In 1966 a very small mechanical 35 mm cameras called Rollei 35 was launched. At the time it was the smallest ‘full frame’ 35 mm camera in the world. In those days the ‘full frame’ had to be distinguished from the Olympus ‘half frame’. It still is the smallest all metal full frame 35 mm camera. Even today this camera is a desirable film based camera for urban use. Unfortunately the Rollei 35 is not built by the present day DW company.
You can download the manual from the Downloads page of this site. Basic operations in video can be found at Rollei 35 Basic Operations.
The camera was designed by Heinz Waaske. Mr. Waaske invented this small camera while working at Leitz Wezlar. Mr. Ernst Leitz was not interested. Mr. Waaske moved on to another camera manufacturer but they were about to retreat from camera sales. He found a new job with Rollei and shortly after presented his prototype to Rollei management. It was just what they were waiting for and his design was rushed into development. After introduction at the 1966 Photokina fair it was a great success. It is one of my favourite film cameras for urban use.
The first batches of Rollei 35 cameras were made in Germany and had Tessar lenses made by Carl Zeiss. The cameras are built using slot driven screws. These German Rollei 35 cameras are most sought after. Soon production was moved to Singapore, assembling German parts at first. Later on locally made parts were also used. The factory also opened a lens plant in Singapore and made the Tessars under licence. These Tessars are labeled ‘Made by Rollei’. They do not bare the Zeiss name. In Singapore cruciform drive screws were used.
Main Points to watch when buying
The lens barrel
The Rollei 35 family of cameras were well designed and well built. Due to its tiny size the parts are tiny too and even this well built camera can suffer from abuse. In particular the retractable lens barrel may have suffered from abuse. How to operate it safely is described below.
The top cover
Check the top cover for dents. It is made of thin metal and rather vulnerable. For many years spare tops were available and you may find a Rollei 35 without serial number, a sign that the top cover was replaced. I own such a camera. There is nothing wrong with it.
The distance scales
Due to its small size the Rollei 35 and 35 T and S had two separate distance scales for m and ft. One on top and the other on the bottom of the lens barrel. The cameras for the continental European markets have the m scale on top and the ft scale on the bottom of the camera. For countries with a preference for ft it is just the other way around. When looking for a Rollei 35 (T or S) this is another point to watch.
In January 1977 both scales were combined to one, so a later Rollei 35 T may be an option for those who are looking for a Singapore made Rollei 35. This also counts for Rollei 35 S cameras. Those who are set for a Made in Germany Rollei 35 have no other option then looking for one with the desired scales. The scales could be adapted by Rollei service but I am not sure this is still an option at specialised Rollei repair and service shops. I do not know wether this is just turning and re-mounting the scales or replacing them.
There are a great number of camera models in the Rollei 35 family. Most of them are special editions with just different leather(ette) or different body covers. The real distinguishing features are lens, Tessar and S-Xenar on one hand and Sonnar on the other hand and exposure meter, match needle or LEDs. The Rollei 35 is the original model, later re-named Rollei 35 T for Tessar. The Rollei 35 S is the same camera except for the more expensive Sonnar lens. The Rollei 35 TE and Rollei 35 SE are Tessar an Sonnar equipped cameras with more advanced electronics and LEDs for indicating correct exposure. The Rollei B35 and C35 with lower specs but bright colours are less attractive options.
Rollei 35 (T) and Rollei 35 S
Although the Rollei 35 and 35 S are completely different camera’s they handle like a Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex in some ways. Metering and setting aperture and shutter speed is done while looking at the top of the Rollei 35, before bringing the camera to your eye for taking the image. The exposure meter has its window with the match needle on top of the Rollei 35. Apertures and shutter speeds can be read from the rims of their wheels too. What you do is hold the camera in front of yourself, point it in the desired direction, read the meter, adjust aperture and shutter speed and bring it to your eye and take the picture. It is a relaxed way of photography.
Rollei 35 TE and SE
The ‘Tessar Electronic’ and the ‘Sonnar Electronic’ do not use the match needle but three LEDs in the viewfinder. Although the electronics are more uptodate both cameras require a different way of photography. In order to meter you will have to bring the tiny camera to your eye and while keeping it there you have to operate aperture and/or shutter times wheels within 10 seconds or you will have to activate the meter circuit again. I never had one but I feel it is not at all that relaxed way of handling an earlier camera with the match needle exposure meter. For the later luxury special editions Rollei went back to the match needle meter.
Photograph of the top of Ferdi‘s chrome Rollei 35 camera. The picture shows the
exposure meter window with its two needles. The white metering needle is hardly visible,
no light is falling on the CdS cell. The red follower needle must be set to coincide with
the metering needle for metered exposure. From left the shutter release and the lens
barrel release button. At right the film advance lever that also cocks the shutter.
Photo © 2020 F.W. Stutterheim.
Pulling the Lens Barrel out
On the Rollei 35 and the T and S models the lens barrel release button (LBRB) is the small button next to the shutter release button. The SE and TE have it on the front near the lens barrel. When the barrel is “in” you can carefully pull it out just like that. It won’t hurt pushing the LBRB but it is not necessary. After pulling the barrel completely out, gently turn it clockwise until it is locked. It is just a short throw. It is clockwise when looking at the front of the camera.
Pushing the Lens Barrel in
Pushing it back is more complex. First of all: The film has to be advanced and the shutter cocked. This is vital and this is also the point where an unfamiliar user could start damaging things. When the film is not advanced (and thus the shutter is un-cocked) the barrel cannot be moved. To make sure, you can carefully pull the film advance lever. The lever will be locked after the film was advanced (and the shutter cocked). Do not force it. On the other hand if the lever moves for more than a few mm, carefully turn it all the way and let it move back afterwards. Now the shutter is cocked and the film is advanced.
Push and hold the LBRB to unlock the barrel and carefully turn the lens barrel counter-clockwise until it stops. Now the lens barrel can be pushed in gently. If the barrel cannot be turned counter-clockwise easily, make sure the film is advanced and the LBRB is pushed. This is the point where the barrel locks can be ruined by brute force. When buying a Rollei 35 carefully check the lens barrel and its movements.
Rollei 35, Rollei 35 T and Rollei 35 TE
The Rollei 35 is equipped with a Tessar 3.5/40 mm lens. At the start of production it was made by Carl Zeiss. It is coated but not multi-coated. The Tessar used in the Rollei 35 has front lens focusing. When focusing only the front lens element is moved. The original Zeiss Tessars transmitted quite some UV light that made the use of an UV filter necessary. From September 1968 the Tessar was upgraded by using UV-blocking cement for kitting the lens elements. The UV-blocking layer makes an external UV filter redundant for later Tessars. Only a limited number of Rollei 35 cameras were equipped with Schneider S-Xenar 3.5/40 mm lenses.
In 1972 Rollei took part in the Braunschweig lens production facilties of Zeiss. In 1974 Rollei gained full ownership of the joint venture. From 1973 Rollei produced the Tessar’s under licence from Zeiss.
Rollei 35 S and Rollei 35 SE
The Rollei 35 S was introduced in 1974 and was equipped with a new and more expensive lens, the 2.8/40 mm Sonnar, made by Rollei Singapore. The lens wss made under licence from Zeiss and is Rollei-HFT multi-coated. The Sonnar is focused by moving the entire lens, not just the front element. This is the common way of focusing.
Photograph of the innards of Ferdi‘s chrome Rollei 35 camera. The film pressure plate
was swung down. The picture shows the
film take-up spool under the finder. Just right of the finder the rewind switch that disengages
the sprockets from the film transport mechanism. The lens barrel is retracted. Note the delicate
chrome parts. At right the film cartridge chamber and a direction for the battery compartment
under the crome top cover.
At right on the camera back the black rewind baring and the shaft of the rewind crank.
Photo © 2020 F.W. Stutterheim.
Cadmium Sulphide exposure meter and the PX625 Mercury button cell
The Rollei 35 is equipped with a ‘Gossen’-made Cadmium Sulphide exposure meter. It is not of the now common TTL (through the lens) type but meters through a separate ‘eye’ just left of the camera name. The metered result is read from a rotating coil meter at the top of the camera. It was designed for the PX625 Mercury battery. It is not available anymore for environmental reasons. It was “replaced” by the PX625A (A for alkaline) cell. It is not an acceptable replacement for the Mercury cell. First of all the 625A supplies 1.5 Volt instead of 1.35 Volt for the Mercury cell. The Rollei 35 has an electrical circuit that cannot compensate for the difference in Voltage. It means the exposure meter will have to be re-calibrated. A more serious problem is the different discharge curve. Mercury cells keep a steady voltage of 1.35 V until they die. The voltage of Alkaline cells drifts down from 1.55 V to less than 1.35 V. There is no way the exposure meter can be properly re-calibrated for this drifting voltage.
There are two ways to proceed: One way is to stay with 1.35 V. It is the most sensible solution now. No re-calibration of the exposure meter is needed for the following solutions.
The WeinCell has a discharge curve similar to a Mercury cell. The only draw-back is it will last only about six months. Your old Mercury cell would have lasted six years.
CRISS MR-9 or H-B Mercury Battery Adapter
The CRIS MR-9 Mercury Battery adaptor and a Silver Oxide 386 cell replace a PX625 cell. A micro-circuit reduces the 1.55 V to 1.35 V. Another option is the H-B Mercury Battery adaptor. It replaces the screw-in lid of the battery compartment. It contains electronic circuitry to reduce the voltage of a standard Silver Oxide 377 watch cell to 1.35 V. You have to purchase either the MR-9 or the H-B. Of course both devices are reusable and have to be purchased only once.
The second way was to change to 1.55 V however it looks like this option is gone now. The S625PX battery is discontinued. You could use this option when the camera needed a service anyway. At the same time you could have the exposure meter re-calibrated. Of course there is no point in this without a S625PX.
Excell Battery S625PX
The ‘Excell Battery S625PX’ Silver Oxide cell. It has a voltage of 1.55 Volt, so the exposure meter has to be re-calibrated, but the discharge curve is similar to a Mercury cell. The availability of the S625PX Silver Oxide cells is difficult again. A number of suppliers, including well-known photography shops, list it as discontinued. Be aware of ‘alternative’ offerings that are the same in size only but not in chemistry (Search engines!!). The now common PX625A is an alkaline cell with a different discharge curve that is unsuitable for exposure metering.
Next to availabily another limitation to this 1.55 V solution is that the exposure meter has to be recalibrated. The number of technicians who work on the Rollei 35 is limited. On the Rollei 35 Service and Repairs page of this site I have listed a number of qualified technicians who have explicitly indicated they work on Rollei 35 camera’s.
Cadmium Sulphide exposure meter with LEDs
In the Rollei 35 TE and Rollei SE the rotating coil meters were replaced by LED’s. The meter is switched on by half-way pressing the shutter release and shuts-off after 10 seconds. The battery is a PX 27.
- Rollei 35, Eine Kamerageschichte, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-930292-10-6, Appelhans, (1998).