I’ve been wanting to dabble with medium format film photography for quite a while. It appealed to me even before I bought my first DSLR, but the prices of new equipment put me off and anyway, digital was where everything seemed to be heading.
Digital photography has some major advantages. Things like instantly being able to view your photo as soon as you’ve taken it, simply downloading your photos to your computer without having to scan them and never having to buy film. But part of me was rebelling against all the technology and electronics. Photography seems to have become more and more melded with the world of the computer over the last ten to fifteen years. I see reviews of digital cameras in computer magazines and I wonder what on Earth they are doing in there. Yes, a digital camera contains a lot of electronics, but so too does a washing machine and they never seem to review those.
I recently stumbled across some old negatives shot from the 1920′s through the 1930′s by my grandfather using 120 roll film and seeing the quality of the images they produced re-ignited my interest in film based photography and medium format in particular.
120 roll film is still available so I started to look seriously into the possibility of obtaining a working camera which would utilise that size of film. I kept an eye on eBay for ages, but so many which were on offer there had internal fungus on the lens. I didn’t really want to start my ownership of a camera by stripping down and cleaning the lens so I started to look for specialist dealers in vintage cameras.
I ended up calling Collectable Cameras after seeing their advert in Amateur Photographer. I explained that what I was looking for was a 120 film camera, capable of shooting 2 1/4 inch square negatives which was in full working order – but I had a very limited budget. I didn’t expect them to have something available for me right there and then, however they did mention that they had a Rolleiflex which worked but was in a rather sorry state cosmetically. As the average camera collector wants a camera which looks nice on a shelf the price for this one was eminently affordable. After asking a few questions and obtaining the answers I wanted to hear, the order was placed and the camera arrived on Friday morning along with a lens hood and a “Focal Press” camera guide to the Rolleiflex printed during the early 1950′s.
On Friday evening I familiarised myself with the basic functions of the camera before I loaded any film. Certainly everything seemed to be in full working order, even the self timer worked. The dials for selecting shutter speed, aperture and focus were all as smooth as butter and the shutter certainly sounded healthy.
I checked the the serial number of the camera at the RolleiClub web site and was rather pleased to find that this actual specimen was made sometime between April 1939 and October 1945. Judging by the range of serial numbers I would have thought it quite likely to have been built anywhere between 1942 and 1944.
Suddenly I had a huge sense of the history of the object that was sitting in my hands. What photos had this camera taken during nearly 70 years?
Time for a few technical details. The taking lens is a 75mm Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f3.5, the viewing lens is a Heidoscop Anastigmat 75mm f2.8. On these cameras it was quite common to have a wider aperture on the viewing lens than the taking lens; if it was in focus on the viewing lens then it certainly would be on the taking lens – quite a clever idea. This Tessar has apertures of 3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 22. The shutter is a Compur Rapid with speed settings of B, 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500. There is no built in metering and I don’t have a hand held meter yet, so for now I’m metering using one of my more modern cameras (today I was using my Canon EOS 7D as a light meter for the Rolleiflex – the idea of which sort of makes me chuckle). Focussing is possible from a range of about 3 feet to infinity.
Talking of focussing, here is the view you get looking down into the waist level finder :-
The brighter spot in the middle of the focussing screen is used for “critical focus” and works a bit like a rangefinder. First you get what appears to be a “close enough” focus by looking at the whole image. There is a fold out magnifier (not shown in the photo above) which flips out so that you can get a closer look, particularly at that split prism focussing spot in the middle. This spot is split across the middle horizontally. When the top half of the image lines up with the bottom half of the image you have your focus nailed.
There is also an “eye level finder” at the back of the camera. A mirror is ingeniously included as part of the waist level finder and this can be flipped out to reflect the image from the finder screen to the eye hole at the back. It’s all so very well thought out and engineered. I might have to see if I can shoot a little video of the focussing mechanism when I’m a bit more used to it.
I put a roll of film through the camera earlier today. I want to look at the results before I take any more. I’ll report back on the photos when the film has been processed. My plan for now is to send the films off to a professional lab for processing only, no prints. Once they are delivered to me I’ll scan them in and do any post processing I want to do – and of course upload them so that you can see them on my blog – if they are worthy! I’ll be amazed if there’s anything acceptable from this first roll. It feels so very different to using a modern DSLR and there’s a lot to get used to (particularly seeing everything reversed horizontally on the focussing screen).