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Rolleigraphy is photography with a Rolleiflex camera. The term usually refers to photography with a Rolleiflex Twin-Lens Reflex (TLR) camera and originated sometime in the 1930s. ‘Rolleigrafie’ was the name of a magazine published by the Rollei factory.
This site is mainly about the Rolleiflex TLR-cameras. Some other models are briefly described and where possible a link to a different site is provided.
|Photograph of Rolleiflex 2.8 F Photo © Emmanuel Bigler. Photo used with permission.|
The Rolleiflex TLR was designed by Reinhold Heidecke (1881 - 1960), partner of ‘Franke & Heidecke’ of Brunswick, Germany, in 1928 and marketed in 1929. The TLR principle itself is much older. Paul Franke (1888 - 1950), owner of a Berlin photo retail shop, was Mr. Heidecke's commercial partner. Earlier the firm was a world famous builder of stereo cameras sold under the names Heidoscop (after its designer) and Rolleidoscop. The stereo camera was the basis of the Rolleiflex TLR. The Rollei name is a typically German contraction of Roll film camera Heidecke. The ‘flex’ parts is derived from ‘reflex mirror’. The camera was an instant success. Mr. Franke's first commercial trip had to be short cut after a few weeks. He had sold the production of more than a year.
Over the years the company name has changed many times mainly as result of a series of bankruptcies. The following firms and companies were involved in the production of Rolleiflex cameras. Franke & Heidecke, Rollei-Werke Franke & Heidecke, Rollei Fototechnic, Franke & Heidecke again, DHW Fototechnik. In June 2015 the present company was registered: DW Photo. The address remained: 196, Salzdahlumer Straße.
The factory started in rented rooms at Viewegstraße 32, Brunswick, Germany in 1920. In 1921 Franke & Heidecke moved to the present factory site at 196 Salzdahlumer Straße. After World War II factory buildings were expanded on a large scale until 1981. Most of the site is now in use by other firms and institutions. In the last decades the Rolleiflex cameras were made in Building Two. The original 1921 Building One is the former office. These buildings can easily be recognised by the interconnecting bridge at 1st floor level.
In September 2014 DHW filed for insolvency. All factory assets were auctioned off on the 21st of April 2015. A friend paid a last visit to the factory at Salzdahlumer Straße in Brunswick on the eve of closure. Read his report to the Rollei List. A sad story of half-finished cameras and deserted production rooms.
DW Photo occupies a small part of Building Two. In an interview in September 2015 Mr. Hans Hartje, CEO of DW Photo, stated that production of the reflex cameras had been resumed, including lenses and accessories of the System 6000 and the Hy6. The workforce numbered 10 people. DW Photo also service Rolleiflex cameras made in Brunswick in the passed 25 years. The new company faces a number of problems. The Rolleiflex brand name is owned by a third party. Just like Prontor, Copal has ended the production of mechanical shutters. DW are developing their own mechanical shutter for the TLR that will also be offered as OEM component just like their electro-mechanical shutter. At present (2018) only the Hy6 cameras and optics seem to be in production.
The TLR design itself was not a Heidecke invention. It was well known and used for what we now call large format cameras. The patented Heidecke design was much more compact than the usual TLR designs. In a clever way he used empty spaces to take the film rolls and he managed to lower the reflex mirror into unused space of the ‘taking chamber’. This way the two lenses could be built more closely together. This is a favourable construction to minimise parallax.
Most Rolleiflex TLRs were made for 120 size roll film and exposed images of roughly 6 by 6 cm (2.54 by 2.54 inch). For more detailed information about these cameras see the Rolleiflex 6 by 6 cm TLR page of this website.
Over the years the original design was improved many times. A moving metal frame in the finder construction for instance made sure that parallax was avoided. What remained was that the viewing lens is looking at the object from a slightly higher point of view than the taking lens. In close-up situations this results in an exposure from a slightly different angle. All these refinements were patented and kept Franke & Heidecke well ahead of competitors.
A smaller TLR also referred to as the Rollei-Baby exposed images of about 4 by 4 cm. One pre-war Baby model exists and two post-war models. For more detailed information about these cameras see the 4x4 cm TLR page of this website. See also the 127 Format group at Flickr.
To compete with the successful Hasselblad MF single lens reflex camera Rollei introduced the S(ingle) L(ens) 66 in 1966. Like its competitor it is a fully mechanical camera. The SL 66 had a focal plane shutter, a close focusing bellows and limited Scheimpflug adjustment. Lenses could be reversely mounted for better close focus performance. Despite these advantages the head started Hassy 500 C could not be overtaken. Also the latter camera is more compact. For MF macro photography the SL 66 still is the camera to use. More information on this line of cameras can be found at a separate page.
The SL35, a 35 mm single lens reflex, was inspired by the success of the Asahi Pentax and others. This site does not deal with this range of cameras. You can find information at my friend Carlos’s blog.
A very small mechanical 35 mm camera called Rollei 35 was launched in 1966. The Rollei 35 is deacribed on this page of the site.
With the Rolleiflex SLX of the seventies the factory introduced electronics in medium format photography. The SLX developed into the present Rolleiflex System 6000. The System 6000 has a dedicated page on this site.
At the September 2006 Fotokina Sinar, Leaf and Franke & Heidecke surprised the world with a new medium format camera: the Hy6. The Hy6 type 2 and a number of lenses are still made by DW Photo.
|Photograph of Rolleiflex 2,8 F Photo © Emmanuel Bigler. Photo used with permission.|
The joy of Rolleigraphy starts with a modest Rolleicord, a camera of equal quality but more basic features than the Rolleiflex. A good choice would be the Rolleicord Vb. More expensive than the Va or the earlier ones. The point is the Vb has a removable view finder hood. This will give you the opportunity to replace the screen yourself. For exchanging the screen of a Va or earlier Rolleicord you will need (to be) a skilled technician to make necessary adjustments. That is costly so you are better advised to spend that extra money on a Vb in the first place. Many users find the old screens too dim.
More expensive are the Rolleiflex T and even more the Rolleiflex 3.5 and 2.8 models. For user cameras also go for the ones with removable hoods. While the Selenium cell metered Rolleiflexes look better than the ones without a light-meter you have to be prepared that a forty odd years old light-meter may not be linear and therefore has limited prospects for actual use. Today replacement Selenium cells are very rare and far worse they are old too. Many Rollei Selenium meters are still fine but you must be willing to accept that exposure is different. On one hand the light-meter might be a bit off, on the other hand the metering angle is quite wide in comparison with modern cameras, possibly wider than the angle of view of the Rolleiflex lens. You can be metering more than you see in the finder. Pointing down for metering to leave out most of the sky may help. A hand held meter is a fine instrument in classic TLR Rolleigraphy.
I started with and still own a Rolleicord Va (yes, I know, a dim screen) and a Gossen Sixtar. Rolleigraphy is a very relaxed way of photographing, strongly advised to stressed people. I hope to see you around carrying a Rolleiflex!