I’ve been shooting a lot of 35mm SLRs lately and getting some great results. I was starting to feel good about my work! Leave it to an old, simple camera to humble me. Meet the first 35mm camera Kodak built in the USA, the aptly named 35.
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 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. I won’t try to sort it all out, but I know that 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.
At $40 (about $675 in 2015 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 look slightly askew through it and end up misframing. The biggest annoyance with the 35: my finger sometimes struggled to find the awkwardly designed shutter release.
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.
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.
A lens coated in schmutz tends to flare more easily, too.
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.
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. It is remarkably unphotogenic, I’ve concluded after shooting it a bunch of times. 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.
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.
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.
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.
See more shots from this camera in my Kodak 35 gallery.
This Kodak 35 is a keeper. I’m sure it will be one of those cameras I keep meaning to shoot with again but never get to, like my Argus A-Four or my Minolta Hi-Matic 7. But what a great life: to be surrounded by cameras I’d love to shoot again.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out all of my vintage gear reviews!