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Monday, July 23

Say hello to my little friend

A few weeks ago I got lucky at a local auction. The lot I was interested in had a variety of items in it including a 1950s Viewmaster 3D viewer and about 20 stereo slide sets, a Weston Master IV exposure meter, a Mamiya Press plate back and a Panagor slide copier. More interestingly, though, it also had a particularly nice Zuiko 50mm f2 macro lens complete with box and a Rolleiflex Standard.

Surprisingly, the Rollei appeared to be in good working order. The shutter speeds ran sweet and true - even the one second. Focus seemed to be OK although it was difficult to tell for sure as the viewfinder was a bit dim. The camera had obviously been well used and a little neglected but the fact that the main controls were working suggested to me that it had never lain idle for long and that's a good thing as far as old mechanical cameras are concerned.

What made the lot worth taking an interest in was the Zuiko lens. I knew they fetched quite a sum on Ebay and a litte research showed that it was quite possible I could sell everything else, keep the Rollei and make a wee profit. The plan relied on the hope that no other likely bidders would know the value of the Zuiko - and so it proved. I had a free Rollei and a pair of Proxar close-up lenses to add to my 1954 Automat and 1963 2.8F. It's fair to say that I love Rolleis!

The new camera turned out to be from 1932 according to the date written on the back of the mirror. I spent an enjoyable couple of evenings cleaning it thoroughly. The focusing screen came up like new and 80 years worth of accumulated crud floated off the surface of the mirror after it was soaked in distilled water and tickled gently with a soft-haired artist's brush. The leather case was given a good going over with a leather cleaner and then several coats of a leather restorer. It now has a healthy sheen.

The only slight concern was the focusing. The viewing lens comes out as a unit but, stupidly, I forgot to record how far in it had been screwed. A piece of ground glass taped across the film plane showed that the taking lens, a 75mm f4.5 Tessar, was focusing fine at infinity. The viewing lens was screwed in until the image on the Rollei's focusing screen appeared to be sharp at infinity. I then ran a roll of Fomapan 100 through it and a few of the images are in this post.

So what's the lens quality like? Pretty good, I'd say. I haven't quite nailed the focus yet and I don't think it's entirely accurate at close distances. It's fine for middle distance and infinity work, though. I'm going to tape the ground glass across the film plane again, pop the Proxars on and focus on something very near through the taking lens. It should be easy enough then to screw the viewing lens in or out until the viewfinder is also in focus. Hopefully, that will sort it out. If not I might just have to send it to a camera mechanic. The lens has plenty of sharpness but the contrast is lower, giving photographs an old-fashioned look. I like it a lot. The 2.8F is sharper and contrastier and the Automat is somewhere in the middle but there are times when ultimate sharpness isn't required and who wants the results from all their cameras to look the same anyway?

The Standard is a lovely camera but it's not without its quirks. You have to use a little red window to wind the film on to the first frame but thereafter it registers automatically all the way to the end. There are actually two red windows corresponding to B II8 and B I16 (120) film sizes. There's no double exposure prevention lock so I have to keep my wits about me. I do nothing until it's time to take a photogaph and then I wind on, cock the shutter and then operate the release (the same lever cocks and releases the shutter). I don't touch anything again until it's time to take another pic. My first roll had 11 good exposures on it and one blank where I wasn't sure if I'd wound on or not and did so again just to be on the safe side.

Flare is supposed to be this model's weak spot but I didn't notice anything that would trouble me on the test film. I believe this version of the Standard came with a little plug to cover the red windows so I'll need to find something to do the job more elegantly than the black eletrician's tape I'm using at the moment.

A wide open shot with the No. 2 Proxars in place. Close focus needs a little adjustment.

The view through the Rollei's viewfinder is still quite dim but I've read that they were never too bright when new so that's something I'll live with. It's not too bad and I wouldn't want to detract from the camera's originality by installing a third party focusing screen. It did cause me to miss focus slightly when shooting quite close-up indoors wide open but that's a serious test and not every shot will be made under these circumstances. It could also have been down to a slightly misaligned viewing lens. I'm looking forward to shooting more Fomapan 100 in the Standard and, once the focus is sorted, I'll be doing plenty of bokeh shots with the Proxars.


steve said...

Great article, I have a soft spot for Rollei myself. My collection includes a 1934 'cord I (art deco) which is a work of art. My experience with the cord is much the same as your article, surprisingly capable camera considering it's 80 years old. I also have a brand new 2.8FX which is also a beautiful work of art.

Rolleiflex in any model is just a joy to use.


Thanks for takiing the time to comment, Steve. I couldn't agree more about the Art Deco Rolleicord. It's a thing of beauty. I'm on the hunt for one of those as well. I've seen a couple of scruffy ones but I think the Art Deco has to be in good condition to appreciate it.

I've never handled a 2.8 FX but no doubt it's a classic. Rolleis are the best cameras ever made, in my opinion, in terms of build, price and performance. The Leica is probably a little better built but it doesn't offer the same quality of results because of the smaller neg.

Jon H said...

Dear Bruce, I too love the Rolleiflex. Once had the 3.5f which was not just sharp, but had that extra quality to it. The camera itself was indeed a think of beauty, I regret selling it so much. Trying to follow you in 'Ditching the Digital' just carrying around a film camera, an Olympus XA as a carry anywhere, and a Hasselblad for the intention of going out to photograph, and I love the square. Unfortunately due to now wearing glasses, I cannot use my Nikon FM3a, such a wonderful camera. A simple diopter will not work, so thinking about an F3HP. Like you have tried different digital camera's, D200, D90, D700 but sold them all, now only have a GF1. I love film, love it's look, it's history, prefer film cameras. Setting aside some time soon to get in the darkroom. Love your site, keep up the good work.


I've read something about photographers having a special liking for the 3.5F, Jon. There's a theory that its lens is the best of a select bunch. I think the late Barry Thornton used one and he was a stickler for high quality. Never had one myself but, on the basis that you can never have too many Rolleis, who knows what the future holds. :-)

I've got a lot of money invested in digital and, although I'm only using it now for stock photography, I'm not going to give it up as stock photography sales keep me in film!

Good luck with the F3HP search. I take it you've considered and rejected contact lenses?

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