Weighing a mere 175g with film + batteries and measuring 4x2½x1”, Revue 35XE is about the smallest and lightest 35mm film camera on the planet. It has a sharp wide-ish 𝒇2.8 38mm lens and a beautiful viewfinder with bright lines.
The Revue is a zone-focus camera, meaning that you’d have to guestimate the distance to your subject and dial that in — both feet and metres are marked on the lens barrel. Some people may find that annoying or inaccurate, but in my experience, it’s fast and could get almost as precise as a rangefinder with enough practice.
Focus aside, 35XE is an automatic camera with minimal exposure control: just the cleverly-designed backlight compensation switch. The metering system calculates aperture, up to 𝒇16, and shutter speed, between 1 and 1/500th of a second. To work, it needs two LR-44 batteries and 35mm film, rated anywhere between 25 and 1000 ISO/ASA.
I came across this beautiful piece of ‘80s engineering on Etsy after getting inspired by Dan’s camera guide to learn more about scale-focus viewfinder cameras. My copy was just over $100, which was a little more than I was prepared to pay, but it looked irresistible in those cleverly-staged product shots. It’s just as pretty in hand.
If you’re lucky, you can find it being sold together with a matching flash unit and a delicious velvet case.
It just so happened that my wife, Betty, was also looking for a lighter full-frame camera, one that wouldn’t make her worry about measuring light. Though she still really enjoys her Ricoh Caddy, the Revue is just too perfect for her not to own. Done!
In this review, I share my experience with Betty’s Revue 35XE before it switched hands. I am supplementing it with a few of her images for a broader spectrum of styles and film types.
Build quality, design, and ergonomics.
Aside from the lens and a few internal components, Revue 35XE is almost exclusively made of plastic. That said, this German-made camera is incredibly well built: super-tight tolerances, sturdy, and despite the material’s stereotypically “cheap” label, it feels luxurious.
The engineers who designed the XE took full advantage of the plastic’s weight and malleability to make a solid yet lightweight camera. It sports organic, slick lines, precise seams, and a comfortable grip all around. This is hands-down the best plastic-shelled gadget I’ve ever used.
35XE is the only viewfinder camera I used with clear distance information within the bright lines. The info is quite helpful as it’s easy to forget the pre-set distance and waste a frame since there’s neither a rangefinder patch nor a through-the-lens focus indication. The same display will signal underexposure with a red light.
A simple yet effective etched grip is extruding to the left of the viewfinder, making an already easy to hold camera feel extra secure in-hand. A backlight exposure compensation switch on the topmost plate adds 1.5 stops of light should you want to photograph your subject with the sun shining towards the lens. The switch is designed to reset on the next frame.
A thin yet remarkably rigid single-stroke black plastic winder fits perfectly in the grove within the body while still allowing for a comfortable grip.
A bright orange shutter button with grip etchings and remote trigger groves is well-balanced and easy to trigger shake-free at slow speeds. Next to it, a small arrow points towards the winder when the film needs to be advanced and towards the lens when the camera is ready to shoot. Note that the trigger won’t accidentally fire unless the camera is unfolded.
The bottom plate features a film-rewind release button, battery door, and a tripod hole. Back on the top plate next to the viewfinder, the film rewind crank functions simultaneously as a film door release when you pull it, gently, up by the handle.
The first noticeable downside to the design is the requirement for a specialized wrist strap that slides into the camera’s body like a SIM card into a mobile phone. Mine is lost and can not be replaced.
On the lens barrel, you can set your distance to the subject and the ISO/ASA for the film by rotating the ultra-thin tabs right next to the glass. The film speed setting is, unfortunately, is a very cumbersome control: my male-average-sized fingers are used to fidgety things, yet I am practically unable to use those controls without smudging the lens.
Revue 35XE, being one of the smallest and lightest cameras in its class, is also incredibly easy to hold and operate. The tradeoff is the lack of precise exposure control and a finicky ISO/ASA switch that further complicates exposure adjustments.
Camera lens and image quality.
I’m a fan of long “normal” lenses; anything that’s close to 50mm feels most natural to me. Longer lenses feature stronger background separation with open apertures and let me get close to the subject without being up in their face.
The Revue features a 38mm Revuenon lens, marked as Bladanon on Blada CA35. This is considerably longer than most cameras of this size, particularly the viewfinder type.
The copy being reviewed here comes with a light leak in the bottom-right corner.
The lens is, of course, not perfect. You may notice slight chromatic aberrations in bright light at far or out-of-focus distances.
It also tends to create flares, mainly when shooting foliage against the sun. These flares manifest as light “bleeding” into the shadow areas — see the tree line in the Kosmo Foto Mono photograph below. The metering system on the camera tends to skew towards overexposure.
Still, the camera’s longer lens makes for fewer geometric distortions, which is a bonus. It’s reasonably sharp in the center in optimal lighting. Unfortunately, the bokeh isn’t particularly interesting as it sits in-between the modern ultra-corrected lenses and the vintage “swirling” kind.
Feel free to pass your own judgements:
Blada CA35/Revue 35XE/Voigtländer Vito C history.
You may have noticed that this camera is sold under three distinct brands. In this final section of the review, I’ll go over each, starting with the original camera maker: Blada.
Blada was a German camera manufacturer with a typical post-war story of being split in half by the Berlin Wall. The name may seem unfamiliar as they usually produced original or clone cameras/parts to be white-labelled for resale by third party brands. It’s tough to pinpoint where on the cheap-quality scale they stand as their objectives varied greatly depending on whom the product is being built for and at what point in their turbulent history.
Revue is a brand that licensed various cameras, including the Chinons, to be sold with minimal cosmetic adjustments. Revue belonged to the german Foto-Quelle business — the largest, at the time, camera retailer in Europe. I am quite happy with the design alterations FQ introduced to this and the Bellami shooters, making them look a fair bit more stylish.
Finally, Voigtländer is a huge name for film cameras of the mid-twentieth century — still relevant to lens production today. Curiously, they eventually decided to sell white-labelled merchandise, though not entirely surprising. By the time this camera was manufactured, their former glory was fading and as we all know, selling the brand is cheaper than making cameras.