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The Rollei 35 story

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The Rollei 35 standard model

In Braunschweig the camera design was adapted to the parts as available from Rollei's suppliers, Rollei did not maintain business relations with Metrawatt and Steinheil. The lens was chosen to become a high-quality Tessar, which was made-to-order by Zeiss. Rollei's light meter supplier was Gossen. The question of whether to use a photovoltaic selenium sensor or a CdS photoresistor, finally resulted in favour of the CdS, in August of that year. While Gossen indicated the same measuring range for both solutions, a selenium-cell powered light meter was about 3.50 D-mark cheaper and got along without battery. However, the much smaller CdS-photoresistor provided a more stylish look, a more shock-proof instrument and that the "CdS" could be used more advertising-effectively. The housing needed to be changed only slightly, since Waaske had unintentionally adopted the appearance of Rollei's twin-lens reflex cameras by placing the exposure and aperture controls to the right and the left side of the lens. Nevertheless Rollei's designer Ernst Moeckl refined the housing in particular by changing the edge radius, and the camera looked even smaller !!

The tree pictures show the different stages in the design development of the Rollei 35 camera.

The top picture is a prototype of July 1965 with a selenium metering system. Rollei marketing decided for replacing the selenium meter for a CDS meter, which was more "modern" and looked better than a large honeycomb glass window.

The middle picture, a design as of December 1965, shows the CDS meter, the lens release lever and the bordered wheel knobs for shutter time, ASA and diaphragm values. Also, the definitive height of the top cover is shown.

On the lower picture shows a design study by Professor Ernst Moeckl (November 1965). The lens release is positioned on top (as it would be in the production series).

For the mercury battery PX 13 (= PX 625 = MR 9) of the light meter a place was found inside the camera housing. The film rewind knob of the engineering model was exchanged by a rewind crank, and a hot shoe was added for mounting an electronic flash at the base plate. Placing the hot shoe on top of the camera was not feasible, because of the underlying exposure meter and transmission gear. Mounting the hot shoe only at the frame cover would likely cause some damage when using one of the heavy flash strobes of that era. Therefore, for a natural lighting shade, the camera had to be turned upside down, when using a strobe, to get the light source above the lens.

The picture of the bottom of the prototype and the later serial version of the camera show mayor differences.

The hot shoe and the rewind crank were missing on the prototype, which only had a knurled wheel for rewinding and a sync contact for cabled flashes.

The intended name for the camera was first thought to become "Rollei privat", which even was the engraving on the final draft in March 1966. But at the last minute in April 1966, when Dr. Peesel decided to designate all Rollei cameras according to the applied film format, the designation became Rollei 35.

Mass production started in July 1966 with the pre-production run. The first advertising brochures were still showing cameras with a release bolting device and battery test key. The first proved to be mere over-design, since with the lens inserted the camera could not be released anyway. The latter was let void, for reasons of reliability - electrical contacts could fail easily. The voltage of the mercury battery voltage dropped so quickly at the end of battery life, that hardly a false exposure could occur. Likewise the switch for the exposure meter was void. The exposure meter was always on, even with inserted lens. Enclosed in the darkness of the camera bag, practically no current drained the mercury battery, which therefore remained usable for many years.

The focusing distance has to be estimated with any Rollei 35 variant, if no accessory rangefinder is used. Unfortunately Rollei did not ever offer such a thing. Nonetheless, at the time of the Rollei 35's introduction this was not unusual, as most contemporary viewfinder cameras did not have a rangefinder. However, to take full advantage of the exceptionally sharp performing lens of the Rollei 35, a precise range adjustment was desirable. Therefore, around the year of 1970, Rollei's development department thought of adding a rangefinder to the camera. But for an integrated rangefinder there simply was not enough room left in the camera housing. Remembering an external rangefinder mechanism with a turning prism as used in Zeiss Ikon Super Ikontas and Contessas, some engineering concepts were made. The production transfer to Singapore was already in progress so there was little or no time available for innovations, and this idea was quietly abandoned.

Made in Germany
Following the pre-production run of 50 pieces, 200 cameras were made for use as advertising and testing samples. After 900 pieces of the regular models had been built by the end of 1966, 1967 saw a monthly output of 1000 cameras. Until August 1967 all Rollei 35 cameras got the unusual signature Made in Germany by Rollei - Compur - Gossen - Zeiss, but from then on only Made in Germany by Rollei.
Further deviations from the first production year were the plastic take-up reel and film rewind bearing,a V-shaped grasp for the bottom lock and anti-twist plate for the film cartridge. In September 1968 a special lens cement prevented the past UV permeability of the Tessar. A variant with a dark-green leather covering was rejected by the sales department, not wanting additional models just 2 years after the sales start. Another prototype with blank adjusting wheels from anodized aluminium proved too expensive to manufacture.

Made in Singapore
With the establishment of the new production plant, preparations began for the immediate shift of the Rollei 35 production to Singapore. Since there was not any supplier infrastructure in Singapore, all parts had to be manufactured there, if possible. Any supplies were only possible from Japan or Europe. The cameras received the engraving Made by Rollei Singapore. Now licenced lens production („Made by Rollei “) was used instead of the original Zeiss lenses, as well as Nissei exposure meters and Copal leaf shutters (both Japanese manufacturers). The retail price fell continuously caused by favourable labour costs. This did not continue to be a noticeable advantage however, since competing camera brands became more affordable as well, but contrary to the fully mechanical Rollei 35, thanks to the increased use of electronics.