The Rollei35S with FP4 film in Africa by Aloys Main

The Rollei35S with FP4 film in Africa
by Aloys Main – His Instagram is HERE
Hi Steve,
As I told you I wanted to share with you, some of my vintage experience with a rollei 35S camera body. I took this shots many years ago, using Hilford FP4 135 films 125iso, during one of my first travel trip to Africa.
As a students in medical school, I was involved in an NGO who’s aim was to help to african’s school building projects in remote desert villages.
I went to Senegal, near the main river who makes the border with Mauritania in the North and Senegal in the South. The place was fantastic, the village where we had to build our school with the local house builders.
Around midday, the hit of the sun was so hard, that we were forced to leave the construction site.  During this rest time, most of us (the « tuba » white young NGO volunteers) took a nap or staid home playing cards together.
I used this free time to take walk in the around, completely excited that I was by this amazing desert area landscapes I had only seen in books or in my adventure dreams! But now I was there, for real, and I didn’t want to waste my time in unproductive rest or plays, rather than take my occasion to discover more and more of this african deep real lifestyle, lands and people I could meet there for good!
A young shepherd carrying piece of dry dead wood to the traditional kitchen of his family.
autoportrait with my guests of these magic moments with this peul people. You can see this amazing small and really good rollei 35S camera!
The men welcoming me into their houses to share a tea or a fresh glass of water. Most of the small children were really frightened by me, the first white guy they had to see… 
I could have lost myself many times in this desert, as my exploration brings me quite far away from the village each day. Probably was I pretty unconscious? But it happened that anytime, I met some guys, some children or shepherd coming from I-dont-no-where, who was able to show me my way back home.
One day, I found on my way a really very small village of a couple of families, living in the middle of the sand. I stopped to ask some fresh water, and little by little I found this people were refugees from Mauritania, who had left their country few years ago, after a racial conflict in the 90’s where black Mauritanian people were persecuted by white arabic Mauritanian, leaders of the government. Some of them died in brief fights, and others crossed the river and built new homes and small villages with their own hands where the land was free, which means in desert land.
First look to the refugees village, in the middle of no-where… Women at cooking homework.
This families had never seen a white human being, as their were really no tourists coming there.  I was fascinated by these brave & proud people, and I went back every day to visit them, as they welcomed me really friendly, offering me all they had : shadow, fresh water or goat fermented milk, and beautiful pure smiles! They were no French speaking, nor any other occidental language… These guys were from Peul people, an ethnic group of original nomad of the Sahel belt from Senegal to Tchad. I knew only a couple of words in their popular language, such as « how do you do », « thanks », « can I sit with you for a while », but we communicated much more without any talk. Just humanity we could share for some incredible days.
children playing : the happiness with so few toys!
These guys were from Peul people, an ethnic group of original nomad of the Sahel.
The old respected chief of village, that one presented to me, as it is the common polite way of asking for the acknoledgement a foreigners is allowed to stay with the community. 
The rollei 35 OVF has no RF telemeter, so the focus is the difficult think at the beginning. But, in these « good old days » of analog « real » photography, we wouldn’t look after the hokey or the thinnest DOF… I shot very quickly, spontaneously, my camera settled in hyperfocal : with this 40mm f/2.8 Tessar lens at f11 or f16, focusing on 10feet (3meter) so that DOF would go from 6feet (2m) to infinity…
Some times for portraits or more closer subjects, the focus was settled by guesswork 3feet, 2feets, 5feets…
Another grandfather of the community, watching at me with suspicious impressive eyes (but inside big open heart!)
I really really loved this camera, who could fit in my pocket, even if it is still a « real full frame » 35mm camera with a great sharp lens, in a so small body.
On this portrait, you can guess how this Peul ethnic people are such beautiful ethnic group, historically coming from nomads from all over African : here in western africa, they have faces you can find mostly in eastern Africa, like in Ethiopia… 
best regards from our village! 
And most of my favorite thing with it is probably this : the fact that the built-in cell is on the top of the camera, which allows the photographer to arrange the speed settings according to aperture and light conditions, before to put the camera to the eye! So you discreetly look what you wanna catch, you settle your manual aperture, shutter speed and focus, and suddenly you put your eye behind the OVF and shoot directly, which makes it a really quick camera.
The Senegal River, in the region of Matam, north Senegal. 
Farmers from around there, coming back home after an hard working day in the fields or on his pirogue.  
If you know your tool and anticipate your shots. that’s what makes say people says : these manual cameras (such as mechanical M Leicas up to M4) force the photographer to take pictures with his mind and eyes, rather than being lead by his AF automatic modern DSLR… The Role 35S
Thanks Steve for reading and sharing this article on your so instructive website for everyone of us !


  1. Great photos with a great story, a reminder to me what photography is about and why I photograph. The MINOX was a similar camera whose lens would fold in and superb for candid photography too.

    • my father had a minox and i used to use it before buying my rollei35. And I can say that the minox is also a wonderfull camera! I prefered the rollei because of the simplicity of manual exposure, versus the automatic one of the minox, but we had a personal technic to manage difficult conditions such as backlight for exemple, by putting one finger in front of the cell in front of the lens in order to make the speed go down and expose accurate the subject in shadow in front of a violent light coming from behind…
      anyway the superiority of these small collapsible-lens cameras, was to fit in your blue jean pocket and to be with you anytime! just like iphones nowdays! (and it’s still one of the best camera to make great pictures, including in difficult conditions (see Mickael Christopher Brown, “Libyan Sugar” book : amazing!)

  2. Thanks a lot guys, for your nice comments on this vintage serie, that I like also pretty much!
    It is quite hard nowdays to keep this simplicity of taking pictures, like in those days of simple non digital cameras with only 36 shots inside! 😉

  3. Beautiful post, really superb photos and really lifted my spirits mate. Good on ya. Cheers from Down Under.

  4. What to say. This is what makes photography photography: use of the eye, painting with light ans eliminating the unecessary. Reduction of the essential.
    Great photos! Wonderful character of film, camera, motives and photographer.

    • Thanks a lot guys, for your nice comments on this vintage serie, that I like also pretty much!
      It is quite hard nowdays to keep this simplicity of taking pictures, like in those days of simple non digital cameras with only 36 shots inside! 😉

  5. Really beautiful photos, especially the last two, IMHO. Thank you for your post.

  6. I had a chance to visit years ago when I lived in Europe and your great article brought back great memories. Great photos and a testament to the Rollei 35. I grew up with my father using the camera and bought one for myself a while back – unfortunately it is not the one with the meter on top, which, I agree, is a very useful feature. Anyhow, nice photos and great work.

  7. Wow!!! Ever since I’ve been to Morocco, it’s my dream to go to Senegal. As a Muslim, every person I’ve known from there, regardless of the ethic group, is an amazing person in kindness and character. The people there are also known to be incredibly tolerant. That being said, you have documented life of these people perfectly, and had the right camera and film for it. I envy, in a good way of course, your experience there, and thank you for sharing the images.

  8. JOY is the first word that comes to mind when watching your photos ! thank you very much

  9. This is fabulous. The images are all amazingly captivating and those textures worked out great. A beautiful ode to film and documentary photography. Congrats

Comments are closed.