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© 1998-2019 Ferdi Stutterheim

Page Index

  1. Origin and Design
  2. Pre-War Rolleiflexes
  3. Automatic film transport
  4. Rolleiflex Automat
  5. Rolleiflex 3.5, 3.5 A, 3.5 B
  6. Rolleiflex 2.8 A
  7. Rolleiflex 2.8 B
  8. Rolleiflex 2.8 C
  9. Xenotar or Planar
  1. Exposure Value System
  2. Rolleiflex 2.8 D
  3. E-type exposure-meter
  4. Rolleiflex 2.8 E
  5. Flat glass
  6. 12/24 Exposures
  7. Prototype with interchangeable lenses
  8. Wide-angle Rolleiflex
  9. Tele-Rolleiflex
  1. F-type exposure-meter
  2. Rolleiflex 3.5 F
  3. Rolleiflex 2.8 F
  4. Rolleiflex 2.8 E2 and E3
  5. Rolleiflex 2.8 GX
  6. Rolleiflex 2.8 FX
  7. Rolleiflex 2.8 FX-N
  8. Rolleiflex FW
  9. Rolleiflex FT

The origin and design

Rolleiflex 2,8E, Photo Karl Keung
Photograph of Rolleiflex 2,8 E © 2008 Karl Keung. Photo used with permission. Note the Exposure Value numbers and pointer on the right hand wheel and the locking system on the left hand wheel. The slots are in the crossed i.e. unlocked position.

Franke & Heideck were a well-known producer of stereo cameras. In 1928 the idea came up to develop a twin lens reflex camera based on the stereo camera. It looked quite simple: cut one third of the stereo camera off and you are nearly done. This is exactly what Mr Heidecke did, but he soon found out that things were more complicated and a lot more work had to be done. At the end of the day he used his cut-up stereo camera to convince his commercial partner Mr Franke that more funds were needed to develop the TLR.

From the beginning it was clear that the camera had to be small. Not as small as the Leica but as small as roll-film allowed. That determined the choice for a roll-film with a small diameter spool. The B 1-6. It allowed only 6 exposures of 56 by 56 mm. A few clever ideas were realised in the design. The basic design consists of two camera parts: on one hand the viewing camera with the focusing screen, reflex mirror and viewing lens and on the other hand the taking camera with the taking lens and film aperture. The reflex mirror was sunk into the taking camera as far as possible and the film chambers were located in unused space. The un-exposed film resides in the bottom of the taking camera near the lens, while the exposed film is stored behind the reflex mirror in the viewing camera.

Soon 6 exposures proved a bit too limiting and cameras could be sent back to be modified for 620 film that allowed 12 exposures. Developments in the field of roll-films went fast in those years and it became clear that roll-film 120 was going to be the winner. The 120 film however needed more room in the film chambers than could be made available in the First and Second Model Rolleiflex. For 120 film a completely new camera design was necessary: the Standard model of 1932.

Three major product lines existed. The top of the line Rolleiflex (6 by 6 cm) for the professional market, the economy model Rolleicord (also 6 by 6 cm) for the amateur market and the 4 by 4 cm Rolleiflex. In the following text general remarks and features to be found in several camera lines or models are printed against a grey background. Not all existing TLR models are described (yet). Several systems are in use for naming the Rolleiflex cameras. In this text I have used the names given by the factory. In Anglo-Saxon countries different names are common. If you get confused, please consult my serial numbers lists on this site. They list all common camera names.

Pre-War Rolleiflexes

In December 1928 the number of 10 prototypes were made. In 1929 the First Model and a Transition Model. Both were offered with f/4.5 and f/3.8 75 mm Tessars. Only limited numbers were made. The Second Model was also offered with both 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.

Rolleiflex 2,8 E, Photo Karl Keung
Photograph of the film feed chamber with film sensor rollers, Rolleiflex 2,8 E. The film has to be fed between the two lower rollers.
Photo © 2008 Karl Keung. Photo used with permission.
Automatic roll film transport

The automatic film loading and transport feature for roll-film was a wonder of mechanical engineering, unheard of at the time and never offered again by any other manufacturer not even after the patent had expired. The user has to feed the paper beginning of the roll film between a pair of rollers, then pass it over the film aperture and finally feed it into the take-up spool. After this all he has to do is close the back and turn the crank forward until it stops, then crank backward until it stops again. The film is at exposure 1 now. The rollers - one fixed, one moving - form the feeler mechanism for finding the bulge of adhesive tape that fixes film to the backing paper. The combined height of paper, film and tape for 120 roll-film was standardised in a German Industry Norm (DIN) to make automatic film loading with a Rolleiflex happen. The hundreds of thousands of Rolleiflexes in use by professional photographers and amateurs made the entire photo industry comply with the DIN standard for 120 size film. Even today automatic film loading in a Rolleiflex still works flawlessly with most modern films. In recent years some new films seem to have thinner backing paper but malfunction of film transport may be also caused by the rollers being out of adjustment. Automatic film transport was used in most top of the line Rolleiflex cameras. For reasons of economy cameras from the 2.8 GX no longer have this feature.

Rolleiflex Automat

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 and B

The post-war Rolleiflex 3.5, 3.5 A and B are 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, with the B came the new shutter with the still common set of linear shutter times. This new shutter was needed for the EVS described below.

Rolleiflex 2.8 A

After the Second World War an expensive wide aperture 2.8 model having 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 made for the American market. For post-war Europe - still recovering from the ravages of the war - the price was simply too steep. The 2.8 Tessar lenses had been manufactured by Carl Zeiss Jena just before the war for the Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex. After the war the un-mounted lens elements were purchased by Franke & Heidecke. Before delivery they were state of the art "T coated". Before the war lens coating was secret, rare and limited to products for the German armed forces. After the war coating was quite common. Before or after 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.

Rolleiflex 2,8EC, Photo Chris Protopapas
Photograph of Rolleiflex 2,8 C © 2016 Chris Protopapas. Photo used with permission. The camera is equiped with an early Planar from Carl Zeiss, Oberkochen. Click on the link for a larger image.
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 wirh respect to raw material and equipment. The Schneider Xenotar was used as a replacement. Both optics were used for the 2.8 C-type. The first block of serial numbers for 2.8 C camera equiped with Planars was allocated in 1951 or '52. Production of this batch started only in 1954. In the meantime production of Xenotar equiped cameras had begun in 1952 using a new block with higher serial numbers.

Xenotar or Planar?

In the 1950s and 60s the Xenotar was used when there was a shortage of Planars. Carl Zeiss wanted their optics to be ordered one whole year in advance. In the light of a growing Rolleiflex production shortages were rather common in the Fifties and Sixties. The shortages were filled with Schneider optics. In the 1970s, when production numbers declined the Xenotar was the preferred lens, because they could be ordered in smaller batches and on shorter notice. Mr. Prochnow (Claus Prochnow, Rollei Report 2) writes that when a 500 pieces special edition was going to be produced in 1984 a batch of 500 Planars had to be ordered with Carl Zeiss at huge cost. The last Xenotars had been used for the 1983 ‘Aurum’ batch. He also writes that 2.8 Planars had not been ordered for over 10 years.

Exposure Value System

In order to use the Exposure Value System (EVS) a new shutter had to be developed with linear set of shutter times. Moving up or down will either double or halve the shutter time. The Synchro-Compur MX-EVS/CR00. The basics of the Exposure Value System (EVS) are quite simple. The result of exposure metering is given in one number instead of a set of aperture and shutter-speed. You can use a hand-held exposure meter or an built-in meter to meter the scene and read the number. A hand-held meter may have to be switched to ‘EV’ Let's say it is EV 12. You set the number 12 to the EV-system of your camera. You lock aperture wheel and shutter-speed wheel together and you can select an aperture while the shutter-speed will change automatically in order to keep exposure at EV 12. Or the other way around. The system was quite common in those days. Rollei introduced the EVS with the 3.5 B and the 2.8 D. The factory needed some time to find the right way to do this. The first 3.5 B cameras lack the locking facility to hold the choosen EV. Later ones were locked all the time except when pushing and holding a button. The final solution gave the user the choice to set the system in either locked or unlocked position. The 2.8 got this final solution from the start. When buying a 3.5 with EVS it makes sense to find out what is on offer. In my opinion EVS can work provided you can read exposure in EV from your meter.

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.

Rolleiflex 3.5 C

The Rolleiflex 3.5 C (or 3.5 E) had a 3.5/75 mm Planar or Xenotar. The camera was equiped with EVS. It could be fitted with the E-type exposure-meter.

E-type exposure meter

In 1956 exposure-meters became available. The Rolleiflex got a dual range exposure-meter by Gossen. It used a Selenium cell and no battery was needed. This meter was ‘uncoupled’. It means the result was not tranferred to shutter/aperture. The photographer selected a metering range using a mechanical switch on the name shield, metered and took a reading from the appropriate high-range or low-range window. Aperture and shutter were linked together, a proper sign of progress in the 1950s: EVS (please see above). The determined value was transferred to the aperture/shutter and locked. Now the user could change either aperture or shutter setting and the other setting would follow, maintaining the selected exposure. Once you get used to it, it is convenient but to those who are used to fully automated rigs it is more like being sent off to the Stone Age.

Rolleiflex 2.8 E

The E-type had EVS and the Selenium cell ‘uncoupled’ exposure-meter.

Flat glass

Film flatness is a concern when using roll film. The Flat glass was developed to improve film flatness. It is a flat glass positioned right before the film plane. It can be found in cameras from the first half of the 1960s. The camera body has to be prepared to accept the Flat glass and has to be equiped with a special camera back having a three-way pressure plate. Altough the pressure plate is lifted during film transport the glass gets dirty easily and the dirt shows fine on the perfectly flat film. In 1965 roll film 220 became available. The absence of backing paper promised improved film flatness. Rollei quickly decided to drop the flat glass and make the cameras suitable for 220 film. Most of the Flat glasses are lost by now. The main reason is F & H did not supply photographers with a third hand. You need one hand to hold and turn over the camera, your second hand to operate the push button to free the Flat glass and a non-available third hand to catch the thing before it is smashed on the rocks. Surviving glasses remained well tucked away in special pockets in the camera cases until those cases were sold to people who removed the Flat glass and broke it at first opportunity. I know, I am a pessimist. Anyway it is worthwhile to take a look in Rolleiflex cases on offer. In that little pocket in the back. Just incase. You never know. Flat glass backs were also sold separately and can be mounted onto suitable bodies. Look for a half-circular button next to the film feeler rollers. The button moves one edge of the film gate a tiny bit sideways. Just enough to free the Flat glass.

12/24 Exposures

The factory had high expectations of the new 220 size Roll film. It offered not only 24 exposures instead of 12, the lack of a backing paper should provide better film flatness. From 1966 the 12/24 exposures option was available. The solution was a bit primitive. The film counter was to be reset from 12 to 0 in mid roll. All cameras had the modified film transport but the actual switch was not built into all cameras. The slightly elevated platform with two chrome rings around the crank shows the new film transport as an ear shaped bump near the exposure counter window. Although moderately popular in the USA, the 220 film did not really catch on in Europe and most of the rest of the world. Quite a few buyers preferred not to have the switch on their camera. By replacing the complete camera-side it was possible to add the switch later on. Eventually the factory lost interest in 220 film and the 12/24 option was dropped in 1973.

Rolleiflex prototype with interchangeable lenses

In the Nineteen Fifties lens interchangeability became an issue. A Rolleiflex prototype with interchangeable lenses was designed but never made it to production stage. After the idea of lens interchangeability was dropped by Mr. Heidecke himself, two special Rolleiflex models were developed from the standard E-type. The Wide-Angle Rolleiflex (April 1961 - End of 1967) having a 55 mm Distagon mounted and the Tele-Rolleiflex (September 1959 - Mid 1975) with a 135 mm Sonnar. 4000 Rollei-Wides were produced and 8000 Tele-Rolleiflexes.

Classic Wide-Angle Rolleiflex, Photo Ferdi Stutterheim
Photograph of Classic Wide-Angle Rolleiflex from 1965 with Newton Finder, "Half Moon" under the strap hinge and "ear" under the exposure counter window indicating the upgraded film transport for 12/24 exp. Photo © Ferdi Stutterheim.
Wide-angle Rolleiflex

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 hinge. 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.

Tele-Rolleiflex

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 hinge. 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.

F-type exposure-meter

The F-type exposure-meter was ‘coupled’: no metered value had to be set anymore. It has two needles. The metering needle is connected to the Selenium cell and indicates the amount of light. The second ‘follower needle’ is connected to both aperture wheel and shutter-speed wheel by means of the differential. Either aperture wheel or shutter-speed wheel can be used to line up the follower needle with the metering needle for correct exposure.

Rolleiflex 3.5 F
Rolleiflex 2,8FX, Photo Charles Lin
Photograph of Rolleiflex 2.8 FX Photo © Charles Lin. Photo used with permission.

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.

‘Whiteface’

In 1971 the camera serial-number was moved from the top to a newly designed shiny silver name shield on the shutter cover. It had no black lines and smaller print. Later such a camera was called a Whiteface. Whitefaces are no separate types, it was just a cosmetic change in mid-series. It is an easy way to identify Rollei TLRs made later than around 1970. Therefore and as result of collectors interest they usually sell at a higher price.

Rolleiflex 2.8 F
Rolleiflex T, Whiteface
Name shield of a so called Whiteface. This is the Rolleiflex T with № 2316388. It is one of the last T's fitted with a Tessar, before the switch to Xenar.
Back to referrer page.

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-hold 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.

Rolleiflex 2,8FX-N
Photograph of Rolleiflex 2.8 FX-N.
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 by a similar Japanese one for economic reasons. 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

One Special Edition was the ‘retro’ looking 2.8 FX. This model resembles the classic 2.8 F by the use of old scissor style strap hinges. Other particulars are "Croco leather" and a chromed rim around the camera back. The name Rolleiflex is in Pre-W.W.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. 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 outer bayonet and no inner bayonet. A special adaptor is needed to mount filters.

Rolleiflex FW

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.

Rolleiflex FT

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.