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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 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 TLR 6 x 6 cm 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. The post-war grey Baby is the most common one. The post-war black Baby fetches a premium price as a collector's item. Few were made in black. When you have laid your hand on one of these babies, make sure to open the finder hood before attempting to trip the shutter. It won't fire unless the hood is opened.
One reason for the existence of the Babies was a slide format of 4 by 4 cm. These slides could be mounted in standard 35 mm film slide mounts. The Rollei-Baby takes the obsolete 127 size roll film. For sources check the Roll-film 127 page of this site. General information regarding 127 size film and cameras may be obtained from www.onetwoseven.org.uk. The site is rather outdated with respect to the availability of 127 film. 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: sl66.com.
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.
In the same year a very small mechanical 35 mm camera called Rollei 35 was launched. At the time it was the smallest ‘full frame’ 35 mm camera in the world. In those days the ‘full frame’ had to be distinguished from the Olympus ‘half frame’. It still is the smallest all metal full frame 35 mm camera. Even today this camera is a very desirable film based camera for urban use. Unfortunately the Rollei 35 is not built by the present day DW company. You can download the manual from the Downlaods page of this site.
|Photograph of First Model Tele-Rolleiflex with "half moons". Photo © Ferdi Stutterheim.|
The camera was designed by Heinz Waaske. Mr Waaske invented this small camera while working with another manufacturer who retreated from camera sales. He found a job with Rollei and shortly after presented his prototype to Rollei management. It was just what they were waiting for and his design was rushed into development. After introduction at the 1966 Photokina fair it was and still is a great success. It is one of my favourite film cameras for urban use.
The Rollei 35 was well designed and well built. Caused by its tiny size the parts are tiny too and even this well built camera can suffer from abuse. In particular the lens barrel may suffer from abuse. Strangely the manual you can download from this site provides no instructions for handling the lens barrel. The lens barrel release button (LBRB) is the small button next to the shutter release button. When the barrel is in pushed-in position you can carefully pull it out just like that. It won't hurt pushing the LBRB but it is not necessary. After pulling the barrel completely out, turn it clockwise until it is locked. It is just a short throw. It is clockwise when looking at the front of the camera.
Pushing it back is more complex. First of all: THE FILM HAS TO BE ADVANCED (AND THE SHUTTER COCKED). This is vital and this is also the point where an ignorant user could start damaging things. When the the film is not advanced (and thus the shutter is un-cocked) the barrel CANNOT BE MOVED. To make sure, you can carefully pull the film advance lever. The lever will be locked after the film was advanced (and the shutter cocked): DO NOT FORCE IT. On the other hand if the lever moves for more than a few mm, turn it all the way and let it move back afterwards. Now push the LBRB to unlock the barrel and carefully turn the lens barrel counter-clockwise untill it stops. Now the lens barrel can be pushed in. If the barrel cannot be turned counter-clockwise easily, make sure the film is advanced and the LBRB is pushed. This is the point where the barrel locks can be ruined by brute force.
The Cadmium Sulphide light-meter of the Rollei 35 was designed for the PX625 Mercury cell. It is not available anymore for environmental reasons. It was "replaced" by the PX625A (A for alkaline) cell. It is not an acceptable replacement for the Mercury cell. First of all the 625A supplies 1.5 Volt instead of 1.35 Volt for the Mercury cell. The Rollei 35 has an electrical circuit that cannot compensate for the difference. That means the lightmeter will have to be re-calibrated. A more serious problem is the discharging curve. Mercury cells keep a steady voltage of 1.35 V until they die. The voltage of Alkaline cells drifts down from 1.55 V to less than 1.35 V. There is no way the light meter can be properly re-calibrated for this drifting voltage.
There are two ways to proceed: One way is to stay with 1.35 V, at least for the time being. This is the way to go when your Rollei 35 has no obvious need for a service. No re-calibration of the lightmeter is needed for the following solutions.
The Weincell has a discharging curve similar to a Mercury cell. The only draw-back is it will last only about six months. Your old Mercury cell would have lasted six years.
The CRIS H-B Mercury Battery adaptor replaces the screw-in lid of the battery compartment. I contains electronic circuitry to reduce the voltage of a standard Silver Oxide cell of a slightly smaller size. Off course the device is reusable and has to be purchased only once.
The second way is to revert to 1.55 V. You can use this option when the camera needs a service shortly. At the same time you can have the lightmeter re-calibrated.
The ‘Excell Battery S625PX’ Silver Oxide cell. It does have a voltage of 1.55 Volt, so the lightmeter has to be re-calibrated, but the discharging curve is similar to a Mercury cell.
The limitation to this 1.55 V solution is that there are only very few people in the world who may lay there hands on my Rollei 35 for service. The availability of the Silver Oxide cells has improved in recent years. I have found a number of suppliers, including well-known photography shops. Be aware of ‘alternative’ offerings that are alternative only in size but not in chemistry. On the Repair Shops page of this site I have listed a choice of qualified technicians. Look for the ones who work on the Rollei 35 or on all classic or tradional Rolleiflex models.
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.
Rolleiflex TLR cameras have taking lenses by Carl Zeiss Jena or Oberkochen or taking lenses made by Joseph Schneider of Bad Kreuznach. Since 1971 the Rollei factory has the capability of building top quality lenses. In that year they took over the famous Voigtländer Optical Works from Zeiss-Ikon Voigtländer. Part of the deal was a license to build some of the Carl Zeiss lenses. The Zeiss lenses made by Rollei bare the lens name (Planar, for instance) but not the Carl Zeiss name. They are labelled ‘Rollei HFT’. HFT stands for High Fidelity Transfer, Rollei's multi-coating ‘developed with Carl Zeiss’. Obviously the Zeiss license did not include the use of the T* label for multi-coating. Other Zeiss lenses for the System 6000 are made by Carl Zeiss at Oberkochen, Germany. They are actually T* coated but labelled ‘Carl Zeiss HFT’ for reasons of uniformity (Source: Carl Zeiss, Camera Lens News No. 13, Spring 2001).
Next to the Zeiss line of lenses ran attractive wide aperture lenses by Joseph Schneider Optical Works of Bad Kreuznach. Although these lenses are fully credited to Schneider they are made at the Braunschweig Rolleiflex factory.
An economy line of lenses was introduced for the 6001. The EL series was clearly meant for studio use, but can be used on the 6008i. These EL lenses lack the inner bayonet for filters and have a screw mount instead. They do have the outer bayonet for a sun shade. Also lens barrels of the EL series do not have a window showing the aperture chosen by the camera when using program mode (6008i) or shutter preselect automatic exposure. All lenses made by Rollei have the apertures and distances scale, etc., printed rather than engraved. The process of engraving and filling the engraved areas with several colours of paint is very labour demanding and thus expensive. The Schneider lenses also lack the aperture window and have the same printed text. All lenses made by Carl Zeiss at Oberkochen have engravings. The auto-focus lenses for the 6008 AF are made by Rollei under licence from Joseph Schneider, Kreuznach (Source: Bob Shell). According to Bob's information these were the first Schneider lenses made by Rollei.
The present producer, DW Photo, sell lenses for the Rolleiflex under the Apogon name. The optical formulas of the lenses are probably the same as before.
|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!