Cameras don't get much more beautifully steampunk than Kodak's first 35mm camera, the Kodak 35. Released in 1938, the Kodak 35 is a simple, yet well-made viewfinder camera designed for amateur photographers. Though compact and easy to take with you, the camera's metal and Bakelite build feels solid in the hand. I love the symmetrical nature of the design. It's essentially a heavy, functional piece of Art Deco jewelry. I had this camera sitting on my shelf for a few years as decoration, and just recently decided to put some film through it.
By today's standards, the 80-year-old Kodak 35 is pretty clunky in operation. Advancing and rewinding the film is done by rotating the knurled knobs on top of the camera, which can be a slow process. A small button next to the advance knob has to be pressed before the film can be wound to the next frame. Advancing the film also cocks the shutter, so multiple exposures are basically impossible. There's a cool little red indicator on the lens that tells you if the shutter is cocked and ready to fire or not. Be careful not to advance the film too quickly; I ripped my film trying to wind it on because I was a bit too aggressive and impatient.
Take note that you cannot fire the shutter without film in the camera, and the frame counter needs to be reset manually before each roll.
The leaf shutter in the Kodak 35 is by no means quick. It tops out at a speed of 1/150th, so I recommend using a slower speed film if you plan on making pictures in bright sunlight. The only available speeds are 1/25, /50, 1/100, 1/150, and B+T. Available lens apertures depend on which iteration of the Kodak 35 you own. Mine is a later, post WWII model, and has an f/4.5 "Anaston" lens. Regardless of iteration, all Kodak 35 lenses have a 51mm field of view.
Acquiring exact focus with this 51mm lens is a challenge, as the Kodak 35 does not have any kind of focusing aid. All you can do is guess, and there is no depth-of-field scale on the lens to help zone focus. Needless to say, close-ups can be quite difficult to pull off.
While focusing is tough, composing works great, thanks to the Kodak 35's nifty folding finder. The finder is surprisingly bright and sharp, and it is even parallax corrected thanks to a little distance knob below the mechanism. For me, this finder is the Kodak 35's most iconic feature.
Image quality is AWFUL. All of my pictures came out extremely soft, which surprised me, because most of my exposures were made at f/11 or f/16 with the camera's fastest shutter speed in decent light. At first I thought my focusing was off, but nothing in these pictures turned out sharp. I do not recommend using this camera, but it's still a cool camera to have on your shelf. Below are some pictures I made with my Kodak 35 using Portra 160 film.