I was contacted last May by someone looking to donate a camera. A reader named Sarah had acquired her grandfather’s Rollei 35 and wanted to make sure it would go to someone that would use it. After a few back-and-forth emails, Sarah sent the camera from North Dakota. I asked Sarah to tell me a little about her grandfather, John S. Anderson, the owner of the camera.
John Sherwood Anderson (December 31, 1908 – July 11, 1995) was born in Cleveland and grew up in Ohio. He had an older brother named Robert, and a younger sister named Marion (“Mimi”). His mother, Cornelia (Lane) Anderson, was the first of four wives to his father, author Sherwood Anderson. Sherwood was a novelist known for his subjective and self-revealing works. In 1916 when John was four years old, his father Sherwood had a nervous breakdown, divorced Cornelia, and quickly married his mistress.
John and his wife Eleanor were the Editors of the Damascus Blade, a newspaper in the western Virginia town of Damascus. His siblings were also involved in the small-town newspaper business located in Marion, Virginia. John was a visual artist. In his later years he lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and taught visual art. He likely used his Rollei 35 to capture beautiful or newsworthy parts of Virginia and Chicago.
What became of John’s father? Sherwood died in 1941 in Panama when he and his wife disembarked the cruise they were on headed to South America. He swallowed a toothpick that had done internal damage resulting in peritonitis. Sherwood was buried in Marion, Virginia. The epitaph on his grave marker reads: Life, Not Death, Is the Great Adventure. None of his novels were financially successful, however his short stories have become classics and influenced future writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner.
The Rollei 35 was introduced at Photokina in Cologne, Germany, in 1966. It was the first 35mm camera that Rollei produced. At the time, it was the smallest full frame 35mm camera made. About 2 million Rollei 35 models were sold worldwide. In his spare time, Heinz Waaske, the chief engineer of Wirgin cameras in Germany, made the first technical drawings of the camera in 1962. He designed the lens to be 40mm that would collapse into the body of the camera making it a thinner, more pocketable camera. Because of the limited space around the collapsed lens, a central shutter was impossible, so Waaske invented a new type of shutter that was separated in two individual parts: the shutter control clockwork was mounted to the camera body, and the shutter lamellas were mounted inside the sliding lens tube. For an exposure meter, Waaske used a selenium cell powered by a Mallory PX-13 (PX 625) 1.35-volt battery.
Waaske eventually left Wirgin and was looking for new employment in the industry, showing his compact design to Leitz and Kodak. In 1965, Waaske started working for Rollei where Dr. Peesel, the managing director, accidently got a glimpse of the new employee’s design. Dr. Peesel decided that the camera should be developed immediately. When it was finally presented at Photokina, the specs were greatly improved with a better lens, a Gossen CdS-exposure meter and a Compur shutter using Waaske’s patented design.
Over the years, several Rollei 35 models have been manufactured and sold. The model that Sarah sent me was an originally 35 model but has a Rollei Honeywell badge on the back of the camera and is engraved with “Made in Germany by Rollei.” The camera has an ISO range from 25 to 1600, impressive for a compact camera. The lens is a f/3.5 40mm Carl Zeiss Tessar and has shutter speeds from bulb to 1/500th of a second. Focusing on the lens is scale/zone and is shown on the lens measured in feet. Minimum focusing distance is 3 feet. The CdS meter is a match-needle displayed on top of the camera and is surprisingly accurate for the age of the camera.
Using the Rollei 35 reminds me of shooting with the Olympus XA because it’s so small. I feel like I have giant clumsy hands when I use cameras this small. The benefit of the size is the ability to slip this camera in your pocket, the side pocket of a camera bag, or a bike bag. The collapsing lens is unique on this camera. Before the lens can be collapsed, you advance the film. This is because part of the shutter mechanism is inside the collapsing lens tube. The shutter release button and the lens barrel release button on the top of the camera are very close to each other. I didn’t make the mistake, but I can see how someone would mistakenly trigger the shutter when they meant to collapse the lens. And like many cameras made during this time, the camera has no on/off switch. This means the meter is always active, measuring light and draining the battery. When I wasn’t using the camera, I made sure to put it back in my camera bag. And when I was done shooting a roll, I removed the battery all together.
Overall, the Rollei 35 is simple compact point-and-shoot, with an incredibly sharp lens. While using the camera, I had to stop and think a few times before making an image. The film advance is located on the left-side of the camera, so the film cartridge is loaded the opposite of what you expect. The film travels from the cartridge on the right, to the take up spool on the left. The film rewind knob, accessory shoe (cold shoe), film counter, and back lock are located on the bottom of the camera.
Camera: Rollei 35 (1966 – 1974)
Film: Ultrafine eXtreme 100
Process: CineStill DF96 Monobath
Scanned: Epson V600 Photo