Camera Reviews, Photography

Rollei A110

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Leave it to the Germans to build the ultimate over-engineered camera for the world’s crappiest film format.

And good heavens, is 110 film ever crappy. Kodak had to develop an entirely new film technology just so that the tiny 13mm x 17mm frames on the negatives could yield usable images. And then camera companies worldwide puked forth legions of plastic 110 cameras with plastic lenses that rendered Kodak’s good work moot.

Part of what makes the Rollei A110 brilliant is that it packs a mighty fine lens – a Tessar. It’s hard to beat a Tessar; it brings out any film’s best performance. But then Rollei upped the ante, wrapping that lens in a wickedly delightful little package.

Rollei A110

The Rollei A110 cribbed its design from tiny spy cameras of the 1960s, such as the Minox and the Minolta 16. It’s a shade under 3½ inches long; it weighs just 6½ ounces. It’s made of steel (though I gather some of the internal bits are plastic) and its finish is velvety. Grasp it at both ends and pull, and the camera not only opens to reveal a viewfinder, but winds the film, too.

Rollei A110

The A110 is simple to use: frame the photo, slide the orange lever under the lens to focus, and give the orange button a light press. The A110 focuses from 3.5 feet to infinity; as you slide the lever, a green line moves across a scale within the viewfinder. The 23mm f/2.8 lens gives a slightly wide view, at least to my eye. From here on out, everything about the A110 is automatic. Its onboard light meter drives the aperture and shutter speed, from f/2.8 to f/16 and from 4 sec. to 1/400 sec., respectively.

Rollei A110

Rollei introduced the A110 in 1975 and issued about 200,000 of them before production ended in 1981. Rollei’s German factory built them until 1978, when production was moved to Singapore. My A110’s film door says “Made in Germany.”

The A110 came in a velour-lined clamshell box with a flashcube attachment and a little leather case that fits the camera like a glove. (Mine was missing the box and the flashcube attachment.) If all of this sounds expensive, it was – the A110 retailed for around $300. That’s almost $1,300 in 2013 dollars.

The A110 takes an odd battery, the 5.6-volt PX 27. That’s a banned mercury battery, so I bought a same-size 6-volt silver S27PX at Amazon and hoped for the best. I also loaded some Fujicolor Superia 200, expired since 1996 – problematic because the A110 “reads” a little tab on the film cartridge to set ASA in one of two ranges, 64-100 ASA and 320-500 ASA. I had no idea how it would handle this ISO 200 film.

Sure enough, all of the photos were overexposed. I used a little Photoshop trickery to rescue them. I got good color and decent sharpness (for the format), though. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll, of the Monon Trail bridge in Broad Ripple.

Reflected Monon

I walked around Broad Ripple for an hour, my dog, Gracie, on the leash, looking for things to shoot. The A110 was easy enough to shoot one-handed, though a few times when I squeezed the shutter button the shutter wouldn’t fire. I found that it always worked when I backed off and tried again.

The Vogue

The A110 did its best work in evenly lit situations, unlike those of the photos above and below. That’s an old Willys Jeep parked there. I should have photographed it more extensively and written it up for Curbside Classic, the old-car blog to which I contribute.

Brugge Jeep

Here’s Gracie happy in the wayback of my little blue wagon. We’d stopped for ice cream. I’m giving the car to my son if he ever gets his driver’s license; the license plate is after his online persona.

Dog in the wayback

The A110 was easy enough to take everywhere. I loaded film into a late-60s Canon SLR before I loaded the A110, but I finished shooting the A110 first because it slips into my pocket and the SLR doesn’t. This is my church on a Sunday morning.

West Park Christian Church

I met someone for dinner in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, on the same block as Kincaid’s.

Kincaid's

See more photos in my Rollei A110 gallery.

I have two complaints about my A110. First, the focusing scale inside the camera reads 1.5 ft, “person,” 6 ft., “group,” “mountain.” I figured “person” must be about three feet and “mountain” must be infinity, but I wasn’t sure how far out “group” was. I guessed right every time I used it, though, because all of my images came back crisp. My other complaint is probably just a quirk of my camera. A little metal lens cover hides behind the front panel, and it’s loose. I kept forgetting to make sure it hadn’t slid out to cover the lens before I took a shot, and I have six blank frames on my negatives as a reward. D’oh!

I was incredibly lucky to pick up this little gem for $10; they usually go for $50 and up on eBay. If you’re fortunate enough to find an A110 for a good price, you don’t have to rely on expired film as I did (unless that’s your thing). The Lomography people sell four fresh, new 110 film varieties in their store.


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33 thoughts on “Rollei A110

  1. Jim,

    Your first paragraph made me smile…

    “Leave it to the Germans to build the ultimate over-engineered camera for the world’s crappiest film format.”

    On a related note, I just passed the PMP test after 8 months of study. In the process I “wrote” my own PMP study book with over 170 pages. Talk about preparation…

    And yes, I’m German-American :)

    Richard

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  2. If it weren’t for the fact that 110 is such a pain to develop at home (which reels to use?) and to scan (well, there’s the Lomography Digitaliza) I would get one, too.

    But maybe it’s good that way as I have too many cameras anyway.

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    • I intend to start processing my own film at home, but haven’t invested in the gear yet. But even then, I would still shoot so little 110 that I’d continue to send it out for processing and scanning.

      I have a bunch of 110 negs from a 1984 trip to Germany, and I’ve scanned some of them. I don’t have a negative holder for 110, so I’ve just been taping the sprocket edge of the negs to the edge of the transparency area in the scanner lid. It works surprisingly well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t regret taking a 110 camera on that trip. I wish I’d sprung for a point-and-shoot 35mm camera.

      Shots from that trip (scans from faded prints): https://blog.jimgrey.net/2009/11/12/it-happened-at-the-wall/

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  3. N.S. Palmer says:

    I understood very little of the camera tech talk, but those are some beautiful photos! The Vogue pic is my favorite.

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    • Thanks Scott! The Vogue picture is interesting. The shadowy bottom half wasn’t quite so shadowy in real life, but I like how the photo turned out anyway.

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  4. These are some of the best results that I have seen from 110. Although I do have to agree with you about 110 being a crappy format. Although there were some neat cameras made for it.

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    • Danke, danke, und herzlich wilkommen. The Japanese were ingenious, to be sure. And they were as crazy as the Germans about developing great cameras for not-so-great films. My Minolta 110 Zoom SLR is evidence of that. I’ve never held a Pentax Auto 110, but I’m having a hard time believing it can be as overbuilt as this Rollei!

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      • I once found a Minolta 110 Zoom, but sadly it was in a really bad condition. Fascinating SciFi Design.The Pentax body might not be overbuilt, but the “madness” of a full SLR system including a winder sure was. But the camera and the lenses are really great. Due to the return of 110 film they prices seem to go up for them as well.

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  5. Based on your nice review, I just bought a Rollei A 110 in Budapest, loaded it with Lomo Orca 100 film and four LR44 batteries. Now I’m waiting for sun and will then try it out. When I held it first in my hands, I was impressed by the weight, even compared to the Pentax auto 110.

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    • Excellent!! I look forward to your review on your site. I’m especially interested to know if you have the same problem with the lens cover that I did.

      And to a fellow surrounded by cornfields, do you have any idea how exotic it sounds to just pop over to Budapest to buy vintage camera gear? :-)

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  6. Pingback: The Rollei A110 | All my cameras

  7. Pingback: Die Rollei A110 | All my cameras

  8. Walt says:

    Regarding the rollei a110, i just got my hands on one. Can you tell me if the film door opens mechanically or electrically? I dont have a battery yet for it

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    • It opens mechanically/manually. I forget the fine details; it has been a while since I used mine. But I remember that it involved pulling the ends of the camera apart. You might search for a manual online. That is what I did.

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  9. Jim great post on the A110! The color shots look awesome, just the kind of look I’m seeking from this camera. I wish I had come across this before I got my two junk cameras :-)

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  10. Pingback: The Best Camera I Never Knew Part II: The Rollei A110 | Camera Legend

  11. Christopher Smith says:

    Great photo’s Jim. I just picked one of these up on eBay for about $16 (£12.30) which I think is a reasonable price, not received it yet but it looks in good nick so should be okay. can’t wait to try it out.

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