Many weeks ago, in a time before The Virus, and before The Lockdown, I went on a non-socially distant walk with my mate David, taking in the Grand Union Canal from Kensal Town to Primrose Hill. As is often the case on these occasions, I wanted to take a camera with me. I’d been rooting around in the cupboards doing some sorting out, and I found the dinky compact Rollei 35 LED that a friend had given me a few years before, so decided it was well past time that I took it out for a spin.
The Rollei 35 LED dates from 1978 and is a development of a model first introduced twelve years earlier. It really is unbelievably small and quirky for a 35mm camera. There’s a 40mm f/3.5 lens that pulls out from the body. This incorporates a scale focus ring, aperture ring, and a pretty stiff shutter speed ring. There is coupled metering, the output of which is shown through the small viewfinder, a green LED indicating correct exposure, a red LED on the left showing under, and one on the right showing over exposure.
On the top of a camera there’s a lockable shutter release, film advance lever, and an ISO dial arranged around the battery compartment. Unusually, the rewind dial and the flash shoe are located underneath the camera. To load the film, the back of the camera slides down and off, rather than swinging open as with many 35mm compacts.
In use, I found the little thing took some getting used to. After a few shots some odd noises and resistance alerted me to the fact I’d not loaded the film correctly, so I rewound and started again. Then the light meter batteries, which I’d put in when I was first given the camera, ran out so I was forced to guess exposure with the Sunny 16 rule.
Once I’d got going, I found the tiny controls a little difficult to manipulate, and the focus ring very easy to knock out of position. Scale focus is not my favourite, it’s not always easy to guess distances and so using a middle to high f/number essential to make sure things stay in focus.
Despite that, there was a certain joy to using the Rollei, it’s very lightweight and fits easily in a bag or coat pocket so is no trouble at all to take out and about. It’s very unobtrusive and you’re not likely to alarm passers-by if they happen to be in the frame when you’re taking a shot.
I developed the Kentmere 400 in my now well out-of-date Paranol, and got some nice, well developed and contrasty negatives. Scanning the film on my Epson V550, I was really pleased to see resulting frames being mostly correctly exposed and beautifully sharp. They could have easily been taken with a decent SLR.
The diminutive Rollei might look like a toy, but it really can deliver a professional result.
On a practical level I was also really pleased to see hardly any dust and dirt on the scans, minimal spotting in Photos required, just how I like it.
So yes, the Rollei 35 LED: fiddly but fabulous.