Kodak 35 RF

Classic Fixed Lens Rangefinders:
Kodak 35 RF

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

OK, so as I said on my Retina page, I'd like to get my collecting biases on the table: I hate Kodaks!

But there's one Kodak camera that is so ugly... that you can only be charmed by it.

It sort of reminds me of Bauhaus meets Japanese-robot-animation (mecha). The Kodak 35 Rangefinder has an odd bulbous growth on the front that hides the RF coupling. It looks like it was stuck there as an afterthought.

This isn't too far from the truth. The original Kodak 35 was designed to compete with the Argus A series, but in 1938 Argus came out with their wonderful brick shaped Argus C series with a coupled-rangefinder. Kodak scrambled to add an RF and glommed on a RF to their bakelite model.

This camera was pure Made in USA technology and ingenuity. Unlike the Retina series, which is/was Teutonic to its roots and aimed for quality regardless of cost, the 35 RF was designed for the masses and for low cost. Instead of machined brass and steel, we have stamped alloy and cast bakelite.

A sticker on the inside of the camera admonishes the user to only use Kodak film, and gives patent dates of 1938, 1940, and 1942. It has the same shiny film pressure plate as found on the Bolsey cameras. This means that you should only use negative (B&W or color) film with these cameras and not chrome positives (slide film) which does not come with an anti-halation layer. Infrared film will also act very funny, creating a literal mirror-image.



Interesting quirks

That thing on the top of the camera and that looks for all purposes like a shutter button? That's not a shutter button. That's the wind-on interlock. To take a photo, assuming the camera is not wound:

  1. Push the wind-on interlock (just as if you were taking a photo)
  2. Turn the wind knob until you feel a "kaching" sound (don't overwind or you'll feel a "snap" sound that's the film sprockets tearing out, it's not the end of the world, just take a blank photo and wind on
  3. Look through the RF and focus using the split-image
  4. Look through the viewfinder and frame your image
  5. Fire the shutter using shutter release on the front of the camera, by the focusing knob


Now, this camera has a focusing knob on the front left of the camera that really serves no purpose except to ape the Argus 'C' camera it was competing against (or perhaps in concept, the Zeiss Contax camera).

The shutter advertises that it's flash compatible, but it uses a proprietary system that isn't compatible with current flash units (unless you can find the rare adaptor somehow).


OK, so the camera looks like your typical leatherette covered brass or alloy, right? Nope! The black portion of the camera is actually bakelite. You can tell when you look at the strap lugs, which are molded bakelite.


Technical Details

Camera Name
Place of Manufacture


Date of Manufacture
My camera's serial number is EO6121x, this means that it was built in 1946 using the table from ClassicCamera
Focusing System

Coupled split-image rangefinder
Separate viewfinder
4' to infinity (right focusing; infinity on right)


Kodak Anastigmat Special 50mm f/3.5 (type unknown)
(Anastigmat Special=uncoated; Anastar =coated)


"Flash Kodamatic Shutter" leaf (in-lens) shutter

1/10 - 1/200

Metering System



f/3.5 - f/16


Proprietary external flash connection

Film type / speeds

Standard 135 (35mm) film 24x36 gate

Battery type
Dimensions and weight
24 oz (680g)
Retail price
$48 (1940)



About Kodak

Let me get something straight: Kodak was never about high quality photography. George Eastman wanted to make photography available for the masses, to put a camera in every hand. Previously, photography was a messy, icky affair with wet chemistry glass plates that had to be coated before each exposure and processed immediately in a darkroom tent. You literally needed your own pack mule to take photos anywhere.

Kodak developed the technique of putting film emulsion onto a thin flexible backing and thus developed the first roll film. Kodak also gave us the numbering system (Type 135 for 35mm film; Type120/220 for medium format roll film, etc.). Originally, 35mm film was designed solely for motion picture usage. It was Oscar Barnack's brilliant idea to use it for still photography that led to the Leica, and the development of 35mm miniature cameras.

Despite the fact that I'm a technical snob and wouldn't use (or touch!) any Kodak camera except a Nagel-type Retina and a film snob so the only Kodak film I use is Tri-X (I'm Fuji Film all the way otherwise), I do have to credit Kodak (and Leica) with making photography available to everyone. Otherwise, we'd all still be hauling heavy glass plate cameras around on our pack mules. If you think your SUV gets bad mileage! ...


On the Net



I own my Grandfather's 1946-vintage Kodak 35 RF. I also have boxes and boxes of his Kodachromes that show that it was indeed a pretty good picture taker back in his day.

However, without a doubt, it is one of the most user-unfriendly cameras ever made. The unit seems to be in order, but I have yet to be able to successfully get film to wind into it without tearing out the sprocket holes. And there's nothing like focusing a camera by putting the tip of your finger on a spiked wheel and moving it back and forth.

I do want to ask you about the "shiny film pressure plate" and not using these cameras with slide (transparency) film. Both this camera and the Kodak Pony 135 Model B I have possess the "mirrored" film pressure plates. However, both of these cameras have successfully taken literally thousands of slides over the years (old Kodachrome, mostly, but up through at least the Ektrachrome 64 era). In fact, when both of these cameras were being marketed, they were marketed as "color" cameras, and the only color film Kodak made at the time in 35mm was Kodachrome. My Mamiya/Sekor 500 DTL may also have a "shiny" pressure plate (can't tell you right now because there's film in it), but I've successfully shot Ektachrome Infrared in it.

Karen, I believe that's as good a reason as any. If I recall correctly, original Kodachrome was around ISO 12, so increased low-light sensitivity might have been a goal.

Right now I'm finally getting around to sorting through literally thousands of slides dating back to the 1940'a. Many of them were taken with the Kodak 35 RF. I was amused to note that there are a LOT of slides where the framing is way off center, and came to the realization that they were probably the result of focusing the 35RF through the rangefinder window and not switching to the viewfinder for composition!


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