How to test a Rolleiflex?


There are a number of threads on this forum that deal with the topic of having a Rolleiflex repaired, or more precisely, who to have work on your Rollei. Most photographers only realize there is a problem after the film is developed, so I though I would give some general guidelines on how to test a Rolleiflex.

1) Set the shutter speed to 1 second and cock the shutter buy rotating the film transport crank half a turn clockwise, and then back counter clockwise until it stops; this tensions the shutter main spring. Fire the shutter and try to estimate the amount of time it takes, although it is not completely necessary it should give a good sounding “Zinkt” when it runs. Do this several times and observe if the leaves snap open all the way, and then snap shut. if they are sluggish they may need a CLA.

2) Now try the slower speeds in order 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15 (on older cameras 1/2, 1/5, 1/10) do they seem to be cut in half each time, if so then the slow speed retard is probably in good adjustment. Usually if the 1 second is slow, the problem will become less pronounced as the speeds become faster.

3) This is a biggy! Try the 1/15 and 1/30 (on older shutters 1/10 and 1/25), do they sound the same? if so then the shutter is out of adjustment and will need to be put back into adjustment. Between 1/15 and 1/30 is were the shutter goes from the low speed retard to the high speed retard, if they are the same speed then the low speed retard has slipped.

4) Work your way up from 1/30 to1/500 (1/25 to 1/300 or 1/400) do they seem to be half as you go, if so then they are okay. The most frequent trouble is with 1/250 to 1/500 being the same speed. If they are the same speed then the high speed retard is out, or the main spring is fatigued. In many cases it makes no difference if the 1/125 is okay since most people never use the 250, or 500.

5) acceptable tolerance for a leaf shutter is +/- 25%! That means that the 1 second can actually be 1.25 seconds and the 1/500 could be 1/375; also, most people don’t realize it but the shutter shoots at about +/-15% repeatable, and shutter speeds should be check at least 5 times and an average taken to come up with the actual speed.

Film Transport:
6) Moving on to the film transport, you will need a good set of feeler gauges, and a film spool with masking tape wrapped around one inside edge. This spool is put in place of the take up spool and the tape should engage the film counter sprocket on the upper left of the take up spool chamber. With the back removed, and the counter at just past 12, place the .008″ gauge under the film sensor roller and push on the lever just below it that pinches the feeler gauge. The counter will reset to “0.” Now repeat the process with the .010″ feeler gauge, the lever should go for a ways then give way with a muted “bing” sound, give the crank a turn and see if the number 1 comes up and the crank stops positively. The counter should start at a thickness of .010 and not start at .008, that is the go, no go, test for the film sensor roller. Most common failure mode is the film winds all the way through without starting the counter. However the converse also happens, the counter starts when the back is closed, either way it will need to be adjusted.

7) Other film advance problems are: The counter did not reset to zero when the lever was depressed, this will require cleaning. The crank grabs intermittently, in which case the ratchet is gummed up, stiff winding, noisy winding, does not stop on the back stroke, all will require work.

8) The mirror can be checked by looking through the viewing lens with the hood open, dust is no big problem but discoloration is. Scratches, crazed, corroded all spell a new mirror.

There are dozens of other things that can be looked at but most will show up in a photograph, so I will let that be the definitive test.

I hope all of you will find this information useful, and I think that these tests should always be performed before you ship your camera off for repair; then you can see just how honest your repair person is.

Cleaning screens
by Mark Hansen June 2004

Here is how I clean Maxwell screens, it depends on how filthy it is. If it is just a little dusty I blow it off with compressed (canned will do) air and call it good. If it has a few dirty spots (dried spit, soda pop, finger prints) I use a cotton swab and some Isopropanol, and very lightly wipe it (after blowing off the dust). If the screen appears to have excessive grime on both sides then I remove the hood from the camera, via the four screws through the flange of the hood. Once the hood is off, I put a playing card down in front of the springs (on top of the screen to protect it) that hold the screen and then I remove them with a pair of tweezers. The screen will drop out and you can clean it with warm soapy water while wearing a pair of rubber gloves, and then dab dry with a clean cotton cloth. Remember when putting it back in to replace the foam pads that go in each corner and reinstall in reverse order.

While the hood is off you may as well blow the dust off of the mirror, and from inside the mirror chamber and clean the rear of the viewing lens, I also clean the hood completely with the cotton swab and alcohol.

Other tidbits
by Kelly Flanigan June 2004

The Rollei TLR‘s that I have tested for friends from Ebay have twice caught cameras that had missmatched lense; ie front element has been swapped; to make a better looking; more saleable camera. This practice was of swapping was considered wrong in the National Camera Repair course I took over 3 decades ago; but seems to be alot more common today. If you are lucky; the match will have the same focal length lenses. If wrong; NO CLA can fix the abortion/hack job. Here the viewfinder and film plane can only be in focus at one distance; and all others will misstrack. Some earlier threads mention that there is no risk to a lens swap; with Rollei TLR’s or even Retina IIIc’s. One should check the infinity and two close distances for focus; if buying an unknown TLR; to weed out the cosmetic/nonfunctional collectors cameras; from the working cameras; that focus great.Many cameras just “go bad” to do lack of usage; the shutter gets gummed up. At one ham radio swap meet; a guy was hawking old cameras. He had a can of lighter fluid under the table. A typical gambit is to loosen up the old birds prior to sale; just enough to fool the customer. The leaf shutter camera my friend bought from him worked a few weeks; then gummed up. Removing the old grease and dirt is how we fixed it. Sometimes the lighter fluid gambit works along time; sometimes it just helps make an old gummy camera saleable for a day. This is like recharging your old cars battery the day before sale; stuffing bananas in the wore out rear end; getting the engine warm before the customer arrives; putting a tad of anti freeze under the cap to act like the fluids were changed; wiping the shocks so they appear new; adding fake oil change stickers!

Many TLR’s have dirty mirrors; cleaning the mirrors alone brightens the viewfinder alot. Some ancient cameras really need resurfaced/replated mirrors; if a hacker cleaned the mirror wrong; and or oxidation took a toll. We we told in the camera repair business to always let the customer think the new wazzoo screen did ALL the brightness improvement; so a customers ego would feel better with the super high price of a wazoo screen.

Most gummy shutters get quicker after a few shots. The moving average climbs with each shot; then settles in. This means a roll of film shot quickly will have decent speeds. A shot done a day later will be slow; if it was mid roll.

The film feeler transport adjust is sensitive to film + paper thickness. Old Ilford FP4 in the 1970’s was thicker in this combo that Kodaks Plus-X. Sometimes a camera will work fine with one film; and not with another brand. Let your repairperson know what film(s) you use; if you have a problem like this.

The feeler tension of the film sense can be correct; but the mechanism gummed up. One of my Rolleis is like this; if not used enough. It will always trip on the 2nd frame; and not the first; in not used in months. Then the second roll ALWAYS correctly trips and works correctly; if the second roll is within a day or so.

Opinions expressed above are that of Mark Hansen and Kelly Flanigan, reproduced here for the benefit of those thinking about jumping into Rolleiflex TLR. These discussions are available on

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