A weekend with a 44 year old Rolleiflex 2.8F
September 5, 2011
The only thing that comes close to the excitement of nailing the perfect shot is buying a new camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s new, used, cheap or expensive, has all the bells and whistles, or even, is a plain simple pin-hole camera. In your hands, it’s a box full of mysteries and challenges. What is it capable of and how do you get the most out of it? That was the question last bank holiday weekend when I bought a camera which is old enough to be my dad: the Rolleiflex 2.8F.
Of course, the first part of the question was easy to answer. Rolleiflexes are outstanding cameras which are capable of giving outstanding results, but, did I have the skills to tame the beast? I had two 120 films to find out, a total of 24 exposures.
For people who are unfamiliar with what a Rolleiflex is, and/or even how it looks, I put my product photography skills to the test in an attempt to show you. In the picture below, you can see my Rolleiflex alongside it’s case, lens cap(s) and a roll of 120 film. Rolleiflexes are medium format, TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) cameras, some come with a meter (picture: little window on the right) and some not, but they are all manual exposure and manual focus. For a bit more information, click here.
So, there I was, standing in Manchester Piccadilly gardens with my “brand new” camera round my neck and Gary Rowlands, friend and Rolleiflex guru, standing next to me. First roll of film loaded and the camera indicating frame 1 is ready to go. “Only twelve frames, I need to make them count” I thought, so I was very reluctant to press the shutter. “I shall avoid my normal street shots till I learn how to use the camera first. I think it’s better if I go for city-scapes for now…”. But, by the time I finished that thought, I heard Gary shouting: “Hey, my friend, this man just bought a camera and he wants to try it out! Do you mind if he takes a picture of you?”. “Haha, you’ve got no chance” I thought. But to my surprise, the man (originally from Portugal apparently) saw the Rollei and said, “Yeah, why not?”. Cool, my first Rollei picture would be a street portrait… Frame count: 1/12. (Click on pictures to enlarge – Recommended, but fair bit of warning: The images today are quite large in size so they might take a while to open)
The real surprise was what followed next, a pattern started to emerge and it went something like this: “Nice camera dude”, “Cool, want a picture with it?”, “Oh yes, come on then”. Gary hopped on the tram home and I got the bus. But before I did that, I wanted to give a go at shooting a cityscape with the square format. Composing was easy and natural. Frame count: 7/12.
My ex-flatmate, Nick, came over for a visit so, the plan for next day was: have a coffee, a walk around town and do a bit of shopping. A typical agenda for when Nick comes over. But then, I remembered Jenson Button was going to drive a Formula 1 car in Manchester, so I put that on the agenda too. Before we left home, I was debating if I should get my Canon 7D (Super fast auto-focus, 8fps, long lens) to grab a picture of Jenson driving the Formula 1 car but then decided against it. I knew Deansgate would be rammed with people trying to get a glimpse of Jenson, so getting a clear shot would mean there would be a lot of pushing and shouting, something I was not prepared to go through. The Rollei won. Deansgate was rammed with people trying to get glimpse of Jenson…
Frame count: 8/12. I’m ashamed to say that frame 9 was wasted as I forgot to take off the taking-lens cap before taking the picture (It was raining so I put the cap on to protect the taking lens). I’m even more ashamed to say that I didn’t think of re-using frame 9 by not winding on to frame 10 (Bad habits from digital).
The Formula 1 car was loud, fast and then Jenson stalled it so we went for a coffee. Becoming a veteran with shooting portraits using the Rolleiflex (joke) I took three shots of Nick and my fiancée whilst having our coffee; I’ve been warned not to post them (So frustrating when your friends are so camera shy). Frame count: 12/12; Film count: 1/2, Shots remaining: 12. I changed film and then we hit the shops. First stop: Harvey Nichols, a high end designer label store.
Medium format cameras were/are at home with fashion photography. Since we were in Harvey Nichols, I thought I’d take one picture to honour that connection. Who knows? This very camera might have shot some fashion 40-odd years ago… I clicked the button and smiled. “I bet you appreciated that” I thought. Then I realised I was “talking” to a camera so the smile quickly wiped off my face. Then it came back, who cares, it’s 44 years old… If the pictures come out alright, I’ll buy it a lens hood.
A while later, we were at the food section overlooking Manchester through big glass windows. I’ve always wanted to take a picture from there but I could never get the framing I wanted. Thought I’d see how the scene framed on the Rollei. Fliped the lens cap open, opened the top. Perfect framing! Focused, clicked, happy, mad (lens cap!), lens cap off, focused, clicked, happy, mad (forgot to reuse frame 2!). Frame count: 3/12.
Then, for some bizarre reason we decided to go to the Disney store. We went, we looked, we left (or so I thought). My fiancée was glued on the cartoon playing on the screen (One of her favorite episodes from her childhood). So I took a picture.
Then we headed home. Frame count: 4/12.
Next day, we decided to drive up to the Lake District. I was really looking forward to it as I had 8 pictures remaining and the lakes should have many photo opportunities and indeed they did not disappoint. Not even five minutes after we got out of the car, two photo opportunities were staring me in the face.
Then, another two not so good ones and then we jumped in the car to drive to a different lake. Frame count: 8/12.
While driving I saw an old sign saying “Kodak Films Sold Here”. So I stopped. I knew my chances of finding 120 film were slim but turns out they didn’t even sell 35mm film. “Unfortunately, it’s an old sign, you know, now with digital we didn’t sell many so we stopped stocking them.”
Slightly disappointing, but the village was very nice so we stopped to have a wonder around. A small blackboard listing Homemade Cakes caught my eye. Frame Count: 9/12.
Then Nick went into shopping mode, how can someone be looking at lemon curds for 15 minutes is beyond me. I took a picture of my fiancée. Frame count: 10/12.
Then for some reason a little cafe drew my attention. I don’t even know why, there was nothing special about it but it felt like a shot. It just fit perfectly in the square frame.
Frame Count: 11/12. One more to go.
By then, the clock struck 5pm and everything in the little village was closing down. Time to head back to Manchester. But first, one quick snap to finish off the film.
That was it, 24 frames in three days, and surprisingly, I never felt I had too few.
So, answers to the questions: Can it deliver? Undoubtedly. Can I make it deliver? I think so. Good Purchase? Definitely.
Lens hood ordered!
Question of the day: Which photo do you like the most and why?