I’m charmed by small cameras. The Rollei 35 B is a small camera, just 3.75″ x 2.75″ x 1.5″. Therefore, upon encountering it I was charmed right out of about $50. I felt pretty good about it, though — that’s less than half of what these usually go for. Not that this one is perfect. A corner is slightly dented, and the zipper’s broken on its leather case. But I figured neither flaw would affect its ability to make photographs.
As the lower-spec sister to the highly regarded Rollei 35, the 35 B was produced from 1969-78 in Germany and later in Singapore. Strangely, this camera’s original name was B 35; Rollei changed it in 1976 to match its overall camera naming scheme.
This is one quirky camera, beginning with opening the camera to load and unload film. The back and bottom come clean off the camera. The latch is on the bottom, cleverly disguised as the tripod mount. To open it, grasp the knurled edges on either side and twist counterclockwise. Then pull the back and bottom of the camera down and off entirely. The film pressure plate is hinged under the main camera body, another quirk. You have to flip it down before you load film, and flip it back up after. Film loads from right to left, upside down. Insert the film leader into the slot on the takeup spool, and then turn the serrated wheel at the bottom of that spool in the direction of the arrows until the film is wound on. Then fire the shutter and wind a couple times. The winder being on the left is still another quirk. Slide the back of the camera back on and lock it in place.
You have to extend the lens before you can make your first shot. Grab the lens barrel by the two knurled pads on the focusing ring and pull, then twist clockwise until it locks. To retract the lens, press in the button near the lens barrel, twist the barrel counterclockwise and push it in. If the barrel won’t twist, wind the camera. This cocks the shutter and frees the lens to retract. I am surprised by this — I store my other cameras with the shutter deliberately not cocked. It seems better to me that the mechanism is not at tension when the camera is not in use.
The 35 B offers a 40mm f/3.5 Rollei Triotar lens, a triplet design that’s a a step down from the 35’s four-element Tessar lens. It’s coupled to a leaf shutter that operates from 1/30 to 1/500 sec. Its selenium light meter needs no battery, but it’s uncoupled and its usage isn’t obvious. First, set your film’s ISO (25-1600) by turning the chrome dial in the middle of the larger plastic dial. Then aim the camera at the subject and look for the white needle to appear along the aperture scale. If the needle doesn’t appear, there isn’t enough light; turn the dial counterclockwise until the needle appears. Any needle-matched aperture/shutter-speed combination will do.
Then you have to set that aperture and shutter speed on the lens barrel. Setting aperture is easy enough: twist the aperture ring on the lens barrel until the aperture you want lines up with the | symbol. (The two dots on either side of the | show the depth of field at f/8 and f/16, respectively.) Shutter speed is trickier to set. You don’t twist the ring — you press one finger into the serrated outer edge and then push or pull. Line your shutter speed up with the | symbol, too.
One last quirk: when you’re done shooting, the rewind crank is on the bottom. Unfold it, press the nearby release button, and crank away.
I loaded some good old Fujicolor 200 and took the 35 B with me here and there over a few weeks’ time. I had it along on a visit to New Augusta. Check out that light leak on the left. It showed up in a few shots — to my surprise. The camera back fits into the body via deep, tight grooves. Where is the light getting in? Also notice how the left side of the image is faintly lighter than the right side. You can see it right up the middle of the tracks. But I liked the color and sharpness I got. I shot this same scene a minute later with my Konica Auto S2 on Kodak Gold 200; compare the results.
Not every shot was so affected. Here’s the old train station by these tracks.
The 35 B does a nice job negotiating light and shadow. It was early evening and the light was delicious. Welcome to downtown New Augusta.
I took the 35 B along on a chilly cloudy-day walk through Coxhall Gardens in Carmel with Margaret. Here’s a mansion on the property.
My exposure was off on a few of my photos. I suppose that will happen sometimes on a camera where you can’t set exposure while looking at the subject through the viewfinder. Fixing exposure in Photoshop on this photo darkened vignetting in this photo. Several shots had some level of vignetting.
When the camera worked, it worked well, returning good sharpness and detail even on a gloomy day.
I shot this from my front stoop on a rainy day. The lightness on the image’s left side was back.
Three shots on the roll came back with an extreme blue caste, to my puzzlement.
See more from my test roll in my Rollei 35 B gallery.
I found the non-standard usage of the Rollei 35 B kept taking me out of the moment. I was forever thinking about the camera, because so many things about it were different from other cameras. But it sure was easy to take along during the chilly days as winter faded into spring; it fit into any coat pocket. Try that with an SLR. If it weren’t for the problems this camera obviously has, it might be nice to just leave film in it and take it along anywhere I go.