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Rolleiflex 3.5E – A Review and Story


Chapter 1: It was destiny….

I bought a later model 3.5E at a Kiwanis/Masons rummage sale in August. I figured that it would be a bunch of old guys, and thought they might be selling some old cameras. There were a hundred or so of those super-cheapie plastic cameras marked 50 cents each (I wouldn’t take them for free, and I’m a camera junkie, so you know they were crap). The photo pickin’s were scare.

I had almost given up when I spotted the Rollei TLR from across the room. Some guy had it and was checking it out. I hurried over, trying not to look like I was hurrying. It was all I could do not to grab it out of his hands. I pretended I was looking at something else on the table while the guy and the seller talked. There was a big sign on the table that said “Rolleiflex and accessories $150”.

I’d heard the name Rollei before, and I knew they made quality, collectable cameras, but I’d never handled one before, or really even knew much about them. After several agonizing minutes, the guy finally set it down. A quick side step and it was in my hands. It was very clean. It felt heavy and solid like only an all metal camera feels. You could sense the quality just by holding it. I just felt that it had to be worth more than he was asking.

I talked to the seller for a while. He loved it, but hadn’t used it in years. He’d gone digital. He proudly showed me how it worked. I was in love, but I didn’t let on.

I scurried off to the bank. I didn’t even know if we had $150. How was I going to explain this to my wife? The guy was surprised when I returned, and whipped out the cash. He seemed sad to see it go. It was almost like he set it out for a conversation piece, never thinking it would actually sell.

Chapter 2: The review.

I took it home and ran a roll of film through it. It was obvious from the first roll that this was an extraordinary camera. I’ve shot about 30 rolls of Tmax 100 and HP5 400 with it to date. I am amazed at the quality of the images. It’s as good as the top modern MF gear.

I researched on the web, and found out it was made in 1957. I looked EBAY and found that similar models went for about $300-$400. I’d gotten a great deal! I almost felt bad…almost.

It takes 12 6cm x 6cm images on 120 film. Film loading is a breeze. It senses the film thickness and activates the frame counter. That’s more high tech than my Pentax 67II. Film is advanced by turning a handle on the right side. It only takes about a quarter of a turn or so to advance to the next frame. Then the shutter is cocked by turning the handle backwards. You can keep turning it backwards until it folds into the body if you want. There is a switch at the base of the handle to allow the shutter to be cocked without advancing the film for multiple exposures.

The shooting lens is a 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Planar; it’s immaculate. It doesn’t have interchangable lenses. Rollei 3.5 models come with one of the following 75mm f/3.5 lenses: Zeiss Tessar or Planar, Schneider Xenar or Xenotar. The Tessar and Xenar models are the cheaper lenses. The Planar and Xenotar are considered better, although all of them probably perform equally well around f/11. The Rollei 2.8 models come with an 80mm f/2.8 Planar or Xenotar, and they are the most expensive of the bunch. There is much debate over which is better the f/3.5 Planars and Xenotars, or the f/2.8 models. A lot of people say the 3.5s do better at f/3.5 than the 2.8s do at f/3.5. The Zeiss lenses seem to be more popular (more expensive), but the Schneiders get rave reviews.

The aperture and shutter controls are two dials on the front of the camera. The aperture and shutter display are just in front of the viewing hood. The dials can be coupled together if you prefer to work using Exposure Index (that might not be the right term). Personally, like most folks these days I imagine, I work in split seconds and f/stops, so I keep it uncoupled. The shutter speeds are 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1, and bulb. It has apertures f/3.5 through f/22.

It has a built in light meter which I’ve never even checked or used; I use my Sekonic 508 meter for almost all my cameras, as many don’t have built in meters. The needle on the camera wiggles as the light changes. It’s an old fashioned meter; it doesn’t need batteries. There are two settings; one for regular daylight and the other for inside or dim. It’s set up so it also displays the correct EI number. When I get another Rollei I’ll probably look for one without a meter to save weight.

The viewing hood pops up so you can look down onto the ground glass. Mine has a grid pattern on it. Even with the f/2.8 viewing lens (all models have an f/2.8 viewing lens) it can be very dim in low light. There is a focusing assist (which sort of works, sort of doesn’t), and you can fold the hood into a sport finder. My ground glass and mirror had a lot of dust on them; I removed four small screws and was able to clean them off. It’s an improvement, but I still think that someday I’ll send it in for a CLA and get a Maxwell screen put in. They are supposed to be much brighter, and you can get them with a split screen focus assist in the center.

The shutter release is on the lower right side (if you are holding the camera). There is a cable release socket, and a switch to lock the button, although a cable can still trigger the shutter, even when locked (at least with mine).

Opposite the shutter button is a flash switch. It has a flash bulb and electronic flash setting. I’ve been using mine with modern flashes and it works great.

There is a self timer, but I have had so much trouble with built in timers on vintage cameras that I just leave it alone. The timer springs always seem horribly worn out, and I get scared that it’s going to lock up the shutter. this hasn’t ever happened with this camera, but the self-timer doesn’t sound too good. I have a screw in timer if I need it.

The focusing knob is on the left side. It’s laid out in feet. There is a nifty DOF scale next to the distance ring. Mine only works part of the time; definately need that CLA.

There are lots of accessories available from Rollei and other brands. Because of the collectability of Rollei gear, you will pay more for something that says Rollei, than an off brand. I paid $20 for a Kalcor lens hood; it would have probably been $60 for the Rollei hood. But sometimes you can get good deals. Rolleis with Tessar or Xenar lenses use size bayonet I for lens accessories. 3.5 Planars and Xenotars use bayonet II, and 2.8 Planar and Xenotars use bayonet III.

The Rollinar close up lens sets are amazing. There are three sets that allow you to focus closer than the normal close focus distance of about 3.5′. I have a #1 set, and a #3. They mount right on the front of the lenses. The image quality is stunning. The #1 is perfect for head and shoulder portraits. The #3 will focus as close as 14″, almost filling the neg with my hand.

There are only two problems with this camera. The difficulty of focusing in low light (I’m hoping the Maxwell screen will solve this), and I don’t like how the case fits. You have to remove the leather case to reload. The case fits around the straps in a funny way. This requires you to have an authentic Rollei strap with the quick releases. Because these seem to go for about $60 on EBAY, I have a Pentax strap, semi-permanently attached via a trip to the hardware store. If I want to use the leather case I bought, I’ll have to fork over the bucks for a Rollei strap. But I can live with it.


Source: http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/photography-equipment-products/2289-my-rolleiflex-3-5e-planar-love-story.html

How to test a Rolleiflex?

Source: http://www.img.100megs28.com/vintageRflex.htm

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 www.photo.net

Discussion on Rolleiflex: 2.8 or 3.5? C/D or E/F?

Michael_Sergio_Barnes says:

I got a Rolleiflex 3.5T and just recently an MX-EVS and a Rolleinar/filter set. These cameras are addicting. I’m now wanting a Planar/Xenotar lens but I’m unsure on which models to pursue. I know condition is most important but the 3.5E/F seems to be the most popular models on the internet. Some say that they were built better than the C/D but others say that they were built just as well. I’m not sure.

1. Are there any reasons to not pursue the C/D cameras? I heard that one of those, forgot which model, is known as the bokeh king because the number of aperture blades.
2. Is the f3.5 just as sharp as the f2.8 at wide apertures?
3. What’s the going price for Bay II and Bay III Rolleinar I’s? keh.com doesn’t have any and ebay prices are erratic with these things.



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ddandan  Pro User  says:

1) Condition is key on any of these. By the time of the C, rollei had pretty well settled on most of the mechanicals. The C has those plastic rings around the shutter release and flash port, which really annoy some people. As you get into the later models, there are more and more interlocks and mechanical systems. Like the depth of field indicator on the late Es (or all Es?) and the coupled meter on Fs (or only some metered Fs?).

The 2.8C has the 10-bladed Synchro-Compur shutter. D and later have 5-bladed apertures. I am not certain about the 3.5C’s aperture, but they are pretty rare anyway.

Another issue is meter or not on later models. I find the extra bump for the meter annoying, but many people prefer the meter cameras. Selenium meters are often not working, though, and the plastic cover for the needle is often cracked.

By the way, the 2.8s are 80mm, the 3.5s are 75mm. Small difference, but it is a difference.

2) For all intents and purposes, yes. Sample variation and alignment (i.e., condition!) mean more than any design differences.

3) www.manfredschmidt.com/rolleiaccess.html

The main advantage to the Es and Fs is that they will be easier to resell. Other than that, get the one in the best condition with clean lenses.

To warn you, though, the lenses kick some serious a**. I have a 2.8C Xenotar and it has spoiled me. Most every other lens I use looks soft now.

Another place on the web that has a large number of Rollieflex people. Search through the forum, as this type of question comes up every month or so it seems. It also has a sales forum, with real people with real reputations, so it is much safer than ebay and such.
Originally posted 7 months ago. (permalink)
ddandan edited this topic 7 months ago. 

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brandon_montz says:

For the cost of a truly minty 2.8F you could buy two, maybe three D series. I purchased a 2.8D in mint condition for $800 a year ago. I have the Xenotar lens and I can’t see any real difference between it and the Planar.

Just beware that you will have to invest in separate filter types for both.
Posted 7 months ago. (permalink)

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roel 6×6  Pro User  says:

The image quality of the 2.8F is ever so slightly better than the 3.5F, but at a whopping perhaps not justified price difference. For filters and such your MX will be easiest and cheapest to find those for, Bay ll and Bay lll filters command stupid prices. Mechanically the T is the weakest of all the Rolleiflexes but you already have that one.
Posted 7 months ago. (permalink)

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Twinlensed says:

Well, I have always thought that the six element Planar f3.5 was the sharpest lens on the R-flexes by a very small margin. The difference between 3.5 and 2.8 versions and between Planar and Xenotar is minimal.

There are quite many things that can go wrong on an old Rolleiflex, and if you cannot check the camera yourself, I would recommend buying it from a respectable dealer.
Originally posted 7 months ago. (permalink)
Twinlensed edited this topic 7 months ago.