The Pre-War and Early Post-War Rolleiflex
10 prototypes were made in December 1928. The First Model and a Transition Model followed in 1929. Both models were offered with f/4.5 and f/3.8 75 mm Tessars and were made in small numbers. The Second Model was also offered with the same choice of Tessar lenses and made from 1929 until 1932. The Rolleiflex Standard of 1932 was a major re-design. Not only were the film chambers expanded for 120 film, constructions that were developed for the 4 by 4 Rolleiflex were used for the Standard.
A major landmark was the Rolleiflex Automat of 1937 winning a ‘Grand Prix’ at the Paris World Fair. At the time Automat meant automatic film loading and transport. People had not even dreamt of auto-exposure let alone auto-focus.
Rolleiflex 3.5, 3.5 A
The post-war Rolleiflex 3.5, 3.5 A (and B) were based on the pre-war Automat. The taking lens was a 3.5/75 mm Zeiss Jena Tessar, a Zeiss Opton Tessar or Schneider Xenar. The viewing lens is 2.8/75 mm triplet lens. The A still had the old non-linear set of shutter times.
Rolleiflex 2.8 A
After the Second World War an expensive wide aperture 2.8 model equipped with a Carl Zeiss Jena 2.8/80 mm Tessar was marketed, next to the standard 3.5 model and the economy Rolleicord model. This 2.8 model as later on referred to as 2.8 A. The 2.8 was aimed at the American market. For post-war Europe - still recovering from the ravages of the war - the price was simply too steep. The 2.8 Tessars had been manufactured by Carl Zeiss Jena for the Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex just before the war. After the war the un-mounted lens elements were purchased by Franke & Heidecke for the Rolleiflex 2.8. Before the war lens coating was secret, rare and limited to products for the German armed forces. After the war coating was quite common so the lens elements were state of the art "T coated" before delivery. During this process a number of lens elements were mixed up. At this point you have to know that at Carl Zeiss lens elements are matched to compensate for minor lens faults. One minor fault is compensated by another minor fault to achieve an optimal result. In this case about one third of the Tessars had unmatched elements, resulting in poor optical performance. When this became evident, Franke & Heidecke recalled all 2.8 A cameras in order to replace the CZ Jena Tessars for new Opton Tessars from Oberkochen.
A Rolleiflex 2.8 A with an original CZJ Tessar is a nice collector’s item. In theory there is a 2 in 3 chance for a well performing CZJ Tessar, however it is possible that satisfied customers did not take the trouble to have the lens replaced. Serious collectors should go for a 2.8 A with a bad performing Jena Tessar. :-)
Rolleiflex 2.8 B
While the 3.5 Tessar was an excellent lens, the larger 2.8 Tessar had its limitations. f/2.8 Was about the largest aperture that could be achieved with a Tessar-type. Another concern was that production numbers at Zeiss Opton were very limited in the early post-war years. A better option seemed a new 5-element lens by Zeiss Jena: the Biometar. This lens was used for the Rolleiflex 2.8 B. During production it became increasingly difficult to get optics from Jena in Russian occupied East-Germany to the West.
The later Post-War Rolleiflex
Rolleiflex 3.5 B
The Rolleiflex 3.5 B has the new Synchro_Compur shutter with the common set of linear shutter times like 1/125 and 1/30 in stead of 1/100 and 1/25 s. This new shutter was needed for the Exposure Value System.
Rolleiflex 2.8 C
The West-German equivalent of the Biometar, the Planar - named after an earlier quite different lens design - was delayed for at least two years. The Zeiss Oberkochen plant worked under difficult circumstances with respect to raw materials and equipment. The Schneider Xenotar was used as a replacement. Both optics were used for the 2.8 C model. The first block of serial numbers reserved for 2.8 C cameras equipped with Planars was allocated in 1951 or ’52. Production of this batch started only in 1954. In the meantime production of Xenotar equipped cameras had begun in 1952 using a new block with higher serial numbers.
Rolleiflex 2.8 D
The main feature of the D-type is the Exposure Value System (EVS). The system is supposed to make exposures easier. For users with their roots firmly in the 21st century that is hard to believe. In order to make the EVS work the 2.8 D had the new Synchro-Compur with the linear set of shutter times.
The Rolleiflex with exposure meter
Rolleiflex 3.5 C (also named 3.5 E)
The Rolleiflex 3.5 C had a 3.5/75 mm Planar or Xenotar lens. The camera was equipped with EVS. It could be fitted out with the E-type exposure meter off factory or later on by the user.
Rolleiflex 2.8 E
The E-type had EVS and the Selenium cell ‘uncoupled’ exposure meter.
The Wide-Angle Rolleiflex has an Newton finder with a flap that opens up to the front of the camera. All Rollei-Wides have a Flat glass to ensure film flatness. From the start of production up to 1966 they have a so called "half moon" under the strap holder. The Wides built from 1965 to the end of 1967 have the updated film transport. This information is taken from a Rollei Repair Manual. The last 404 pieces were made from mid 1965 to the end of 1967 and can switch between 12 or 24 exposures. Those cameras are called the Second Model Rollei-Wide. The photograph shows my Wide-Angle Rolleiflex, still having the "half moons" and also having the "ear" mark of the new film transport. That would place its birth in 1965. Unfortunately the camera has no serial number to verify, possibly due to a replaced front plate. The Wide-angle Rolleiflex has a detachable finder hood. When buying, make sure the camera is fitted out with the proper dedicated hood not the standard finder hood. The Newton finder of the classic Wide cannot be missed.
The Tele-Rolleiflex has a normal ‘sports finder’ with a smaller cut out frame to suit the narrow angle of view of the 135 mm lens. The photograph shows a First Model Tele-Rolleiflex (6420 p.) featuring the Flat glass and a pressure plate having three positions: 35 mm film, 120 film with, and 120 film without Flat glass. A distinguishing mark of the First Model is the half moon beneath the strap holder. Near the end of first run 12/24 exposures capability was introduced. This is called the Transition Model (452 p.) The Second Model lacks the Flat glass, but has 12/24 exposures with 120/220 film (1618 p.).
The 135 mm Sonnar of the Tele-Rolleiflex was meant for portraiture. Lens panel movement however was limited to 8 mm giving a focusing scale of 2.60 m - ∞. That is too far away for tight head shots unless a Rolleinar 0.35 close-up lens is mounted. The Tele was not a commercial success. One reason was that fine portraits could be made using a normal Rolleiflex from a distance and then just cropping the image. Photographers had done that for decades. A prototype Tele-Rolleiflex with extended lens panel movement was constructed, but Rollei decided not to pursue this line of development any further (for the time being!) and started work on a Rolleiflex SLR with interchangeable lenses. Both Tele and Wide models had a rather long shelf life. Among today’s collectors the Tele and Wide are very desirable models.
The Tele model had the detachable finder hood. When buying, make sure the camera is fitted with the proper dedicated hood not the standard finder hood. The square cut-out in the Tele finder is just a bit smaller than the one in a standard finder. Off course you can use the camera with the wrong finder hood but it will affect its value when selling.
The Classic top models
Rolleiflex 3.5 F
The Rolleiflex 3.5 F is the result of a new differential Synchro-Compur shutter becoming available. This differential shutter can be found in F types 1 and 2. The exposure meter was mechanically coupled to both aperture and shutter. Between the upper shutter-speed ring and the lower aperture ring this shutter had an additional ring. By means of a planet wheel the third ring is connected to the other rings. By turning the shutter-speed wheel to a lower speed and the aperture wheel to a smaller aperture, the middle ring and thus the connected ‘follower needle’ stayed in the same position, pointing to the same EV. Any single movement was, or two countervailing movements were, transferred to the ‘follower needle’ as a deviation. The photographer had the choice to use either the aperture wheel or the shutter-speed wheel to for the line-up of the ‘follower needle’ with the metering needle. F-type 1 still had aperture and shutter linked, a remnant from the EVS-past that was unnecessary and to a certain extend clumsy. As from Type 2 aperture and shutter were independent. That might be a reason to avoid the first F-type in favour of the later ones. The most desirable F is type 3: no EVS, no slightly stiffer differential shutter, 6-element lens.
After the 2.8 F came available the differential shutter of the 3.5 F was dropped and replaced by the Synchro-Compur MXV and the cone-wheel differential. This is F-type 3. Type 3 also had the 6 element Planar or Xenotar. The 6-element lenses were not meant as an improvement. It was a cost cutting measure by the lens producers Zeiss and Schneider. According to Mr. Prochnow (Claus Prochnow, Rollei Report 2) it was difficult to maintain the required specifications with 5 elements. By adding an extra element this was cheaper even taking into account the additional costs of producing and mounting an extra element.
Rolleiflex 2.8 F
The pinnacle of classic TLR design was the F-type featuring a Selenium light-meter mechanically coupled to the aperture wheel and the shutter-speed wheel. This development was initiated by shutter producer ‘Compur-Werke’, who offered a differential Synschro-Compur shutter but only for the smaller 3.5 aperture. Rollei offered 3.5 F-type cameras from 1958 but 2.8 F-types only from 1960. F & H needed to design a ‘ cone-wheel differential’ first.
The F-type was produced until 1981 when the Rollei-Werke Franke & Heidecke went into their first bankruptcy. Fortunately the factory survived. Limited numbers of a special editions were assembled even afterwards mostly from existing parts.
Rolleiflex E2 and E3
Some professional users preferred their hand-held exposure meters and meter-less cameras were offered alongside the metered ones to accommodate them. Try writing to Nikon or Canon now.
The 3.5 E2 was based on the 3.5 C (or plain E) type (with a distance of 42 mm between the axes of both lenses), however it had the new removable finder hood. The 3.5 E3 was based on the F type (45 mm distance), stripped of exposure meter and differential. Both cameras could be retrofitted with the dual-range exposure meter by the user.
The 2.8 E2 of 1959 was one year ahead of the first 2.8 F-type. The 2.8 E2 was based on the 2.8 E. It is a 2.8 E with the new detachable finder hood. Cameras were offered with and without E-type exposure meters. When 2.8 F production was up and running it was decided to build the meter-less cameras from F-parts rather than stay with E-parts. This became the 2.8 E3. The 2.8 E3 was built with the current Flat glass option. Both 2.8 E2 and 2.8 E3 could have an E-type meter fitted by the user. Production numbers of all E2/3 cameras were very low.
The Rolleiflex of the modern age
Rolleiflex 2.8 GX
In the Nineteen Eighties the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX was introduced by Rollei Fototechnic. To cut production costs the 2.8 GX lost automatic film loading but still features automatic film transport. When loading film a mark on the backing paper has to be aligned with a red dot in the camera, just like Rolleicord loading. After this film transport is automatic. A modern light-meter with automatic TTL flash exposure was introduced with 2.8 GX. Several times the factory announced the end of TLR production, but kept on selling (Special Editions of) the 2.8 GX (model 2). In the Model 2 the classic Synchro-Compur shutter is replaced for a similar Japanese one. The fully mechanical shutter appears to be a very expensive part and the Prontor works would only take large orders for the Synchro-Compur. Rollei appeared to be the last remaining customer for this shutter.
Rolleiflex 2.8 FX
The ‘retro’ looking Rolleiflex 2.8 FX resembles the classic 2.8 F by the use of old scissor style strap holders. Other particulars are "Croco leather" and a chromed rim around the camera back. The name Rolleiflex is in Pre-World War II lettering. The technical specifications of the 2.8 FX are exactly like the ones of the preceding 2.8 GX. As from April 2002 the 2.8 GX was discontinued and only the Rolleiflex 2.8 FX remained. New Wide and Tele models were designed triggered by demand from the Far East.
Rolleiflex 2.8 FX-N
The Rolleiflex FX-N is a modified version of the FX. It can focus down to 55 cm instead of 90 cm. The lens is a S-Apogon 2.8/80 mm HFT. It has the larger size IV for the outer bayonet and no inner bayonet. A special adaptor is needed to mount filters.
The new Wide-Angle Rolleiflex 4.0 FW TLR is marketed since May 2003. The camera has a 50 mm Schneider Super-Angulon taking lens. Some glass types that would be needed for producing the original Zeiss Distagon were out of production. Reviving this classic design was not possible. Fortunately a Schneider Super-Angulon was available. The new Rolleiflex 4.0 FW lacks the Newton finder. Even the frame finder is gone. A bonus is that new bayonet IV lens caps and lens hoods are available for owners of the classic Rollei-Wide, at a price.
The new Tele-Rolleiflex came in 2004. The FT has improved close-focusing in comparison with the classic Tele-Rolleiflex: down to 1.1 meter instead of 2.6 meter. The roots for this improvement date back to a prototype developed by Friedrich Sommermeyer in 1963 also focusing to 1.1 meter. Management decided not to build this camera. In 1969 Mr. Sommermeyer designed another Tele-Rolleiflex with the new 150 mm Sonnar lens. The prototype was a Tele-Rolleiflex 4.8/150 mm with a bayonet IV accessories mount. By 1970 management decided that the time for small series was over and the time for mass production of the SL35 had come. The new FT has a 4/135 lens with a bayonet IV mount.
- Rollei Report 2, Rollei-Werke Rollfilmkameras 1946-1981, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-118-2, Lindemans, (2000).
- Die klassischen zweiäugigen Rolleiflex. Eine technische Spitzenleistung der Fotogeschichte. DHW Fototechnik, D-38126 Braunschweig.