Rollei is a venerable name in photography. It was Rollei who invented the TLR concept with their Rolleiflex in 1929 (actually, Franke and Heidecke – Rollei was the brand name, not the maker). In the fullness of time, the original company ceased trading and the name ‘Rollei’ and the associated intellectual property rights got sold repeatedly. By 1995, the name ‘Rollei’ belonged to Samsung and it was the Samsung iteration of the company that made this camera. The legend ‘Rollei Germany’ appears twice on this camera – once on the base and once around the lens. This gives the impression that the camera was made in Germany but I understand that there was a ‘made in China’ sticker on the base when new.
- lens: Vario-Apogon
- focal length: 38-125 mm
- apertures: ƒ/4.6 to ƒ/11.1
- focus range: 0.7 m to infinity
- lens fitting: fixed
- shutter: leaf shutter
- speeds: 1/3 s to 1/400 s
- flash: built in
- film size: 35 mm
This Rollei prego 125 is a compact, automatic 35mm camera. It is not intended for the hobby photographer but for someone who wants a decent camera for holidays and family events. To this end, both exposure and focus are entirely automatic with virtually no scope for manual intervention.
The camera is made from a mixture of grey and black plastic. This is good quality, sturdy plastic which is still in excellent condition after 25 years. It measures 118 by 87 by 44 mm when switched off and opens to 118 by 87 by 80 mm when switched on. This has the lens at its widest focal length as the default when switched on (38 mm) and the lens protrudes further to 110 mm when the telephoto function is used (125 mm). The camera weighs 235 g without battery or film so not heavy but with a respectable heft.
Starting at the right, there is a largish green shutter release button. This has a diameter of 10 mm. Behind this is a semi-circular (just slightly more than semi-circular, to be accurate) green button marked ‘on/off’ – this is the on/off button (!) Left of the shutter release button is a black arc of a button. This is marked ‘tele’ at the front and ‘wide’ at the rear and is the zoom adjuster. This adjusts the focal length of the lens between 38 mm (the default) and 125 mm.
Dominating the top is a LCD screen. This measures 26 by 10 mm. It can display a wealth of information but when the camera is off the screen displays the number of frames of the film that have been used plus an indication that a film is loaded. When the camera is on, there is also the focal length of the lens on the left and the current flash mode. There is a fault on my screen on the left which is visible in the photographs.
Behind the LCD screen are four buttons. The right hand button selects the flash mode – available are auto, red-eye auto, off, fill-in, night time fill-in. The next button selects the self-timer which allows a standard delay, use of a remote control or sets up an intervalometer.
The third button has three modes – normal, spot focus or snap. Spot focus only uses the very centre of the image to focus. Snap sets the lens to 38 mm and the focus is set to the mid-ground – this is intended for snapshots.
The left hand most button sets the date print function. There are three date formats to choose from – repeated pressing of the button will cycle through them – and there are also seven brief messages that you can print on the negatives instead of the date.
Moving to the front of the camera, there are a number of sensors and windows. Looking at the front of the camera, at the top is a black plastic rectangular fascia. This contains, from the right, the built-in flash (25 by 15 mm) then a red LED for the autofocus system, the viewfinder window (10 by 6 mm), a rectangular window (13 by 5 mm) which I assume is a part of the auto-focus system but might not be. Just to the left of the black fascia are two small round windows. The lower of these is the remote control sensor and the upper one is the exposure sensor.
In the centre of the front is the lens. This is a Vario-Apogon. The Apogon is a name that Rollei has used for a variety of lens designs after they lost the right to use either Schneider or Zeiss names for lenses that Rollei made under licence from those two lens makers. The fact that this is an Apogon lens actually tells us nothing other than it was made by Rollei – the ‘vario’ part tells us that it is a zoom lens. Searching on the Interweb, I have been unable to find out anything about this lens. The ‘HFT’ in red means High Fidelity Transfer and refers to the lens coating system used. I have only seen this before on Schneider lenses.
Other details on the front: to the right of the lens, just below the flash gun, is a small round LED. This flashes when the self timer is used, the rate of flashing increasing just before the shutter fires. Level with the lens, on the right, is a 6mm dimeter button marked with ‘∞’. Pressing and holding this button forces the lens to infinity focus. This is intended to be used when some picture elements closer to the camera might entice the camera to focus too closely but is also useful when the scene has no textured elements of the autofocus system to focus on
On the left edge of the front is the battery compartment. This takes one CR123A lithium battery which is still available. The battery that I am using is just marked ‘123’.
As is usual, the back of the camera has little on it. At the top, towards the left, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 8 by 7 mm – not over large but large enough. To the left of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small wheel to adjust the eyepiece focus so that you can use the viewfinder without your glasses. Just to the right of the eyepiece are two small LEDs which are visible when your eye is at the eyepiece. Then top LED is green and indicates correct focus. When the lens is focused the LED is steadily lit. If the lens cannot focus, this LED flashes and the shutter is locked. The lower LED is red and indicates that the flash gun is ready to fire.
Inside the viewfinder, there are no bright lines – I assume that all you see will be in the picture. Towards the top of the viewfinder image are two short black lines. These indicate the limits of the viewfinder due to parallax when taking close-ups. In the centre, there is an area which delimitates the area which the autofocus system uses.
Further to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small lever. Turning this enables the camera to take panoramas. All that happens is that two horizontal masks mask the top and bottom of the film gate. When this lever is vertical, the masks are retracted. When the lever is swung to the left, the masks move into place.
Most of the back is the door giving access for loading and removing film cassettes. This door is unlatched by a small latch on the right hand side of the back. Next to this latch is a small window to allow the user to see the film cassette as a memo.
Inside, there is a chamber on the right to take the film cassette. There are four electrical contacts to read the DX information from the film cassette. This tells the exposure system which speed film is in use.
Most of the inside is taken up by the film gate and on the left is the take-up spool. Loading a film is easy. You put the film on the right, pull the film leader across until it just reaches the left edge of the take-up spool and close the back. The film is then wound onto the take-up spool and the ‘1ex’ appears on the screen on the top of the camera.
The base of the camera has two items on it. Just to the right of the lens is an ISO standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread. On the left of the base is a small hole. Pressing a pin into this hole forces the camera to rewind the film – usually, the film is rewound automatically when the end of the film is reached but you might need to take the film out before the end is reached.
I have a cassette of Agfa Vista plus colour film in the camera at the moment, trying out the various facilities offered by the camera. My first thoughts are that there is no indication that the shutter has fired – it is totally silent. The only noise is the advance system moving the film on for the next shot. I am finding this quite unnerving. But that is my only niggle so far.
There were two versions of this camera made and only one had the date-stamp facility. There is no indication as to which version I have but the date-stamp system gives every indication of working. When I get the test film back from the lab, I will know for sure which version I have – either the date stamps will be there or they will not.
At long last, I have had the rest film developed – by AG Photography in Birmingham. It has only taken me 11 months to get the film developed – I need to work on my procrastination!
The results are quite impressive for a cheapish plastic camera that is over 30 years old. I doubt that the designers expected it to last this long. Images are in focus, well exposed (I am judging this by looking at the negatives as scans usually look fairly good – image density is what I would want it to be), there is no flare, frames are evenly spaced on the film. What more could I want?
This camera has the option to print messages on each image so I have tried this out. I suspect that the novelty would quickly wear out. As I mentioned above, there is an optional ability to print the date on each negative and there is no indication as to whether my camera had this option operational so I tried it and it does work. This will be more useful than the messages but only marginally so. I will show examples of each.
This first image is looking down Steep Hill in Lincoln towards The Strait. Focus is good, exposure is good, there is no flare and I have no responsibility for the leaning lamppost, it was like that when I got there, honest. On the bottom right side you can see the message “MERRY XMAS” in orange (several other messages were available as well). OK, the system works but I cannot imagine wanting to use it.
Looking north this time, same general location, showing the central tower of our cathedral. Again, well exposed, well focused and, this time, no pointless message at the bottom because I turned it off.
Photography is a thirsty business so I stopped at Coffee by the Arch in Lincoln for a well deserved pot of tea. This is about as close as the camera wants to focus.
The next two images are a pair to demonstrate the panorama option. First I took the top picture (with a silly message included!) and then, without altering anything, set the panorama option. The lens has moved to its widest angle and the two baffles have moved into place. As is clear from the uncropped image, this is just a wide angle shot with the top and bottom missing (and the message moved up to be included in the image).
This last image is here to demonstrate that the date stamping is working and that I took this picture on the 7th July 2021. This was also taken while I was enjoying my cup tea at Coffee at the Arch in Lincoln.