I recently acquired a Rollei 35 after dreaming about shooting with this ultra-compact camera and its legendarily sharp Carl Zeiss lens for many years. I was able to score a great deal on a lightly used “Made in Germany” variant at my local camera shop by trading in an old Canon A1 and 50mm lens that I wasn’t using any more, along with a spare Mamiya 645 1000s medium format body.

I always try to run a test roll of film through my “new” cameras to make sure they actually work before using them for anything critical, so I spooled some Kodak Portra 400 through the innards of the efficiently designed little Rollei and tossed it into my daily camera bag.

Since I already had two other 35mm cameras loaded with different film stocks at the time: a Contax TVS III with Fujicolor C200 and a Voigtlander Bessa R3A with Fujichrome Velvia 100, I figured a little comparison shoot might be in order. The Contax has a well-respected Carl Zeiss zoom lens that covers the same focal length as the Rollei 35’s fixed Tessar 40mm f/3.5. Thus, I figured I could use the shootout to not only gauge how the different film emulsions rendered scenes, but also compare how the Tessar stacked up against the TVS III’s Vario Sonnar T* 30-60mm f/3.7-6.7 lens.

I shot everything at box speed, and metered scenes with each camera’s internal meter. Apertures and shutter speeds varied widely between cameras from shoot to shoot, which means that an apples-to-apples comparison of sharpness between the lenses is not at all scientific.

This is particularly true for the lens I used on the Bessa R3A, the Nokton Classic 40mm f/1.4, which I often shot at larger apertures due to how much light Velvia 100 requires. Shooting at f/2 led to softer shots than the Nokton is capable of creating when stopped down a bit. I did, however, manage to keep framing and distance-to-subject pretty consistent across the cameras. I scanned all the film at home with an Epson Perfection Pro V850 using SilverFast 8 software. I cropped images, removed dust and made minor edits in Adobe Lightroom.

Overall, I’m pleased with the results, especially those from my new Rollei. The test shots confirmed the Rollei 35’s functionality as well as its well-earned reputation as one of the best compact street shooters of all time. From f/5.6-f/16 the camera’s Tessar lens absolutely demolished everything else.

It’s so sharp it’s almost unfair. Any time I found a less-than-sharp image from the Rollei, it was usually because I was shooting a subject closer than 3 meters and had incorrectly estimated the distance while zone focusing. The Vario Sonnar lens on the Contax TVS III was no slouch either, with very pleasing results when stopped down to around f/8. However, I found the autofocus to be hit or miss on the TVS III, with several shots ending up out of focus. I’m not sure if this is due to user error, a problem with my specific camera, or a known issue with the TVS III’s in general, but it was a bummer nonetheless.

The images follow below – click/tap to view them in full screen.

The Velvia 100 shots taken with the Bessa R3A turned out ever so slightly softer than the Portra 400 shots from the Rollei, and about on par with the Fujicolor C200 shots from the Contax point and shoot. As I previously mentioned, part of this is due to shooting at larger apertures with the Nokton lens, but it may also have had to do with my scanning technique.

Velvia’s transparency film curled up more than the two negative films, and thus did not lay perfectly flat while scanning. I tried to compensate for this by fine-tuning the height of the scanning trays, but ultimately I would need to go back and rescan the entire roll under ANR glass to get it perfectly sharp.

Scanning and focus issues aside, I think the example shots still do a decent job of showing the strengths and weaknesses of each of these film stocks, and how they handle exposure, contrast, and colors in very different ways. Unsurprisingly, Portra 400 had the best dynamic range and a pastel-like color profile; Velvia 100 had the worst exposure latitude, but rendered the most saturated colors; and C200 was a goldilocks of sorts, with a nice balance of contrast and saturation, albeit with a noticeable green cast and larger grain.

I’ve written about my fondness for Fujicolor C200 in the past, and I continue to enjoy the results I’m getting from this inexpensive consumer film. It’s not a standout in any particular area, and even seems grainier than the faster Portra 400, but I love its color palette and gritty aesthetic.

Portra 400’s extremely forgiving latitude was perfect for getting consistently well-exposed shots from the Rollei 35’s matchstick CdS cell meter, which I (surprisingly) found to be accurate to within ±1EV compared to my iPhone light meter app.

All the shots taken with the Bessa R3A ended up with Velvia 100’s hallmark magenta cast, which is still evident in the example shots above despite my efforts to neutralize it somewhat in Lightroom. In case it’s not 100% obvious by this point, the first shot (left to right or top to bottom) in each series is Kodak Portra 400, the second is Fujicolor C200, and the third is Fujichrome Velvia 100.

Check out more of my results from this shootout and other adventures in photography on Flickr and Instagram.

~ Isaac

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About the author

Isaac D. Pacheco

Isaac D. Pacheco is a Washington D.C.-based photojournalist who travels the world and tells the stories of people and cultures he encounters along the way.

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  1. I read your comparisons with growing fascination but what in effect you have done is to carry out three quite different camera/film tests. From what i know of Rollei and Carl Zeiss designs you have three quite different but closely related lenses; the Voightlander itself coming from the former Rollei stable, most of whose later lens designs were produced under licence by Rollei from Carl Zeiss Oberkochen in the former West Germany. Having said that, the Rollei 35T has a branded Carl Zeiss Tessar lens that would have been made by Carl Zeiss themselves. It is the same generation as the legendary f1.4 f2 and f1.8 f2 Planar lenses fitted to the original Rollei SL35 cameras made in Germany. Quality of those German lenses is light years away from the later Singapore-made versions. That up to a point explains the outstanding performance from the Rollei 35T lens. The other two cameras were made in the Singapore factory which I understand had quality control issues, so the products were not consistent batch on batch. What I am getting round to saying is that if you want to compare the quality of those films you need to run a second series of tests using the Rollei 35T as a standard.

    1. Sorry, I realise that the Contax was not made in the rollei factory, and I am not familiar with the more recent Carl Zeiss manufacturing operation. But it is interesting that the Vario-Sonnar gave a superior performance only when stopped down to f8, because the original Tessar lens design was a cheapened version of the original Sonnar!

  2. Excellent comparison of three film stocks, using three different cameras for the same « shot » revealed a lot about the film/camera etc.

    Note that scanning programs/digital cameras « render » the same negative/slide in different ways. Consider scanning with minimal corrections/adjustments. Scan as positives with no correction [raw] and output to tiff/dng. This results in a « purer » scan. Just include the unexposed film base in a scan. Then « invert » the negative, taking into account the film base. Best to do this nondestructively. The Lightroom plug-in Negative Lab Pro can do the inversion. or use Darkroom + with an Adobe DNG converter.

  3. Yes, film is definitely making a comeback. Regrettably, my local photographic shop has closed during the pandemic lockdown. So I looked round and discovered that Max Spielman offer a wider range of services than my old supplier. They only offered C41 processing with negs scanned to disc. For mono, I had to use Ilford XP2 Super. Film cameras and lenses never disappeared. Here in the U.K. we have Ffordes of Inverness, Grays of Westminster, Peter Loy also in London as well as West Yorkshire Cameras in Leeds.
    If you want a Nikkormat FTN you’ll get it in one of those for sure. I’ve started building up a Leicaflex SL outfit with three bodies, 28/35/50/90/100/135/180/250 lenses. Don’t use zooms – too slow. I’ve had to get my skates on as Digital Johnny is snapping them up to mount on his Japanese electronic wonder with Chinese made adapters. So: German or Canadian lens, Chinese made adapters and Japanese camera. What a lineup! Please buy Ilford film. A British product sold around the world and we are very proud of it.

  4. I’m intrigued that the colour rendering is so utterly different between these films; the blue/green colour in the first set of examples is completely different: so which is nearest to what you were actually seeing?

  5. Great !!!
    The lens are very near in fact.
    The Voigtlander uses to go to purple/magenta, probably the coated!
    If you use the Velvia with the Rollei or the Contax you will be pleased;-)
    By the way great test = real situations. It is better than graphs and to take images of charts … this is not real photography.
    There the best is the Rollei 35, I have sold my Rollei 35 Sonnar, and I miss it for the results. The Tessar is great too.
    Thank you so much for your helpful contribution. Two films which could be interesting to test are : Ektar 100 and ProImage 100.