The Competition: The SLR
In 1933 the Ihagee Camera Works in Dresden showed the first Exakta single lens reflex camera for 127 size roll film, followed by the first Exakta for 35 mm motion picture film in 1936. The cameras still had waist level finders. The Dresden Zeiss-Ikon works introduced a pentaprism finder in their new Contax S SLR in 1949. Victor Hasselblad in Sweden had made his 1600 F medium format SLR in 1948.
The SLR, the single lens reflex camera, was moving in. It showed several advantages: exchangeable lenses, extension rings for shorter object distances. The TLR could only focus to short object distances with close focus lenses, the Rolleinars. The strength of Rolleinars was limited to 3 for image quality reasons. That limitation did not exist for extension tubes.
Early attempts 1953 - 1957
The advance of the SLR, especially the Hasselblad, had not gone unnoticed in Brunswick, the home of the Rolleiflex TLR. In 1953 Mr Heidecke, the technical director, ordered a team of his construction bureau lead by Richard Weiss to design and develop a medium format SLR camera. The Rolleiflex SLR should avoid a known problem of the Hasselblad. The mirror has to clear the back of the lens when swinging up and that means a mirror limited in size. Too short for long lenses and using lenses with long focal lengths was the whole point of opting for the SLR design. Richard Weiss invented a mirror that folded down in two parts instead of swinging up. The design was innovative but complicated. Another problem was that a mirror at the bottom of the camera does not close the finder. Eventually this idea was dropped.
The Tele-Rolleiflex and the Wide-Angle Rolleiflex
In the mean time TLR sales were still doing well and Rollei management lost interest in the costly SLR project. It was abandoned in 1957. Other solutions were considered. A TLR with exchangeable lenses for instance. It was developed and prototypes were built but the design was too complicated and too expensive to build. The exchangeable lenses for the TLR were dropped in favour of the Tele-Rolleiflex (1959) and the Wide-Angle Rolleiflex (1961).
Next steps 1962 - 1966
In 1962 a second attempt was made to design a medium format SRL. Sales of the TLRs had gone down and the Tele and Wide were not successful. The same construction team lead by Richard Weiss was assigned to the job. When new management was appointed in the mid Sixties the work was accelerated and the single lens reflex camera Rolleiflex SL 66 was introduced in 1966. Rollei had developed the SL66 to be a studio camera. It still had a focal plane shutter while Hasselblad had replaced its focal plane shutter for a leaf shutter in 1959.
SL 66 (October 1966 - March 1986)
From the outset the new Rolleiflex SLR was meant to have higher specifications than its main competitor, the Hasselblad 500 C. Some specifications were similar. The completely mechanical design and the lack of a built-in exposure meter.
The SL 66 scored higher notes at the following points:
The camera showed elements of a flat bed large format camera. The ‘flat bed’ was turned 90 degrees to the left side of the camera and the camera received a bellows for extremely close focusing.
The lens mount had the same Bay VI bayonet as the filter mount. This way the lens could be reversely mounted for better performance at short distances.
The lens could be tilted to achieve limited Scheimpflug movements. This way an extended depth of field could be realised.
The SL 66 received a lower note at this point:
The SL 66 had a focal plane shutter although a small number of lenses with leaf shutters were available. A leaf shutter is more suitable for flash exposures.
Some elements of the TLR remained: the focusing knob on the left side of the camera, the film transport crank on the right side, the shutter release button front right and also the chrome trim. The film magazine was detachable and had a feeler mechanism for automatic film transport like the TLR.
The standard lens of the SL 66 is a Carl Zeiss Planar 2.8/80 mm lens, single coated, in Bayonet VI mount. Engravings are close to the front lens until 1973. From 1974 the Carl Zeiss Planar bares engravings close the filter mount and was HFT multi-coated. In the same year the Rollei factory started offering Planars with HFT coating from their own production under licence from Zeiss. More information about lens naming and coating is written on a separate page.
From 1966 - 1982 SL66 cameras were sequentially numbered from 2,900,000 - 2,927,800. From 1982 coded numbers were used for the SL 66 starting with 7xxxxxxxx. Therefore there is no point in providing a separate numbers list. An explanation of the coding system for serial numbers is given on a separate page. The film inserts bare the same numbers as the magazines. Inserts are not interchangeable. In order to make checking easy the number is printed on the outside of the magazine and also inside on the magazine door near the hinges. Most inserts bare the number on the grip. Early inserts have the number engraved on the side.
SL 66 E (October 1982 - September 1992)
In 1982 the need for an exposure meter became apparent. The solution was relatively simple. At that time the Rollei factory also produced the mainly electronic SLX with an exposure meter for reflected light and flash. That one could be used for the SL 66 too. The factory considered replacing the mechanical shutter timing for electronic timing. That idea was dropped because it would have eliminated the key feature of the SL66 as a fully mechanical camera. Another reason was, the SL 66 E was meant to be equipped with a small non-rechargeable battery that was not really fit to power substantial electronics.
The electronic light-meter did have consequences. Certain camera parts had to be electrically isolated from other parts. The contact surfaces from body to film magazine needed to be made of plastic instead of metal. Another reason to revert to plastics was production costs. In 1966 high quality plastics were not yet readily available, so nearly all parts of the original SL 66 had to be made of metal. In those days any form of metalworking needed a specific tool. A piece of metal that had to be cut, moulded, bended four times, and had three holes, needed nine tools to be finished. A piece of plastic could be made in one job with only the holes to be drilled. The SL 66 E had a completely black finish. It was upgraded to ‘open aperture metering’ with suitable lenses. Coded camera numbers starting with 7xxxxxxxx. Film inserts bare the same number and are not interchangeable.
Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating, Bay VI and lens mount fit for ‘open aperture metering’. Existing lenses could have the lens mount exchanged for one suitable for ‘open aperture metering’.
SL 66 X (April 1986 - October 1992)
The SL 66 X was basically a SL 66 with only flash metering and the black outer shell of the SL 66 E. Black finish. Coded numbers starting with 1xxxxxxxx. From April 1986 until October 1986 delivered with film magazines of the SL 66 E. From October 1986 equipped with the new magazines of the third type with interchangeable film inserts without serial numbers.
Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating, Bay VI. Lenses fit for ‘open aperture metering’ can be used on this camera.
SL 66 SE (October 1986 - October 1992)
The exposure meter of the SL 66 SE was upgraded with spot-metering. The film feeler mechanism was dropped. The German DIN roll film specifications required a minimal hight for film + paper back + tape in order to make a feeler mechanism possible. Rollei was the only producer to offer such a feature and quite a number of modern (non-German) films did not comply, so the feeler might fail. Feeler equipped magazines can be used on the SL 66 SE although the exposure meter will only work with magazines with DIN/ASA setting. Interchangeable film inserts. Black finish. The SL 66 SE was upgraded to ‘open aperture metering’ with suitable lenses. Earlier lenses could be adapted by Rollei service. Coded numbers starting with 1xxxxxxxx.
Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating, Bay VI and lens mount fit for ‘open aperture metering’.
SL 66 SE Exclusive Professional (October 1986 - Early 1993)
Special Edition with additional engravings 1 - 188.
When using a cable release it is strongly advised to turn the body release to its ‘red’ i.e. ‘locked’ position. It seems to prevent the cable going in too deeply, possibly damaging camera parts. I am told this advice appeared in the manual of the SL 66 SE. It was never mentioned in earlier manuals.