My first medium format camera was a German Rolleiflex.

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Review of the advantages of Rollei in medium format professional, Rolleiflex, a traditional name in the history of photography.

All the excavators of the University of Pennsylvania's archaeology project at Tikal, Guatemala, were provided the venerable twin-lens Rolleiflex available. This was back in 1965, when I was a student at Harvard taking a year off from college. This was sort of a ritual in these years of the Hippy movement which ravaged higher education.

When it came time for me to buy my first professional camera for archaeological recording, I was already under the influence of the Hasselblad myth, initiated by the infamous movie Blowup, and nurtured by the use of Hasselblad as the preferred camera of American astronauts on the moon. I now have three Hasselblad cameras and have enjoyed several decades with them.

rolleiflex digital cameras
Rolleiflex stand featuring different cameras.

But when I look at the Rollei catalogs and see what Rollei has to offer, I realize that without the publicity of the topless scene in Blowup, and without the allure of having a camera that proved itself in Outer Space, that the success story could equally well have been Rollei. I would add that the first Bronica I saw, also at the archaeological project of Tikal, was a clunker. Bronica is one camera that has not really outgrown its earlier (poor) reputation. But back to Rollei.

Rollei uses the virtually identical Zeiss lenses, as does Hasseblad. But better, Rollei has the Schneider family of lenses available. The 90 mm Schneider Apo-Symmar is a universal macro lens with apochromatic correction. Other lenses do not focus in the same plane in each of the three colors (Red, Blue, Green). This fact is painfully evident in digital photography since your computer can focus your lens on each color independently. This allows you to see how far the colors are off (based on tests reported by Michael Collette, Better Light).

On the subject of how you need to upgrade your lenses as you enter the digital era, be sure to get the 150 mm Apo-Symmar PQ f/4.6 Makro. This would probably be a good lens to try out for the Seitz Super Roundshot. The Seitz system (not to be confused with Leitz) uses either Hasselblad mounts or Rollei mounts.

If you like to do nature photography, the 140-280 mm Schneider Variogon PQ f/5.6 HFT is ideal. This sure surpasses the quality and ease of use of any lens I have (and I have tons).

A further advantage of the Rollei systems is that they went digital years ago, in house. Hasselblad has still not faced up to the depth of the digital revolution. I get the impression that Color Crisp (ScanView Carnival) was the OEM manufacturer of the Rollei digital back, which means they have an outstanding quality.

If Rollei would just break out of the claustrophobic square format, and move to the 6x9 or at least the 6x7 format, this would allow them to escape from the shadow of their Swedish nemeses, Hasselblad. Such a move on the part of Rollei would also help salvage what is left of their market from encroachment by Linhof, which has just released their answer to Hasselblad's flexibody concept. The new Linhof flexible camera accepts Hasselblad magazines (notice that Hasselblad is clearly the international standard).

I feel that Rollei makes a solid product that deserves to stay in the ranks of the great medium format cameras of professional quality. A few clever innovations and they can not only survive, they can regain lost market share.

All the photographs of Tikal temples and palaces in this Web site were taken with a Hasselblad, but that is only because I got locked into the Hasselblad myth decades ago. If I had a Rollei system this Web site would really be a feast for your eyes.

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Rollei Rolleiflex Schneider gateway page

Rollei Photogrammetric cameras

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Edited Jan. 25, 1998 by Andrea David, FLAAR Photo Archive, revised again 22 March 1998, edited March 4, 1999; last updated July 15, 1999;
links added May 2, 2000;
Links added Mar. 2002, redesigned January 2004
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