Rollei 35 Cameras 
 and Photography 
Text and images Copyright © 1998-2000 John A. Lind

Rollei 35

The Rollei 35 was the world's smallest full-frame 35mm camera ever made when it was released into production in 1967.  It held that honor until the late 1970's when Olympus XA staked its claim to being the smallest.  In my opinion, the two share the honor.  With its lens collapsed, the Rollei 35 is smaller in two of three dimensions.  The XA is smaller in one of its dimensions and is lighter.  However, it is also my opinion that the Rollei 35 is sturdier, more reliable, and more flexible with better lens work.  Unlike the Olympus XA and most other 35mm full-frame sub-compacts, the Rollei 35 and its successor models enjoy a near cult following today.  Most of the models are now sought after collectors' items that command stiff prices compared to the majority of their competition during original production.  Rollei occasionally releases commemorative models of the Rollei 35 which command extremely high prices.


The Rollei 35 series of sub-compacts enjoys one of the longest production runs for a camera of its type.  Shown at the Photokina in 1966 and released into manufacturing in 1967, production of the original model design ran thirteen years years through 1980.   Several variants with a different metering design ran two more years after that into 1982.  Original production began in Germany and was transferred to Singapore in 1973 to reduce the cost.  While collectors will pay a premium for the "Germany" model, consensus among long time users finds no difference in materials or build quality between the "Germany" and "Singapore" versions.


The following table shows the various models produced during the full production years.
Model Years Lens Battery Notes
35 1967-1975 f/3.5 Tessar PX-625 Original "Germany" Model
C 35 1969-1971 f/3.5 Triotar None No metering
B 35 & 35 B 1969-1978 f/3.5 Triotar None Uncoupled Selenium meter
35 "S-Xenar" 1972-1973 f/3.5 Xenar PX-625 35 with Schneider-Kreuznach lens
35 S 1974-1980 f/2.8 Sonnar PX-625 "Singapore" 35 with Sonnar HFT lens
35 T 1976-1980 f/3.5 Tessar PX-625 "Singapore" 35
35 LED 1978-1980 f/3.5 Triotar PX-27 Viewfinder LED metering
35 TE 1980-1982 f/3.5 Tessar PX-27 Viewfinder LED metering
35 SE 1980-1982 f/2.8 Sonnar PX-27 Viewfinder LED metering

The most commonly found models are the "Singapore" 35 T and 35 S followed by the original "Germany" 35.  After that is the 35 SE followed by the 35 TE.  The remaining Triotar and Xenar lensed models are relatively rare, but amazingly they not as sought after by collectors.  The most highly prized by collectors are the 35, 35 S and 35 SE, perhaps because the 35 represents the original "Germany" production; the 35 S and 35 SE represent the zenith of the model line with the faster (and better) Sonnar lenses.  A few prototypes of the 35 S may have been made in Germany.  If true, they would be highly prized by collectors also.  The problem would be proving provenance, possibly with the lens or body serial number.  The place of manufacture is on the removable back but not the model name.  Switching backs between an early "Singapore" 35 S and a late "Germany" 35 could be easily done to create a fake "Germany" 35 S.

There were a number of commemorative models during the standard production years and a number of commoratives released after standard production ended; all had limited production runs.  During production, the commemoratives were a 35, 35 T or 35 S with gold or silver body caps and leatherette body coverings.  Following production, the commemoratives have all been a "Germany" made 35 S with hot shoe relocated from bottom cap to top cap, and lens release relocated from top cap to the body front.  Post production commemoratives have various body colors including gold and titanium without leatherette covering.  The following table shows the production and at least some of the post-production commemoratives:

Model Years Lens Battery Notes
35 Gold 1971-1972 f/3.5 Tessar PX-625 1200 made for 1.5 million 35 production
35 S Gold 1974-1976 f/2.8 Sonnar PX-625 1500 made for 2 million 35 production
35 S Silver 1979 f/2.8 Sonnar PX-625 8000 made for 1 million 35 S production
35 Platin 1986 f/2.8 Sonnar PX-625 Ti finish; 444 made for 20th Anniv. of the 35
35 Classic 1990-199? f/2.8 Sonnar PX-625 Various finishes
35 Metric 1990- f/2.8 Sonnar PX-625 Not a commemorative, but for photometrics

The one odd one in the table is the 35 "Metric" which is not a commemorative although it was begun after regular production ceased in 1982.  It is a 35 S with the post production changes in hot shoe and lens release but with normal body caps and covering.  The difference is that it also exposes the film with an overlaid grid for photometric use.  It is intended for highly specialized uses requiring ability to record lengths and areas of objects using photography.  It is the world's smallest full-frame 35mm photometric, and a world-class one at that!


Four different 40mm focal length lenses were used on various model variants:

f/3.5 Triotar

The Triotar is a single coated Carl Zeiss design using three elements in three groups based on the Cooke Triplet.  I have been unable to date its design by Carl Zeiss.  The concept for it dates to the late 1800's.  The lens design has been used extensively by Carl Zeiss to produce an inexpensive, optically simpler alternative to the other more expensive lenses of similar focal length.  Its three element design makes is much more susceptible to astigmatism.  Hence this lens was used on Rollei's lower end models.

In spite of limitations it is still a good lens design with has very good contrast and resolution.  Compared to many inexpensive P&S cameras on the market today, it is still a better lens.  Collectors do not prize the Triotar models as highly as the others, nor do definitive users.  As a result the price on a Triotar model is much less than for one with a Tessar or Sonnar, or even an S-Xenar.  Some of this is due to the lens and some due to the fact the body was simpler with fewer features.  Models made with the Triotar were an effort by Rollei to provide a less expensive alternative to the Tessar lensed models and capture greater market share.

f/3.5 Tessar

The Tessar is also a single coated Carl Zeiss design using four elements in three groups.  The Tessar design by Dr. Paul Rudolph dates to 1902 and was originally used on large format view cameras.  It is based on the Cooke triplet with an additional lens element.  The first was an f/6.3 which is quite slow compared to modern lenses.  By 1917 successive efforts including those from other Carl Zeiss engineers raised it to f/2.8 which is the fastest I have found on primarily pre-W.W.II cameras.  The f/2.8 Tessar was used extensively by Zeiss Ikon on many of its 35mm models.  As the patents ran out in 1920 the Tessar became one of the most copied lens designs of the 20th Century.  I found no less than twenty-one major lens manufacturers that have used this lens under a variety of names.  It is relatively simple, has exceptional resolution and extremely high contrast with low distortion in a flat field.  The one drawback to the Tessar is its limitations for very fast lens designs.  Carl Zeiss never implemented it at faster than f/2.8; virtually all post-W.W.II implementations are f/3.5 which is acceptable but slower than more modern lens designs allow for a standard lens.  Nevertheless its basic design is still heavily used.

Very early "Germany" 35's used Tessar's made by Carl Zeiss.  After that, Rollei obtained licensing to produce the lenses themselves. An unusual provision in the license allowed use of the Carl Zeiss lens name.  While collectors might prize a Carl Zeiss Tessar model, there is no detectable difference in materials, build quality or optical performance between the Rollei and Carl Zeiss versions.  Rollei's quality control was quite high.

f/3.5 S-Xenar

The S-Xenar is one of the rarer lenses found on Rollei 35's made during two production years in 1972-1973.  It is a single coated Tessar clone by Schneider-Kreuznach.  During the early 1970's Rollei wanted to bring its pricing down and the S-Xenar was less expensive.  When Schneider could not meet delivery schedule for Rollei production requirements, Rollei dropped the S-Xenar and went back to producing the Tessar under its Carl Zeiss license.  As with the practical difference between the "Germany" and "Singapore" models, consensus among long time users finds no difference in materials, build quality or optical performance between the Tessar and S-Xenar.  Collectors however downgrade the pricing on an S-Xenar model.  Schneider-Kreuznach is also one of the finest German lens makers ranking possibly second to Carl Zeiss.  Today Schneider-Kreuznach is noted for exceptional cinema and projection lenses.

f/2.8 Sonnar HFT

The Sonnar is the best and fastest lens used on the Rollei 35's.  It was designed by Carl Zeiss with five elements in four groups and has Rollei's HFT multi-coating.  The Sonnar is one of the finest lenses of the 20th Century designed in 1930 by Ludwig Bertele, one of the finest lens designers of the 20th Century.  Bertele originally worked for Ernemann, one of the premier German optics houses.  When Ernemann was absorbed into the Zeiss-Ikon combine in 1926, Bertele began working for Carl Zeiss.  The original was an uncoated f/2 5cm focal length with six elements in three groups specifically created for the Zeiss Ikon Contax.  In 1932 it was reformulated for an f/1.5 5cm with seven elements in three groups.  At some point after the Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa/IIIa ceased production in 1961, the Sonnar was reformulated into the configuration commonly found now using five elements in four groups for a slower f/2.8 lens.  However, its design principles are essentially the same as the original Sonnar.  The Carl Zeiss Sonnar has been used as the premier lens on numerous 35mm cameras.  As with the Tessar, from the 1960's and beyond it is normally found in the slower f/2.8 five element, four group configuration.

Rollei wanted a faster lens for its top Rollei 35 model and Carl Zeiss reformulated the Sonnar using Rollei's HFT multi-coating resulting in the 40mm f/2.8 with five elements in four groups.  It is a stunning lens noted for near zero distortion in its very flat field, very low falloff, exceptional resolution and very high contrast; all the attributes sought for in a superb lens.  As with the later Tessar's the Sonnar HFT was manufactured by Rollei under license from Carl Zeiss.  Compared to the Tessar, the Sonnar is a better, faster lens but is much more difficult and expensive to manufacture.  The Sonnar has extremely tight tolerance requirements for its complex element shapes and their spacing.  In spite of the age of its design, it is still a world class lens and holds its own quite easily with the very best of modern lenses.

Current Hardware

At one time I had both a black Rollei 35 T and a chrome Rollei 35 S.  Both were bought in Germany about a year apart in the 1978-1979 time frame near the end of their production.  The Rollei 35 T was bought first as none of the 35 S's were currently available and I needed a camera.  As I was in the service at the time, its small size allowed stuffing it into an extra ammunition pouch.  As a result it went on many field exercises and was used in all sorts of weather and climate conditions from high heat and humidity to sub-freezing and snow.  With protection from severe shock, abrasion and direct exposure to precipitation, it more than survived and functioned flawlessly.  It is a testimonial to the ruggedness of its design.  The one portion of the match-needle models that will not tolerate severe shock is the meter.  The body caps are also susceptible to dents and dings if not protected, although if the meter survives, cap dings do not normally affect other camera operation or the alignment of the lens.  After the purchase of the 35 S, the 35 T continued to serve in its roll of a field exercise camera and the 35 S was reserved for use in less harsh environments for vacation, holiday and other general photography.

The Rollei 35 T was sold recently as it was hardly being used.  The 35 S continues to be used regularly.  The chrome 35 S has several accessories including the lens hood, a Rollei UV filter, soft case and wrist strap.  Since the 1.35 Volt Mercury PX-625 battery is no longer available in the U.S. (due to its Mercury content) it has an adapter in the battery box for a 1.5 Volt Silver MS76 that drops the voltage to 1.35-1.4 Volts.  Other adapters are available that allow PX-675 1.4 Volt Zinc-Air hearing aid batteries.  These work well but do begin their life span when the tape is pulled off to allow air in to activate the battery and are smaller in capacity (milliampere hours) than the original.  The PX-675's however are relatively inexpensive and can be found on the hearing aid battery rack in nearly any drug store.  Also available from Wein is a PX-625 Zinc-Air with the exact same size and shape as the original Mercury.  They are more expensive and harder to find, but will last longer.

Comparatively, the 35 T had slightly greater contrast with its Tessar and the 35 S's Sonnar has slightly higher resolution.  The results with either are stunning and never cease to accrue remarks about resolution and contrast.  It is proof that world-class glass on even a sub-compact manual predecessor to the current P&S's does make a difference in the technical quality of the photography.  Obviously the artistic qualities are still the exclusive domain of the photographer.

Type of Photography

The type of photography performed with the Rollei 35 T (until it was sold) and the Rollei 35 S has remained fairly consistent since I left the service.  Its small size and quiet shutter compared to an SLR makes it an ideal camera for candids and venues where a larger camera is too heavy, too noisy or sheer size would be too intimidating.  In short it is the serious photographer's version of an older P&S.  No serious amateur or professional should be without a small 35mm camera.  Many professionals carry a Yashica T4 or Contax T2 which would be the modern equivalents with a little more automation.  The only thing lacking to make the Rollei 35 S a professional grade camera is a rangefinder.

With these features in mind that make it quite different than using an SLR with interchangeable lenses, it has been ideal for grab shots and candids.  These are times when capturing a moment of time is more important than precise dead-accurate focusing and time is very limited for composition.  It also makes an ideal travel camera when space is very limited.  On these occasions it will be pressed into service for some architectural and general scenic use as also.  With its 40mm lens I have been known to pull it out and shoot a scene for which a 50mm standard lens on the SLR was too tight, I needed to get in slightly closer, and didn't want to fuss with changing to a 35mm lens.

Films Used

Although my preferred film is Kodachrome 64, it is a bit slow under some conditions for a camera with an f/2.8 lens.  Kodachrome 200 is very good, but seems a little grainy when projected onto a large screen.  Most of the time it has Elitechrome 100 loaded in it which gains 2/3 stop in speed and has excellent grain characteristics for large screen projection.  [My definition of large screen is anything bigger than 40 inches; in my case it is either a 50 or 60 inch screen.]  In practical use, it translates to gaining a full stop most of the time.  This at least stays out of trouble in deep shade.  With the f/2.8 lens, those with current P&S's are already flipping up the meager integral flashes while I can still run f/2.8 at 1/60 or even 1/30 if necessary (and the subject[s] are not moving too fast).  Occasionally there will be a roll of Royal Gold 100 but for the past couple of years reversal has been the type of film preferred.  A print processor can't screw up focus, color balance, exposure or contrast of a slide.  Lately my experience using some color negative has been pretty abysmal on the printing end of it.


A look at my gallery will show mostly photographs of people.  The leaf shutter works better at manually performing fill flash in deep shade under large trees if I remember to stuff a small auto flash in my pocket (odd that people tend to congregate there during the middle of summer).  The one thing I've noticed about not having a rangefinder is that I do not fuss as much with the focusing.  Estimate distance, dial it in on the focus ring and I'm done with it.

The top deck match needle metering is accurate enough for reversal (provided the battery is a Zinc-Air or a converter adapter is used to get the correct voltage out of a Silver cell).  Its placement makes it easy to use with the coupled aperture and shutter speed dials on the front.  The shutter speed and aperture are read from the tops of the dials when looking at the meter.  I often preset these based on lighting conditions and just double check just before making the shot.

The 40mm focal length I've found ideal for a scale focused camera with a fixed lens (i.e., not interchangeable).  The shorter focal length is more forgiving of focusing errors (depth of field is deeper) and the angle of view is wider than a standard lens without the photograph afterwards looking like it was taken with a wide angle.

The one aspect of the Rollei 35 (the standard production models) that is a bit weird is the flash shoe location on the camera bottom.  Given the original design layout of the other controls, there was no room for it on the top deck where one would normally be found.  I suspect that Rollei felt most use would be outdoors with only occasional use indoors.  Remember that in the mid-1960's most photographers were still using flash bulbs.  Electronic strobes, especially small ones, were not common yet and they were expensive.  It is hard to imagine using a Rollei 35 with a bowl reflector and flash bulbs.  Using it for flash requires holding it upside down to get the flash above the lens.  Don't do it with the strobe under the lens; you will get truly ugly shadows above the subjects.  The first few times I held it upside down with a small electronic flash attached felt a bit weird, but is not all that difficult.  Operate the shutter release with the left thumb versus the right index finger and don't let the right hand get in the way of the auto sensor on the flash unit.

The one upside to flash use is with a leaf shutter it will X-sync at all its shutter speeds from 1/2 second to 1/500th (1/500th is the limit for leaf shutters in general, even on professional medium format cameras).  This makes doing fill flash outdoors easier and prevents ghosting.  I normally shoot flash indoors on it at 1/125th.

Problems with Auto Point & Shoot Cameras

Not so much an argument against the auto-everything P&S but an argument for the small manual camera, especially for use by serious amateurs and professionals.  The auto-everything P&S has a rightful place in the consumer market.  There are many who want snapshots and do not want to be bothered with having to understand the science of photography to take snapshots.  The title ought to get some attention though.  This is really a "rant" for the serious amateur and professional wanting a small compact or sub-compact 35mm.  I couldn't have taken the photograph tied to this section with the average P&S!  It was done at f/2.8 and 1/30th second which is beyond average P&S capabilities (below their exposure value, or EV range).

For the serious amateur or professional who already understands the science of photography, especially exposure, focus and depth of field an auto-everything P&S ought to feel like a straight-jacket.  They are typically program-mode AE only.  This means one must accept what the camera decides to use for aperture and shutter speed without regard for how the photographer might want to capture high speed motion, pan to capture a subject and show motion, or narrow depth of field to make the subject stand out against the background.  All of these things require some method for controlling the combination of aperture and shutter speed.

The lens work on average and inexpensive P&S's is acceptable for 4x6 or maybe even 5x7 prints from color negative, but less than the resolution or contrast a serious amateur or professional becomes accustomed to with the better SLR lenses.  This shows slightly in good 4x6 prints with some magnification, sometimes in a 5x7 without magnification and can definitely be seen in an "A" versus "B" comparison of the same scene enlarged to 8x10.  Furthermore, especially with the zoom P&S, the lenses on most of them are abysmally slow (about f/5) compared to the 35mm SLR counterparts of decent quality.  A very slow lens makes wanting to gain manual control from the progam mode for selective depth of field a moot point.  Even if manual control were possible, the lens cannot open up enough to get a shallow enough depth of field.

The slow lenses also create another problem.  ASA 100 film is too slow for deep shade (under huge shade trees from late Spring to early Fall).  ASA 400 film is too fast in bright sunlight with clear sky.  Even the finest leaf shutters hit the limit at 1/500th and most P&S only go to about 1/400th or so.  There is not enough EV range among the aperture and shutter speed combinations to use a single speed of film for the range of daytime outdoor light conditions that can be encountered.  I have seen this happen with someone using ASA 400 and trying to shoot in bright sunlight under clear sky.  The overexposure light comes on because the shutter isn't fast enough.  Later under large shade trees late in the afternoon before sunset the underexposure light comes on.  The lens isn't fast enough, even with ASA 400.  In the mean time someone else with ASA 100 and enough EV range (f/2.8-f/22 and 1/15th-1/500th) continues to run hand held until dusk (bracing against something handy at 1/15th).

There are a very few current small P&S models that have the EV range necessary.  The two I've seen that are acceptable both have excellent fixed, not zoom lenses.  One is the Yashica T-4 at the lower end of the price scale and the other is the Contax T-2 toward the upper end pricing.  I presume there are others, but one must hunt them down.  The bottom line for the serious amateur and professional finding a compact or sub-compact 35mm camera is in looking carefully for and asking about the aperture and shutter speed ranges, two things not advertised about the majority of makes and models on the market.

Problems with 24mm APS Format

As with the P&S rant, I will admit there is a solid place for many consumers with 24mm APS.  However, for the serious amateur and professional it also is a straight-jacket.  In addition, there is a slight deception going on with the different aspect ratio formats APS advertises so heavily (Classic, HDTV and Panoramic).  What is advertised is true, sort of, but it is not the whole story.  The term "panoramic" especially has an entirely different meaning to the serious and professional photographer.  All the above rant about P&S applies to APS as they are all P&S also.  Yes, a couple rather expensive APS SLR's have recently hit the market, but they are not much of a system camera with only a few lenses offered for them.

My first concern is with the format itself.  A few will remember 620 roll film.  A few more will remember 828 and perhaps the same number will recall 127 roll films.  A lot more will remember 126 Instamatic.  Even more will remember 110 Pocket Instamatic.  Most everyone will remember Disk!  If you haven't gotten the drift yet, 620, 828, 127, 126, 110 and Disk are all film sizes created by Kodak that are no longer with us with the exception of 110 which is on its death bed.  Kodak makes some great films, or should I say film emulsions.  They're very good at it.  In another part of Kodak about once each decade there is a great event wherein the film size to end all need for any other film size hits the market from Kodak.  Amazing, but true, Kodak has the only cameras that will use it, at least until the other camera makers can get tooled up with new models which does take a while.  For those who buy a new inexpensive camera once per decade or so this isn't a Bad Thing.  Suffice it that for those who buy professional grade cameras and lenses made to last human lifetime and still perform reliably there are three film formats that have withstood the test of time.  They will be around for at least the remaining lifetime of anyone reading this:

My second concern is about APS claiming a "panoramic" format.  It really isn't a true wide-angle panoramic.  The APS definition differs greatly from how the term is used by serious and professional panoramic photographers.  APS creates a "panoramic" by cropping the top and bottom of the horizontal APS frame leaving a strip in the middle about 2/3 the height of the original frame.  During printing this strip is then enlarged more than the other two formats to make a long horizontal photograph that appears to be a panoramic.  The horizontal field of view doesn't get wider as one would expect, the vertical field of view gets narrower!  By comparison, a "true" panoramic will have a much wider horizontal field of view; at least 90 degrees if not more.  It is created using special cameras that use two or three standard frames (depending on model) to make the photograph.  The APS "panoramic" has an interestingly radical aspect ratio, but it's not a real panoramic.  In my opinion it should have been called something else.  For those who cannot afford a "true" panoramic camera (they are rather expensive) it is done with special tripod equipment that allows precision merging of two or more standard 35mm frames into a composite panoramic.  Normally a very wide angle lens is used and often the camera is turned vertical for a larger vertical field of view (requires shooting more frames to get sufficient field of view horizontally).  With a true panoramic there is an immersive feeling of being surrounded by the image when viewing it, especially if it has been enlarged sufficiently.

My third concern with APS for the serious photographer is the lack of film types available.  In terms of film types APS is geared solely for what Kodak refers to as the "snapshooter" (hey, its Kodak's term, not mine).  This again is for the general consumer who wants 4x6 prints, and maybe an occasional 5x7 from color negative.  As a result, what one gets with Kodak APS film is essentially Royal Gold color negative at its various film speeds.  This is a good color negative film.  Only recently did Kodak finally offer a B&W film, but guess what.  It is the C-41 consumer version of T400CN, also known as Black&White Plus 400 in 35mm.  This is not a "true" B&W film but a color negative film, with three emlusion layers for red, green and blue.  It is processed C-41 just like any other color negative, but the dyes used give shades of gray.  The result is something that appears to be B&W.  If the printer attempts to print it using color paper, it will come out close to B&W, sometimes very close.  But held next to a true print on B&W paper, it will have either a bluish or sometimes greenish cast to it and some color fringing near sharply contrasted edges (where deep black meets pure white) in the image.  If it is printed using true B&W paper, you will get real B&W prints.  The other downside is the negatives have about the same archival life of color negative, about 20 years.  Real B&W negative films are as good as Kodachrome with archival exceeding well over 100 years and beyond.  Unfortunately, real B&W films cannot be had in APS.  Don't even ask about reversal.  APS was never intended to shoot transparencies for slides.  For the couple of APS SLR's now on the market, I don't know how long they will survive or what their sales will be.  There is simply not enough film types available, including no reversal to attract the serious SLR system user.

Thus endeth my rant about APS.  Note I didn't discuss the smaller than 35mm format meaning less area, meaning less resolution, meaning smaller maximum size for enlargements.  Yep, that's true also.  If you want 11x14 or larger prints, don't use APS.  The negatives are just too small.  The limit is about 8x10 and that is a stretch.  It had better be a very good camera with very good lens and held very steady.  Now it's been discussed, but then again how many "Joe Consumer's" do you know that routinely get 8x10's made?  Thus really endeth my APS rant.

Links to Rollei 35 Sites

Mario Nagano's Unofficial Rollei 35 Camera Fan Page
[has a wealth of information including on-line manuals]

Jari Suominen's Rollei 35 Web Site
[not as complete as Nagano's site but has a gallery and other details not on Mario's site]

Alexander Lee's Carl Zeiss Lens Design Page
[information about Carl Zeiss lens designs including those used for the Rollei 35]

Stephen Gandy's Rollei 35 S Silver Page
[information with photos about the 35 S Celebrating 1 Million Production in 1979]

Stephen Gandy's Rollei 35 SE Page
[information with many photos about the last original production model, the 35 SE]

Stephen Gandy's Rollei 35 75th Anniversary Page
[information with many photos about the post production 75th anniversary gold commemorative]