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ROLLEIFLEX (ROLLEI) MEDIUM FORMAT SINGLE LENS REFLEX CAMERAS

Let us begin the discussion of the Rollei SLR technology with a surprise note. Rollei has had a difficult time competing with other medium format SLR cameras, particularly in the USA where the Hasselblad has dominated amongst professionals and advanced amateurs. One likely contributing factor to Rollei playing second fiddle to Hasselblad is due to the rather late introduction of their medium format SLR. While Hasselblad was building a customer base from the day of the introduction of the focal plane shuttered cameras in 1949 and the Central or between-the-lens shuttered cameras in 1957, Rollei did not enter the SLR market until 1966.

The surprise is why it took Rollei so long to introduce a medium format SLR to team up with its ever-popular medium format twin lens reflex. In 1954 Heidecke and Victor Hasselblad met at Photokina in Cologne where Victor invited him to Sweden. The following year Heidecke visited the Hasselblad factory in Gothenborg and Victor's estate at Rao where the two camera geniuses entertained themselves by taking photographs of each other with their respective cameras, a 1000F Hasselblad and the Rolleiflex TLR.

Word has it that amongst the many pleasantries exchanged, the two gentleman forged an agreement where Hasselblad promised that they would not enter the twin Lens market and Heidecke promised that Rollei would not invade the medium format SLR market.  Heidecke died in 1960, which in effect terminated the gentleman's agreement. It took several years for Rollei to get up to speed, to design and build a medium format SLR, which they considered to be technologically superior to Hasselblad and other medium format SLR cameras then on the market. The Rolleiflex SL66 was indeed a forward-looking design, rightly referred to by Rollei as a "Medium Format Single Lens Reflex UNIVERSAL SYSTEM" camera. Considering that the Rollei was an expensive ($1350) and untried camera, it fared poorly against the Hasselblad ($750) in the USA and Japan. Rollei did make significant inroads into the Hasselblad market in Europe.

The early Rollei SLR is by all accounts a formidable instrument. It is of course, a System camera with interchangeable lenses, backs, viewfinders, prisms and viewing screens. But, of course, other SLRs on the market matched all that. The Rollei advance in uniqueness came because they made it a Universal System camera. The Rollei SL66 came with an integrated extension bellows.

This afforded the photographer the luxury of using the camera to take macro pictures. The front standard of the integrated bellows could bayonet couple lenses in the standard or reversed configuration. In the easy-to-achieve reverse configuration with the standard 80mm lens, magnifications to 1.6 times natural size were achievable. To further enhance universality, the integrated bellows could be tilted up or down 8 degrees. This meant that not only could macro photos be taken but also with an 8-degree or so downward tilt, the depth of field of the subject could be greatly expanded. The integrated bellows indeed did expand the range of the Universal camera a great deal. The camera was properly advertised as a "Universal System" camera that was appropriate for portraiture, medical, industrial, scientific, architectural, and archaeological uses.

The integrated bellows approach did dictate a few limitations in design. To afford dependable combined film advance and shutter cocking in a single stroke, it was easiest to go with a focal plane shutter. While this had the advantage of a shutter that went to 1/1000 sec., it had the decided disadvantage, for many professionals, that the flash synch had to be 1/30 sec or less.  Another probably unforeseen consequence was that the camera/lens unit, with bellows extended, was too inviting to grasp by the lens, which put undue strain on the integrated bellows, which resulted in mechanical breakdowns. The in/out adjustment of the integrated bellows also was a cause for repeated breakdowns since this feature has to be used constantly to focus the lens. The lens has no helicoid of its own for focusing. Used with great care the universal camera was indeed a most convenient photographic and dependable instrument. Used with casual abandon it became a victim of mechanical failure that was costly to repair.

This first medium format SLR universal photographic wonder was introduced in 1966 and was named Rolleiflex SL66. The mechanical SL66 was followed by three more mechanical wonders with expanding bellows.

Rolleiflex SL66 (1966-1982) features

  • Rectangular shaped horizontally oriented handful of a camera.
  • Focal Plane cloth shutter = B, 1sec to 1/1000sec.
  • Automatic mechanical diaphragm control.
  • Flash synch is at 1/30 sec or slower.
  • Instant return mirror.
  • Mirror has pre-release lock-up capability.
  • Daylight interchangeable 6x6cm (nominal size) back with removable dark slide. Actual size is 5.5 by 5.5cm on 12 exposure 120 or 24 exposure 220 film.
  • Also available are a horizontal or vertical 4.5x6cm back.
  • Sheet film plate holders = 6x6 or 6.5x9cm, which is 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 or 2-1/2 x 3-1/2in.
  • Polaroid back available.
  • Absolutely superb 30mm to 1000mm Carl Zeiss interchangeable lenses with "Type VI" Rolleiflex bayonet.
  • Interchangeable viewfinders.
  • Quick lock tripod wedge permanently mounted on base of camera.
  • Film Advance is really nifty. A fold-out crank is turned about ¾ revolution and then racked back to rest position. This advances the film and arms the focal plane shutter.
  • Integrated bellows with 50mm extension, of which 40mm is available for macro extension.
  • Standard lens and several others can be retro-mounted for improved imaging in the macro mode with magnification greater then 1:1.
  • Standard (80mm) lens yields 1.6 to 1 images when mounted in retro mode and fully extended.
  • At infinity or closer, bellows tilt plus and minus 8 degrees for expanding depth of field; the famous Scheimpflug effect.
  • Two lenses (150mm f/4 Sonnar and 80mm f/4 Distagon) have built-in shutters for flash synchronization from 1/30 to 1/500 sec.
  • No TTL metering capability.

Rolleiflex SL66 E (1982-1986) features

The mechanical SL66 E has all the features of it predecessor SL66 sister camera. In addition, it has capability for integrated averaged through the lens (TTL) lightmeter reading with lighted go/no-go display in viewfinder. It also has capability for off-the-film (OTF) flash metering. For metering purposes the camera uses a 6 volt silver oxide or lithium battery (such as Duracell PX28).

Rolleiflex SL66 X (1982-1992) features

This is a special niche camera meant for Studio Photography. The mechanical SL66 X has all the features of it predecessor SL66 sister camera. In addition it has capability for OTF flash metering. There is no facility for regular scene lighted metering so it is meant for constant light conditions as in a studio, along with use of a handheld meter. For metering purposes, the camera uses a 6 volt silver oxide or lithium battery (such as Duracell PX28).

Rolleiflex SL66 SE (1986-1993) features

The mechanical SL66 SE camera has all the features of its predecessor SL 66 and SL66 E sister cameras. In addition to integrated average metering and OTF flash metering, it is switchable to SPOT metering. For metering purposes, the camera uses a 6 volt silver oxide or lithium battery (such as Duracell PX28).

Rolleiflex SL66 SE Limited Edition – Gold Camera

This is a commemorative camera with the same capabilities as the SL66 SE emblazoned with a gold-plated medallion, with a gold-plated cap on the left knob and gold plating on the front chrome of the 80mm lens.

Rolleiflex SL66 Camera Series Lenses

All SL66 lenses were manufactured by Carl Zeiss.

There were nominally 12 to 15 lenses marketed at any one time, ranging in focal length from 30mm to 1000mm, the "nominal" figure is used because lenses were introduced and discontinued during the manufacturing life of the SL66 series of cameras (1966 to 1993).

According to promotional literature no lenses were multicoated (T* or the highly hyped HFT technology) in 1969.  By 1973 three lenses (30mm f/3.5, 120mm f/2, 250mm f/5.6 Superachromat) had HFT coating.  By mid 1991 all lenses then marketed, but one (1000mm f/8), had HFT coating.

Several lenses such as the 120mm f/2, the 250mm Superachromat, 60mm f/3.5 were produced in limited numbers.

The T* coating designation may have been used on only a couple of examples but it does appear in photos used in promotional literature. According to promotional literature (February, 1973) several (3) lenses were multi-coated using new technology developed by Rollei with the co-operation of Carl Zeiss.  This coating was named HFT for High Technology Transfer. A number of photographs of lenses (30mm, 120mm f/2, 250mm f/5.6 Superachromat) in a 1973 brochure have the HFT inscription.

I have examined many SL66 lenses that do not have the HFT inscription and indeed appear not to be multi-coated. The brochure of November, 1969 does not mention HFT multi-coating and all lenses pictured in the brochure are not scripted with HFT. So my conclusion is that early lenses were not multi-coated. Later (year???, probably variable for lens focal lengths) HFT was introduced.

There are two rather special lenses that were introduced to overcome the restriction of high-speed flash with a focal plane shutter. These lenses have built-in leaf diaphragm shutters and can be synched to 1/500 sec.

  • Rollei SL66 80mm f/4 DISTAGON lens with diaphragm shutter:

This "normal" 80mm focal length lens is specifically not a Planar lens. Apparently with the mirror length used in the SL66, a Planar 80mm focal length lens with central leaf shutter AND automated aperture would protrude into the path of the swinging mirror. The Rollei 1969 promo brochure states, "Distagons are lenses by Carl Zeiss with increased – back focus – essential to clear the mirror movement in the camera – and aperture automation".  Shutter speeds are 1/30 to 500 with flash synch at all speeds.

  • Rollei SL66 150 mm f/4 SONNAR lens with diaphragm shutter:

Shutter speeds are 1/30 to 500 with flash synch at all speeds. Apparently the SONNAR could be constructed to clear the swinging mirror with a central/diaphragm shutter.

Rolleiflex Electronic Cameras

Ten years after the introduction of the SL66, in 1976, Rolleiflex added an upright standing, as opposed to a horizontal profile, electronic camera that was years ahead of competitor medium format SLR cameras. The camera had outstanding electronic capabilities, such as motorized film advance, linear motor aperture control, exceptionally accurate linear motor between-the-lens shutter speed control, and electronic metering. The electronic suite of cameras was powered by a 10-volt (actually 9.6v) NiCad rechargeable battery.

Rolleiflex SLX (1976-1979)  (Mark I, but no badge) features

  • First medium format camera with electronic control.
  • Fully electronic camera, which works only with batteries.
  • Powered by a 10 volt NiCad rechargeable with 0.75A fuse.
  • Motorized film advance at 1.5 frames per second.
  • Interchangeable Zeiss and Rollei lenses with built-in linear motors for aperture and shutter control.
  • Lenses have ten gold-plated contacts that couple to ten camera contacts.
  • Between-lens shutter with B, 1 to 1/500sec shutter speeds controlled by camera body dial.
  • Instant return mirror, which can be pre-released with a remote control cable in manual mode.
  • Built-in motor drive at 1.5 frames/sec in single or continuous mode.
  • Flash synch at speeds to 1/500sec.
  • Interchangeable finders, WLF = 1.2x magnification.
  • Back with "quick, easy load" film cassettes but no daylight loading capability.
  • Built-in light meter with shutter priority mode.

Camera electronics were faulty so many cameras of this model failed. Stay away from the Mark I product.

Rolleiflex SLX (Mark II, but no badge)  (1978-1985) features

Essentially the same camera as Mark I above but with improved electronics. Upgraded to a reliable camera. Since the camera designation remained unchanged there is only one outward way to distinguish a Mark I from a Mark II. The Mark I has two shutter release buttons near the bottom front face. The Mark II has the same two shutter release buttons with a third smaller "button" in the middle. This middle button is really a cover, which either pops off or unscrews, for access to a female tapered screw-in shutter release cable facility.

Rolleiflex SLX Metric (1981-1984) features

Camera with features similar to Mark II above. Technical camera with Reseau late at film plane.

Rolleiflex 6000 series camera common features
  • Auto-wind on to first frame.
  • Auto-rewind at end of roll of film.
  • The 6000 cameras with daylight interchangeable back have an integral darkslide.
  • All backs daylight and quick change have pre-loadable film inserts.
  • Housing is a special alloy.
  • Cogwheels are a wear resistant bronze/beryllium.
  • Linear motor drives for aperture control, shutter control and autofocus for the auto-focusing 6008 AF camera.
  • Motorized film advance with single or continuous option.
  • Most have TTL metering and OTF flash metering.
  • For macro pictures, all macro settings transferred thru macro attachments to lens.
  • Rollei Bayonet VI lens mounting system.
Rolleiflex 6006 (Model 1, not badged)  (1983-1989) features

The electronics were considerably improved and updated over the SLX electronic shutter control.
  • Instant return mirror with pre-release option.
  • A daylight interchangeable back that could be safely removed from the camera when only a partial roll had been exposed.
  • Has TTL metering, center weighted via 3 large area silicon photo elements with a stray light compensator during shutter release.
  • OTF flash control;
  • Daylight interchangeable back;
  • Can use 70mm perforated film in special back.
  • Has a cable release socket.
  • Motorized film transport.
  • Pre-release mirror facility;
  • Flash synchronization 1/30 to 1/500 with SCA 356 adapter.
Rolleiflex 6006 Metric (1984-1999) features

Like the 6006 but a technical camera with a Reseau plate at the film plane.

Rolleiflex 6002 (1986-1990) features
  • Simplified 6006 camera, much like an updated SLX.
  • Only 0.7 frames per sec.
  • No Daylight interchangeable back, only quick-change pre-loaded cartridge inserts
  • TTL  averaging meter and flash metering
  • Film advance motor is not as powerful as motor in 6006 - should not mount daylight interchangeable back since motor could be burned out.
  • Film tracking is not compatible with daylight interchangeable back.
  • No cable release socket.
  • No mirror pr-release facility.
  • Cannot use 70mm perforated film.

Rolleiflex 6006 (Mdl 2, badge on left side) (1989-1993) features

Heavy-duty electronic upgrade of 6006 Model 1.

Rolleiflex 6008 Professional (1988-1992) features

  • Advanced light metering with SPOT meter.
  • Metering now with aperture priority or program priority.
  • Convenient adjustable handgrip.
  • High definition viewing screen.
  • Auto bracketing available.
  • Uses the SCA 3000 TTL flash system rather than the 300-series system.
Rolleiflex 6008 Metric 3D Industrial (date?) features

Like the 6008 Professional but with Reseau plate at film plane.

Rolleiflex 6008 Professional SRC 1000 (1994-1996) features

Similar to 6008 Professional but the BTL shutter goes to 1/1000 sec with PQS lenses.

Rolleiflex 6008 ChipPack Digital Metric (date?) features

  • Digital back.
  • Reseau plate at film plane.
Rolleiflex Professional GOLD Collectors model (1994) features

Gold-plated (14 karat) commemorative 6008 Professional.

Rolleiflex 6003 Professional (1994-?) features

  • Scaled-down version of a 6008 Professional.
  • Niche camera, priced lower.
  • Back is not daylight loading, only quick interchange inserts.
  • Motorized film advance at 2.5 frames per second.
  • Ten-second self-timer.
  • Instant return mirror.
  • Pre-releasable mirror.
  • Solenoid shutter release.
  • Linear motors for aperture and shutter control.
  • PQ (1/500sec) lens capable.
  • Multiple exposures capable.
  • Auto film advance to first frame and auto-rewind.
  • Remote release capable.
Rolleiflex 6003 SRC 1000 (1994-1996) features

Like 6003 Professional with 1/1000 sec shutter support with PQS lenses.

Rolleiflex 6001 Professional (1998-?) features

  • Economic alternative camera, less expensive then 6008.
  • Scaled down version of 6008 with no built-in metering.
  • No provision for attaching the Master Control unit.
  • Niche camera intended for Studio work.
  • Interchangeable Backs with integrated draw-slide for Daylight mid-roll film changes.
  • Shutter is 1/500 with PQ lenses or 1/1000 w PQS lenses.
  • Multi-exposure capable.
  • Pre-release of instant return mirror.
  • 14-pin "universal" jack for remote control and remote release.
Rolleiflex 6008i or Integral (1995-?) features
  • Fully featured camera.
  • Instant return mirror with pre-release facility.
  • Attachable Master Electronic Control unit to allow remote release, and offers additional metering options.
  • Can disengage film advance for multiple exposures.
  • Has an optional "silent mode" where film advance and mirror return are both slowed down.
  • TTL lighting control possible with non-dedicated flash units or steady studio lighting.
  • Daylight interchangeable backs with integral darkslide.
  • Auto film advance to first exposure and Auto-rewind.
  • Motorized film advance at 2.5 frames per sec.
  • Multi-spot metering available.
  • Auto bracketing of 3 exposures +/- 2/3 EV with a manual option in 1/3 steps from -4 2/3 to +2EV.
  • Auto exposure lock.
  • Center-weighted metering with 7 photocells in 5 groups behind mirror.
  • Two Linear Motors for aperture and shutter control.
  • Solenoid controlled shutter release.
  • Ten-second self-timer.
  • Cable release facility available.
  • Convenient multi-position "Action Grip" is attachable.
  • Jack for 14-pin remote control cable/or "Master Control".
  • Pre-release mirror capability.
Rolleiflex 6008 AF (2002-) features

  • First Medium Format Auto Focus camera on the market.
  • Special auto-focus lenses required.
  • Auto focus modes with manual over-rides.
  • Single focus release priority will not trigger shutter release until camera is in focus and focus index lights up in finder.
  • Continuous focus release priority for moving objects where focusing is continually recalculated.
  • Center-weighted multi-zone metering with 5 metering areas with more weight given to lower 2/3 area.
  • Spot metering – optional 3% or 1% of frame area.
  • Multi-Spot mode for checking contrast adjustment with up to five selected readings.
  • Unusual over/under dial in exposure facility (1/3 intervals from +2 to -4 2/3).
  • Auto bracketing 5 +/- in = 2/3 or – 2/3 steps.
  • "ME" option for superimposing multiple exposures on same frame.
  • Like 6008i but with updated electronics; most 6008i facilities included.
  • Auto-Focus lenses available: 80mm f/2.8, 180mm f/2.8, 60-140 f/4.6. All lenses are by Schneider-Kreuznach.
Rolleiflex 6008 E (date ?) features
  • Cheaper version of 6008.
  • No handgrip.
  • No high definition screen.
Rolleiflex HY6 or Hybrid (2006-2009) features

Finally a Rollei powered by a Lithium Ion battery. Wow! – This is some combination camera, full of integrated features. The list of features is so extensive that it is best to include Rolleiflex HY6 promotional literature rather then try to capture the features in this text.  But in brief:

  • For film or digital back. Hence the HY6 or hybrid connotation.
  • With auto-focus capability.
  • Use AF analog auto-focus or AFD digital auto-focus lenses. Can also use PQ and PQS lenses in manual focus mode.
  • An entire suite of digital lenses to use with digital backs.
  • With white balance electronics built into camera for digital back.
  • Cameras supplied to LEAF for attachment of LEAF digital backs.
  • Cameras supplied to SINAR for attachment of SINAR digital backs.
Rolleiflex SLX and Series 6000 Batteries

We now embark on describing the weakest and most expensive link in the "Medium Format SLR Universal System", which is the battery used to power the cameras. The battery pack, enclosed in a rectangular metal jacket, consists of eight individual NiCad cells.

The battery is referred to as a 10-volt pack, but I suspect that is the "nominal voltage" and that the true delivered voltage is 8x1.2 = 9.6 volts. True, the battery is easy to install and convenient to exchange but that is where the applause ends. The NiCad cell pack has that disturbing property common to all NiCad's and that is the "memory problem". If the battery is not totally discharged before charging it may not discharge any further then the previous discharge.  Before long there is no chemical reserve left to charge and the battery must be discarded. This can be an expensive proposition because batteries can run $100 to $150. The batteries seem to fail for other reasons as well, so one needs to carry a handful of back-up batteries a charger and a pocketful of money.  Also the batteries are very sensitive to cold weather and must be kept warm to operate efficiently. In fact for $100 one can (a must in cold weather operation) buy an extension device, which allows the battery to be carried in a holder against the photographer's body.

Enterprising photographers have tried an alkaline battery cludge but this does not work because the Rollei cameras need a large surge of amperage to get all moving items and test items initiated.  NiCad batteries do deliver substantial current, that ordinary alkalines do not.

There are options available to reduce the investment dollars in batteries. The first is to build up an 8-cell battery using 8 single NiCad cells and house it in the regular Rollei (really Sanyo) metal jacket. But this requires careful spot-soldering, to prevent overheating, while connecting the cells into a pack. Eight cells will likely run one into the 20 to 25 dollar range.

Another more attractive option is to buy an eight-cell pack of already joined NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries and insert this pack into your salvaged rectangular metal jacket. NiMH batteries do not have a memory problem and do deliver the required high amperage. This is not an option offered up by Rollei but is a third-party option from Asia. Cost is about $36 per eight-cell pack.

And now we come to an even more annoying detail. A replaceable fuse protects the camera circuitry and motors. The fuse is fitted to the end of the rectangular battery case with a back-up fuse loosely fitted into the side of the case. Most photographers do not seem to know that the fuse specifications are not the same for all the SLX and 6000 series cameras. In fact, I do not know all the exact fuse sizes for the different model cameras myself. I did send an inquiry to Rolleiflex but they chose to liquidate before replying. What follows is a list of known fuse sizes:
[aai: please send any corrections or additions to the email address for this site]

Rollei SLX Mk I 0.8A medium-acting charger G
Rollei SLX Mk II 0.8A medium-acting charger G
Rollei 6006 Mdl 1 0.8A medium-acting charger G
Rollei 6006 Mdl 2 1.0A medium-acting charger ?
Rollei 6002 0.8A medium-acting charger G
Rollei 6008 Prof ? charger ?
Rollei 6008 Integ 1.25A slow-acting charger ?
Rollei 6008 Integ SRC 1000 ? charger ?
Rollei 6008 Integ2 1.25A slow-acting charger C
Rollei 6003 Prof ? charger ?
Rollei 6003 ? charger ?
Rollei 6001 Prof ? charger ?
Rollei 6008 AF 1.25A slow-acting charger C
Rollei HY 6 Hybrid ? charger C?

Q.E.D.

Rolleiflex Medium Format SLR Lenses

There is an unbelievably long list of lenses that were manufactured for the medium format SLR cameras. As the camera bodies were improved and made more flexible, lens technology kept up the required updates. Whereas Carl Zeiss manufactured all lenses for the SL66, three manufacturers were involved in the manufacture of SLX and 6000-series lenses. The manufacturers were Carl Zeiss,
Schneider, Rollei in Germany and Rollei in Singapore. Lenses are stamped with maker's name and country of manufacture. Carl Zeiss and Rollei lenses have the HFT coating.

Lest some folks worry about lenses manufactured by Rollei in Germany being of inferior quality to Carl Zeiss lenses, a word of explanation is appropriate. The lenses were manufactured with optical formulae under license from Carl Zeiss. Rollei and Carl Zeiss developed the HFT coating jointly.  The Rollei made in Germany" lenses were manufactured in the old Voigtlander factory that had been taken over by Carl Zeiss then sold to Rollei. I have always considered Voigtlander lenses to be the equal of Carl Zeiss and Leica lenses and in some instances, they showed the way to innovative and useful designs like the Nokton f/1.5, the Ultron f/2 and the Lanthar, which used the rare earth element Lanthanum that gave glass a high index of refraction with but minor dispersion so it was a great lens for color photos.

Lenses range in focal length from 40mm to 1000mm. There are fixed focus lenses, zoom lenses and auto-focus lenses. There are PQ lenses with speeds to 1/500 and PQS lenses with speeds to 1/1000. The lists for different cameras are so diverse that I encourage anyone with a "need to know" about lenses for a particular camera simply must acquire either an instruction manual or a
promotional brochure.

With the introduction of the HY6 hybrid film/digital camera, a new suite of lenses became available. These are designated as "AFD" which stands for Auto Focus Digital. Each of these lenses has a companion lens with the name "AF" which are auto-focus lenses for film-backed cameras.

C. Chernoff 11/16/2009

[aai: minor edits 02/17/2010]

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