Dear Readers, in the previous article, I described the Leica cameras that served me well for decades. This article is about my Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras. I bought my first one in Houston, Texas, in 1980. I wanted to try medium format film and thought about a Hasselblad camera. Instead, I decided to buy a used Rolleiflex, use it for awhile, and then "move up" to the Hasselblad. Well, 25 years later, I was still using the Rolleiflex and never bothered with the 'blad. In the early 1980s, you could still buy a brand new Rolleiflex 2.8F from the New York vendors for about $2000. That was serious money in 1980, but afterwards, I, and many other photographers, wish they had bought one while they still could. Franke & Heidecke went bankrupt in the 1980s and went through a series of reorganizations. Camera production continued at a low pace until about 2014.
|Early-1960s Rolleiflex advertisement|
|Undated photograph of technicians in the Franke & Heidecke factory|
Lenseswheeldon.plus.com). The Rolleiwides were rare and now sell for serious prices at camera auctions. But, if you want one, you can buy a brand new wide for $5,575 from DHW-Fototechnik GmbH, marketed by Rolleiflex USA. Cool, I want one.
FilmPanatomic-X film, one of the finest black and white films ever made.
Newer Rollei Cameras
|The Vicksburg trash clean-up crew, 2003|
Have you seen recent pictures of Hollywood royalty? Most paparazzi snaps of movie starlets are terrible because they are taken by tall men with huge digital cameras held at their eye level, so they are looking down at their shorter victims. In contrast, Rolleiflex portraits in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s gave a well-proportioned look to their subjects. Rather than the "tall guy using a eye-level digital SLR with a short lady" look, where her head is huge and feet diminish downwards, in a Rolleiflex portrait, the body was centered and evenly-proportioned. Tall men had a somewhat heroic look. Some recent micro 4/3 cameras have a folding LCD screen, and you can hold them at chest level, just like a Rolleiflex.
|Marilyn Monroe (from Library of Congress)|
|Elizabeth Taylor with her Rolleiflex|
Serious photographers still use the Rolleiflex, and 120-size film is still available. Until recently, you could still buy a brand new 2.8 model with superb multi-coated lenses and a modern built-in light meter, the 2.8GX. Mike Johnston wrote about "The Last Rolleiflex" in The Online Photographer.
|Old railroad pilings in Crosby, Mississippi (Kodak Panatomic-X film)|
|Road leading from gravel quarry off N. Washington Street, Vicksburg,(Panatomic-X film)|
|Long-unused cement silos, Rte 3, Redwood, Mississippi (Panatomic-X film)|
|Flood debris, Eagle Lake (Panatomic-X film, Rolleiflex 3.5E Xenotar)|
Update June 2016: I have been using black and white film more and more and bought another Rolleiflex. Of course I should have never sold my earlier ones, typical dumb decision. Some first tests with Tri-X film in Vicksburg are here (click the link). Prices for clean late-model Rolleiflexes are rising steeply as on 2016-2017.
Update March 2017: Some nice magazine covers from Shashin Kōgyō (写真工業), a monthly Japanese magazine about the photographic industry.
|Ur-Rollei 35 gold and lizard skin commemorative model|