Rollei 35 SE – Camera Review

Rollei 35 SE – Camera Review

2000 1125 James Tocchio

A couple years back, I wrote about my experience shooting a camera from Rollei’s series of universally lauded compact viewfinder cameras. The Rollei B35 was the lowest-spec model of the 35 range, and I found it to be just about the worst camera I’d ever tested. It was as sturdy as a graham cracker, as ergonomically pleasant as an irritated pufferfish, and produced miserable images from a nightmarish combination of sponge-soft lens and unforgiving focus system.

By some accounts the B35 was and is a decent camera, but it simply didn’t work for me in even the most rudimentary ways. As a result of this horrid experience, and without totally realizing it, I’d developed a deeply rooted aversion to the entire Rollei 35 range that would keep any camera in the series out of my hands for the next two years. It wasn’t until a customer traded one in toward the purchase of a Leica M3 that I again had my mitts on one of these most diminutive machines.

The model traded was the 35SE, and from the moment I pulled it from its packaging I knew this 35 would be a far cry from the B35 of my past. And after shooting it for more than two months I can affirm that the differences between the Sonnar Electronic 35 and the B35 are less Mercedes versus Volkswagen, more Mercedes versus one-wheeled skateboard.

The SE has it in all the right places – stellar build, a performance lens, tiny form factor, and one of the most surprisingly intuitive control systems I’ve ever used. What’s more, after immersing myself in the world of Rollei 35 for six weeks, I’m sure now that of the Rollei 35 range, this camera (or the TE) is the one to own. Let me tell you why.

Actually, let’s first quickly clear up all this naming nonsense. There are quite a few models of Rollei 35, and while the range seems crowded and convoluted at first, it’s pretty easy to keep track of where each camera sits relative to the others in chronology and features.

To simplify things as best we can, we start with the Rollei 35. This was the original model, and featured an incredibly sharp Tessar lens (40mm/3.5). For a while, this was the only version available. Later, a model with a faster Sonnar lens (40mm/2.8) would be released. This version was named 35S, and to differentiate the Tessar model from the Sonnar model, the original Tessar equipped cameras henceforth were named 35T. These cameras all featured CdS light meters (of the old-fashioned match needle variety, top-mounted for those sneaky street shooters) for meter-assisted manual shooting. Up to this point, all Rollei 35 cameras were essentially the same machine with minor academic differences and one of a possible two lenses. Easy peasy.

Further refining the concept, the Rollei 35SE and TE were, as you might once again suspect, Sonnar and Tessar equipped cameras. These models are different from the original S and T, however, in that the match needle CdS light meter has changed to a more responsive and streamlined electronic light meter paired to an impressive LED readout array placed in the viewfinder. Simple enough.

Economy models were soon built, with fewer features, inferior materials, and a low-spec lens. These are the 35B (with a Selenium light meter), 35C (without a light meter), and 35LED (electronic meter). Achtung! These models should be vigorously avoided.

And that’s just about all you need to know about the nomenclature of the Rollei 35. Not so confusing at all, and with just a glance at the camera we can glean real facts on the machine’s makeup – which lens will be equipped, which metering system it will sport. From there, further research can be done to determine where the camera was manufactured (if this matters to you – nationalism is uncool), details of optical coatings, and other trivia.

Boring stuff concluded, let’s get to the camera.

The original Rollei 35 debuted in 1966 to critical fanfare. At the time, it was the smallest 35mm film camera ever made, and even more than fifty years later remains among the smallest cameras in the world. It was capable and robust, and the buying public took note, gobbling up more than two million copies over the span of its production. Today, the allure is as strong as ever. This is an impressive camera, and it all begins with that form factor.

Nothing can really prepare you for just how compact this camera is. There’s a lot of talk in the photo geek-o-sphere about this or that camera being “pocketable,” and most of the time these pocketable cameras aren’t. With its minuscule outer dimensions and retractable lens, the Rollei 35 is actually pocketable. Granted, if you’re sporting tight jeans you may present some unflattering bulges, but in a coat, in a jacket, in average-fitting pants, you’ll be comfortably stowing the 35 when not in use. It’s fantastic, and the perfect choice for when you want your camera to take a backseat to the day, yet still be capable enough to produce stunning images – a rare and lustful combination of traits.

Build quality is excellent. And even though my model was made in Singapore (who cares?) it oozes quality. In the hands, the camera is dense, weighty, and purposeful. Squeezing and twisting produces no unwanted squeaks or flex. Mechanical actuations, such as those found in the film rewind lever and film back opening lever, are firm and precise. Shutter speed adjustments are equally precise, and aperture adjustments are smooth and refined. Focus throw is weighted and deliberate. Even the battery release switch clicks with satisfying resistance.

But nothing is perfect. If there’s one aspect of the camera that satisfies less than the rest, it’s the action of the film advance lever. While the lever is surprisingly strong given its impossibly thin profile, it lacks the kind of refinement found elsewhere in the camera. It levers away from the body with an almost sickening series of crunches. All’s well inside – the film isn’t being torn and the mechanism is working as it should – but it’s just not the kind of smooth film advance we find in cameras like the Nikon FM or Leica M. That said, in light of the quality found in the rest of the package, the offense is forgivable.

In the field, the Rollei 35SE is transcendent. It uses a system of controls that are so refined and elegant as to be nearly unmatched in vintage cameras. I can’t stress it enough, and this exemplary system is brought to us by virtue of two distinctly ingenious design decisions that turn shooting this camera into one of the best experiences you’ll ever have with a fully manual machine.

The first visionary design is the camera’s exposure meter and, specifically, the way that Rollei chose to implement its readout. The onboard light meter allows the photographer to determine proper exposure by adjusting lens aperture and shutter speed coincidental to the loaded film speed, just as with any meter-assisted manual camera. As settings are adjusted, the camera effectively displays when the chosen settings will result in a proper exposure based on available light.

In previous versions, the Rollei 35 had a light meter readout on the body of the camera. This meant that to check exposure, photographers would be forced to lower the camera and view a needle on the top deck. With the SE (and TE), the meter is provided within the big, bright viewfinder by way of three vertically stacked LED lights. The top and bottom lights are red to indicate over-and under-exposure, and the center light is green to indicate a proper exposure. This fact alone wouldn’t make the Rollei exemplary. Many cameras have light meters and many have their readouts displayed in the viewfinder. The Rollei isn’t breaking new ground. But the reason the Rollei’s operation rises above its competition is because of the way its controls are organized in relation to its light-meter display.

Control dials are are placed on the front of the camera to the right and left of the lens, each an adjustment that will impact exposure. To the left of the camera (from the rear) we find the shutter speed selector, which provides speeds from 1/500th to half of a second (and Bulb mode), and to the right we find the aperture adjustment (and incorporated ISO dial). These dials operate as you’d expect – rotate them and the values of shutter speed and aperture change. But what you might not expect (without spending some time with the 35SE) is that these little dials are pure magic.

Here’s how it works. You’re framing a scene and ready to take a shot. You need to know your exposure, so you half-press the shutter button. The lower, red LED alights telling you that your current settings are under-exposing the scene. You need to adjust your shutter speed or aperture to get that LED to rise to the center and turn green. How do you do it? On many cameras, you’d rotate a dial on the top plate counter-clockwise or clockwise, depending on the camera, or you’d spin a ring around the lens in another unknown and often incongruous direction. With the Rollei, things are much simpler.

You need the LED to go up. So what do you do? You push the outer edge of either wheel up. You don’t need to think about it. You don’t need to wonder if you’re adjusting in the wrong direction. There’s no guessing. It’s almost as if you’re simply prodding the LED to rise by poking it upward with your fingertip. It’s the same if the scene is over-exposed. Just pull downward on the far edge of either control dial until the LED moves downward to the center.

Of course, you should have an understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and depth-of-field, and know which of the two dials you are most comfortable adjusting to make your shot properly exposed. This aside, the simplicity and intuitiveness of this system is hard to match in a classic, manual-only camera. It creates a shooting methodology that is incredibly quick and nearly effortless. There’s no guesswork, no looking at dials, no raising and lowering the camera to check readings or settings. You lift the camera to your eye, move one hand or the other in one direction or the other, and take your perfectly exposed shot.

What this means is that anyone used to manual cameras will feel right at home, immediately understand the ethos of the machine, and shoot nothing but excellent shots. And anyone new to the world of manual shooting will find the 35SE a capable tutor, and indeed, one of the best cameras on which to learn the art of exposure.

And not to be overlooked in light of all this functional prowess, is the simple fact that the Rollei makes incredible images. Its lens, a Sonnar design by Carl Zeiss and (in this review copy) coated with Rollei’s HFT coatings, produces stunningly sharp, contrasty images with no distortion and brilliant color. Wide open it performs beautifully (so long as focus is correct), and stopped down it renders in an ultra crisp yet wonderfully artistic way. It’s a lens that produces images that dance the border between modern and vintage.

But I’m gushing just a bit. Let’s reign it in.

The lens does suffer some pretty substantial flares when shot directly into the sun, and though we should almost expect this of a forty-year-old camera, it’s worth mentioning. That said, while this effect is clinically an imperfection, film shooters today will almost certainly love it for the very same reason. We shoot film cameras to enjoy the artifacts that we’ve lost to the digital age – artifacts both tangible and optical.

Compared to the outstanding implementations of exposure control and its wonderful viewfinder, other methodologies of the 35SE do fall a bit short. Specifically disappointing is the camera’s method of focus. As mentioned, all Rollei 35 cameras are viewfinder cameras. That means we don’t enjoy any in-viewfinder focusing aids. There’s no rangefinder mechanism, no focusing screen, no split-image spot, and certainly no autofocus. What we’re left with is a camera that demands zone-focusing.

For those unfamiliar, zone-focusing is a system of focusing in which the photographer is expected to understand aperture and the way it influences depth-of-field, and combine that knowledge with an ability to accurately estimate his or her distance to target. Essentially, we look at the front of the lens barrel where a readout shows distance markers and a depth-of-field scale, then rotate the lens to our desired focus distance. It’s a system that’s easier to understand and use than it reads, and when shooting at F/8 or so (the camera’s sweet spot) we’re likely to make images in which everything is sharply focused without needing much adjustment of the focus ring. Set the ring to just the near side of infinity and everything from the horizon to fifteen feet away will be in focus. Next, point, move the LEDs up or down, and shoot.

There are certainly moments in which, without the assistance of an in-viewfinder focusing aid reminding us to double check, we can expect to absent-mindedly shoot a few frames without adjusting focus. It happens. To me, it happens a lot, like when I missed my Bresson-like decisive moment and failed to capture what would have been my masterpiece, Squirrel Jumping Over Puddle – tough break.

All told, with a few missed shots and an occasional out-of-focus failure, the Rollei 35SE presents a package that’s one of the very best classic, manual cameras available today. Form and function are equally represented, with stoic and purposeful design that complements intelligent control systems, it’s a camera that talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s gorgeous, reliable, uses commonly available batteries, has an astoundingly capable lens, and will comfortably travel anywhere. For all this and more, it just might be the perfect camera for the modern day film shooter.

Coming off the bitter disappointment that was the B35, I had low expectations for a camera about which I’d heard nothing but praise. I was skeptical. I’m skeptical no more. The 35SE is a true classic.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • In the end I sold my 35SE for a Minox GT. With its rounded corners, the Minox is even more “pocketable” than the Rollei and considerably lighter. The Minotar lens is pretty much an equal for the Sonnar on the 35 or at least it was on the two cameras I had. The final advantage of the Minox is that with its flip front, it is faster into action than the Rollei. The other side is that the Rollei feels a far more solid and long lasting object than the somewhat flimsy and plasticky Minox. Both cameras really need mercury cell replacers with voltage regulators to get accurate exposures. Don’t be fooled by cheap mercury cell converters with no regulator, that are often sold on Fleabay.

    • I’d love to try the Minox. The only ones I’ve used up ’till now have been the sub miniatures.

      • Well, no, not really. I’ve owned some Minoxes….a GL, ML, an GT and a GTE. When they worked, they took some fine pics; that 4 element Minotaur was sharp. But these are tiny, aperture priority full auto cameras and true to their reputations, would fail. I owned 4 and each would fail. Plastic bodies with tiny IC boards that always fail, I always came back to my bullet proof Rollei 35s. Stick with the Rollie 35s.

    • lawschoolissoover October 21, 2017 at 4:54 pm

      Back in ’79 or so, my parents picked up a straight 35 with German Tessar while passing through Singapore. I loved that camera. The photos it produced were sharp and clear, and I *liked* having the light meter on top. It was stolen when someone broke into my apartment late in the summer of 1981. I replaced it with a Nikon FM, which was a horse of a different color, and I finally sold off the FM and its lens collection sometime in the early 2000s.

      I looked for a digital equivalent of the 35 for years. So far, the closest I’ve come is the Fuji X10. Close, but not quite cigar-worthy.

      I don’t know that I’d want to shoot on film again…I like being able to shoot without worrying about how much film I have left. But I do miss that little camera.

  • You got some great stuff out of this camera. And I’m relieved to hear you had the same experience with the 35B/B35 that I did.

    • Thanks Jim. I’m not a very good photog, but I do what I can. Would you mind posting a link to your article on the B? Thanks again.

  • I love my 3 SE’s and the battery is easy to find. The camera must have some voltage regulation as unlike most comments the light meter is dead on from 5.4 volts to 6 volts. Zone focusing is not a problem for me and the IG is excellent. 16 by 20 prints are possible. My travel camera and everyday walk around.

    • Yeah, it’s a great camera. I’d love to take it traveling some time. We’ll see. Do you think three is enough? Ha!

      • I would agree, however if you measure the voltage of a brand new silver oxide PX27 replacement cell, you are likely to find its voltage will be as high as 6.4.or even 6.5V, which I feel will give wrong exposures, unless (and I don’t know about this) Rollei decided to put a voltage regulator in their later 35SE models. Minolta and Konica certainly did this, presumably in anticipation of the banning of the mercury cells or to enable alkaline cells to be used. I bought a box of mercury PX27 and a card of 625’s in Vietnam as late as 2009 but I saved up the dead ones and then gave them to a friend at Sussex University chemistry department to dispose of in their toxic waste disposal bin. Supposedly, one mercury cell in a landfill, can poison up to one cubic metre of soil.

        In a similar scenario, I bought a pair of RCR123A rechargeable lithium batteries to use in my Leica SF24D flash, which normally uses 2 x CR123A disposable lithium batteries. I put the freshly charged RCR123As in and the flash was completely dead. Luckily (unlike a friend), I had another pair of the non-rechargeable lithium batteries in a torch, so tried them in the flash and it worked again. My friend threw his away, assuming he had killed it. I found the rechargeable cells, nominally 3.2 volts, were actually 4.5 volts when freshly charged and this obviously tripped a safety over-voltage circuit in the flash.

        • I can’t speak to the voltage regulation question myself, and you’re probably right about the fluctuation of actual voltage in batteries. All that said, though, I don’t think people should be worried about shooting the Rollei (or any other camera) with whatever equivalent batteries we can get these days. I say this because of the exposure latitude of modern day film. I’ve been shooting a different vintage camera every week for four years and have yet to come across any exposure issues caused by using modern batteries. It just doesn’t happen to me. I can’t imagine why there are so many posts on other websites and forums that talk about the mercury battery issue.

          I wonder if we could find the answer to whether or not Rollei incorporated voltage regulators in its machines. Good question. Thanks for your insight either way. Your comments are always knowledgable and thought-provoking.

          • I adjust my iso by about a stop (lower) and my exposures seem to be pretty good after that.

          • Three years late but I’ve got one now – a 35 TE. With a stack of modern alkaline cells that measure a combined 6.15V, I’m finding the meter agrees exactly with those in my Nikon FM2N and my Fuji X100F. Since I have no plans to shoot slide film with this, that seems plenty good enough.

            Another thing. James mentioned the intuitive ‘nudge’ ergonomics of the LEDs and the exposure dials. I’ve also noticed that the shutter speed dial moves with a distinct but easy-with-one-finger click in the range of 1/500 down to 1/30, but to move from 1/30 to 1/15 requires a more deliberate two-finger twist. This may just be a quirk of a 40-year-old machine but I’d like to think that it’s those Rollei engineers building in a tactile warning that I’m about to stray into camera-shake territory. Either way, it means I can keep the camera at f/8 for ease of focusing and adjust the exposure with the speed dial without inadvertently going too slow. Clever little camera!

    • The SE/TE do have internal voltage regulation, required by the LED diode readouts in the viewfinder. This means that any combination of batteries which fit in the battery holder and produce more voltage than the PX27 mercury battery originally specified will power the meter. I use 4 lithium cells in a plastic holder issued by Minox to solve the same mercury battery absence for their cameras.

  • Excellent and thanks for the explanation of the different models.

  • The squirrel shot! Great composition. Now i’m GASing for a Rollei.

    Please check this site out:

    • Following your blog. What a fantastic window into a far away world. Thanks for sharing that. I should also suggest that anyone reading this far down on the page to also click through. Great stuff.

  • The rendering of the camera is special, when I see photos shot with a Canon FD system, for example, I can notice a different rendering, vintage somehow, but with the EF system in film it looks quite modern. In your photographs (I loved specially the glare with the sunstars in the cars in the street at sunset) there is a warm and peculiar character, sharp but not in a clinical way, and I don’t say more because I am starting to sound like a lens-snob xD

  • Hello! I have my eye on an 35SE but can I use it without the battery?

  • As a long-time owner and user of several Rollei 35 models, including the 35SE which I prefer, let me clarify and correct a couple of points. First, the 35SE (and the 35TE) have a regulated power supply, required by the meter display system. Any battery or collection of batteries which fit the battery compartment and yield more than 1.35 volts will work fine in these models. Secondly the repeated description of the original 35 and later models up to the SE/TE has using a selenium meter are in error. The original Rollei 35 , the later 35S and 35T, use a Cds meter designed to be driven by a 1.35 volt mercury battery. I think only the B35 used a selenium meter. You can use these models by adopting any of the several mercury battery work-arounds or by having a repair shop adjust the meter circuit to use 1.5 volt batteries.The 1,5 volt battery options are not a perfect solution, in that alkalines have an unstable voltage, being inaccurate over time, and silver-oxides have fairly short use life for their cost. Or, save the money on an adjustment and run through a Wein air cell (1.35 volts) every couple of months. Remember to keep the meter reading cell covered (camera cased) since the models prior to the SE/TE have no meter switch. The meter is always “on” and will run through modern batteries more quickly if the meter is reading “light”. There was a Chinese guy selling after-market meter cells covers for Rollei 35 models to avoid running through the battery; very slick and works as claimed. It’s not a perfect world guys.

  • Hello everybody, James I’m reading and reading again your report. Recently i bought an SE, but i can seen only red leds, one or both, but no green led. And only after shot. No led just pushing the button before shooting. What should be the problem? Thanks

  • Many thanks for a very readable post. I greatly enjoy my 35S, as well as a ’54 Werra I’ve renovated. Both of these are scale focus and I found Harold Merklinger’s publications on focus very useful (; it is remarkable how effective using infinity focus with a small aperture is under a wide range of brighter light conditions. My Werra has no light meter, but using a good scale ( is an excellent substitute, especially when remembering the various ‘sunny’ rules can be difficult. I’ve never had any exposure issues using modern batteries in my 35S, but as you point out, this may well be because of the exposure latitude of print film. I’ve not used more demanding slide film since the demise of Kodachrome.

    I’m wondering about your views on film? I’ve ‘settled’ on Portra 160 or 400, combined with ND filters for bright conditions.

  • I’m using an early Rollei 35 with Tessar lens. I don’t know about the later Sonnar but my Tessar lens has two focus or distance symbols in red (others are white). The 2m and 5m symbols. It turns out that that – when using f/5.6 or more – the red 2m sign gives you perfectly sharp images from the distance of ~1,5 to 3 meters. The red 5m sign is perfect for subjects from ~3 meters to eternity. Your focusing is simply like choosing whether your subject is subjectively “near” or “far”. It’s surprisingly easy to do and you will never get an out-of-focus image in daylight situations. I can’t see a reason why this scheme wouldn’t work out with the Sonnar lens as well. I’m using the same focusing method with my Minox GT with great success.

    Btw. There’s someone in China selling perfectly good black metal lens hoods for Rollei 35, both lens types. You know where to find them and the cost is a couple of dollars a pop including postage.

  • 1.nationalism ist not uncool,nothing wrong with loving the country and its culture,you are living in, over an other. Stop making people feeling need for an excuse for patriotic feelings. Its no more funny or a sign of enlightenment theses days.
    2. The SE Modells of Rollei where not very liked because the readout of the lightmeter needs looking through the viewfinder,while focusing need hiplevel adjustment, also to check the aperture for DOF.
    3. the B35 (or later 35B and 35 LED) are not that bad, they are just not that brilliant as the 35 S or T, still OK for a light little manual shooter.

  • Hi James, what a great review you have written about this great little camera. Many thanks for that.
    After shooting an original Rollei 35 i’ve just bought a Rollei 35SE. Just phinished 2 rolls with it and i really do like this beauty.
    Zone focussing is very easy IMO and the lightmetering works perfect for me. I have the model without the Lock on the aperturewheel and i like that. I choose a speed and rolling the clickless aperturewheel till the green led appears.
    Only problem i have with this camera is the ring around the lens with the text ( ser. nr. + rollei hft etc.) is loose and i allready lost it, but gladly i found it back after a long search. Now i have a filter for my lens witch is holding the ring back, but it would be great to use it without a filter to keep it as small as possible.
    Do you , or anybody else, know how that ring is put on his place? Is ther an extra ring or is it glued on the lens….?
    Keep up the good work and warmest regards,

    • Use a normal glue, a contact one, that can be removed with water or heat. And just a VERY small spot is fine. DO NOT use those glues that are not removable. That part must be removed in case of lens cleaning, for example.

  • I thank you sincerely once again for this excellent review. This device is surprising because if we had to rate the devices according to their cm3, in percentage it would be one of the best devices in the world. My first Rolle 35 is an SE, I walked it with my Contax T. I consider the Contax to be superior, but in fact after reading a series of articles including yours. I’m trying to reconsider my thinking. Yes, the Contax T is a superb device that HCB has used elsewhere, it is a real RF, which is not the case with the Rollei 35 SE. But, at F8 + 5 meter focus, both become formidable PS. The Contax has superb automation, but it is also its weakness, one day it will no longer work, like all electronic PS (Contax T2 / T3, Nikon TI 35/28,…), despite their performance being exceptional, but they need electronics !!! The Rollei 35, NO! It can work without battery, it has no electronics! The optics? Frankly, if the Sonnar of my Contax T is a marvel, the Sonnar of the Rollei 35 SE is not far, and even brings a better touch. Why ? I think I have the beginning of an answer: I think that the glasses and the coatings are Schneider, if this is the case, in Germany or Singapore, we simply had to mount the lenses supplied by Schneider, which could well explain the excellence of this goal. Look at the Rolleiflex with a Schneider optic, they are not more precise in definition, but have a performance, a touch much better than the Zeiss. So the Rollei 35 SE is a must that will always be repairable, so a good investment. Having two Rollei, with different films can make it possible to respond to all situations, with one of the greatest lightness and discretion. The only thing to pay attention to is when we rewind the film. The Rollei 35 SE is therefore one of the best camera to own: we put it in a pocket 😉

  • Great review and comments.

    I am a long-time Rollei 35T owner, and despite owning a plethora of cameras, it remains a favourite. A really portable camera that also takes great pictures is a rare thing indeed.

    My neighbour owned a photographic chain, and owned only two cameras….a larger Leica SLR and the first Rollei 35.
    He said of all cameras, the Rollei was the most useful and his favourite……and he tried them all.

    I still love the Rollei, and I still love film.

    The Rollei’s only rival is my Panasonic DMC MX3, which also takes great pictures, and is nearly the same size.

    The Panasonic has a CCD sensor, and like the legendary Pentax K-10D, the CCD comes very close to producing film-like results.

  • This looks like a cut little camera, and after reading this review, I jumped on KEH and Etsy hoping to find one. My intent was to buy, use, and re-sell. Just because.

    However, I’m lost as to which variation would be easier to use. Could you make suggestion, James.

  • Hi All,

    Just wanted to share my experience (horror story more like it) with the UK reseller FILMFURBISH. After ordering a two-tone unit and paying £60 for shipping, I received the 1st of 2 cameras after ~2-3 weeks in a nice bulletproof presentation box with all the included goodies (Yey!). Upon inspection, I found that shipping was only £29 (Argh), not £60 as charged. The camera had good clean glass with perfect view finder and framelines, but the lightmeter front window was dirty. After cleaning the lighmeter, meter readings were spot on. However, I found that the aperture blades would open, but not close when changing settings via the aperture wheel. I informed the seller and said he inspected the camera and that it might have been caused by shipping. So, trying to fix it myself to save time, I opened the unit and found that the sliding mechanism actuated by a cam underneath the aperture wheel was sticking and would not freely return with the help of the intact return spring. Damage was not caused by shipping. I shipped the camera back to the seller and received the 2nd unit, which was not an upgrade as promised, after ~3-4 weeks. This time I found the framelines to be dirty (covered with small black dots), lint in lightmeter top screen, and chipped lightmeter front window glass (3mm diameter) that’s recessed and protected by a ring. How is this an upgrade, it’s not even a black unit. I measured the lightmeter readings using the correct batter voltage of 1.35V against a known reference, my other lightmeter that was used to confirm the 1st unit, and found it to be 3 stops off. It appears the chip is acting like a lens dispersing some of the light entering the orifice past the sensor. I informed the seller regarding the chipped glass and claimed the lightmeter was verified and that damage might have been caused by shipping — again. I don’t think a chip on a tiny recessed glass would have been caused by shipping especially in a bulletproof package. Neither camera have been film tested (eg., shutter speed verified) at this point. I tried to negotiate for a 3rd unit, an actual upgrade to no avail. I will just need to punch out the chipped glass or look for a replacement top plate. Both units supposed to have been cleaned, lubricated, and adjusted (CLA), but that does not appears so based on my observations. Who in their right mind would send two lemons to the same customer and have the customer wait for an additional 3-4 weeks for the replacement. The seller should have know better and sent the replacement unit expedited shipping. Moreover, who sends out a unit with chipped lightmeter window that should have been caught during CLA and QC prior to shipping. How does that window even get chipped unless hit by a nail. This outfit lacks customer service/satisfaction and quality control, not to mention overcharging shipping cost from the UK to the US. Furthermore, the limited one year warranty requires the camera to be serviced by them in the UK during the first 6 months of ownership for it to be valid. Appears seller doesn’t trust his own product or quality of work. These things should not need service for years if properly CLA’d. I could not make lemonade with one lemon, but can with two. Great packaging and website though. Order with caution, you’ve been warned…

  • Many thanks for this wonderful review of the legendary Rollei 35SE. I had to make extensive repairs on the Rollei 35 SE that I bought form a private seller and still don’t have it in its original state: firing the shutter is a bit clunky it since a metal bar inside the camera was bent and I cannot get it absolutely straight. But the lens makes up for this, with its bokeh that is infinitely more subtle than the Minox 35 give. It’s hard to choose between the two, the Minox being easier to operate with its electronic exposure control and being more compact in the pocket, or the Rolle with it’s outstanding lens. I’ll never sell either.

  • NIce review. I’ve 2 35S and a 35, but no 35SE (yet…). You can see how much I love these little gems. They just returned from a CLA and are all working, meter too. Yesterday I did some shooting to test them with film and I remembered the main reason for this passion – both lenses are incredible!
    These are cameras you can carry with you everytime and produce nice shots. They’re a bit larger than a cigarette box pack. They’re still the smallest 35mm full-frame mechanical camera ever made, which makes the almost eternal since repair will ever be possible unless it falls and break or something like that. You can find new parts on ebay – I picked a new viewfinder for one of my 35S, which was somewhat foggy. All smaller ones or more modern are electronic and someday will become paperweight.
    A curiosity about their lenses:
    Rollei and Zeiss had a looooooong partnership history. Since the 60’s they shared a lens factory. During the 70’s, due to Zeiss contract rights agreements with Hasselblad, Rollei was asked to take the Zeiss brand name from its lenses BUT they were still made by Zeiss on the factory they shared in Germany. The Sonnar lens found on the 35S and SE has a special coating – Rollei-HFT – which is the same *T Zeiss developed for Hasselblad lenses. Even the color for this coating name on the lens is the same. This is one of the reasons the Sonnars have a unique color rendition and character.
    I thought that zone focusing would be harder. But you get used to it and it can make things fast when you leave the camera on a medium set, like 4 meters and f8, 125, for example. Of course it depends on the day and light. But with a setting like this it’s amos a pont and shoot. Also, you don’t actually use the meter that much, as on an SLR. You do a metering and focus on the subject, no need to try to be that much precise. We tend to do this on SLRs because the meter is in the finder but film latitude handles most ups and downs with a breeze.
    I picked a rubber lens hood for my 35S and a hard plastic for my 35, both from Rollei. Don’t know if the rubber one works thaaaat well, but it’s there 🙂 Only one of the 35S has the original case, but I found they fit perfectly on the case of a small Pentax that broke and it slips very well on the front pocket of a jeans (not tight fit, of course…).
    One MUST – the wrist strap. These cameras aluminium covers are somewhat slippery. So, these are a must. Also, being aluminium, they are prone to litthe dents depending on the way it hits a table, for example. Be aware, always use a case, a strap and be happy!

  • Another point worth mentioning about both Sonnar and Tessar lenses: they exhibit almost no distortion and chromatic aberrations. You can check the corners of the photos on this article. This, per se, shows how serious these lenses are.

  • Huge fan of the Rollei 35. The led metering on the SE and TE a kind of design failure in my opinion. Actually when adjusting the wheels that control shuttertime and aperture while looking through the viewfinder, you won’t have any clue about their values. To know the values, you will have to take your eye from the viewfinder and look at the camera from above again.

    The original meter on the top plate means that -while you set shuttertime and aperture- you can see both metering AND values at the same time/ from the same angle. You finish the settings, look through the viewfinder, frame and shoot. Love it.

    So if you want to learn about the relation between aperture and shuttertime, I would choose the older models, otherwise you end up twisting rings to activate the right led. The great thing about the 35 series is that theit shutters are mechanical so you can ignore the metering completely and use the sunny 16 or an external meter, which would most likely improve the results.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

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