Points to watch when buying a TLR
Old but still useable?
The Rolleiflex and Rolleicord TLRs are very sturdy built cameras meant for professional use. A member of the Photo.net community writes over and over again that one should not buy a forty year old Rolleiflex camera because it will be worn. For heavily used cameras of mediocre built quality, this may be true. For the Rolleiflex that is complete nonsense. Most Rolleiflexes from the Fifties are still sound cameras for daily use. Like all mechanical tools they have to be serviced now and then. When a Rolleiflex is not working properly, all it will need is a service by a competent repair person. Inexperienced “repair” is a rather common fault. When considering the very early ones, please, read the section on film of this page.
Never the less many people like to estimate how much use a prospected Rolleiflex has seen. Dan Colucci gives a sound advice on www.antiquecameras.net. His advice is to check the circular rim around the crank and when present the small black button. I would like to add the ‘ear’ attached to the rim. Above this paragraph I have put a picture of the crank side of my own Rolleiflex 2.8 GX. I have owned it from new. The coded serial number starts with 4, so it was made in 1989. The camera had ‘one careful owner’ and shows limited wear after thirty odd years. The wear is caused by owner’s hand touching the paint when winding. The crank iself it not to be blamed. It has no wear at all.
Photograph of the crank side of a Rolleiflex 2.8 F made in 1972 with hardly any marks. 17
years older but it has seen little if any use.
Photo ©2020 F.W. Stutterheim
In his book Collecting and using Classic Cameras (London, Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0-500-27656-0), Ivor Matanle mentions a few points to check: the lens panel, the back and the leaf shutter.
The lens panel
“Everything in a TLR depends on the lens panel being parallel to the film plane. Be very cautious about a twin-lens reflex whose focusing is stiff, as this often indicates it has been dropped on its front, and look for other evidence of this mistreatment. Check that the wheel that sets the aperture is not stiff, and that the shutter button pops smartly out after being pressed. Stiffness or sluggishness indicates a need for servicing.”
Sometimes it is suggested that one should check the gap between the moving lens panel and the camera body. Move the lens panel back altogether and then slightly forward. The gap is visible against an Aluminium background. Now check that the gap is even. This test only proves that the lens board cover is shimmed correctly. The inside lens board is shimmed independently of the cover, so an even gap does not guarantee both lenses being parallel to the film plane. After a long discussion, R.U.G. experts agreed on this. (They do not agree on much else!) I would like to add that an uneven gap suggests that someone has done work in there and did not do a good job remounting the cover. You could ask yourself what else was done in there and how good it has been done.
The camera back
Avoid twin-lens reflex cameras with dents in the back, as the blow may have pushed the pressure-plate, and therefore the film, out of parallel with the lens panel.
The back is made of sheet metal and is a vulnerable part of the camera. The tripod mount is part of the back. When using a tripod with a Rolleiflex always use a Rolleifix between camera and tripod. The Rolleifix has two extra mounting points that connect to the main body. Check the mounting plate carefully for gaps. It could be bent causing light leaks.
The Compur Shutter
Mr Matanle’s checks for leaf shutter blades would be: no corrosion, no signs of any free oil, no pin hole when closed. Corrosion is bad because the camera might have been kept under adverse conditions. Any sign of free oil suggests inexpert servicing.
Set a speed of 1 second and trip the shutter. You should hear a nice even buzz of about 1 second, without hesitations. A hesitating buzz would indicate a need for a shutter overhaul. Then check all other shutter speeds. I am of the opinion that quality cameras with sluggish shutters do not need to be avoided. It will effect the price off course. The working of the shutter is dealt with in more detail on the “Repair page”.
Then the lenses have to be checked carefully. In an ideal world the lenses should be completely clear. In reality a slight haze is not unusual. Some fine lenses are prone to haze as result of dust etc. They can be cleaned but it will add to the cost.
A more serious fault is lens separation. The Tessars, Xenars, Planars and Xenotars are built from lens elements. Some elements are cemented together into groups. It is not uncommon for classic cement to disintegrate and elements will begin to separate, starting at the edges. Now that Focal Point is closed for good, my advice is to stay clear from cameras with separating lenses.
Another nasty problem is fungus. Cleaning a lens infested with fungi is possible but may be expensive. You want to have your lens rebuilt properly, won’t you? The real downside is that the lens coating is effected by fungi. This is irreversible. When buying a camera, it is impossible to determine the stage of this progressive process. Fungus is associated with moisture. In some parts of the world it is not a frequent fault, in other parts it is.
Photograph of a Rolleiflex 2.8 E with original factory seal and ribbon. New.
Photo © 2008 Karl Keung. Photo used with permission.
New old stock
Now please take a moment to admire the image of a 2.8 E on this page. It shows the original factory seal and ribbon. Mr. Keung was lucky enough to buy this camera only recently. I have never seen one like this before. If someone offers you a classic Rolleiflex in condition “new” you know what to look for. :-) Any other state is called “used”.
While I am not in the trade, I would like to refer you to Dan Colluci’s web-page. It is regularly updated and can be found at my Rolleiflex TLR Links page or click on the following link.
Rolleiflex TLR Camera Price Guide
Rollei Mailing List
The Rollei List
Consider joining the Rollei List owned by Marc James Small. I have been a member since May 1997. To join click on the following link and subscribe. Members are mainly TLR users.
Subscribe Rollei List
Rollei List Archives and FAQ sheet
After the Rollei List moved to Freelists the old archives were inaccessible for a number of years. Thanks to Brian Reid and Emmanuel Bigler the archive was rescued and is now restored:
Rollei List Archives
A Rollei List FAQ sheet is edited by Emmanuel Bigler. In the beginning this file offered answers to some basic questions on the Rolleis. It has evolved into a real Rollei knowledge base. The FAQ sheet is hosted on the Rollei List Archives site.
For classic Rolleiflex TLR manuals check the following links to private sites:
Orphan Cameras by Michael Butkus.
Commercial sources of copied manuals include:
Craig Camera John Craig died in 2011 and his widow Joyce sells from existing stock only.
H.Lindemanns Buchhandlung, P.O.Box 103051, D 70026 Stuttgart, Germany.
Fax: +49 711 236 9672.
There are lots of books on Rollei and Rolleiflexes. Definitively the best are by Claus Prochnow. Sadly, he passed away on 31st July 2008, at the age of 78. Mr. Prochnow worked with ‘Franke & Heidecke’ in camera development for 36 years and was extremely well informed. He was part of Richard Weiss’ team responsible for the SL66 camera. Later he worked on the SLX camera. The film inserts still used in the 6000 series of cameras were his design.
The books are in German language, except for the Technical Report that is bilingual. In German and English. The author was working on the English translations of his books. The books are out of print but can be found used.
You may have to search for used copies.
- Das Rolleiflex-Buch, Heering, Dr Walther, ISBN 3-928126-00-8, im Heering-Verlag, Seebruck am Chiemsee, (1967).
- Rollei Report 1, Franke & Heidecke. Die ersten 25 Jahre 1920 - 1945, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-105-0, Lindemanns (1993)
- Rollei Report 2, Rollei-Werke Rollfilmkameras 1946-1981, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-118-2, Lindemans, (1994). Digital reprint of 3rd edition (2020).
- Rollei Report 3, Rollei - Werke, Rollei Fototechnic 1960 - 1995, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-141-7, Lindemanns (1995)
- Rollei Report 4, Rollei - Werke, Rollei Fototechnic 1958 - 1998, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-170-0, Lindemanns (1997)
- Rollei Report 5, Rolleiflex SLX, System 6000, Prochnow, Claus, X-Act, ISBN 3-89506-183-2, Lindemanns (2000)
- Rollei Technical Report, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-156-5, Lindemanns (1993)
- Rollei 35, Eine Kamera-Geschichte, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-930292-10-6, Appelhans Verlag (1998)
- Complete Rollei TLR User’s Manual, Parker, Ian, ISBN 1-874031-96-7, Hove Foto Books Ltd, (1994).
- Collector’s Guide to Rollei Cameras, Evans, Arthur G., ISBN 0931838061, Centennial Photo Service, (1986).
D 70026 Stuttgart, Germany
Chico, Ca, USA
Owners: Patty and Tom Duncan.
CameraBooks is under new ownership after Petra Kellers retired,
Early Roll Film
Pre-war Rolleiflex cameras with serial numbers lower than 200,000 need B1-6 or 620 roll film. The films are unavailable now. Unless you want to re-spool film, avoid these early cameras. Another reason is they are regarded as un-repairable caused by lack of parts and the cost of maintenance exceeding the economic value of the camera.
Roll film 120
Since 1932 most Rolleiflex and Rolleicord TLR’s use 120 size roll film. Some models use 220 size too. Many photo stores do not sell films anymore. Ordering on-line from a web-shop is the most practical solution for obtaining film.
Pictures on this site show the original brown Rolleiflex TLR cases, affectionally called ‘never-ready cases’. I feel readyness is not the real problem. Changing film is quite a hassle especially when using a 2,8 GX. Before being able to remove the case of a GX, you will have to take the strap off. I have been using a Lowepro Nova Micro bag for many years. Its shape is fit for a TLR. It will take a TLR, some film, a few filters and a lens shade. You will find instructions for re-stitching an original brown case here.
Maintenance, accessories and other stuff
For professional services select “Repair shops” from the navigation bar at the top of this page. Although linking to highly professional firms, the rest of this chapter deals mostly with products for DIY and accessories.
Camera leather covering
Loose leather(ette) can be fixed with Pattex Classic. It is an original Rolleiflex factory adhesive. A similar product by Uhu is the Uhu Kraft Power-block. It is a stick rather than a liquid or gel and therefore less messy to use. I have given up supplying URL’s for the products. The availability, product names and websites change faster than I can cope with. Best use a search engine or try hardware stores or shops that sell kits for building model aeroplanes and cars.
A supplier of ready-to-use camera leather(ette) replacement kits is Aki Asahi. Another supplier of excellent quality custom body coverings is Camera Leather.
A standard PC (Prontor, Compur) sync cord will connect a flash unit to your Rolleiflex TLR, however, if you prefer the “Rollei locking tip” at the camera end, look for a Paramount cord. As the name suggests it has a locking device to prevent the cord from falling out. They were designed to be used with long cables and studio flash equipment at a time when radio-triggering was unheard of. Even with shorter cables the locking tips do make sense. The electrical contacts of the PC tip are quite delicate and often contacts are bent when the cord moves all the time. When you have to buy a new one anyway or use flash often consider the locking tip. Look for Tip #3 at: Paramount Cords
Cable releases can be obtained from a great number of suppliers. Most of them are trading firms like Hama or Gepe. There is nothing wrong with purchasing their products. They do maintain dealer networks. A longtime manufacturer of top quality mechanical cable releases is Schreck Bros. (Gebr. Schreck) in Germany. Established 1922. They offer a wide range of cable releases including the traditional cloth releases and modern Nirosta ones that have excellent flexibility. The cloth covered releases do have a nice classic pre-WWII appearance but they are to be used in dry weather only. The plastic covered and Nirosta releases are made for use in adverse weather conditions. The plastic covered releases are stiffer and lighter than the Nirosta ones. The Nirosta releases are of the highest German quality but that is reflected in the price. Gebr. Schreck used to have a web-site in English that gave an excellent view on the technology of mechanical cable releases. The English language site seems to be down (at the moment). They also have a web-shop. I am a patron.