When it comes to cameras that have seen a lot of action through my life as a photographer, there is currently none as worthy of the title of a constant companion as my Rolleiflex 2.8F. The twin-lens design is not a new one in the camera world, first coming out in the 1880s. But for me, the Rolleiflex has been in my hands shortly after getting into medium format film with a Lubitel 2 first, then a Yashica-12. After being offered a Rolleiflex by a gentleman at my church which belonged to his father and not knowing anything about the camera at that point, I purchased it for what I now know is a real steal. The father brand new in Germany had bought the camera, and today I am still its second owner.
Maker: Franke & Heidecke
Model: Rolleiflex 2,8F K7F3
Type: Twin Lens Reflex
Format: Medium Format, 120/220, 6×6 – option to mount 35mm with an adapter.
Lens: Fixed, Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8, 4 Elements/3 Groups f/2.8-f/22, 5 blades.
Shutter: Syncro-Compur Leaf Shutter, 1″-1/500″ + Bulb
Meter: Gossen Selenium Cell, ASA-12-ASA-1600
Year of Manufacture: 1969-1981
The history of Rolleiflex cameras, in general, is a long and complex one. Rather than rehash the entire history, I’m going to give instead a brief overview of the key technologies and the cameras that provided them to get to the 2.8F point. Paul Franke and Reinhold Heidecke would establish an optical manufacturing firm in 1920, but it became clear that it would be the manufacture of cameras that would drive their business. The original Rolleiflex saw release in 1928. Generally, the camera was only slightly more advanced than the cameras of its age. The Rolleiflex made up for it in having twin lens that allowed the photographer to observe and focus using the top lens while the second lens exposed the film. The Rolleiflex featured top-quality Zeiss optics in the form of a 7.7cm f/3,8 Tessar lens. A decade later the Rolleiflex Automat saw release, doing away with the manual advance using the red window. Now the cameras had a counter and automatic film loading and frame spacing. The advent of World War Two stagnated development at the company as optics were diverted to the war effort and allied bombing raids resulted in a 65% loss of their factory. Thankfully the Franke & Heidecke factory landed in the British zone of occupation in the post-war. The British saw that cameras were the way forward to rebuild the shattered economy and even managed to get Zeiss lenses across the iron curtain until the company could re-establish in Jena. By 1949 the first f/2.8 lensed Rolleiflex saw release with the 2.8A which used a Zeiss Tessar 80mm f/2.8 lens. It wouldn’t be until the Rolleiflex 2.8C that saw the introduction of the Zeiss Planar lens design. The biggest shift was the introduction of a selenium light meter in 1956 with the release of the Rolleiflex 3.5C (first) and 2.8E (second). These early cameras featured an uncoupled meter, where you’d match the needle on the sidecar display then dial in the EV settings using an aperture and shutter speed knobs on the front of the camera. It wouldn’t be until 1969 with the release of the 2.8F and 3.5F that allowed for coupled match needle metering. Production of the 2.8F would last until 1981 being the sole surviving TLR being produced by the company. There were gold and platinum plated versions of the 2.8F but neither would shore up the company from going bankrupt.
Any Twin-Lens-Reflex camera will certainly cut a fine figure. The first thing you’ll notice is the big twin f/2.8 lenses. The second thing is how handsome the camera looks. As for the layout if you’ve used TLRs before then using the Rolleiflex 2.8F is going to be an easy switch as most of the controls are where you would expect them to be. The exposure controls being in the notches between the lenses and the numbers displayed in twin windows just above the view screen. The best part is that despite the meter being in a sidecar attached to the focusing knob, it remains visible so you can have your eyes on both. The viewing screen remains bright for its age, although you can replace the screen with a Maxwell Bright Screen, although I haven’t seen the need for one yet. Focusing with the screen is super easy, with a split finder and a viewing loupe, although I tend only to use the loupe for fine detail or close focusing.
Working with the Rolleiflex in the field is an absolute joy. While it’s not the lightest camera, with a good strap, I can run the camera all day. Speaking of straps, one of the first things I recommend doing is getting rid of any original leather straps. Save the special scissor clips and attach keyrings then use those to mount the strap. I’ve been running with a Domke strap for the past four years, and it makes the camera that much easier to carry. Film loading, once you figure it out, is easy and works well, make sure to feed the leader under the roller before pulling it up onto the take-up spool. The crank will automatically stop when it hits frame one, do it too fast, and you’ll miss the first frame. As I mentioned previously, focusing is easy as is composition once you figure out how to compensate for parallax error. Remember the viewing lens is mounted just above the taking lens, so you need to compensate, but only slightly. Thankfully my meter still functions and gives amazing exposure. Setting the exposure is fairly easly with the knobs being easily accessible while you’re holding the camera at your waist.
While important, in the case of the Rolleiflex, I find that the optics are only one piece in a great puzzle. Now don’t get me wrong, the 2.8 Planar lens is a perfect lens for this camera, the 80mm focal length provides the perfect mix of wide and tele, and you do have to zoom with your feet. But I found that it works great for landscape work and portrait work at the same time. Plus having that wide 2.8 aperture makes for amazing separation at a shallow depth of field with a pleasing out-of-focus area. And even wide open the images are tack sharp, and as you stop it down they get even sharper. Also, there’s no softness on the edges or even fall off. The lens is perfectly balanced to the film and the image format. The one thing you do have to worry about with the planar design is lens flare, thankfully Rollei produced a lens hood that snaps onto the Bay III bayonet mount. The one downside is that any accessory that attaches to the lens is that specific Bay III mount, and those can be difficult to find and be costly.
Just because I’m reviewing the 2.8F doesn’t mean that it’s the model you need to get your hands on. Seriously, unless you have a lot of disposable income there are other just as good Rolleiflex cameras out there, heck you don’t even need to get a Rolleiflex, the Rolleicords are just as good! As for the lenses, Schneider, Zeiss, Tessar, Biotar, Planar, Triotar, Xenar, Xenotar will all produce amazing images. And you don’t even need to look at the 2.8 models. The Rolleiflex 3.5 series will give you the same amazing results. Even still unsure of dropping the coin for the Rollei name, that’s fine, go with a Minolta or Yashica even. The best part is that a TLR will open up a whole new world of composition and handling, the big 6×6 negative will amaze you and even generate plenty of discussions when you’re out in public. And these days thanks to the popularity of Vivian Myer almost everyone will recognise the camera. They are well worth the money if you do decide to pick one up and they are easily served by companies like Camera Service Pro in Quebec. And the best part is that they often need one trip for minor issues and they last, I haven’t had mine in for service in a few years, and I haven’t seen a drop in shutter speed or troubles with the film advance.
Don’t just take my word on the Rolleiflex 2.8F, you can check out the reviews by other awesome camera reviewers!
35mmc – Five Frames with A Rolleiflex 2.8F
Emulsive.org – Reviewing the Rolleiflex 2.8GX
Mike Eckman Dot Com – How to Use the Rolleiflex
Classic Camera Revival – Episode 62 – Rolleing Right Along
Casual Photophile – Six Months with the Rolleiflex 2.8D