I noticed this beauty in the used camera case at Precision Camera. The tiny and odd Rollei 35 is the smallest all mechanical camera when introduced back in 1966. Yes, it’s a camera but unlike any I’ve ever used. No computer, no exposure meter, vague focusing and no battery required. It’s as far away from digital that you can get while still being a full-fledged camera.
Actually, you can use a battery to power a primitive exposure meter but I opted to go fully mechanical and use the camera without power. For a computer oriented digital photography guy like me, this thing is totally bizarre. If it weren’t for the precise mechanicals and well made metal box, it could pass for a pre-Columbian archeological relic, at least in my book. I was fascinated that I can simply turn the dials and, if I got the settings correct, actually create a high quality photograph.
The magic happens via chemistry, of course, and when the film is developed. The Rollei is merely a light-proof box with an aperture setting and a shutter mechanism that keeps the hole open for a pre-determined time. When you boil it down to that, photography seems so simple, especially compared to the sophisticated electronics that are required for the modern equivalents.
I had no idea if this camera worked — I knew the film counter didn’t — but at $75 I was giving it a try. Worst case, it would become another mechanical jewel that would be added to my collection of film classics from a bygone era. As you can see from these images, the Rollei 35 worked and worked marvelously.
People familiar with the way I shoot, like my fried Mike Connell, would be amused. In the digital realm, I shoot fast and I shoot often. With this contraption, I meter manually with an iPhone, adjust the aperture and shutter knobs and estimate distance so that I can approximate focus. Yup, not even a rangefinder to tell you if it’s focused right. I know there’s a little bit of irony that I use a super sophisticated pocket computer to figure out exposure. You’ll have to forgive me. My skill at judging exposure is currently below rudimentary.
All of the photographs on this page (except for the last one) were shot with the Rollei 35 with a new roll of Kodak Ektar 100. I got it developed and scanned at ultra high-res last week at Precision Camera. Precision has several scanning levels and the ultra high-res gives me 26 megapixels of digital goodness. I don’t get any prints made. I go from film development to digital in one convenient step through Precision’s service. While Ektar 100 is a colorful film, I enhanced it further using digital post processing in Aperture 3.
Scans are a digital capture of an analog process and I think the results look different from pure digital. It’s hard for me to put it into words but I think there is a richer and mellower look. Digital is crisper but more clinical. I must say that I’m liking the color a lot.
Most of all, I’m happy and amazed that all the photographs came out. Somehow, it makes me feel like a real photographer. Beyond the primitive mechanical limitations, with a maximum aperture of f3.5 on this 40mm lens with slow ISO 100 film, I need a lot of light unless I break out the tripod.
So what does this mechanical wonder look like? Here is a snap I took recently at the Apple Store. Posted on Instagram, I call it “Old and New Cameras. The Rollei 35 (1966) and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus (2014)”.