Mamiya and Rolleiflex TLR: How to Choose
Just read this good write up by Sergio Ortega , in 2010.
I’ve owned and used both cameras, in a variety of situations for over twenty years, with B&W, color negative and color transparency films, and have compared thousands of negatives taken over the years with both a C330F and 80mm 2.8 Mamiya (the newer, black lens) and a 3.5F 75mm Schneider Xenotar. Here are just a few of my impressions of these two cameras:
If you want to use additional focal lengths, other than the normal 75 or 80mm, the Mamiya would obviously be your only choice. Mamiya’s 55mm is a great WA lens for 6×6. The Mamiya 180mm is a great portrait lens. The Mamiya range of focal lengths is very good, and there are some really excellent buys to be found. With a Rollei you’re only going to have the normal lens, unless you want to spend a ton of money on one of the very rare Rollei Wide or Tele versions.
For the money, I don’t think you can get a better, more versatile, interchangeable-lens MF system than the Mamiya TLR. As a start in MF, it cannot be beat!
I would say that both normal lenses on these cameras are excellent, but would give a slight edge to the Rollei Xenotar or Planar, if only for sheer sharpness across the entire aperture range, but not by much. And this may just be a bias on my part towards the more expensive, German glass. And I am also of the opinion that the older Rollei lenses (Xenars, Tessars, etc.) are not in the same league as the newer Xenotars and Planars, unless you stop them down to f8 or f11. In comparison, I would say the newer Mamiya lenses are better than the older Rollei (non Xenotar/Planar) lenses.
It’s also my opinion that the newer Mamiya lenses perform better with color transparency films, giving greater contrast and color saturation than the older German Xenotars/Planars. The latest Rollei GX lenses are another matter. Color transparencies taken with the Mamiya 80mm have more snap, crackle and pop than the Rollei; the Xenotar has a more subdued, delicate look in color. Some folks prefer one over the other.
In B&W, with a properly focussed shot on a tripod, at the lens’ optimum aperture, I usually cannot tell the difference. But, the Rollei Xenotar does have a certain smoothness of tone and gradation that the Mamiya does not always have. For B&W work, I think the Rollei is a great camera.
For handheld work, I prefer the Rollei. It’s much lighter, smaller and easier to focus and manipulate than the Mamiya. It’s a great camera for unobtrusive photography, very quiet and very easy to handle.
On a tripod, I prefer the Mamiya. It’s really better suited for tripod work, has a stronger tripod mounting attachment, and is generally more of a studio camera. Both cameras can be used in either situation, but the Mamiya can get pretty heavy and bulky when used handheld. The Rollei is amazingly light and agile as a handheld camera.
The Bellows on the Mamiya allows for closer focussing for still lifes and some types of portraiture. To focus up close with a Rollei, you need a Rolleinar lens set attachment. I really like the bellows focussing design on the Mamiya.
Mechanically, the Mamiya feels like a truck, although a very well-built one. The Rollei feels more refined, much more precise, like a finely crafted sports car. While both are very sturdy, reliable cameras, I really think the Mamiya could withstand rougher treatment than a Rollei. I’d really hate to give a good Rollei a lot of rough use.
The Rollei is a much more complex design; the Mamiya is a very straightforward, simple design. If something happens to the Rollei’s lens, the entire camera’s out of service. With a Mamiya, you can just remove the lens, replace it or have it repaired. I think that over the long haul the Mamiya would give fewer problems with shutters, film advance, focussing, etc. Prices on good, used Mamiya equipment are extremely reasonable. Good used Rolleis are getting harder (and more expensive) to find all the time. Accessories for the Rolleis (hoods, filters, caps, etc.) are really scarce. Mamiyas take simple screw-on lens attachments/filters.
I’m sure others will add their opinions to this debate. It should be very interesting. Good luck, Sergio.
Mamiya TLR V.S. Rolleiflex TLR
Some discussions on the comparison of the two systems.
I agree about the 220 vs the 330’s. The 220’s are much lighter and still have almost all the functionality of the 330’s with the exception of the self-cocking shutter, and some of the interchangable backs. Don’t remember if it had the multi-exposure switch either, and it also didn’t have the parallex indicator in the view finder. For that, I did some test shooting and left small colored marks on the viewfinder for estimated top of frames and corresponding marks on the bellows. Those items aside, it was superior in my mind due to the weight factor. I could back pack in a day pack with a C220, 80mm and 250mm and have a lighter system than my Nikon F2 and comparable lenses. And I kept a Luna Pro meter around my neck regardless of the camera I used so that was a given in any situation. So, I would highly recommend a C220. Especially when you can pick it up with a couple of extra lenses for the price of a C330 and 1 80mm lens.
I’ve used several twin lens cameras, and the Rollei’s do have something special. The problem is that they are getting old now, and will require a going over to maintain the reliability. The better models are also collectable, like the “f” series cameras that can take the prism finders. This drives the prices up. Many folks on photo.net seem to think the Minolta Autocords are the best deal right now. They are well built, have great lenses and bright finders, and sell for $200 top for a real beauty. Do a search as there is a ton of info in the archives.
The Mamiya is somewhat more difficult to shoot handheld than smaller TLR’s like the Rolleiflex, as it’s bigger and heavier. I usually mount my C330f on a tripod and go from there. As for sharper, depends on the lens. Rollei will definitely outperform the 135mm lens, but may itself be outdone by the 105mm f/3.5 DS and 180mm f/4.5 Super.
And yes, there’s the obvious issue of lens choice. Getting a Rollei with 75mm standard lens won’t be that expensive; in face, you may end up paying more for a C330f or C330s with a black 80mm lens. But you’ll definitely pay less for the Mamiya 55mm f/4.5 wide and 180mm f/4.5 Super ($400 each mint, or less) than for Rolleiwide and Tele Rollei (over $2000 each).