film photography · Photo essay · Vintage Camera Reviews

The Bell & Howell/ Canon Dial 35

In 1963 Bell & Howell created the Dial 35 camera, and had them manufactured by their new partner Canon in Japan. It had several variations including the Dial 35-2 in 1969, which is the model I have.

Bell & Howell came into partnership with Canon in 1961. After many years of creating motion picture cameras they decided to start creating still cameras. The Dial 35 is one of these, and the many variations will have either of their names on the logo or both.

It was a camera that looked like a phone and worked like a clock. Most of you probably don’t know what a rotary phone is, but in the 19th century up into the late 20th phones had what was called a finger wheel. This was the dial on the phone laid out in a circle. You would hold down each number consecutively in the phone number you were dialing, and rotate the wheel around towards the finger stop.

The Dial 35 doesn’t have a rotating finger wheel. It is only cosmetically designed to look like a rotary phone. I am not exactly sure why they chose this design. I wasn’t able to find much info when researching this camera.

Rotary Phone
Rotary Phone
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

The Ins and Outs

The Canon Dial 35 is a half frame camera that gives 72 pictures on 35mm film. It has automatic film advance from a clockwork spring motor located inside the grip of the camera. This grip gets wound up like a toy from that era. This allows you to keep taking pictures until it needs to be wound up once again after each set of 20 pictures. On the film counter the numbers 20 and 40 are set in red so you know it’s time to wind it up again. If the film stops advancing before you reach one of these numbers, it is till safe to rewind the motor if needed. There is even a screw mount located on the bottom of the grip for a tripod.

Picture from the Manual

The ISO numbers are laid out along the circle around the SE 28mm f2.8 Canon lens. The ISO numbers on the original Dial 35 ranges in sets of numbers from 8 to 500. The Dial 35-2 goes from 10-16 up to 640-1000.

The Dial 35 Canon Lens and ISO dial
The ISO dial and Lens

The camera is shutter priority, so you can manually set your shutter speed, which is located on the outside of the lens barrel from 1/30th of a second up to 1/250th. The camera then chooses the aperture for you. It has a needle matching CdS meter with an electric eye located around the lens. The meter reading is in the viewfinder with a distance indicator on the lefthand side. It zone focuses so you would have to guess the distance of your subject and then match the needle up to a picture of a mountain indicating a far away object beyond 15 feet, a blue snapshot symbol for 8-15 feet, and an outline of a human head to indicate 2.5-5 feet away.

The bottom of the field-of-view frame has the aperture numbers laid out with the red zones on the left and right letting you know that you are going to over or under expose and need to adjust your shutter speed. The frame in the viewfinder also has parallax correction marks to use when taking pictures up close.

Dial 35 Viewfinder features from the manual
Picture from the manual

The aperture control can be overridden by pulling out and turning the aperture knob located underneath the viewfinder window. You would also pull this out to turn off the meter when the camera is not in use so as not to waste your battery.

The original battery used was the 1.3 volt mercury battery that would need to be replaced with a modern equivalent. I use the Wein Cell batteries on Amazon.

The inside of the Dial 35
The inside of the Dial 35

There is a hot shoe mount and a PC socket located on the right side of the camera. You could buy a flash cube adapter to use in low light with the meter knob pulled out. The camera syncs with the flash cubes at 1/30th of a second and electronic flash through all speeds.

dial 35 flash cube attachment
Picture from the manual

The left side has a rewind button labeled with the letter R in white. To rewind the film you would first fully wind the motor, push down and turn the button to line up the white dots holding it there, and then the motor would automatically rewind. When it stops, continue to hold down the R button as you manually continue to turn the motor and rewind the film yourself until the counter says S.

The case for the camera looks a little like a coffin, but is a fun design allowing the strap of the camera to hang out for easy carrying.

The Dial 35 camera inside its case
Dial 35 inside its case

My Experience

I first saw this camera on a vintage camera Facebook page many years ago and I loved the way it looked. I have an affinity for all things from the 1960’s, so the design of the camera appealed to me. Back then I wasn’t shooting with my collection of vintage cameras because film wasn’t as readily available as it is becoming today. I had intended to purchase one for display in my cabinet. For some reason that I can’t remember, it may have been price, I never bought one. Now that I am shooting film in my cameras I decided to revisit this camera.

I found one on Ebay for a very cheap price because the seller wasn’t sure if it would work or not. I took a risk because if it didn’t work I wouldn’t mind just having it on display. I was really happy when I got it and figured out how to make it work.

Upon first inspection, I was aggravated by the zone focusing. I have always hated these types of cameras ever since I had a horrible experience with a Kodak Pony 135. I will have to tell that story in another blog post. Surprisingly though, this camera is very easy to navigate and over time I have gotten better at guessing distances.

The lens is surprisingly sharp when you get the distance correct, and I was very happy to discover it takes nice pictures indoors without a flash.

Christmas 2019 This was from a project I was working on called They’re All Angels.

Holding the camera is easy because of the motorized grip. It has some weight to it. It isn’t plastic and cheap despite being an unconventional camera. The viewfinder is nice and bright. Pictures can be taken in landscape or portrait style by turning the camera sideways.

avocado tree
succulents
Picture taken in low light in a bathroom

Conclusion

This camera isn’t one you would use for serious photography. It is a fun camera used more for the experience than for the photos taken with it. Don’t get me wrong though, I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the photos I have been able to get with this camera. I would recommend giving it a try, and even trying it out with your kids. They would probably get a kick out of it as well.Let me know in the comments if you have ever used this camera and what you think of it.

I will continue to use this camera especially when I am stuck indoors and need a camera that can take handheld shots in lowlight. I had good experiences in this scenario using Lomography 800 film and other 400 speed films.

Be sure to check out my other vintage camera reviews, and if you’d like to see more of my photography, please follow my instagram or Facebook.

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