Rolleiflex is the name of a long-running and diverse line of high-end cameras originally made by the German company Franke & Heidecke, and later Rollei-Werk.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
brian steinberger09-30-2011, 07:56 PM
I’m very interested in a Rolleiflex TLR. I’m somewhat familiar with the different models but wanted some insight from those who have used each kind, mainly the difference in lenses.
My main options are:
The Rolleiflex 3.5 with either Xenotar, Tessar, or Planar
The Rolleiflex 2.8 with Planar and Xenotar
Am I missing any?
I’m leaning towards a 3.5 version since it will be cheaper. Can anyone please explain the differences between the Tessar, Xenotar, and Planar lenses?
Also, which models have an in camera meter?
Basically I think it’s just the difference in lenses I’m wondering about. I’m a sucker for sharp lenses, but a lens with character would be fun for what I want to do with this camera too. Which lens of the 3 has the most “character?”
I have a 3.5 F and a Rollei T with the Tessar and really can’t see any difference between the two at middling apertures. If the choice was between a really clean T and a very used 3.5F I would certainly go for the T.
As for the Planar versus Xenotar, don’t beleive all the hype around the Planar because the Xenotar is just as good. If you can find an affordable 3.5, don’t sweat on which lens it has. BTW, there seems to be more of the Xenotar equipped Rolleis in the US for some reason.
The 2.8 Rollei really just gives you an extra stop over the 3.5 and usually comes at a premium which is a bit hard to justify….it looks really great though!
And my recommendation would be a clean 3.5F. Rollei’s rock!
One thing you really might want to think about is changing out the screen for a maxwell. Much brighter. Very nice. Expensive, but nice.
Another thing is the never-ready cases many flexes came in. I’ve never used mine. Don’t find them useful and they strike me as an invitation to fungus. Anyone else think this?
The 3.5s, either Tessar-type or Planar-type, are lighter than the 2.8 Planar-types.
The best bang for the buck is probably a meterless Planar/Xenotar 3.5E, ‘type 2’ (before the removable focus hood). $500-800 maybe in prime condition, and you will never look back. The rolleiflex T’s Tessar lens has a rep for being a step up from previous tessar versions, but the T has some design issues that bother some people.
I’ve noticed that this forum really doesn’t discuss TLRs much. A place with repeated discussions of Rolleiflexes is the TLR forum at Rangefinder Forum-
Between 1952 and 1960 or so, Rollei turned out constant variations of models with ever changing little tweaks and features. For example, the ‘E’ series has maybe 10 variations when you deal with the type 1, 2, and 3 (plus a sub-variation of 2, I think) with and without meters and with 2.8 Xenotars and Planars and 3.5 Planars and Xenotars.
I have a 2.8C Xenotar because it has a 10-bladed aperture, but I recognize that my interest in 10 blades means things to me that it doesn’t to others. I moved to this from a Xenar (and Minolta Autocord) because I was shooting wide open more and more and wanted better sharpness to the edges. For other people, this quality is either not important or counter to how they want their images to look.
The biggest potential problem I have heard of is the EV dials that cannot be uncoupled on some models (well, on some *variations* of some models). Beyond that, I would decide if you prefer Tessar/Xenar to Planar/Xenotar for basic look, especially at wider apertures. then how much you want to spend.
And remember, you are looking at cameras over 50 years old. Get something recently overhauled or be prepared to pay for an overhaul.
You know already that a TLR and you get along? Rolleis are nice but they aren’t magic; they are still TLRs with all the quirks and limitations.
for what it’s worth…. the sharpest medium format negatives I have ever made have been with my beloved “Rolleiflex T” that has a Ziess 75mm f3.5 Tessar Lens which I believe is single coated. I usually shoot it at f11 or f16. This is compared with negs made using Bronica SQ and Mamiya RB equipment ( I ALWAYS used the mirror up function with these so it should not be the SLR mirror factor). And I mean the best of the Rollei negatives are NOTICEABLY sharper using an 8x loupe.
I have a feeling you can’t go wrong with a Rolleiflex. =P Have fun!
The construction of the T is as sturdy as the others but are less expensive usually for camparable conditioned cameras and since most ‘Fexes today need a cleaing there is more in the budget for that or accessories.
As for the meter in camera, while it is sought after, I prefer not to have it. It is faster than a handheld meter when it is strung on your neck and taking snapshots. but I prefer the handheld meters leaving me an option of an averaging or spot, reflective or incident. I tend to use a tripod so metering, then mounting it on the tripod and hitting the shutter and then dismounting it for another reading, etc. is too time conuming. Also, most of the selenium meters today need either repair or at least calibration and there are few techs it seems to do this.
Some of the Tessar’s were CZJ as well, and that includes some of the Optons which had to pass West German quality controls.
In 1935, Zeiss Ikon brought forth the most advanced – and one of the heaviest cameras – of the day: the Contaflex (860/24) twin-lens reflex that used 35mm film. Camera has been produced only to 1943. The camera boasted the first built-in selenium light meter. The Contaflex featured interchangeable lenses, a focal plane shutter and a van Albada sports viewfinder. The lenses were the same as those offered for the Contax II but in a Contaflex mount. This heavy camera was considered to be one of the greatest German engineer’s cameras ever built. Contaflex had the first built-in selenium light meter, the first chrome finish and the first interchangeable lenses on a TLR. The viewing screen accommodates views for a range of lenses with concentric frames for them plus a very useful pop-up magnifier. The focusing screen is 2x the size of a 35mm neg and gives parallax correction for the 50mm standard lenses. The viewing lens is an 80mm or 8cm f2.8, which showed the same angle of view as the 50mm or 5cm f1.5 lens, but on a larger viewing screen and with shallower depth of field. The camera had interchangeable lenses with framelines in the finder for them all (except the wide angles) which required an auxiliary finder. The shutter is similar to the that used in the prewar Contax cameras, a vertically traveling focal plane shutter made of metal slats. It is heavy, 1.5kg, about twice as much as the Contax I. The lenses are also larger and heavier than their Contax counterparts, and are difficult to mount. The view through the finder isn’t bright by today’s standards, although it’s not too bad when compared to some of the tiny viewfinders of the day. The magnifier is a necessity if you plan on focusing. Between the waist level viewing, with it’s reversed image, and the need for a magnifier, the only way you can photograph anything moving is with the Albanda finder. But in doing that, you’ve just turned your overly expensive and heavy camera into a viewfinder camera. And if you think photographing action is bad, try taking a picture in portrait format (as opposed to landscape). You must hold the camera on it’s side at eyelevel, parallel to the subject. Now, instead of everything being backwards, it is upside down! And the controls are in the most inconvenient places. This is a camera that sold in 1939 for $250 with the 50/2.8 Tessar, and $372 with the 1.5 Sonnar. With the 50/1.5, it was the tied for being the most expensive still camera in their catalog with the Contax III with it’s 50/1.5. A range of accessories were offered for it, which are rarely seen today. They included a special lens shade which clips to the body, a cut film adapter back, a microscope adapter and an special arm for the copy stand.
A Review from pacific rim camera
Contaflex TLR, shown with 50/1.5 Sonnar This is one of the most impressive cameras ever built. Introduced in 1935, it was the first camera to have a built in exposure meter, and the first available in chrome finish. This was the flagship camera of the Zeiss line at one of their proudest moments. The viewing lens is an 80/2.8, which showed the same angle of view as the 50mm normal, but on a larger viewing screen, and with shallower depth of field. The camera had interchangeable lenses, with framelines in the finder for them all, except the wide angles, which required an auxiliary finder. The shutter is similar to the shutter used in the prewar Contax cameras, a vertically traveling focal plane shutter made of metal slats.
This is a perfect example of how the German photo industry was often driven by engineers. They conceived the camera as a feat of engineering. Many of the solutions are ingenious, and the camera is truly a marvel to behold. But as a instrument for making photographs, it is miserable. It is heavy, weighing 3-1/4 lbs (1.5kg), about twice as much as the Contax I. The lenses are also larger and heavier than their Contax counterparts, and are difficult to mount.
The view through the finder isn’t bright by today’s standards, although it’s not too bad when compared to some of the tiny viewfinders of the day. The magnifier is a necessity if you plan on focusing. Between the waist level viewing, with it’s reversed image, and the need for a magnifier, the only way you can photograph anything moving is with the Albanda finder. But in doing that, you’ve just turned your overly expensive and heavy camera into a viewfinder camera. And if you think photographing action is bad, try taking a picture in portrait format (as opposed to landscape). You must hold the camera on it’s side at eyelevel, parallel to the subject. Now, instead of everything being backwards, it is upside down! And the controls are in the most inconvenient places.
This is a camera that sold in 1939 for $250 with the 50/2.8 Tessar, and $372 with the 1.5 Sonnar. With the 50/1.5, it was the tied for being the most expensive still camera in their catalog with the Contax III with it’s 50/1.5. A range of accessories were offered for it, which are rarely seen today. They included a special lens shade which clips to the body, a cut film adapter back, a microscope adapter and an special arm for the copy stand.
Contaflex TLR Lenses
The frame lines in the finder.
A look at the lens mount. The notch connects the lens to the focus on the camera.
Four of the lenses, the 35/2.8 Biogon, the 85/2 Sonnar, the 50/1.5 Sonnar and the 50/2 Sonnar.
The 35/2.8 Biogon mounted on the camera.
The 85/2 Sonnar mounted.
The 135/4 Sonnar mounted.
The 135/4 Sonnar.
The eveready case for the Contaflex.
The front cap.
The cut film adapter back, with holder and ground glass focus screen.
The camera apart, in case you were thinking of taking one apart to see what is inside.
The camera apart, from the back showing the shutter. The curtain straps are broken on this camera