First Roll with Rollei 35SE

I suspect, ultimately, my penchant for some level of automation may have gotten in the way of the buying process. Since I’ve been shooting 35mm compact cameras I’ve been motivated by cameras that in one way or another aid the process. This might be via entire automation in the case of the likes of an Oly AF-10. Or with my Leica M3/M4-P this might just be through the aid of a rangefinder (not technically automation I know, but I hope you get the point – it is something that makes photography easier). Of course, the Rollei 35SE does have a light meter, but outside of that meter there is very little to help you on your way. Aperture is manual, shutter is manual, focusing is guess work via zone, and that’s about your lot.

Is the Rollei 35SE a fiddly camera to use?

One of the most oft-repeated caveats of the Rollei 35 is that it is fiddly to use. In many respects, it’s hard not to agree with this sentiment, the controls are quite small and in the unusual position on the front face of the camera. But, at the same time, I somewhat feel the need to defend it. Not because it’s not a little fiddly, but more for how I’ve found that fiddliness to be easily overcome, or perhaps more accurately, somewhat irrelevant for what I think is the designed shooting style. The design of the camera is certainly interesting, and definitely outside of convention, but actually it’s not that hard to get to grips with. It’s not as though the concepts are different, it’s still just shutter speed and aperture. What has potential to make the camera a fiddle to use is when and how frequently those controls need to be changed.

Before I get to the process of changing of the camera settings, I just have a quick comment on the action. Many seem to argue the setting can’t easily be adjusted at eye level. I’ve found, that actually they can – or even must – be adjusted at eye level. Some of the other models of Rollei 35 have meters on the top. Not the 35SE, its meter is a 3 LED type meter in the viewfinder. To get an accurate reading quickly you have to be looking through the finder to see the meter as you change the settings. With the camera to the eye though, the settings aren’t visible, they are only visible when looking at the front of the camera from over the top edge. Sounds awkward? Actually, in practice I found it quite quick to get used to …

The Rollei 35SE – How to shoot a (fiddly?) zone focus camera

Shooting this camera with ease is all about the method with which it is shot. As I mentioned a moment ago, it is only fiddly if you are constantly changing the aperture and shutter speed for every shot. This is a zone focus camera though, and the idea with zone focus cameras is that – to a greater extent – the settings are preset, rather than set per shot.

This is going to sound very basic, especially to those who well versed in this stuff, but bear with me, there is a point to explaining this. When I go out shooting with the Rollei 35SE, I go out with a little more consideration and intent. So, firstly I’ve been making a decision about the aperture I want to shoot at before I even leave the house to take photos. In this wintery weather (we were having when I started this post) f/11 has been key to the equation. I know the weather is crap so I know to set the shutter to 1/125th before I even look out of the window. I shoot 400iso XP2, and know that 400iso, 1/125th and f/11 (EV12 @100iso) is about right for overcast/dull winter weather. This might not be the right setting for the day, but pre-setting it to these settings firstly gets me in the frame of mind for shooting a fully manual zone focus camera, and secondly it gives me a near-right starting point.


So, assuming I get outside and it’s brighter or more dull. I have 2 stop from 1/125 to 1/500 and 2 stops from 1/125 to 1/30 to deal with those circumstances before I hit a preferential or mechanical shutter speed limit respectively. This 4EV window also covers a good deal of outdoor shooting circumstances. Since I am also blessed with the ability to count to 4, with the camera to my eye I can rotate the shutter speed dial, counting the clicks to a shutter speed that is within my comfortable shooting range. For each shot I take a quick glance at the top of the shutter speed dial to remind my of my shutter speed starting point left from the last shot, and count the clicks from there if it is necessary to change. When the weather changes for the better I will likely adjust my starting aperture to f/16, or maybe just use slower film. I don’t often need to change the aperture when shooting as I’m happy at f/11 when shooting in daylight. Usefully, the later Rollei 35SE that I have has a little lock on the aperture dial, so I can preset and forget that entirely.

As for focusing, that was set before I left the house too. And whilst the focus doesn’t lock, the focusing is deliberately stiff – not stiff broken-stiff – just stiff like it has been designed not to be knocked out of place. Zone focusing is also much more of a process to be done prior to shooting, rather than prior to each shot. With f/11 set to around 5-6m the 40mm lens will give me me somewhere around 2-3m – just under infinity in focus, which is fine for a large portion of the sort of outdoor shooting I do. Everything near-infinity is still going to be in focus for the sorts of size image I’d ever like to appreciate too. And anyway, I’m not convinced I need “infinity” perfectly in focus most of the time, but that’s a subject of another post. If I want something closer to me than 2m to be in focus, I’ll focus per shot, but I’ve quickly gotten into the habit of reverting the camera to around 5-6m.

I know what your thinking, this isn’t a system, this is just shooting with a fully manual camera with a built in light meter in easy daylight shooting situations with faster film so as to have broad depth of field for easy focusing. It’s nothing more than a little bit of consideration to shooting prior to doing it, followed by basically snapping with little consideration to anything but shutter speed and framing. But that’s my point. This camera is a little fiddly, but only if you need to fiddle with it all the time, if you set it up right for your shoot, it’s only the shutter speed dial that needs operating, and that can be done with ease as I have described.

First Roll with Rollei 35SE

The locking aperture

I skimmed over the fact that – on my camera a least – the aperture locks. On the face of it, this might seem like an odd design decision. Why have a locking aperture, surly this is a setting that should be easy to change without having to fiddle with a little lock every shot? I thought this when I first got the camera, but then I realised it actually represents a clue to the thought process behind the design of the camera. If the aperture locks, there must be a reason. That reason is, it seems to me, that for most shooting it’s intended to be set and forgot, or at very least preset. Having a lock means it can be forgotten, as it can’t get nudged.

So what about when the aperture does need adjusting

Of course sometimes even in the outdoors that 4ev window might not quite be enough and the aperture might need opening up a bit, and the focus might need changing a little accordingly, but the point I hope I’m getting across is one of a mentality of shooting. A mentality of preparation and thought rather than one of leaving all the setting to the last moment. Walking toward Worcester cathedral the other day – a somewhat large building I fancied a shot or two in the shadow of – I opened up the aperture to f/8 before I’d even thought about the shot.

First Roll with Rollei 35SE

Another example is when I went for a day trip to Birmingham with the wife. As I was walking toward the Bullring I changed the settings on the camera to prepare for the light inside. As I walked through the door I checked them before I even started looking for photos. Then when I did find a shot, I was a lot closer to being ready to shoot. Then as we were walking toward the door to leave I reset them for daylight.

Rollei 35

Photographing people

So what about people, indoors with less ideal light in closer proximity. Well, firstly, to me it’s clear that this camera is less suited to these sorts of shooting situations. If you are a big shooter of people indoors then this might not be the best option for you. It is a zone focus camera after all… Maybe think about something with a rangefinder, or autofocus?

That said though, for those occasions when a Rollei 35SE is all you have to hand, it does have a little trick up its sleeve. The aperture dial is un-clicked when unlocked. Shooting people indoors in lower light in closer proximity with a zone focus camera is going to be easier with the smallest aperture you can possibly get away. The Rollei 35SE has a little trick is allowing this with ease. First I set the shutter to the lowest speed I’m comfortable shooting people at. This is 1/60th. I now unlock the aperture, I do my best distance-guessing and focus to that distance. I point the camera at the subject, and with the camera to my eye rotate the un-clicked aperture going from smaller to bigger apertures until the green led for correct exposure just lights up, and then I take the photo. In doing this, I have the shutter speed I want, but I also have the smallest possible aperture. If a clicked aperture gave me perfect exposure at f/2.8, an un-clicked one might give me that at f/3.2. Now, ok, that might be only a tiny bit more depth of field, especially at close distances, but actually I’m going to take whatever advantage I’m given when shooting a zone focus camera like this.

First Roll with Rollei 35SE

The funny thing is, setting the shutter speed first actually results in a required change of mentality too. If I’m shooting a portrait, more often than not it’s almost preset in my mind that I’m looking for a bit of subject separation. Instinct tells me to open up my lens, shoot with the biggest aperture as possible (within reason) and adjust the shutter speed to suit. It’s just not a practical shooting mentality with a zone focus camera, what’s practical with zone focus is to give yourself the best possible chance to get an in focus shot as possible, and stop down. 1/60th and f/4 is more likely to result in an in focus subject at a guessed 1m than 1/125 and 2.8. 5cm more likely in fact. The pre-setting of the shutter speed followed by blind setting of the aperture to attain correct exposure shifts the focus (excuse the pun) of the shot from subject background separation to simple subject focus.

The Rollei 35SE Review

That all said and out the way, there are a few other points of note about this camera that are worth a mention…

The viewfinder

The viewfinder of the Rollei 35SE is a very simple 0.6x magnification window to the world. It’s bright, it’s clear it contains little more than some frame lines and (in the case of the Rollei 35SE/TE) a few LEDs for the light meter. It’s easy to forget just how refreshing looking through a viewfinder with little or no distracting information on show. In fact, it having its LEDs in the viewfinder almost ruins the experience. Thankfully they don’t show up until half press of the button. I probably wouldn’t change it now though, especially since I’ve got so used to using it with a meter in the finder.

One small problem I’ve found with the finder – or at least a problem with me and not concentrating when using the finder at close distances – is that I forget to take note of the parallax correction lines and end up with photos framed like this:

Rollei 35

Fortunately I don’t actually like outcome… Sometimes serendipity steps in and holds your hand… But I must try harder to remember that when close focusing, I need to take note of the left hand parallax correction line as much as I do the top one.

It’s fully mechanical

Being fully mechanical, the battery can be removed and the camera used without the built in light meter. So if you do find it a distraction, or just want to use an external meter, then this is an option. It’s also lovely and quiet, making only a very subtle click when the shutter is fired. Being a leaf shutter it’s silence is also accompanied by a limited amount of vibration.

The light meter

As mentioned the light meter is a 3 LED based meter which displays a reading in the viewfinder. It’s main issue is its limited range, it fails to operate any lower than EV8 (100iso) and so is pretty useless indoors, especially in the evening. Again, this adds to the idea that actually it was mostly designed for outdoor shooting rather than anything much else. As you can see though, I’ve not let this stop me using it indoors in very low light; this shot was metered with my spot meter:

First Roll with Rollei 35SE

The other fairly major frustration is that there is no display of close-to-correct exposure. It’s either correct, and so the green LED lit, or not correct, and so one of the red LEDs lit. It would be nice if there was a close-to-correct indicated by both a red and a green LED lit.

The hot shoe is on the bottom and the battery compartment is on the top.

With a hot shoe on the bottom, to use a flash the camera must be held upside down so as to avoid the flash firing up at the subject. This isn’t particularly ideal, but would shoehorning it onto the top make it a better camera? For the amount I’m likely to use flash, personally I’d rather it stayed neatly on the bottom.


The reality is, it’s a small camera and these features have to go somewhere. The hot shoe, I will probably never use, but it does no harm on the bottom and is there for emergencies. I also prefer having the battery compartment where I can access it without having to open the back of the camera … That way I can pop it out if I fancy shooting with my spot meter.

The battery

The battery is an old 5.6v px27. My camera came with a little Minox adapter that converts 4×386 batteries to fit in the battery compartment. The issue is, 4 of these batteries puts out a voltage of 6v which is more than the required 5.6v. My previous experience of this is that the increased voltage means the resulting images are underexposed. For some reason, with the Rollei 35SE, this higher voltage means the shots come out overexposed. My first roll actually came out over exposed:


EDIT: Looking back at this article with greater experience, I can now see that the above image was in fact underexposed.

Though I would prefer this not to happen, the easy answer is to counteract the overexposure by setting the ISO a stop different. The more expensive answer is an other battery adapter like this one on the small battery company website.

Winding from the wrong side of the camera

Left hand winding is weird to start with, it just seems entirely counter intuitive. I got used to it in little time though.

A pain to load

I think, beyond its beguiling good looks, this was the first in-hand conclusion I came to. I couldn’t get the damn thing to load. Second time round it actually went ok, so I suppose it’s just a knack. Pushing the leader as far as it will go into the slot on the take up spool seems to be the trick.

Last but not least – the Sonnar Lens

Mechanically, it’s a collapsing lens which will only collapse after the shutter has been cocked. I’ve read, and had it mentioned that this is one of the reasons people find the camera fiddly. I couldn’t quite work this out. After shooting with the camera for a week or so, I’d not had a single incident where I’d felt the lens mechanism had caused me issue. It pulls out smoothly, locks into position with a slight click as it rotates into place. Then when you’ve finished shooting, a flick of the switch unlocks it and it pushes back into place. I found myself extending and contracting it numerous times whilst out without even thinking about it. In fact, I’ve only put my mind to the problem since it was mentioned to me on Twitter.

\What I’ve concluded makes this action a fiddle, depends on habit of the individual photographer. Some photographers, myself included, habitually wind on the film after the shot. Some, my wife included, wind on the camera before the next shot. If you are in the latter camp, unfortunately you are going to find the Rollei’s lens to be annoying, as it won’t contract of prior to advancing the film/cocking the shutter. If you are in the former, well done, how weird are those pre-shot-cockers?! … And yeah, like me you won’t even notice a problem.

Of course mounted in this extending lens barrel are a series of pieces of glass, that when combined, create a 40mm 2.8 Sonnar lens with a pretty good reputation. My personal observations of its qualities seem to match the general consensus… I would agree that it is a pretty impressive lens. Though I must admit not not being instantly and completely taken aback by its quality, I’ve more come to recognise it gradually. This is I find sometimes the case with older lenses that lack quite the levels of contrast of modern glass. To be honest I sometimes think I’ve spoiled myself, as really I don’t always want that super-high contrast look, but when a lens lacks it, I’m often less impressed straight away. This is, as I say, I flaw with me and not with a lens.

First Roll with Rollei 35SE

What this lens lacks in contrast it makes up for in resolution. Photos don’t necessarily appear bitingly sharp, but the detail is there if you choose to look closely enough. The resolution is there to define the details but they don’t appear as evident as they might with a modern piece of glass. As I say, it certainly isn’t a modern rendering lens, but to reiterate, this is definitely not a bad thing in my opinion.

Have a look closely at the photo over on flickr and you will see you can read some of the little sign in the foreground. With finer film, I’m sure this detail would be even more evident.
Rollei 35

I can see little evidence of any distortions or indeed any vignetting in my shots so far, and there doesn’t seem to be any drastic decrease in quality when shooting wide open. Photos have a good overall contrast, they generally don’t appear veiled or washed out – at least without shooting toward the sun.

Rollei 35

I did make the lens almost completely wash out a shot by having the sun just out of the frame though. I suspect the hood would help, if only I would remember to take it out.

Rollei 35

I’ve also found that pointing it at very high contrast scenes can sometimes result in a great deal of glow around the highly lit areas. I suspect this is down to inadequate coating/reflections within the lens.

Rollei 35

These later “issues” with the way it deals with the light will certainly cause concern to some. I on the the other hand find them endearing, I find them to be part of the lenses character that are better harnessed than complained about…

Rollei 35

My concluding thoughts on the Rollei 35SE

I think the most important thing to remember is the fact that It really is nothing more than a zone focus camera. Trying to treat it or use it as anything else is not only a little futile, but will definitely result in the feeling that it’s difficult or fiddly to use. Used as a zone focus camera and it’s actually very easy to use indeed. Yes the controls are on the front of the camera and a little small, but the controls are also on the front of a Voigtlander Vito B, a camera that is infinitely more basic, actually slightly more of a fiddle to use, but rarely gets called as so.

I think the problem the Rollei faces is more down to a sort of expectation bias. It’s such a beautiful, compact, and fairly expensive little thing that the expectation of it is that it is going to be somehow something more than a simple zone focus camera. Or maybe that somehow it could have been more than a simple zone focus camera. Maybe that Rollei could have made it a rangefinder, or at very least, like the Petri 35 designed some sort of focus distance indicator in the viewfinder. For some, the lack of these features is, as I mentioned at the start of my post, a caveat, yet for others it seems irrelevant. I put this down to not just personal preference, but actually to personal perception. To see this camera as lacking, is to just not see it for what it is: a quite simple, quite elegant, very compact zone focus camera!

It might not be the fastest camera to change settings on, but take the shift in mentality required when shooting with a compact zone focus camera and the story is a little different. It’s all about mind set and preparation. Rather than set up shots on a shot by shot basis, there just needs to be a little more anticipation. People talk of these sorts of cameras slowing them down and making them think. For me the important bit is the thinking bit. Shooting a zone focus fully Manual camera is an mentally involving process, it means thinking about the shot before you even know what the shot is. In doing this, it doesn’t need to be a slower process, in fact at the moment of truth, actually that preparedness can make the shot come even quicker than with any other camera.

So I suppose to answer the question of whether or not I should have bought one sooner? Yes I think I should have… Should you buy one? Well, if you’re expecting or hoping for more than a zone focus camera, I wouldn’t bother. But, if you like a 35mm zone focus camera, I’m not sure I can think of a camera I would prefer I would prefer to the Rollei 35SE!

Cheers for reading



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36 thoughts on “Rollei 35SE Review – and some wider thoughts about shooting a zone focus camera”

  1. Good write up, Hamish. I didn’t know the effect a change in voltage could have on exposure.
    Love the second shot of Connie!

  2. A very fair and perceptive review Hamish. You’ve said it all so much better than I could have despite my somewhat longer ownership. I think the underlying ‘simple camera’ wrapped up in a smarter set of clothes was (possibly) why I actually preferred the B35 even though it was the cheaper model. It wasn’t trying to be anything other than what it was. By the way, I agree with Rob, that is a terrific portrait of Connie.

    1. Thanks Ray!
      I have a couple of other cameras to tinker with first, but I shall return to the B35. I feel like it might be a very different shooting experience, and that intrigues me quite a lot concidering how much I like the 35SE!
      Keep an eye out for the next instalment … 😉

  3. Great write-up. Reading this, I made me realise that I was unfamiliar with the evolutionary steps. I have a 35T, and assumed the only big design changes were for the B35 and XF most of the other variations being down to lenses. I’ve enjoyed using mine again lately after a 2 year break, although only developed a test roll of PAN 100 that I’d shot during a sleet storm in the Cotswolds, where the set and forget approach was ideal.

    1. Have you a link to those shots?
      I’m quite intrigued by the tessar, in my researching I found quote a few comments that the sonnar is better for colour and the tessar for black and white.
      Are you based in the Cotswolds?

      1. I’m in Stratford, but we’ve started having weekly family walks in the cotswolds lately. Not made it to Worcester since we moved here, but I know people commute between the two towns.
        I’m about 2 years behind on uploading, but I’ll have a look to see if anything’s worth sharing. Here’s one from a few years ago, though, seems I’d only put colour through it until a couple of weeks ago:

        1. Here’s one from the other day, pretty much as it came off the scanner:
          It wasn’t ideal photography weather and I there wasn’t much choice in exposure options – as this was iso 100, I was pretty much wide open and 1/30s most of the time. Also this was the first time I’d used/developed Ilford Pan100, I might try agitating a little bit more next time to see if that boosts the contrast.

  4. Pingback: Review of the Rollei 35 TE » ray larose

  5. Excellent review Hamish.

    My entry into the world of Rollei was in 1988 when a good friend of mine who had a camera shop in Droitwich said a customer had just traded in a B35. He knew I was after such a tiny camera so Kim let me have it for what he paid for it. A bargain if ever there was one.
    In the late 70s I’d marvelled at these beautiful exotic machines and was thrilled to have one of my own. The image quality was so good even compared to the Yashica FR I’d used for years. Great camera the B35.
    Then, ten years ago I got a 35SE which raised the game considerably. Image quality even better. Absolutely top notch. Also the heft of the thing. So solid.
    It is a fiddly camera to use but that can be its strength. As you well describe, presetting is the way to use it. There’s not many cameras which can teach a person to be photographers better than this. I think it is like LF photography in a strange way. I really like the rational way in which you present the EV scenarios. Ahh Geek out (to the tune of Chic’s 70s hit haha)
    I was thinking again about the controls layout. I wonder if it was the influence of their TLRs with the dials either side of the lens. Similar to other controls etc on these cameras, they were put where they had to be from an engineering perspective rather than for ergonomics. Even so it is more ergonomic than a Hasselblad V camera.
    The glory of the S & SE though is that Sonnar lens. I too have read that for B&W the Tessar of the T and TE gives greater contrast, however, the Sonnar for colour is beautiful. It has a lovely golden glow to it. Some call it dreamy or retro. I just call it that Zeiss look. It has a warm tone and subtlety with no lack of contrast and detail.
    Regarding the light meter battery thing it makes sense that it will under expose with a higher voltage as the meter will indicate good exposure with less light input. The latitude of neg film should overcome that though. Using a separate light meter is a good and bad thing. Good in that it makes it less of a fiddle to set the aperture and shutter before raising it to the eye; bad in that the light meter will be a lot bigger than the camera!!

    I look forward to more of your reviews of such wonders of the world of film. If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, have you ever used a Werra 3 ? If not then you really must. Wow factor indeed.

    1. I have a chance to play with a TE, I should probably take it …

      I have never shot with a werra, though I have come across them many times … I’ve never found one of good enough condition to buy, they have always been far too tatty. I shall look harder!

      An old favourite of mine is the Voigtlander Vito B… That is a camera that, if you can find a good one, has an amazing sense of quality of build

    2. Like Hamish, I have known of the Rollei 35’s for years. I finally getting a completely referbished Rollei 35 next week. It is from a local retired repairman named Horst who used to own a camera repair shop. He has two boxes of various Rollei 35 models in all kinds of stages of dismemberment. Quite the site to see! He has been slowly putting them back together. Horst says they are very well made cameras (as are the TLRs).
      Interesting thought about the controls in a similar placement as the TLRs. I never thought about that one. I wonder if their was an influence there. On my research on the different models, I ran across the name Heinz Waaske, the designer of the Rollei 35 camera. Waaske designed the camera prior to working for Rollei, while working for another company. It doesn’t seem like it was a direct Rollei decision.
      A note on the meters in the cameras, they can be adjusted for the differences in new batteries voltages to give accurate readings. So no need to suffer with underexposed film.
      It is a quirky camera. Not meant for fast shooting, but its trade off is how small it is. No reason not to always have camera on you (at least that is what I am telling myself)!
      I’d like to see more images from the Rollei 35 if anyone has any.

  6. I purchased a Rollie 35 new in Detroit in 1972, and kept it until I went completely digital a few years ago. The lens was a f3.5 Schneider, and it was made in Singapore.

    I shot B&W, Color negatives, and transparencys with it. I never considered it fiddly until I came across a Yashica T4 point & shoot. I even had it overhauled after shooting with it for 30 years. My previous favorite was a Retina 2A. I just love simple cameras, they are kind of liberating.

    I am considering buying a rollie again, but would probably go with the SE to get the better light meter and faster lens, although the Schneider was very nice.

    I picked up an Olympus 35RC about 10 years ago, fitted new light seals, and dropped it denting the top cover making it unusable. I found it a few weeks ago, went on Ebay, and picked up a parts camera for $4.95, and swapped the covers.

    Its nice, but not a Rollie.

    I enjoyed your review.


    1. Hi David,
      Glad you enjoyed the review. I’ve tried a good few little manual cameras now (including the 35rc) – none I’ve enjoyed as much as the Rollei 35se
      The TE has the 3.5 Tessar, though perhaps not schneider branded, I’d guess it would be very similar – might be worth a look?

  7. Hamish,

    I contacted Oceanside Camera Repair who is considered the top repair facility for Rollei on the West Coast. I asked about repairs on tge Rollei 35SE, and Harry suggested going with the 35S, because if the meter on the 35SE needs parts, they no longer exist. The meter parts for the 35S are available.

    I think I will be looking for a 35S.


  8. Hamish, I’ve just alighted on your excellent review having earlier today bought a black 35SE on ebay from a German seller and the offer included the Rollei flash for it. It is supposedly in full working order and judging by the images posted it is in very good condition. I already own a 35T but I’m not that impressed with the lens on this unit. It’s OK, but a Tessar on a much earlier Werra 1 I own is far superior. Seems I’ve been lucky with this camera and have a lens at the top end of its spec. Indeed, this is one of the sharpest Tessars I’ve come across for a front cell focusing design, almost matching the f3,5/50 rigid unit focusing unit for my Contaxes.

    The Sonnar design is superior with 5 elements anyway, but being unit focusing and not front cell like the Tessar greatly improves it. It will be interesting to compare this version of the Sonnar to my Opton f1,5/50mm that I used on my Contax IIa and IIIa.

    Your user review has been enlightening, but can you tell me which scanner you use, as the images look pretty good on screen?

    1. Since I have overexposure before/after I’m guessing this was before I switched to a pro-lab. So believe it or not, these are just high street D&P scans.

      It surprises me to hear that you don’t like the tessar, I’ve only heard good things about it.

      The Sonnar lens, in my experience is quite similar to the old Nikon Sonnar in the L35af, if you are familiar with that. I find with Sonnar lenses that there is a propensity to veil flare, with the older the lens, the greater the veiling. Even my Zeiss ZM Sonnar does it, though it’s much more controlled

      Have a look here if your interested –

      And here at the Nikon l35 –

      I’ve actually had the lens off the Nikon converted to M-mount – the second photo in this link shows just the sort of flare I’m talking about

      1. Hello, Hamish.

        It isn’t that I don’t like the Tessar, just the one fitted to my Rollei 35 and which doesn’t perform as well as the rigid Tessar in Contax mount or even the front cell focusing Tessar of my Werra 1. Most likely down to sample variations. I’m authoring video at the moment, but will check out you links tomorrow and get back to you with my thoughts.


  9. After having been smitten with them for some time, I picked one up the other day. I had just moved to San Francisco and a local shop, more of a film lab, had one in a case for sal. I got a minty one-owner SE with flash and original hand strap for a very good price. Apparently a fellow had been coming in for months to ogle it and never bought it. I hope he’s not too mad at me. I’ve been shooting my Leica Ms and Nikon Fs more or less by zone focusing for some years now so the idea of zone focusing didn’t worry me too much. I found I quickly adapted to the controls and not having started with one of the earlier models, was not at all irked by the meter design. I like not having to remove my eye from the finder and it’s certainly reminiscent of the M6.

    1. It would seem we share a view …
      You should keep an eye out for a coming post from a guest contributor, he really doesn’t like the SE … I’m looking forward to reading him try and explain that away 😉

  10. Hi Hamish, that was a really helpful review and learnt quite a bit. I recently inherited my Grandpa’s Rollei 35 (the most basic version) and I would love to be able to put it to good use but my photography knowledge is basic so I don’t know where to start with the settings i.e shutter speed, ISO and aperture for a landscape in comparison to a portrait indoors are there any simple guides you can recommend or is it mainly trial and error? Thanks Andrew

  11. Hi Hamish I am new to photography only know the basics which I have picked up online and in a couple of manuals. Thanks Andrew

    1. It’s a big question you’re asking really … much bigger than I can respond to as a comment here.
      Trial and error will always be a part, but I would definitely recommend getting to grips with the basics.
      With a camera thats so simple, you need to get to grips with the basics. If you search google for “Reciprocity in photography” that should give you some clues about what settings you should use. This article looks useful.
      Depth of field is worth getting to grips with. Have a look at this post might help with that…
      erm… theres so much… does that help for a start?

  12. The little Rollei 35s were fantastic travel cameras. I bought a 35S in 1981 in Houston, Texas, during one of Rollei’s episodes of bankruptcy. Then, a few years later, I bought my sister a black 35SE. The SE was an operational improvement. Viewing the LEDs through the finder was faster than looking at the needle on the 35S and then putting the camera up to your eye to frame the composition. The reason you need the original PX27 mercury batteries is that the meter depends on the constant voltage of the mercury cell. Mercury cells are absolutely voltage steady until they are totally discharged. I wonder if my sister still has the 35SE and the spare batteries, which I put in a package with a sign, “DO NOT DISCARD”?

    1. I don’t believe one actually “needs” the original PX27 cell to use the 35SE. For a start it is, as you say, a mercury cell, which use has long been banned for very obvious reasons, it’s very toxic, and not being environmentally friendly, needs to be disposed of responsibly.

      The existing PX27 silver oxide replacement has a pretty even output over its life cycle, although it can’t match the mercury version, and it outputs 6V, not the 5.6V of the mercury battery. Given the exposure latitude of negative film, and a quick check on the indicated exposure with a 6V cell versus a properly calibrated meter, one should be able to use a modern silver oxide cell with little concern for exposure by the simple expedient of setting a different ISO value. However, if one wishes to be accurate as possible, there is a PX27 adapter with voltage reduction circuitry that takes 4x inexpensive 386 (SR43W) watch batteries and which connected in series produce the requisite 5.6V.

      The adapter is relatively expensive but the 386 batteries are cheap

  13. First of all, great article! It certainly influenced my decision to purchase an SE rather than an earlier one – even though it doesn’t have ‘Germany’ stamped on it anywhere. I had always wanted a Rollei 35 just because I liked the look of it and the size of it, but I always thought that they would be too expensive to consider and in any case I thought I was done with 35 mm after moving to 120 years ago. When I saw them on eBay, I was pleasantly surprised. My SE came a few weeks ago, and I really like it. The quirks have melted away quite quickly thanks in good part to your article, and I am left with a renewed excitement about 35 mm and a great camera to expand my horizons creatively. A few points to note for others. 1) Mine has the 3 watch batteries taped together that put out 6V. I tested this with a volt-meter. I then tested exposures with a hand-held Sekonic meter using both incident and reflected light modes, making careful notes as I went. In all cases the exposure read by the Rollei were accurate, in spite of the extra voltage, even though they did not always agree exactly with the Sekonic – In some cases the two disagreed by a full stop . I took photos based on both meters. I used TMY at 400 which is forgiving especially when over-exposed and in general found the Rollei meter to be accurate except when back-lit – in this case, unsurprisingly, the reflected light reading was best. 2) My SE does not have the lock for the aperture dial, which would be useful as I often nudge it when taking the camera from my pocket. 3) A very useful, and bang-on accurate tool that you can easily make is a human rangefinder ( I callibrated mine using a tape measure and chair and it works very well. It takes the guess-work out of distance guessing! I transferred the marks on to the back of my credit card so that I have it on me even when I am not carrying the camera… 4) One weird consequence of upside down film loading is that the numbers on the negs are upside-down and read right-to-left when filed. A good way to remember, decades from now, that these were taken on a Rollei 35. 5) A final thought is that I am amazed at how well zone focusing works, at least with 400 speed film. None of my pictures is blurry, even though some were shot without really remembering to check focus. Not one. Even the ones shot at f/2.8. I am sure there is a measure of beginner’s luck there, but it gives you some confidence that zone focusing is not going to be too difficult to master.

    1. Hi Chris, thank you for sharing your thoughts! The Human RF is a very cool!
      Always good to hear from anyone taking any level of inspiration out of my waffle!! I’d be interested to see some pictures!

  14. Randall Stewart

    Having owned/used a couple of Rollei 35S and a 35SE since 1982, I’d like to clarify some mixed messages regarding the lens and battery. The Sonnar 40mm in the both the S and SE was tested by Modern Photography back in the days where people did actual, objective tests of these things. The result: the lens tested as co-equal sharpest tested to that date. The “co-equal” was a Leitz 50mm 2.0 Summicron. My 1st 35S was brought new in 1982; by comparison to my numerous Nikkor lenses, projected Ektachromes shot with the 35S practically leapt from the screen; the superiority was a shock. Of Course, I may have had an extra nice example there.
    Battery: Voltage adjustment to compensate for use of 6 volt battery in the 5.6 volt camera meter systems is an issue with the mechanical meters in all 35, 35T, and 35S models, however it is a non-issue in the SE and TE. The LED meter readout system in the SE/TE requires the these models incorporate the internal voltage regulation not used in the prior models. Thus all you need to do it get a 6 volt battery or pack totaling about the same which fits into the battery compartment. The camera system will automatically adjust the voltage down to whatever is needed. No workarouind, like film speed reset or electrical modification of the battery, is required. Comments by our author to the contrary are technically wrong, notwithstanding his claim of overexpsoure with use of 6 volt battery.

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  17. An excellent overview of this little cameras and the “Way” of using them.
    I just got a perfect 35 LED (I know the low-end version) and will apply your suggestions to using it.

  18. HI
    Thank you for this interesting text.
    I bought my Rollei 35SE in 1980; it has followed me everywhere since then. It has known the sands of Africa, the humidity of Indonesia, the islands and many other countries.
    It has survived my falls in the snows of the Alps, the rain and the dust… It’s still there and I still use it for the pleasure of black and white.
    Wonderful camera that has never disappointed me: a camera for photographers!
    In the 2000s, I had a minor problem with slow speeds but fixed (cleaning).
    I never really felt the lack of automatism: you photograph differently with a 35SE and what’s amazing is that reflexes and automatisms come back instantly when you switch from a very sophisticated camera to this jewel…
    The battery: I’m amazed by what I read; the LED light meter of the 35SE is an electronic system that uses a differential amplifier. (piece can be found on ebay !)
    It is independent of the battery voltage as long as this voltage is not too low and is therefore below the minimum to work. I had the opportunity to make comparative tests without any difference.

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