Rolleiflex And Rollei TLR Cameras
The Iconic Photographers Rolleiflex TLR Camera used and loved by many of the world famous photographers and which was a must-have item at the time with celebrities for its stunning looks and ease to use could be found in the hands of James Dean, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, The Rat Pack, George Harrison etc…Rolleiflex today hasn’t lost its status in the new era of digital, but is now more sought for then ever.
The Rolleiflex 2.8F
The Rolleiflex 2.8F was the ultimate Franke and Heidecke Rolleiflex TLR (twin-lens reflex) with coupled selenium-cell exposure meter, since its launched in 1960 when this star was born it was the most desired version and important professional camera on the market for 20 years, despite the impact of the Hasselblad 500C launched two years earlier, The Rolleiflex 2.8F was already second nature for huge numbers of pro photographers, which provided its renowned reliability and quality to Clive Arrowsmith whom I had the honored of working with, David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Robert Doisneau, Irving Penn etc…to name a few who created iconic fashion, art and magazine images, it also established itself with great news names, with its optical quality of the 80mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar and the ultimate mechanical leaf shutter, Synchro Compur. As a creative tool it was unsurpassed, particularly for for pictures of people.
The companion to 2.8F, which was less expensive and lighter, but every bit as good was the Rolleiflex 3.5F launched two years earlier in 1958 it came with the choice of two lenses f/3.5 Zeiss Planar or an f/3.5 Schneider Xenotar which where similar specification, build into the 3.5F was great studio flash system which continued on the 2.8F model which virtually guaranteed that shots were always taken with small aperture.
Improving on Near Perfection
The advent of 220 film in the early 1960s, giving 24 exposures approximately 6x6cm instead of the 12 shots of 120 film, brought about the Type 2 of the 2.8F, announced in 1965, the improvement and the great thing about this was a switchable 12-exp/24-exp counter and pressure plate that could be set for 120 or 220 film. As 220 film had no backing paper between the initial leader used for loading and the trailer used for winding off, greater pressure was needed to keep the film flat in the plane of exposure. Early examples of the type 2 2.8F continued to have the f/2.8 Planar lens, while later ones after 1973 had an 80mm f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar lens, The 3.5F had the 220 facility from Type 2 in 1960. From the outset, the coupled selenium-cell exposure meter was not standard on either the 3.5F or the 2.8F. It was a optional extra that most purchasers decided to have. Models originally sold without a meter could have the meter factory-fitted later.
The 2.8F and the 3.5F following earlier post-Second World War professional-market Rolleiflexes with broadly similar characteristics, but gradually improving developing sophistication and performance. Rolleiflexes with f/3.5 lenses where known as Rolleiflex Automats before 1956 and went through many variations well documented in collector’ books and websites here on the net. The final Automat that was known as the Automat MX-EVS because of its Synchro Compur shutter had both M (bulb) and X (electronic) flash synchronization and exposure value settings fitted with a 75mm f/3.5 tessar. The advent of the Rolleiflex 3.5E for the professional market in 1956 and the Rolleiflex T for the amateur market in 1958clearly separated the target market for Rolleiflex in a way that had not happened before. Franke and Heidecke had previously taken the view that those who could not afford a Rolleiflex should buy a Rolleicord, a sister production and model to Rolleiflex.
The f/2.8 models defined by letters of the alphabet started in 1949
- 2.8A which had an f/2.8 Tessar of less than ideal optical performance, 2.8A was the only f/2.8 6x6cm Rolleiflex to have Size II filter and hood mounts, later used by all 3.5E and 3.5F Cameras.
- 2.8B Type 1 launched in 1952 with an 80mm f/2.8 Biometar and Compur Rapid shutter, also on the same year 2.8B Type 2 was launched with Synchro Compur (Both Very Rare)
All 6x6cm Rolleiflexes from the 2.8B onwards had the new Size III Baynet filter and hood mounts, and by the way if you ever came across an f/2.8 Biometar and acquired it hold on to it for dear life as they are very much sought after.
- 2.8C Type 1 made in 1953-1954 the first model with an f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar. The 2.8C Type 2 made in 1954-1955 had a larger focusing knob and was usually fitted with Rolleiflex first 80mm f/2.8 Planar lens.
- 2.8D made in 1955-1956 was essentially an 2.8C Type 2, but with an EVS Syncro Compur shutter with linked aperture and shutter settings conforming to exposure values.
- 2.8E and 3.5E made in 1956 were improved in many minor ways over their predecessors, usually fitted with built-in Selenium-cell exposure meters that were not coupled to the shutter and aperture setting.
Then Came the 2.8f and 3.5F which we have already described.
Wide Angle Rolleiflex and Tele Rolleiflex
The advent of Japanese Mamiyaflex twin-lens reflexes with interchangeable lenses in 1956 had a major impact on Rolleiflex sales, particularly to wedding photographers being able to fit a TLR with a high-quality wide-angle lens made it possible for wedding photographers to get closer to a wedding groups in front of troublesome amateur photographers who at the time were mainly equipped with fitted lenses and getting in front protected professionals. Rolleiflex obtained another blow with portrait photographers switching to Hasselblads, like the Hasselblad 1000F which could be fitted with 135mm lenses or a 150mm lens on a Hasselblad 500C. Rolleiflex retaliated when Franke and Heidecke made what Reinhold Heidecke regarded as Rollei’s answer to the Mamiyaflex and Hasselblad-the Tele Rolleiflex made in 1959-1975 had a 135mm f/4 Carl Zeiss Sonnar and the Wide Angle Rolleiflex made in 1961-1967 equipped with a magnificent 55mm f/4 Zeiss Distagon, these were E2 or F- specification cameras, optionally with or without a built-in exposure meter and with a non-interchangeable lenses of focal lengths longer and shorter then those of the standard cameras. The Rolleiflex Wide Angle is probably the most valuable of all production Rolleiflex cameras, with only 4000 ever made and can now fetch in a decent condition well over £3000 on the collectors market.
During 1958-1976 Franke and Heidecke did compromise on Rollei’s increasing complexity and sophistication and launched the Rolleiflex T which was very recognizable made in a grey finish but was later changed to a black finish in 1971, to keep this model affordable it lacked the automatic film sensing of the more expensive Rolleiflexes and had to be loaded using the’red bot’ system common to the Rolleicord and most Japanese TLR’s. It effectively replaced the MX-EVS Automat that preceded the E series and retained the 75mm f/3.5 Tessar improved version with lanthanum glass, which improved its resolution and flare characteristics. The build quality was a bit more utilitarian than the top-of-the line Rollei’s, but did have that key fast-wind crank Rolleiflex features. The T series did not come with a Light-value selenium exposure meter installed, but was available to be factory-fitted or installed as an extra, but considering the pros and cons Rolleiflex T series was a very effective camera in use.
Increasing financial difficulties caused more by the development and innovation cost into creating 6×6 SLR’s and the lack of sales of the Rollei 35mm SLR’s than the decline of the TLR market in the face of Japanese competition brought Franke and Heidecke to bankruptcy in 1981. The company emerged from the chaos, Rollei Fototechnic GmbH, largely financed by a British company, sought market shares during the 1980s with what they identified as Rollei’s most innovative SLR products. They resumed production of an improved Rollei SL2000F 35mm SLR, also the Rollei SL66 and using existing 2.8F Parts to produce a new 2.8F Gold Aurum Special Edition. In 1987 the final Rollei TLR 2.8FX and 2.8GX appeared.
buying a Rolleiflex
watch out for wear and tear, most 2.8F and 3.5F models saw professional use, which imposed much wear and tear. Any near mint examples have probably been in amateur use. but parts and repair are available. If you can see the camera before you buy, wind and fire a film through it, checking speeds and aperture settings, if the wind feels rough avoid the camera. If the shutter button is sluggish or the slow speeds irregular, the camera needs service. If you are new to TLR’s and curious and would like to get a feel for it before you decide to put down serious cash for a Rolleiflex, I would personally recommend maybe looking into a Yashica 124G as a starter TLR camera, Since moving onto Rollei’s I personally had a few Yashica TLR’s in my time producing astonishing results.
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