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.
Founders, Firm and Factory
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’ part 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: Salzdahlumer Straße 196.
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 (2020) only the Hy6 cameras and optics seem to be in production.
Franke & Heidecke began in rented rooms at Viewegstraße 32, Brunswick, Germany in 1920 and moved to the present factory site at Salzdahlumer Straße 196 in 1921. 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. The Rolleiflex cameras are made in a small part of Building Two. The original 1921 Building One is the former office. The 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 on the eve of closure. Read his report to the Rollei List. A sad story of half-finished cameras and deserted production rooms.
Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex
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.
Rolleiflex 6×6 cm TLR
Most Rolleiflex TLRs were made for 120 size roll film and exposed images of roughly 6 by 6 cm (2.54 by 2.54 in). For more detailed information about these cameras see the Rolleiflex 6× 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.
Rolleiflex 4×4 cm TLR
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.
Rolleiflex SL 66
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 the SL 66 line of cameras can be found at a separate page.
Rolleiflex SL 35
The SL 35, 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 excellent information on the Rollei SL 35 at my friend Carlos’s blog.
A very small mechanical 35 mm camera called Rollei 35 was launched in 1966. The camera is described on the Rollei 35 pages of the site.
Rolleiflex SLX and System 6000
With the Rolleiflex SLX of the 1970s the factory introduced electronics in medium format photography. The SLX developed into the present Rolleiflex System 6000. The System 6000 has dedicated pages on this site. The System 6000 was further developed in to the Rolleiflex Hy6. All System 6000 optics can be used on the Hy6 with certain limitations and both systems share the film Magazine 4560.
Rolleiflex Hy6, Sinar Hy6, Leaf AFi
At the September 2006 Fotokina Sinar, Leaf and Franke & Heidecke surprised the world with a new medium format camera: the Rolleiflex Hy6, also known as Sinar Hy6 and Leaf AFi. It was developed by the Rollei factory, financed mainly by Kodak and Jenoptik. The camera is designed to use film magazines or digital backs. The Hy6 had a difficult start. As soon as it was marketed, Kodak sold Leaf to Mamiya and pulled out of the project. Jenoptik sold Sinar with the same result. The only positive result was that nobody wanted the Hy6 and the Rollei factory (DHW) could obtain the rights. The much improved Hy6 type 2 and a number of lenses are still made by DW Photo. DW Photo does have a website but it has hardly any meaningful information about the Hy6 type 2. Not even a spec sheet. The best source of information on the history and development of the Hy6 are Pascal’s Rolleiflex Pages.
Starting with Rolleigraphy
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 exposure meter you have to be prepared that a forty odd years old exposure 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 they work somewhat different than most of us are used to. On one hand the exposure 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 modern 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 exposure meter. Rolleigraphy is a very relaxed way of photographing, strongly advised to stressed people. I hope to see you around carrying a Rolleiflex!