Rollei 35 Series

Classic Scale Focus Cameras:
Rollei 35 Series

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

Brand names are strange things. Rollei is a highly respected brand name in Japan, up there along with Leica, Hasselblad, and Contax. But in the U.S., hardly anyone seems to bat an eye at Rolleis anymore. Part of the problem was that in the 1970s, they switched production from Germany to Singapore, then they were bought out in the 1980s, and quality took a nose dive after that with a series of cheap SLRs. The Japanese remember the good old days of the Rolleiflex and Rolleicord, the Americans the bad new days of the Rollei SLR.

The Rollei 35 was built in both the good-old and bad-new days. The original 35 is a true gem of a camera. OK, it's only a scale focus camera and it uses outlawed mercury PX625 batteries, but the Zeiss Tessar lens really shines. The camera is just about as small as you can get it. Along with the Minox and Olympus XA, the Rollei 35 is a cult classic of submini full-frame 35mm cameras.

In 1974, Rollei rebadged the Voigtlander VF135 and called it the Rollei 35XF, trying to leverage their brandname. The 35XF has nothing to do with the Rollei 35 series. See my separate Rollei 35XF write-up.


Rollei 35: The original Rollei 35 is a design gem. The goal was to have the smallest full-frame 35mm camera possible. Unfortunately, that ruled out having a rangefinder or SLR (these innovations came with Olympus XA and the Olympus Pen F) so the Rollei 35 is scale-focus only. With some experience, this isn't such a bad problem, especially if you stop-down to around f/8 because of greater depth of field the 40mm focal length provides.

To save real-estate on the top plate, the shutter-speed, ISO dial, and aperture dial are located on the front of the camera. The rewind lever, frame counter, as well as the flash shoe is on the bottom of the camera, so you have to shoot flash photos upside down (which means your flash photos will be upside down, the horror!).



Rollei 35B: The 35B is the basic, low-cost model. Instead of the battery-operated CdS meter of its more expensive siblings, it uses a selenium "solar cell" meter which supplies its own electricity. So you don't need batteries. And given that mercury batteries are outlawed, that's most probably a good thing.

Unfortunately the 35B uses a lower-cost Triotar lens and a modified shutter system. So it's a bit more basic than a regular 35. Still, it's a gorgeous camera, especially in the mint black finish that I found this unit in.




Interesting quirks

The quirks of the Rollei 35 series are well known. The rewind dial and the flash bracket are located on the bottom of the camera. The button by the flash shoe is the rewind release button. Interestingly, on the top of the lens is the scale-focus in feet, on the bottom is the scale-focus in meters. I'm assuming you could ask a repair-person to flip the two around, depending on your preference.






Although we think of the Rollei 35 as pretty compact, compare it against the 1939 Kodak Retina I - made almost 30 years previously. I have a page extensively comparing all of the 35mm Compact Cameras of the 1960s and 1970s.



I previously wrote that the Rollei 35 lenses were Schneider-made, but apparently I was wrong. Jaco van Lith in the Netherlands wrote in with a correction:

The optics of the Rollei 35 series (Triotar, Tessar and Sonnar) are designed by Zeiss Oberkochen and made by Rollei. And if I want to be hyper-correct, it is to be said that those classical optical miracles were created by Carl Zeiss in the university town of Jena. So the name of the Optical Works of Jos. Schneider at Bad Kreuznach should not be mentioned in the Rollei 35 story.

Greetings, Jaco van Lith (The Netherlands)

This information has later proven to be incorrect. For evidence Jeff F. kindly provided this photograph of his Rollei 35:


Technical Details

Camera Name
35 35SE B35
Place of Manufacture

Germany then later Singapore

Date of Manufacture
1966-71 Germany
1971-74 Singapore
1979-81 Singapore

1969-71 Germany
1971-78 Singapore

Focusing System

Scale focusing
Albada viewfinder 0.6x magnification


Carl Zeiss Tessar 40mm f/3.5
4 elements
0.9m ~ infinity
M24 x 0.5 screw

Carl Zeiss Sonnar 40mm f/2.8
5 elements
M30.5 x 0.5 screw

Carl Zeiss Triotar 40mm f/3.5
3 elements


Rollei-Compur 1/2 - 1/500 sec + B

Rollei-Prontor 1/30 - 1/500 + B
Metering System
CdS metering
Match needle coupled metering on top plate

Built-in selenium meter
Match needle coupled metering on top plate


Hot accessory shoe on bottom of camera
PC connection on camera body

Film type / speeds

35mm film
24x36mm frame size
25-1600 ASA

Battery type
PX625 mercury-oxide cell PX27 5.6V mercury-oxide n/a
Dimensions and weight

97W x 60H x 32 D mm
325 g

Retail price





About Rollei

Rollei started out life as the Franke & Heidecke company in 1920. They first started using the Rollei name in 1926 with something called a "Rolleidoscop" stereo camera. People know Rolleis for their famous line of Rolleiflex and Rolleicord twin-lens cameras, which they first started making in 1929. The Rollei 35 miniature camera came out in 1966. In 1970, they moved production to Singapore but by 1981 they had to declare bankruptcy. Many changes of ownership later, in 1995 they were bought out by the Korean company Samsung, which is continuing production of Rolleicords and Rollei 35s.

On the Net



Leave a comment