Christopher J Osborne

Petri Color 35 D

Petri Color 35 - image 1 Petri Color 35 - image 2

The Petri Color 35 has been described (most notably by Stephen Gandy of fame) as the camera that Rollei should have made instead of their Rollei 35 series of cameras.

It certainly has a unique and extremely useable user interface, perhaps the best user interface of all the super compact 35mm cameras that became increasingly popular during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Petri Color 35 top plate controls- image 3All the main controls user controls (aperture, shutter speed and focus) are located on the top plate and are easily operable with your eye to the viewfinder. The viewfinder itself has a match need system for the completely manual exposure and a focus scale.

The exposure meter is coupled to both shutter speed and aperture which makes it easy to set your exposure in either a shutter speed or aperture priority fashion (though the instruction manual recommends setting the shutter speed first and then adjusting the aperture dial as you can use setting between each f-stop to align the meter needle with the precisely with the centre of the target in the viewfinder).

Focusing is guesstimate scale focusing. The thing that always puts me off scale focusing cameras is that without any reminder to focus in the viewfinder I usually just forget! But the focusing scale in the viewfinder of the Petri make this far less likely to happen, and the depth of field of a 40mm f/2.8 lens means super accurate focusing isn't necessary.

There are lots of really stylish and/or thoughtful touches like the beautiful rewind crank and the four little metal 'feet' on the baseplate which makes it unlikely to get scratched.

There are a couple of things I don't like: the metering system is turned on when you wind on, and off when you take a picture. The is a bit of a problem if you habitually wind on after every exposure to make sure you're ready for the next shot, because if you shoot like this the exposure meter is always on! But this is just a matter of retraining your muscle memory so you habitually wind on just before taking a shot rather than after.

Petri Color 35, lens retracted - image 4Petri Color 35, lens extended - image 5The focusing dial also extends the collapsable lens, which is a bit time consuming to extend, but this doesn't really matter: you just alway leave the lens extended most of the time… you only collapse the lens for storage while travelling (and even then only if you really want to).

I also don't like the fact that you have to open the camera back in order to change the battery… tough luck if the battery runs out with a film in the camera!

But despite these minor issues, this is a genuinely likeable and usable small camera.

This is the later "Petri Color 35 D" model… but the only different between this and the earlier "Petri Color 35" model is the very slightly faster top shutter speed (1/300th compared to 1/250th) which in practice make no difference.

Petri Color 35 D compared with the Rollei 35

Petri Color 35 top plate controls- image 6Having introduced this camera as the camera Rollei should have made, maybe I should compare the two directly!

First let's look at the points in the Rollei's favour: to begin with the Rollei is smaller than the Petri by a small but useful degree. Secondly, there is no doubt that the build quality of the Rollei is much better, and the lenses (particularly the Tessar lens on the 35 and 35TE models and the Sonnar lens on the 35S and 35SE models) are in a class of their own (at least by reputation!)

But the design of Rollei 35 is genuinely bizarre… and not in a good way! Pretty much every single control in a different place compared to pretty much every other camera in existence! The wind on lever in particular in on the wrong side and so operates in the wrong direction. I recon everyone's muscle memory after using practically any other camera is going to be permanently programmed in such a way that this never stops feeling weird!

And the shutter speed and aperture dials on the front of the camera are also never likely to stop feeling weird. The flash hotshoe on the bottom of the camera is also rather awkward, but that backwards wind-on lever! Oh my god, that backwards wind-on lever!! I will just never get used to that!

Most of the controls on the Petri Color 35 are also in rather unusal positions, but instead of feeling permanently weird, you get used to them in seconds because they're in such comfortable and usable positions! They allow you to set the focus and exposure with the fingers of just one had and without ever removing the camera from your eye from the viewfinder, which is brilliant! (And unlike the Rollei with requires you to continually remove the camera from your eye.) And of course the wind-on lever isn't backwards!

If only Petri and Rollei could have joined forces to give us a camera with the brilliantly ergonomic design of the Petri, coupled with the wonderful build quality and lens of the Rollei… the "Petri-Rollei 35" would have been a truly legendary camera!!