Rolleiflex 3.5F

The Rolleiflex – a name that makes photographers‘ eyes shine and that generates a strong urge of possession in those who are into medium format photography.

This camera offers an amazing and rare combination of beautiful design and great usability. One example for that are the shutter and aperture dials which complement in shape and position the two lenses at the front of the camera. Another example is the combined focus knob and light meter display on the left side. It just sits perfectly in reach.

The black and chrome design resembles a beautiful vintage car in its classic appearance.

The company that built this TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) was founded by Paul Franke and Reinhold Heidecke in 1920. The first prototypes of this camera were put together in 1928 – so we are talking a pretty matured concept which was copied by many others in several countries. The company’s name has changed throughout time: „Rollei-Werke“, „Rollei Fototechnik“ or „DHW“ are just some incarnations.

In the following decades numerous models with different features and lenses were developped and marketed. In 1945 the first model with an f/2.8 lens was available and in the 1950s the company experimented with models that sported exchangable lenses (e.g. with 60mm and 135mm). Later dedicated versions were sold: the „Tele-Rolleiflex“ with 135mm (from 1959 to 1975) and the „Weitwinkel-Rolleiflex“ with 55mm (between 1961 and 1967). In the 1980s many special editions were marketed.

This „Rolleiflex 3,5F (Type 3)“ shown here – which I was lent for this article by mint&rare in Vienna – was built from 1960 to 1976. The viewing lens always was a Heidosmat 2.8/75 and as a taking lens two different versions were used: a Schneider Xenotar 3.5/75 or, like in the model at hand, a Zeiss Planar 3.5/75. In any case, those lenses were of top quality.

A Synchro-Compur MXV shutter which offers a speed of up to 1/500 second also indicates the high standards as well as the huge waist-level viewfinder with a bright and crystal clear ground glass. This 6×6 camera focusses from 0,95 cm to infinity, weighs approx. 1.2 kg and sports a „Filmtastwerk“ which cleverly measures film thickness to support a frame counter. A parallax compensation by an adjusting focus plane always corrects the precise field of view.

The lens in this camera constantly amazes. I am always sceptical when reviewers talk about „the best lens I have ever used„, because sometimes proud owners need to justify high expenses. Since I did not buy this camera, I can be rather objective and I really have to agree: This lens is surely among the best ones I have used. Sharpness, contrast, colours, even bokeh control – everything is fabulous. If there is something wrong with the photo, it probably was the user’s mistake. 😉

The Rolleiflex 3.5F is a rock-solid camera that not only produces fantastic images but also is a lot of fun, and a constant reason for communication. Never before – not even when I was shooting with vintage Leicas – have so many people, who were seeing me taking photos, started a conversation with me. „Oh, that’s nice! My dad used to have one of those“, „Wow, you’re shooting on 6by6? Great!“, „That’s a beautiful camera. Do you still get film for it?“ or „That’s a Rollei, right?“ were just some small talk starters.

You think that it is too much money that you have to spend to shoot with such a camera? Why not rent one for some days for a very affordable week of fun? Just contact Jo Geier’s team in Vienna.

What would a camera review be without some example shots?

Around Marburg/Lahn in Hesse. Kodak Gold 200. Developped by PhotoFactory Dortmund. Scanned with EPSON Perfection 3200 and VueScan.

Hutewald Halloh near Bad Wildungen, Hesse. Ilford FP4+, developped in Pyro-510. Scanned with EPSON Perfection 3200 and VueScan.

Those photo were all measured with the camera’s light meter.