Right out of the pocket: Rollei B35

A number that resembles a plane, B35. But in this case for a camera so small that it even fits the pockets of your pant. It is one of the smallest 135 cameras ever made, by Rollei that became more famous with the famous Rolleiflex twin reflex series. But the little Rollei was a very popular, nifty quality camera. The one you take on holidays, to a birthday party or leave in the car just in case.

Mass production of the successful Rollei series started in July 1966. At least seven models were identified, starting with the B35 where the B stands for the uncoupled selenium ‘Belichtung’ or lightmeter. Rollei wanted a Compur shutter integrated, but that became too costly. It had to find a way to reduce costs, deliver quality, but above all, keep it as compact as possible. So like the early Leica lenses, the original B35 got a movable sliding tube which was one of the most expensive parts. Once retracted it could make pictures and collapsed, it kept the camera small.

The Rollei is a design camera. It means -although it looks like made with not so much fantasy- it has a very rational retro look. What needs to be there, is there . What is actually there? On the top plate we find the light meter that is uncoupled. It means you measure the light by setting the shutter time, the ASA/ISO and the meter will indicate a matching aperture. Do not forget to transfer these values to the actual shutter and aperture. Next to the meter there is the shutter button and the film number indicator. For the left button we have to explain the bottom plate that is even more interesting. Here we find (yes) the film transport winding handle, the sturdy tripod ring and.. the hot shoe for the electronic flash. A world upside down.

It looks a little strange, but at the same time you realize the innovative idea. If you want to keep a camera small, but want to offer it all the features of a large reflex camera, you have to think and design unorthodox and minimalistic. On the front we find the high quality Triotar F3,5 40mm lens, a good wide choice. 40mm provides a nice and wider perspective so the camera can also be used for landscapes on vacations. And the brightness 3.5 makes an excellent contribution to portrait photography. The B35 offered a manual shutter timing range from 1/30 sec to 1/500 sec plus Bulb and an aperture range from f/3.5 to f/22. The focusing range reaches from 3 feet (0.9m) to infinity. The camera locks firing until the film is winded to the next frame but also locks retracting the lens before the film is advanced. This really took me getting used to because I thought the lenstube was broken. In addition, to retract the lens, it must be turned back a quarter of a turn (as with Leica lenses) and with a special release button on the front pressed.

Inserting film is easy. Rotate the knob around the tripod socket makes the outer case removable. Insert film and continue winding until number 1 shows in the viewing window. From the film cartridge in the picture, you can see how small the camera is in real life. There are things to consider if you want to use the camera in 2021. First of all, you have no control over the focus. Of course, the camera has an extremely bright viewfinder, but the sharpness can only be assessed by a good estimation of the distance. What is also disappointing in practice is the extremely difficult way to choose the right shutter speeds. You have to ‘feel’ that the ring clicks in at the right shutter time, otherwise the shutter locks. Thus, unfortunately, I often missed sweet moments by first having to move the shutter ring into the exact right position. Retracting the lenstube also takes some extra effort due to the additional action of first forwarding the film. But that does not change the fact that the camera produces lovely photos in beautiful colors and -if focus is hit- with fantastic sharpness. I can imagine the bevy of fans of the Rollei series. They are exceptionally compact cameras with great and good features. And for one you always have room in your collection. Here some examples I took in 2021:

One Reply to “Right out of the pocket: Rollei B35”

  1. Thanks for the excellent review. I had one of these, one of the best cameras I ever owned. Unfortunately it was stolen from my car when it was parked in Nottingham (never leave anything in a car in that city). I replaced it with a Rollei 35 LED. More automation, but it was nowhere near as well made as the B35. The difference between made in Germany and made in Singapore I suppose. That camera too was stolen, in Malaga this time, again from my parked car. I didn’t miss it nearly as much as my B35. As you say, the sharpness of the photos says it all.

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