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Tuesday, August 21

THE walkabout camera

Drainage ditch on Carnoustie golf links shot wide open at f2.8.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while - and, amazingly, it's coming up for a year old - will know I have a soft spot for the Rolleiflex TLR. I'm not too fussy which model, as long as it works, as they're all good. It's more the square format, the nice angle of view of the standard lens, the feel of a well-engineered product and the large negative offering great quality without undue weight that gives it so much personal appeal.

Since returning to film, it's proved to be just about the ideal, fixed lens walkabout camera, capable of tackling a huge range of subjects without breaking my back. OK, it's not as portable as an M3 and a collapsible Summicron but it's closer than you would think and, results wise, the Planar on the 6x6 format will blow away anything on a 35mm negative.

Out for a wander round Dundee University campus, I passed
these chairs sitting in an overgrown rear garden.

Time and again when I'm going out for some casual shooting, it's the Rollei and a couple of rolls of film I reach for. If it weren't for the needs of stock photography, for which digital is ideal, I'd be happy going on holiday to any big city with just Braunschweig's finest hanging from my shoulder.

Townscapes? A piece of cake. Close-ups? With parallax-corrected close-up lenses, no problem. Portraits? More people shots have probably been taken with a Rollei than any other camera. Street photography? It's fast and near silent. Wildlife? Well, now you're just getting ridiculous, aren't you! It's great but not perfect.

Unfortunately, my personal circumstances are such just now that I doubt I'll be going on any foreign holidays for a while so my walkabouts are restricted to locales a little closer to home. The photographs accompanying this post are good examples of the kind of work that you can do with a Rollei whilst out wandering the streets. These were all taken on TMax 100 and developed in D76 at 1:1. This is a good combination but I don't think it has any special qualities that set it apart.

In fact, the differences in the way different people process different films - for that matter, the differences in their processing of the same film on a film-to-film basis - is likely more responsible for any perceived emulsion characteristics than the actual films themselves. A drop in temperature, inaccurate measurement of developer, 10% longer in the soup, etc, can all affect the way a film looks. Although many photographers would be loathe to admit it, they lack the necessary processing rigour and experience to carry out meaningful tests. If you're starting off in black and white film photography, save yourself a heap of time by conceding that film manufacturers know more about their products than you're ever likely to, get a roll of something reasonably priced, start shooting and vow to do no testing. Or at least put it off until you have enough experience to make valid comparisons between materials.

Another university shot. The light on these air extraction ducts caught my
eye - and again in the photograph below.

But I digress. I've ended up with three Rolleis which is the same number of kids I have so there will be no fighting over cameras when my shutter packs in, so to speak. My "big one" is a 1963 2.8F, the pinnacle of the Rolleiflex line. I swapped a Nikon MD2/MB1 motordrive for it about 25 years ago. I did quite well out of that deal as the Rollei has shot up in value whilst the F2 drive is practically just scrap value now. My second Rollei, a 1954 Automat MX-EVS, followed shortly afterwards. I bought it from a guy who worked as a photographer for NCR in Dundee. Being lighter and less valuable it's a good camera for extended walks or where the weather might be changeable (for Californians reading this, that's every day in Scotland).

Finally, there's the wee Rollei Standard that I wrote about just recently having won it at a local auction. It's from 1932 and is a gem of a camera although, in some ways, it's outclassed by the other two. Handling them in chronological order, it's easy to see the way the build quality of the models improved with time. You'll not see that nowadays as everything is made ever more cheaply as time goes by. In the machine age, engineering was king and it peaked in the 1960s.

There's nothing worse for old cameras like these than sitting on a shelf so each will be pressed into walkabout service on a rotational basis with their different qualities all enjoyed in turn. That's the ultimate walkabout camera then, a versatile, reliable, beautifully made Rolleiflex that's capable of the highest quality photographs.

University stairway.


Neal said...

I love my Rollei's too.. between my brother and I we have 5 of them! he recently bought a brand new 2.8FX from the factory.. they are still being made! and it's dead sexy.

I too love it as a walk about camera and my grey rolleiflex T has a permanent place in my camera bag.

Nice post and read.. thanks for sharing.

steve said...

Great post, I love my Rollei's and always take one with me when I go shooting.
My brother can't count we have 6 between us and that doesn't count our other TLR's ;-)
3 x flex T
1 X cord 1 (art deco)
1 x cord Vb
1 x flex 2.8FX


Thanks for the comments, guys. And what's one Rollei between brothers? Do you share the Rolleis or do you each have some that are exclusively yours? I really have to get my hands on an Art Deco Rolleicord. It's probably the coolest-looking TLR I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

I think all the Rollei TLRs have something Art Deco about them. And somehow the T, without those two little wheels between the lenses, shows the look better (as would a 'cord, for much the same reasons). See, for instance, this polaroid of my T:

Dave said...

Great post Bruce and images, especially the stairway shot...great tones. I'm looking to get a Rollei in the near future. I have 645s but love the square format; and as you say...a great walkabout camera


Thanks, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Walkabout Camera is a good term for a TLR or a folder.

Followed the link from your post on the RFF TLR forum here. I like that stairway shot.



Thanks, Anon. Hope you keep coming back.

jonballphoto said...

Agreed about the Rollei. I've tried almost everything and use my Rollei FX for 80% of my photography. They're incredible.

jonballphoto said...

Love the Rolleis. Too in fact I wrote a page you might like on my blog

Glad I found your blog.


Hi Jon,

Thanks for stopping by and providing the link to your website. Great write-up on the Rollei and some lovely pics as well.