The Rollei 35 may be the best secret of all. Introduced in 1966, this miniature 35mm film viewfinder camera is more than the sum of its beautifully engineered parts. With a little practice this camera can create a magical image and that is the reason I call it “The Art Machine”. This article covers my early experience with 5 rolls of Ilford Delta 400, a Rollei 35S camera and a few days around my daughter’s wedding.
Rollei Scale Focus Camera
There’s a lot of cameras in the world, but in my opinion, there are only a few that look as good as the higher-end Rollei 35 series cameras. There are probably equally as few that succeed as well at what I perceive as being their design goals too.
I now have two Rollei 35 cameras – an early German Rollei 35 with the Tessar lens and a later Rollei 35 SE (previously reviewed here). Though I don’t shoot them very often, for the way they look and their success as cameras, I can’t help but absolutely love them.
Since becoming re-interested in film shooting a couple of years ago, I’ve acquired a modest but high-quality collection of classic cameras: a Nikon FM and FE, a Mamiya M645, Olympus XA, Canonet QL-17 GIII, a couple of Yashica-Mat TLRs, a Rolleiflex 2.8C, and most recently, a Rolleiflex 3.5 MX-EVS (I also have a FujiFilm X100f, which is a damned fun little camera). I’d love to get a primo Leica at some point, or a Plaubel Makina or Mamiya 7, but for now, such indulgences are the stuff of fantasy. I paid less than $150 for most of my current cameras, and no more than $300 for any of them (X100f excepted). None are immaculate, but they’re all solid shooters. I find them beautiful beyond words.
Last year, my wife rang me from a boot sale and asked if I was interested in a camera called a Rollei 35. I did a quick bit of Googling and, seeing this glorious collection of levers and dials in such a compact package I said “Yes, please!” I ran over to the boot sale and found my wife near the seller’s stand. She had two identical Rollei 35 cameras that her father had owned. I spent a few minutes just trying to get the back open, there is an art to it! She wanted £25 each for them. I am rubbish at haggling and in any case they looked in good condition, with soft cases and boxes so I bought them both.