James's Camera Collection: Rolleiflex SL35E

Rolleiflex SL35E West Germany 35mm cameras
Rolleiflex SL35E with winder
Camera type: Single Lens Reflex (SLR)
Lens Mount: Rollei bayonet
Approx. date of manufacture: 1978
Battery: PX28 (6-volt silver-oxide or lithium)
Approx. original price: $475 with 50mm ƒ/1.8 Planar
Approx. street value: moderate

I've had this camera for many years but it was DOA when I bought it (and didn't pay much for it). I had never really given much thought to it, and therefore I had assumed it was just the SL35M with better electronics. I was wrong. It's a different camera altogether.

Found this SL35E at a thrift shop for around $70, but it had three lenses and a winder and a handful of filters, so I grabbed it. Of course—it's dead and will likely never work again. It'll be too expensive to repair, so it's now a display piece for my collection.

For years I thought the SL35E was just the M with upgraded electronics, too-little too-late. I was wrong. A reader kindly pointed out that the E was a different camera entirely, just a little smaller than a Canon AE-1 and the same weight (at least they are on my kitchen scale). It has a variety of features that make it worthwhile, including a novel reflector window that shows the actual lens aperture (as it is on the lens ring) inside the viewfinder.

This body came out both in bare-metal and black versions; I think the black body is a lot better looking.

Rolleiflex SL35E advertisementModern Photography magazine used to list this in their annual "Top Cameras" feature that appeared in every December issue. They ended with this comment, " While we have been chary of praise for previous Rollei 35mm SLR cameras, this one is clearly worthy of its name."

Wikipedia, with the benefit of time, is less lauditory: "In 1978, Rollei introduced a new, electronically controlled camera, the SL35 E . However, it lacked the reliability that was now expected of consumer products. One weak point, for example, was the mirror mechanism."

Mine has a problem with the mirror.

This was the last of the traditional-style Rollei 35mm line. They went bankrupt 1981 and reorganized under new ownership, and put their energy into the Rollei 2000 and 3003 cameras, which were designed like medium-format SLRs (think Hasselblad 500), and their famous TLRs.

Modern Photography magazine camera test: November 1978

One of Modern Photography magazine's Top Cameras

Camera manual: Orphan Cameras.com

There's a very nice website on the Rolleiflex SL35 system

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