My 26 megapixel full frame camera that I got for $75

Tesla Showroom Glows - Austin, Texas

Tesla Showroom Glows – Austin, Texas

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.

Interesting Suburban Architecture - Austin, Texas

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.

Colorful Cranes - Austin, Texas
Downtown and More Construction - Austin, Texas

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.

Runners on the Pedestrian Bridge - Austin, Texas
Residential City Rising - Austin, Texas

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.

Lamar Bridge Silhouette - Austin, Texas

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.

Building Boom of 2014 - Austin, Texas

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.

Texas State Capitol at Dusk - Austin, Texas

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)”.

Old and New Cameras. The Rollei 35 (1966) and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus (2014)

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18 thoughts on “My 26 megapixel full frame camera that I got for $75

  1. I owned one of those guys back in the early 1970s. I also had a Leica, also all mechanical. Both without built-in light meters or automatic anything. They had the absolutely BEST lenses I have ever used and I wish I’d kept them, just for the glass. But at the time, I wanted the light meter and these days, i actually need autofocus. My eyes are not good enough without it. Does it have a Planar lens? If so, there’s no better lens anywhere.

    You learn a lot using manual cameras. It’s a different world. Have fun with your new/old baby. And, film is a different experience. That lens is kind of slow … most of them were f2.8, which was the standard. FYI, these guys are at their best using black and white film. Which is nothing at all like taking a color digital shot and turning it into black and white.

    1. It has the slower Tessar f3.5 lens. My model is German made and estimating that it’s sometime between 1966 and 1969.

      Marilyn, you may be able to use the Rollei 35 since it’s purely uses distance focusing. Just estimate how far you are from your subject.

      I do want to shoot black and white with it too. But it’s the color of film that I want to explore first.

      1. Regardless, you will learn a LOT using it. Things that were theoretical will be real. How depth of field is linked to f-stops … and different kinds of film producing surprisingly different color. I like the color on Fuji film best … I though it was truer. Also, I used ASA 400 almost exclusively because it gave a couple of extra stops and you could push it another stop in development. In black and white, though, I liked using the slowest film ASA 50. You need a very steady hand (or a tripod)(or both), but the texture and detail you get are amazing.

        FYI, Amazon has a lot of different films available, probably a lot more than you’ll find in a shop.

  2. I’ve been jonesing to shoot some film, but I am still hindered by the very thing that I loved about switching to digital. I use to work in a lab and could process and print my own stuff, once that stopped, I just couldn’t handle someone else doing that for me. I know I need to stop being so controlling. The struggle is real.
    I had many films in my favorite list depending on the situation, but I absolutely adored my Fuji press 1600, pulled to 1250. I always felt like that film was made just for me. It was grainy, yet magical shot at the right speed. Enjoy.

    1. I understand. Even back then when I shot film, non-seriously, I didn’t like the inconsistency or lack of control getting it developed and printed by others. The digital scans of negatives help somewhat since I can tweak color and exposure to some extent.

      For me it’s something interested and different that I’m playing with and learning.

  3. I am considering a $100 Pentax K1000 (still have two old prime lens). So how much does it cost to have a roll of film developed now? I honestly have no idea anymore… then how much from negative to digital scan?

    1. Don, processing depends on the film but for standard 35mm negatives it’s $4.50 a roll. The Ultra high-res scans (26mp) costs $12.00

      1. I was always afraid to let go of my film cameras – Canon EOS 1N, Zone VI 4×5, my dad’s Kodak Duaflex IV, my first camera – Kodak Starlet, and yes even a Holga. Glad I held onto them. Every so often I will take one out and shoot a roll or two of B&W film. In the case of the 4×5 6-8 sheets. Years ago I learned how to develop my own B&W so I could control the process. I scan the negs with my Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner and have a blast working with them in PS 6. It is such a different look from pure digital. Love it.

  4. Keeping in line with your theme, I did a “24 Megapixel camera for $19” test myself a year or two back. Here are my results:

    A 24 Megapixel Camera for $19 (£15)

    Not bad for $19. If you read the text under my image and follow the links, you can see the image enlarged.

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