Modern Photography, May 1952, pg. 57-98
The New Rollei
How Good is the New $385 Model 2.8C Which Incorporates Suggestions Made by
Photographers?…By Arthur Kramer
“The New Lens”
“The camera’s most important feature is its new 80mm, air-spaced
five-element f/2.8 Schneider Xenotar lens. The f/2.8 lens on a previous
model was a four-element objective which often gave trouble when used wide
open. The makers of the Rolleiflex claim this trouble has been eliminated
in the Xenotar lens. Optical and practical tests (which we will get to
later) indicated that this was true – at least on the cameras tested.”
“The Lens – How Good?”
“Finally we get to the most important of all the improvements – the lens.
This is not the first f/2.8 lens ever put on a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 Rollei. Many
photographers who have used or tested the previous f/2.8 model, which this
new camera supersedes, felt that the definition was not up to their
acceptable standards. Wide aperture lenses which must cover comparatively
large film areas are often notoriously poor in edge definition at full
aperture. Practically all Automatic Rolleiflexes have up to this time been
supplied with four element Tessar or Xenar f/3.5 or Tessar f/2.8 lenses.
The new Xenotar is a five-element lens of the air-spaced type. It was not
until the advent of modern optical coatings that the full advantage of such
a design could be exploited.”
“The camera was taken to a well-equipped optical laboratory and placed on
an optical bench. The lens appeared to be free of astigmatism. It showed no
shift of focus when stopped down. There seemed to be the faintest trace of
flare at f/2.8 but this disappeared when the diaphragm was stopped down to
about f/3, a definite improvement in this respect to what we had previously
seen in other lenses of similar focal length and aperture.”
“The definition at the edges was far above that of the old four-element
f/2.8. This individual Xenotar lens looked excellent in bench tests, but
that did not guarantee excellent pictures. Only extensive tests on actual
film could tell about that.”
” The camera was also checked for lens, film, and ground glass alignment.
Then it was ready for the film tests. An f/3.5 Rollei of known image
quality was used as a control unit The first test was made on a cross-lit
brick wall A series of shots was taken at various distances and apertures
with both cameras. Negatives were carefully enlarged to about 30×30 inches
and examined over the entire field. Results showed that the Xenotar f/2.8
lens wide open was equal in most respects to the f/3.5 lens wide open. It
did not noticeably lose definition when stopped down to f/22. A second
Xenotar tested actually had better definition at f/2.8 than the older type
lens had at f/3.5! The tests were repeated on various objects and at varied
distances with the same result. The next test was of a more practical
nature. Portraits of actor Jack Palance (!) were shot at full aperture with
the camera at its closest distance, about three and one half feet (page
59). The inset on the enlargement shows the entire negative area. The 11×14
glossy prints were quite sharp, and had excellent image quality. Twenty
rolls or film were used on a variety of subjects. Results were consistently
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.