Camera Reviews

Kodak 35

I shoot a lot of 35mm SLRs — they’re my jam. I feel like I know what I’m doing with them, and have learned to get consistent and satisfying results. Leave it to an old, simple camera to humble me. Meet the first 35mm camera Kodak built in the USA, the aptly named 35.

Kodak 35 *EXPLORED*

Through the mid 1930s, Kodak’s only 35mm cameras were Retinas, made in the company’s German factories. But as war loomed in Europe, Kodak hedged its bet and designed a 35mm camera it would build domestically. Constructed simply and sturdily of Bakelite and a metal that looks like aluminum to me, and using lens/shutter combinations from existing folding cameras, Kodak introduced the 35 in 1938.

Kodak 35

Kodak made many changes to this camera over its 10-year life. As best as I can tell, prewar Kodak 35s had black winding knobs and “Kodak 35” viewfinder faceplates; later, Kodak switched to bare metal.

Lenses and shutters varied considerably over time. Kodak always offered a lesser and a better lens/shutter combination. The better lens was always a four-element Tessar design labeled Anastigmat Special, 50mm at f/3.5. It was set in various shutters, the fastest of which went to 1/250 sec. The lesser lenses were 3-element designs, Anastigmats or Anastons, in shutters up to 1/150 sec. My 35 is a postwar lesser model, with a 51mm f/4.5 Anastigmat set in a No. 1 Diomatic shutter with top speed of 1/150 sec.

Kodak 35

At $40 (around $700 in today’s dollars), the 35 was out of reach for many. Amaterur photographers wanting to shoot 35mm film turned to Argus and its less-expensive C-series cameras. The C3 also featured a rangefinder to ease focusing. Kodak responded by bolting an ugly rangefinder mechanism to the 35 and selling it alongside the viewfinder model. It didn’t help. The C3 still handily outsold the 35.

See that little slit on the lens barrel beneath the Made in USA plaque? When the film is wound and the shutter is cocked, a red line appears within. Early 35s lack this slit.

I’ve shot a couple Argus C3s and this 35. Both cameras are quirky, but I find the 35 to be less quirky and easier to use — so much so that I’m willing to give up the C3’s rangefinder to shoot this 35. The 35’s gunsight viewfinder frames scenes well enough, though you can inadvertently look askew through it and end up misframing. The biggest annoyance with the 35: my finger sometimes struggled to find the awkwardly designed shutter release.

By the way, you can see my review of the Argus C3 here. Other similar 35mm cameras I’ve reviewed include the Kodak Retina Ia (here), the Kodak Retina IIa (here), the Argus A2B (here), the Kodak Pony 135 (here), and the Kodak Signet 40 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In loading some Arista Premium 400 into my 35, I leapt before I looked. The weather called for a week’s worth of sunshine, which meant this film would be too fast for the shutter. After shooting SLRs with top speeds of up to 1/2000 sec, 1/150 sec felt enormously limiting — cripplingly so at 400 ISO. Lesson learned: load film that lets you shoot Sunny 16.

It wasn’t until my photos came back from the processor all hazy that I realized that my 35’s lens was filthy. I saved several of the shots in Photoshop, like this one of some posts at Holliday Park. A few shots were utterly unusable.

Posts

I love this headless statue and have shot it over and over. The low contrast background was typical of my first roll, even after post processing.

Headless 2

A lens coated in schmutz tends to flare more easily, too.

No Dumping

So I cleaned the lens as best I could and dropped in slower film, this time expired but always cold-stored Kodak Plus-X. Its ISO rating of 125 would let me easily shoot Sunny 16, but I used a light meter app on my iPhone anyway. And look! Now we’re getting the sharpness this lens can deliver.

Tree and window

My goodness, but do I like Plus-X. I even like saying it: plussex. This is the church on the main road across from my subdivision. After shooting it a bunch of times, I’ve concluded that it is remarkably unphotogenic. This is probably the best shot I’ve ever made of it. There’s something about this lens that foreshortens the scene. I’ve made this shot with other cameras and the church always seems a lot farther away from the sign.

Eastern Star

I really hit my stride with the 35 on a trip Downtown to visit the Indiana War Memorial. This is my favorite shot from the trip, even though when I framed this, the door was centered. Like I said above: the gunsight viewfinder can be tricky.

Words

Given the shadowy steps and the super-bright background, I’m impressed that this turned out at all. I admit to some tweaking in post to bring out the steps.

Monument steps

I generally don’t do indoors available-light work with a camera like the 35, but I couldn’t resist this opportunity inside the War Memorial. With gobs of light to work with here, my main worry was that the blinds would be blown out.

Blind shadows

See more shots from this camera in my Kodak 35 gallery.

Given the Kodak 35’s imprecise viewfinder I’m unlikely to shoot it again, even though I thought everything else about the camera was at least fine. Vague viewfinders are just a pet camera peeve of mine.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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23 thoughts on “Kodak 35

  1. Wes C says:

    This is another camera that I would like to try sometime. And I think you got nice results from it. Plus, it’s definitely a lot classier looking than the Argus C3!

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    Nice shots Jim, was this a US only market camera as I have not seen to many on my side of the pond. I have usual Retinette’s in my arsenal.

  3. ambaker49 says:

    So often all we see are faded low contrat images from old prints, from vintage cameras. I always love to see what these older cams can really do. I just picked up an old Kodak Brownie Auto 27, that has a few shots left on an old roll. Hoping to get something salvageable out of it.

  4. Mark says:

    Jim:
    I love seeing someone make good photos with those old ugly ducklings from Kodak. The 35 and it’s even uglier sibling, the 35 RF are not the worst of the US-made 35mm cameras by any means, but they can produce good images when in the right hands. I think part of the allure has to be “I know I can get something from this!” and making it work. I still have a roll to finish up in the 35RF that I have. But first, i need to finish up the film in my Argus A!

    • Thanks Mark! I think your “right hands” comment is apt. When I started shooting my old cameras several years ago, I lacked the experience to coax usable images out of cameras like this. The journey of learning has been great fun, and I look forward to continuing it.

  5. Pingback: Kodak 35 Original & Rangefinder (1939 & 1948) | Mike Eckman dot Com

  6. Tinothy James says:

    This range finder is the oldest camera i own. It just sits as a ornament lol. I am afraid to try and shoot though i could learn some thing from it. I mostly use Sony dslrs i use film cameras until the late 90s but recently discovered film slrs. The light meters dont have batteris so forced me to understand light metering a little more. What i want is a lighter meter from the same time period of a 201 or 101 minolta. But mostly i just meter it with a modern Dslr. My shots have been amazing metering this way. I set the iso both cameras to the same iso as the film then match my aptures point with dslr let it pic my shutter some times pics a speed to fast then you just have to go up with your aperture sorry for the book most of my friends have no clue about photography.

  7. SilverFox says:

    Hey Jim, I just picked up one of these for next to nothing. Unfortunately it’s probably a dud as I can’t move the lens to focus. Anyway I have a question (not sure if you still have yours) just below the shutter release on the lens barrel is a small, kind of knurled, screw; any idea what that does? Thinking it might just be a cover for a cable release but not sure.

  8. David says:

    Good work and excellent photographs!! In their day, when new and working correctly, these cameras were capable of very good photos. Most of the cameras I find in “antique” shops have lenses covered with fungus or have slowed down over time.

  9. …I should clean/service my grandpas 35RF, currently shelf decoration, and give it a second try. Tried to run a roll through it several years ago but -leap before look- didn’t service it first. Result was torn film by a stiff inside sprocket — prompting its display status.

    • I wonder who’s qualified to do that work today. There are specialists out there for, say, Pentax SLRs, or the Nikon F2, or Yashica TLRs. But the Kodak 35? I wonder.

      • Thought I’d try it myself some winter Saturday afternoon. From what I’ve read, they’re pretty straightforward, and if I screw it up I’m exactly where I started – an inexpensive piece of shelf art. And I might end up with an functional and enjoyable camera!

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