Not Quite a Masterpiece : the Petri Color 35

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Feb 26, 2014.

  1. When Stephen Gandy of "Cameraquest" fame described this little camera as a "design masterpiece" the prices on the Big Auction elevated sharply, though they've slipped back to more realistic levels, recently. It's the Petri Color 35.
    Mike Gammill likes this.
  2. Stephen described the Color 35 as being "...the camera that the Rollei 35 should have been". Strong stuff, indeed. Launched in 1968, the Color 35 is very small, not quite as compact as the Rollei 35 but close to it with the lens retracted back into the body for transit. It's a design that came out of left field, created by the Petri Camera Company, a manufacturer that produced a rather average collection of 35mm cameras, both SLRs and rangefinders, some with attractive and unusual design features but nothing quite like this little thing.
    For a start, it's built to much higher standards than most Petri products, and the design is very innovative; thumbwheels on the top deck to set aperture and shutter speeds, along with a vertically-mounted thumbwheel peeping up from the back to adjust focus. A coupled CDS meter displays a center-the-pointer system in the viewfinder, and though designed for the defunct 1.35v mercury cells, seems accurate on a 1.5v alkaline.. The meter switches on when the shutter is cocked, and switches off after an exposure has been made, the film speed being set on a ring around the lens. The camera is otherwise completely mechanical in operation.
    Mike Gammill likes this.
  3. Shutter speeds run from 1/15 to 1/250 plus B and the aperture of the 40mm CC Petri lens run from f/2.8 - f/22. It's seems to be a sharp little performer, apparently a four-element design though I'm unable to determine the formula. The base comes off for film loading, revealing a well-finished interior ; the baseplate itself is very nicely constructed with a stud on each corner so the base doesn't come into contact with the surface it's sitting on.
    Mike Gammill likes this.
  4. Focusing is really rather inadequate. No rangefinder, just the usual series of "face to mountains" icons in the viewfinder, with the addition of distances in meters and feet. Nowhere on the body is there a distance scale; in some lights the viewfinder display is almost invisible and a distance scale around the focusing wheel such as Fuji used on their similar system would have been a great improvement. To make matters worse, the focus wheel is also used to retract the lens right back into the body; there's supposed to be a click-stop that the movement seats into at the infinity setting, but it's very imprecise. Perhaps the mechanism in my copy is worn, but it's quite easy to accidentally move the focus back beyond infinity, without this small variation being noticeable in the viewfinder. A more definite infinity stop would have been nice. The rewind handle is cunningly set into the top deck, though the actual machining and finishing of the components leave a little to be desired.
  5. Overall, the camera is pleasant enough to use, once one gets used to the placement of the controls. Certainly, much can be done without removing one's eye from the nice bright viewfinder with it's floating frame lines, but I find it a little small for large hands. It comes with a quality leather pouch with velvet lining, and one strap lug for the wrist strap. I don't think I want to enter into the Rollei v. Color 35 debate; the camera is interesting and innovative, but a curious mix of varying qualities. Competent it is, but a masterpiece it ain't. However, it takes quite good photographs, and I'll post a few below. The colour is from Fuji Superia 200 and the monochrome from Kentmere 100 developed in PMY Pyro, both scanned on the EpsonV 700 Photo.
  6. I've seen several of those in local pawn shops over the years but never bought one. Kinda wish I had now. Hardly any pawn shops bother with older film cameras now. The Petri Color 35 seemed fairly well made, comparable to the usual Yashicas, Minoltas, etc., but I never looked closely.
    johnfantastic likes this.
  7. I had a couple of Petri color 35 come my way but it's too small for my big hands and I doubt repairs if ever. It's pricey for an oldie, other than that, the design of the cam is quite unique enough to start a good conversation just like the Fujica 35se. As always Rick, you take very nice pics with whatever camera you have your hands on, thanks for sharing the pics..................
  8. Petri made some interesting cameras. Apparently, they were not sturdy or long lasting. Perhaps, it is unfair to compare them with my Dresden made Exaktas and Prakticas, [or even the Soviet made Zorkis and Feds] that don't seem to age. Nice pictures though, as you said. Thanks for the post. sp.
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  9. Good post with a nice series of images. Thank you, Rick! I had the Petri and still have a couple of Rollei's. I'm not a fan of the handling of these tiny scale focusing cameras. The Petri is a solid little guy and at least it had a hot shoe on top of the camera.
    johnfantastic likes this.
  10. You do take great pictures . This looks like one I might now pass on. I do like quirky innovative cameras
    and I think this fits the bill but focus problems I even have with fixed focus and if there's no infinity lock..
    better be careful!! I liked the size an have been tempted but as you said their size is attractive and keeps
    the price above what I might pay ... if one fell my way I'd be interested !
    Kent T likes this.
  11. I agree with Gandy: this looks a much better effort than the Rollei 35s to accomplish the same goal.
  12. Rick- I've become convinced that either people in NZ take better care of their cameras than people here in the US, or you're much more discriminating than I am in your choice of cameras to buy. I have very few cameras in as good shape as the ones that you constantly seem to find.
    I had come across Gandy's review of this camera when looking for info on my Petri 1.9. I looked around on eBay a couple of times to see if I could pick one up cheap. Your excellent series of images shows that it's a decent picture taker. But, the less than glowing review of the handling of the camera makes me think that I'll give it a pass as well. I'm not a big fan of zone focusing and the infinity stop issue is a concern as well.
  13. An interesting if flawed little camera, and as always, super results. I've got a Petri Racer rangefinder which looks to be from the same era, with a nice 1.8 lens. It seemed to be working properly without film but alas, it won't pull a film through, something must be adrift in the take up mechanism.
    Thanks for posting.
  14. I'll still stick with my Rollei 35, but talk about the triumph of the Antipodeans in making images!
    I always like your color shots best, since you have such a good eye for color composition and contrasts. :)
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  15. Nice composition and light as usual, Rick, but these photos do seem less slightly less sharp than some others of yours, so I'm wondering about the quality of that lens. Intriguing camera design, anyway, if only the execution had been better. I generally like top-deck thumb-wheel controls, such as the focus on my Vitessa or pre-war Bessa 6x9 rangefinder. Having the aperture control up there too seems convenient, and the front-and-back dials setup presaged the control layout of DSLRs. The better comparison here may be not to the Rollei 35 but to the Oly 35 RC, of which I've just picked up one. It is tiny, but has a rangefinder, and incredibly offers a full-information viewfinder. But the aperture ring on its slim lens is right fiddly, underscoring the appeal of the Petri's thumb-wheel. Same range of shutter speeds as your Petri, by the way: nothing slower than 1/15th.
    Mike Gammill and johnfantastic like this.
  16. Great job as always Rick!
    I must confess that the hubbub over these little scale-focus cameras has always eluded me. It would have been so easy to add a Olympus 35 ECR is virtually identical in size to either the Petri or the Rollei, with a rangefinder to boot. And the Petri's lack of a distance scale is unforgivable. Bravo!
  17. Nice work and lovely specimen as always. Love that orange/yellow Kodachrome cassette too.
  18. Rick,
    Another informative post. Just to be a contrarian let me say how much I like your B&W images. You have shown an ability to capture a full range of tones while showing interesting texture in your B&W work.
    It wasn't hard to find some reference material for this camera. The April 1969 issue of Modern Photography had a camera test and I found some ads in Popular Photography. Here is a link to this information.
    I did find a test of the Rollei 35 and the lens test show it to be sharper than the Petri.
  19. It would have been so easy to add a Olympus 35 ECR is virtually identical in size to either the Petri or the Rollei, with a rangefinder to boot​
    One problem with rangefinder mechanisms are that they are pretty easy to knock out of alignment (unless it's a Leica M which is pretty robust), so sometimes I think that for these cheaper cameras there is some logic in not pretending that a rangefinder will actually be accurate after a few years. Likewise, the baselength of many of these smaller cheaper rangefinders is so short that it may be only as accurate as scale focusing in reality. I had a Contax T and I certainly felt that this was the case with that camera. Its focusing accuracy was really no better than the Minox 35 with scale focusing. So, it may make sense to have scale focusing only in many of these cameras.
  20. Excellent photos Rick, I love that tea kettle shot, and the pair of chairs. They are gallery material.
    As far as the camera, well, I got two of them, because I got them cheaply at swap meets, and while they seem interesting and small, I am not crazy about them. I find the lens just average, and am at awe that someone would rate Rollei 35 below this. Rollei rules.
  21. Great responses, many thanks. Yes, Ralf, I tend to share your sentiments regarding these small cameras. I'd also agree with Robin; while acknowledging the inherent inadequacies of these compact 35mm cameras in terms of precision photography, I think I'm just as happy to guesstimate distance, but a decent indication of distant settings is an essential feature. Thanks Marc, and the results of the lens test is hardly a surprise... As Dave noted, the images do lack that "edge" that top lenses produce.
    Yes, Greg, I too have difficulty with small cameras. In rangefinders, something like a Minolta Hi-Matic is about my ideal handling size, though I acknowledge that one can't really stuff it into a jacket pocket. And thank you JDM, SP, Louis, Donnie, Steve, Lex, Grey, John, Cory and Chuck for your input..
  22. Sharp little performer. The Petri Color 35's I've seen listed for sale over the last few years were either non-functional or very pricey so it's great to see some results from one. I remember seeing ads for them in old photo magazines. While top shutter is only 1/250 sec. compared to 1/500 for the Rollei, its minimum aperture of f22 vs. f16 for the Rollei gives it the same minimum exposure capability for bright light. Thanks for posting.
  23. Yeah, the fiddly small rangefinders and hard-to-reach aperture ring are why I usually set the Olympus 35 RC and similar compact cameras to f/8 and just zone focus. The shutter speed dial is easier to reach so I'll use that for minor exposure adjustments. Usually everything is within a one stop range in either direction, so whether I'm outside during the day or indoors I don't often need to adjust the shutter speed or aperture anyway if the lighting is consistent.
  24. Never seem that one Rick, but I do have a Petri Racer, so I know that Petri could build a very pretty camera. Yours looks even nicer than the Racer, and your sample pics show your usual flair for composition.
    Hard to tell about sharpness on the monitor, but they look plenty crisp to me. As for the Rollei debate, the 35S is a wonderful bit of kit with that great Sonnar lens, but I find it a bit of a pain to use...and guesstimate focusing on such a pricey camera is a little hard to swallow.
    Thanks for highlighting this little where did I put my Racer!
  25. Hope you get around to posting some Racer pics, Tony, and thanks for the compliments. The camera seemed to get a sort of cult following, Mike, which inflated the price, possibly beyond it's true worth. Sensible procedure, Lex, pretty much like my own. I hate it when a camera gets in the way of the photographs...

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