The Rolleiflex TLR Years - JHLPHOTOGRAPHY


The Rolleiflex Years

My first introduction to the Rolleiflex medium format Twin Lens Reflex camera came in summer 1969. My prep school teacher brought her camera into school and took some photos of the class in the school grounds. I was intrigued by this camera. Rather than hold it up to eye level one looked down into it. What was more it had two lenses. All cameras I had seen previously were held up to one's eye and didn't have two lenses! The teacher left her camera on a tripod whilst we did something else. I remember wandering over to it and reading the name "Rolleiflex".

The camera intrigued me it was different, and immediately thought, "I want one!". I recall going home and asking my mother if we could have one but she didn't see the point as only a few years earlier my aunt had bought me a Kodak 127 Brownie for Christmas and my mother herself also had an earlier Bakelite 127 Brownie made in the 1950s. We didn't need another camera!

A couple of years later my grandfather decided to upgrade his old Voightlander bellows camera to an SLR as the very large roll film for this camera used was now obsolete. He bought a Praktica Nova 1 SLR. He didn't use it much but lent the Praktica to my father and me. My father wasn't really interested thus by the late 70s I had it for my own use and learnt quite a lot about photography from using it and from reading Amateur Photographer Magazine.

It was during the late 70s in "AP" that I saw references to Rolleiflex cameras again. In spring 1982 I was on holiday and looking in the window of the London Camera Exchange in Exeter. On the top shelf amidst several medium format cameras was a second hand Rolleiflex 3.5e with built in light meter and a price tag of £99. Out came the credit card and a few minutes later I was the proud owner of the Rolleiflex and its nice leather case.

The shop assistant told me the camera was in excellent working order except for the light meter which was faulty. However, I soon discovered it was possible to release the light meter from the focussing knob in which it sat. There was a small calibration screw which I played around with and also armed with the exposure guide for Agfa CT18 slide film managed to tweak the exposure meter to agree with the exposure guide.

Loaded up with Agfa CT18 I went off to shoot slides. My intention was to use the Rolleiflex to shoot what were then known as "super slides" these were 4x4 square slides which fitted in a standard 35mm projector. One had to crop the slides with a knife to reduce them, but it meant that some post shot composition was possible. Whilst I did take quite a few "super slides" I also retained quite a few full size slides which I placed in cardboard mounts and filed away in sleeves, thinking that perhaps one day I might buy a 6x6 slide projector.

Time went by and after a while I found myself using the Rolleiflex just for the odd special occasion when I wanted high quality prints. It started to lurk on the shelf.

By 1996 Contax had announced the arrival of its new G series electronic rangefinder cameras. I then decided to rationalise my collection of cameras and along with my Contax SLRs, lenses etc. the Rolleiflex was traded in at the Liverpool branch of Jessops and I became the proud owner of a complete Contax G1 outfit which was, with the subsequent arrival of digital photography, to be my last 35 mm camera. The Rolleiflex was very much forgotten about.

Moving on 18 years to 2014 I was searching through one of several negative files for some pictures of a soon to retire colleague when I came across the Rolleiflex 6x6 slides mainly taken in 1982 and 1983. I noticed that the flimsy cardboard mounts had decayed and the glue had gone, thus I bought several boxes of GePe 6x6 mounts. However, I thought it would be great to scan the images whilst I was remounting the slides.

Some years earlier I had acquired a CanoScan 9000f flatbed scanner which could scan unmounted 6x6 slides. Thus between removing the slides from the perished card mounts and remounting them in the replacement GEPE plastic mounts I scanned each image at a very high resolution. Each slide took up to around 8 minutes to scan but the quality was mind blowing.

I then realised just what a wonderful camera a Rolleiflex film camera could still be in this digital age. For those really important photos a Rolleiflex camera operating in conjunction with a flatbed film scanner would be a superb tool.

Until recently, Rolleiflex TLR cameras could still be bought new from DPW, successors to Franke & Heideke, the original Rollei manufacturers though prices had become quite substantial. Sadly in Spring 2015 it was announced that DPW had passed into administration and the contents of the factory were up for auction, thus the days of new Rolleiflex TLR cameras appear to be finally over.

However, there does appear to remain a good second hand market for earlier models and perhaps in a year or two I might just acquire another Rolleiflex camera.