I know this is a dumb question, but I recently inherited my first film camera, a Rollei B35. After loading the film, I had to fire the shutter a couple times to get the film counter in the window to "1".

What wasn't clear to me at that point however, is whether the numeral 1 denotes that a capture has already been taken, or whether it is telling me that I am about to take the first photograph.

Top view of Rollei B35 with film counter pointing to the numeral 6

  • 3
    Something you may not realize: Roll film has no frame size until it is exposed. The entire roll is just one long strip of unexposed film (other than frame numbers and other info that is exposed on the edges between the sprocket holes during the manufacturing process for some film formats that use sprocket holes, like 135/35mm). The frame boundaries are established by the size of the film gate between the shutter and the film.
    – Michael C
    Dec 2, 2020 at 9:07

5 Answers 5


As you know, a short tapered tongue / leader -- length of film protrudes from the velvet lined mouth of the film cassette. The velvet is a light trap that protects the film in the interior of the cassette from being fogged during the film loading procedure. You would be wise to load and unload in subdued light. In desperation, use your body’s shadow.

We close the camera and advance the film to #1. This indicates that exposure number 1 has been advanced and the camera is ready to take picture no. 1.

We are all tempted to squeeze more shots out of our roll than the number of exposures stated on the box. With luck you can get two or even three more frames.

As a rule of thumb these extra frames should be considered hit-and-miss. In other words don’t deliberately compose and shoot the next Pulitzer Prize image on film that could be despoiled.

Here’s why! The tongue, along with a few subsequent frame lengths, is likely fogged. If you are developing the film yourself, standard practice should be to cut off the tongue and save it for testing fixer and perhaps developer activity.

If you send your film out for processing, the tongue and then some will be used to affix the film to the film transport mechanism of a film processor. This area likely will be used to identify your roll via an adhesive label, or have a number imaged using light or perhaps a number using a labeling punch.

OK to try and get a few more frames than stated on the box. Just be aware, that all of the extra fames might not be fruitful.

  • 6
    During a brief phase when I was both shooting film and fairly organised, the first couple of frames to get to number 1 would be used to photograph a note of when/where I'd loaded the film, and/or the sign arriving somewhere
    – Chris H
    Dec 1, 2020 at 15:09
  • "This indicates that exposure number 1 has been advanced and the camera is ready to take picture no. 1." But after one took that first exposure, the number still showed 1 until we manually advanced the film to the next frame using the lever provided, unless the camera had a motor winder or motor drive.
    – Michael C
    Dec 2, 2020 at 15:55

Either / or

It's an entirely mechanical device with a manual wind. It will show the same number whether or not you took that frame yet. The mechanism should prevent you double-exposing (though some cameras have an intentional double exposure setting) but you'll only find that out normally when you try to press the shutter release.

That indicator on a film camera should be considered a rough guide, not an absolute. You can squeeze a couple of extra frames at the end, or try get a half frame gain at the start, so long as you don't want them to always come out. It's just an approximately-lengthed strip of film, it doesn't really have any frames at all until you expose them.

  • 3
    +1 for the last sentence - this is important to understand, unlike digital media there's no "formatting" on film except for the holes at the edges Dec 1, 2020 at 15:00
  • There's not really any "formatting", in the sense of exactly how much space in memory an image will require to record it, with digital either. Two frames from the same camera made with the exact same settings can be radically different in size, depending on how the contents of each scene compress.
    – Michael C
    Dec 2, 2020 at 15:37

I don't think anyone has answered the actual question: in all mechanical cameras I've seen, and most electronic ones, the counter counts up, from 1 (or 0, on some cameras) at the beginning of the roll, and always shows the currently available frame after advancing, or the most recently exposed before. These frames are determined by the way the camera's counter is designed; some will let you set 1 after loading, so you can choose to advance twice or three times (risk a half-frame to get one more, or play it safe). A few will go well past 36, because even with commercial film you can only get 37, 38, even 39 frames on a 36 exposure roll, and with bulk loaded film you can often get 40 to 42 (that's about the limit that will fit in a developing tank).

  • 1
    Note an exception to the count up rule: electronic point and shoot cameras. Some models will unroll the entire roll onto the take-up spool when loading and then wind back into the can as you shoot. These models will count frames up while unloading onto the take-up spool and then count back down to 0 while you shoot.
    – OnBreak.
    Nov 30, 2020 at 22:41
  • 1
    @ChrisH Thanks for mentioning it, I've edited to account for "most".
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 1, 2020 at 15:24
  • 1
    Somewhere in my basement, I belive I still have my Dad's Retina IIa. That was a non-motorized film camera in which loading and eventually re-winding the film all worked in the "normal" way, but the frame counter counted down instead of up. Each time you loaded film, you had to remember to set the frame counter to the number of frames that you expected to get from the roll. It wasn't hard to remember, because the winding lever would lock after the counter reached "1". Dec 1, 2020 at 17:10
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    roflmao. It's a century old device with engineers from all over the world solving problems. An exhaustive list would be tedious. I simply wanted to point out what I remember as SOP for electronic P&S cameras. Between that and the traditional, you've got most cameras covered I'd think.
    – OnBreak.
    Dec 1, 2020 at 22:21
  • 1
    My Canon EOS 300/Rebel 2000 unspools the roll when loading, counting up the number of frames, and then pulls it back into the cartridge while shooting. It also has mid-roll rewind, which, although not the primary intent, will let you switch among partially exposed rolls. (You have to keep track of the number of exposed frames yourself and you have to pull out the leader once it's sucked into the cartridge.) Dec 2, 2020 at 0:29

I would say "neither"... As you noted, you could advance a couple times to even get to "1" - those could have been real frames that are now wasted. In addition, you may buy what is marketed as a 36-frame roll, but you can often get a couple extras out of it before you can't advance any farther. Both the frame counter and the nominal frame count on a roll of film are not exact - in the case of the film roll, it may actually be a guaranteed minimum, though; the frame counter can over time get out of alignment, as well as be a bit dependent on exactly how you load the film (how much you roll onto the take-up reel during loading). Use it more as an indication of when you need to have another roll with you ready to swap in than rather than a reliable indicator of how many shots you've taken.


whether the numeral 1 denotes that a capture has already been taken, or whether it is telling me that I am about to take the first photograph.

Either. Both. Take your pick!

The number shown in the window won't change when you take a picture: It changes when you wind the film to the next frame. So if you see "1" in the window, then either you have not yet taken the first picture, but the camera is ready for you to do so; or else you have taken the first picture, but the camera is not yet ready for the next one because you haven't wound it.

It's a matter of personal preference whether you keep the camera cocked for the next shot or not. When I owned a film camera, my preference was to put it away without winding the film, so that there would be no chance of accidentally tripping the shutter. I would only wind it just before I wanted to shoot a picture.

Added info: I forgot* that your camera, the Rolei 35, is special: It won't let you collapse the lens if the shutter is not cocked. Since you probably won't want to store it with the lens extended, you probably will always wind it before you put it away.

* My Dad used to own one, but I only got to use it a few times, and that was at least forty years ago.

  • That works well with mechanical cameras that cock the focal plane shutter off the movement of the film winding lever. Not so much for a few film cameras with electronically controlled shutters that recocked after the end of the exposure, but still had manual film winders. Or with film cameras with iris shutters in the lens, rather than with focal plane shutters (like my Mother's 1950s era Brownie).
    – Michael C
    Dec 2, 2020 at 8:52
  • @MichaelC, I don't understand what the "that" is in your assertion, "that works well with..." Are you talking about how the frame counter worked on newer, electronic cameras? (Note: OP's camera is all mechanical) or am I missing something? Dec 2, 2020 at 14:42
  • Putting the camera away without advancing the film, which was the last part of your answer when I made the comment. Not all who read this answer may have the same camera. Others with the same question about their film camera may not be able to discriminate the difference.
    – Michael C
    Dec 2, 2020 at 15:19
  • @MichaelC, Are you saying that one or more of these "cameras with...shutters that recocked after the end of the exposure...." would allow me to fire the shutter multiple times without either winding the film or, operating some special control that permits intentional multiple exposures? Dec 2, 2020 at 15:42
  • Some could. I'm pretty sure my Mother's Brownie would let you if you recocked the shutter and forgot to roll the film. You did the former with a little lever on the front of the camera, the latter with a little winding knob on the rear of the side of the camera. Stuff didn't have to be idiot proof back then. By the time electrically controlled shutters came along there were a lot of weird design decisions as things transitioned from all mechanical to all electronic. Not all required one to press the "double exposure" button between each shutter actuation. Some would let one turn it "on"...
    – Michael C
    Dec 2, 2020 at 15:50

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