Rolleiflex is the name of a long-running and diverse line of high-end cameras originally made by the German company Franke & Heidecke, and later Rollei-Werk. The “Rolleiflex” name is most commonly used to refer to Rollei’s premier line of medium format twin lens reflex (TLR) cameras. (A companion line intended for amateur photographers, Rolleicord, existed for several decades.) However, a variety of TLRs and SLRs in medium format, and zone focus, and SLR 35 mm, as well as digitalformats have also been produced under the Rolleiflex label. The 120 roll film Rolleiflex series is marketed primarily to professional photographers. Rolleiflex cameras have used film formats 117 (Original Rolleiflex), 120 (Standard, Automat, Letter Models, Rollei-Magic, and T model), and 127 (Baby Rolleiflex).
The Rolleiflex TLR film cameras were notable for their exceptional build quality, compact size, modest weight, superior optics, durable, simple, reliable mechanics and bright viewfinders. They were popular and widely imitated. The high-quality 7.5 cm focal length lenses, manufactured by Zeiss and Schneider, allowed for a smaller, lighter, more compact camera than their imitators, further differentiating the Rolleiflex TLR from many of its competitors, who were forced by inferior optics to use 8.0 cm or 8.5 cm focal length lenses. Unique to the Rolleiflex Automat and letter model cameras, the mechanical wind mechanism was robust and clever, making film loading semi-automatic and quick. This mechanism started the exposure counter automatically, auto-spaced the 12 or 24 exposures, and tensioned the shutter; all with less than one full turn of the film advance crank. This makes the Rolleiflex Automat/Letter model cameras very sought-after for shooting fast paced action, such as street photography. A wide range of accessories made this camera a system: panorama head, sun shade, parallax-corrected close-ups lenses, color correction, contrast enhancing, and special effect filters, all mounted with a quick release bayonet, as well as a quick-change tripod attachment. Some amateur and fine-art photographers still shoot Rolleiflex TLR film cameras with color transparency, color negative, or black-and-white film. The later f2.8 and f3.5 letter models (Planar or Xenotar lens) are highly sought after in the used market, and command the greatest price. Rolleiflex TLRs are still manufactured in Germany by DHW Fototechnik.Historically there were five focal length cameras available include 5.5 cm Rollei-Wide, 6.0 cm Baby Rollei, 7.5 cm (f:3.5), 8.0 cm (f2.8), and 13.5 cm (f:4 Zeiss Sonnar) Tele-Rolleiflex. Although all Rolleflex cameras can be fine user cameras, there is also an active market for many Rolleiflex models as collectables, and this adds (greatly in some models) to the end price paid, particularly in Japan.
Currently Rolleiflex medium format cameras are being produced by DHW Fototechnik – a company founded by former Franke & Heidecke employees. DHW Fototechnik has announced two new Rolleiflex cameras and a new electronic shutter for Photokina 2012.
This first Rolleiflex was introduced in 1929 after three years of development, and was the first medium format roll-film camera, which was used with unpopular 117 (B1) film. It was a Twin-Lens Reflex camera.
- The “Old Standard” was originally known as simply the “Standard” until the introduction of the New Standard in 1939.
- This model introduced a hinged back and a frame counter. While not automatic, like in the Rolleiflex Automat, the photographer could reset the counter with a small button after reaching the first frame
- Robert Capa used an Old Standard to document World War II.
- Introduced an automatic film counter; this counter senses the thickness of the film backing to accurately begin counting frames, obviating the need for the ruby window that forced the photographer to read the frame number off the back of the film itself.
- This model won the Grand Prix award at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937.
- The first Rolleiflex to offer a Schneider Kreuznach Xenar taking lens as an option, in addition to the Carl Zeiss Tessar.
Incorporated the first 8 cm f2.8 taking lens (either an 80 mm Carl Zeiss Tessar or Opton Tessar) into the Rolleiflex line. It also added an X flash synch contact.
This camera used a 135 mm/f4.0 Carl Zeiss Sonnar taking lens. The introduction to a 1990 sale catalogue by Sotheby’s auction house in London estimated that approximately 1200 cameras existed at that date.
The new Tele Rolleiflex uses 135mm/f4 Schneider Tele-Xenar taking lens
This camera had a 55 mm/f4.0 Carl Zeiss Distagon taking lens. The introduction to a 1990 sale catalogue by Sotheby’s auction house in London estimated that fewer than 700 such cameras existed at that date. Only 3600 models have been originally produced.
The new Wide Rolleiflex uses a 50mm/f4 Schneider Super-Angulon taking lens.
Rollei’s first medium-format SLR, introduced in 1966.
A 35 mm SLR introduced in 1970.
Rolleiflex Digital Reproductions
There are two current models of miniature Rolleiflex digital cameras. These are not true Rolleiflex cameras but are miniature reproductions of the Rolleiflex TLR design produced under license by the German camera manufacturer Minox. The cameras are manufactured by the Japanese company Sharan.
The original model, now discontinued, was the Rolleiflex MiniDigi, a miniature reproduction of the TLR Rolleiflex. In many details the camera retained the details of the original, including a waist level view finder and a hand crank to prepare the camera for the next shot. As the name implies, the camera was a digital reproduction, with the “viewing” lens being a dummy. The camera had a 2 megapixel CMOS sensor in the square format of the traditional TLR. The lens was a 9 mm f/2.8 with 5 elements, focussing down to 10 cm. The shutter speeds were automatically controlled between 1/15 to 1/400 second, exposure time was automatic. The camera was operated by a single CR2 battery. The storage media was either SD or MMC cards.
This was superseded by the MINOX DCC (Digital Classic Camera) Rolleiflex AF 5.0. The name change brings the current model more firmly in line with the rest of Minox’s Classic Camera miniature reproduction range. It is visually identical to the original model, but available in both black and red leather finishes. The CMOS sensor has been upgraded to 3 megapixels, with 5.0 megapixels available by interpolation. The taking lens is a 4.9 mm f/2.8; the camera has digital autofocus. The electronic shutter has also been upgraded to a maximum speed of 1/2500 of a second. The camera operates on a single CR2 battery and uses miniSD memory cards
Rolleiflex Cameras—7.5 cm (f: 2.8, 3.5, 3.8)
- Original Rolleiflex: 1929–32
- Standard Rolleiflex: 1932–38
- New Standard Rolleiflex: 1938–41
- Rolleiflex Automat: 1937–39
- Rolleiflex Automat: 1939–49 (double bayonet)
- Rolleiflex Automat X: 1949–51
- Rolleiflex Automat A (MX in North America): 1951–54
- Rolleiflex Automat B (MX-EVS in North America): 1954–56
- Rolleiflex 4×4: 1931–38 Baby Rolleiflex (1930s) (6 cm f:3.5 or 2.8 Tessar lens)
- Rolleiflex 4×4: 1938–41 Sports Baby Rolleiflex (6 cm f:2.8 Tessar Only)
- Rolleiflex 2.8A: 1950–51
- Rolleiflex T: 1958–75 (no Automat film transport and with f:3.5 Tessar lens only. Grey or Black)
Pre-War Baby Rolleiflex
- Rolleiflex 4×4: 1931–38 Baby Rolleiflex (1930s) (6 cm f:3.5 or 2.8 Tessar lens) Two models, with rim set shutter and f. Deckel made diaphragm control, or with Rollei made levers on the shutter and a small shutter speed, f-number indicator window above the viewing lens. So in the first model of Pre-War Baby Rolleiflex there are actually four different cameras.
- Rolleiflex 4×4: 1938–41 Sports Baby Rolleiflex (6 cm f:2.8 Tessar Only) New fast focus with larger knob, front cover like a Rolleicord II, with early cameras having only one bayonet, and later cameras with two.
Non-Tessar models (Letter Models)
Planar or Xenotar lenses. f:2.8 cameras have 8 cm focal length, 3.5 ones 7.5 cm
- Rolleiflex 2.8B: 1952–53, 8 cm Biometar lens (Rare)
- Rolleiflex 2.8C: 1953–55
- Rolleiflex 2.8D: 1955–56
- Rolleiflex 2.8E: 1956–59 (introduction of the f:3.5 Planar and Xenotar models)
- Rolleiflex 2.8E2: 1959–60
- Rolleiflex 2.8E3: 1962–65
- Rolleiflex 3.5 C (E in North America): 1956–59 (optional uncoupled light meter)
- Rolleiflex 3.5E2: 1959–62
- Rolleiflex 3.5E3: 1962–65
Post War Baby Rolleiflex
- Rolleiflex 4×4: 1957–63 (Schneider, 6 cm f:3.5 Xenar lens, on all post war Rolleiflex 4×4 cameras)
- Rolleiflex 4×4 Black: 1963–69 (rare) By serial numbers 9,120 were made.
Coupled exposure meter, removable focus hood
The F model introduced coupled exposure metering and removable focus hood on all subsequent models
- Rolleiflex 2.8F: 1960–81 (various models)
- Rolleiflex 2.8F Aurum: 1983
- Rolleiflex 2.8F Platinum: 1987
- Rolleiflex 2.8GX: 1989 (from this model onward the Automat film transport was replaced with transport similar to the “T” model)
- Rolleiflex 2.8FX (2002-2012)
- Rolleiflex 2.8FX-N (2012-current)
Rollei responded with two models to the introduction of the Mamiya line of interchangeable lenses TLR cameras, the Tele Rolleiflex with 135 mm lenses, and the Rollei Wide with 55 mm.
- Tele Rolleiflex: 1959–75 (Zeiss Sonnar)
- Rolleiflex Wide: 1961–67 (Zeiss Distagon)
- Wide Rolleiflex 4.0 FW (Schneider Angulon) — classic reissue.
- Tele Rolleiflex 4.0 FT (Tele-Xenar) — classic reissue.
- Rolleiflex 2.8F Mini
Reproductions by Minox
- Rolleiflex MiniDigi
- DCC Rolleiflex AF 5.0
Medium format SLRs
- Rolleiflex SL66
- Rolleiflex SL66 E
- Rolleiflex SL66 X
- Rolleiflex SL66 SE
- Rolleiflex SLX
- Rolleiflex SLX Metric
- Rolleiflex 6002
- Rolleiflex 6006
- Rolleiflex 6006 Metric
- Rolleiflex 6008 Professional
- Rolleiflex 6008 Metric 3D Industrial
- Rolleiflex 6008 Professional Gold
- Rolleiflex 6008 Professional SRC 1000
- Rolleiflex 6003 SRC 1000
- Rolleiflex 6008 ChipPack Digital Metric
- Rolleiflex 6008 E
- Rolleiflex 6008 Q 16 Digital Metric
- Rolleiflex 6008 AF
- Rolleiflex 6008 integral
- Rolleiflex 6008 integral2
- Rolleiflex 6008 Metric
- Rolleiflex 6003 Professional
- Rolleiflex 6001 Professional
- X-Act2 view camera
- Rolleiflex Hy6
- Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod2
35 mm SLRs
- Rolleiflex SL35
- Rolleiflex SL350
- Rolleiflex SL35M
- Rolleiflex SL35ME
- Rolleiflex SL35E
- Rolleiflex SL 2000 F
- Rolleiflex SL 3003
- Rolleiflex SL 3001
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.
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.