Rolleiflex TLRs, the bigger picture

The Rolleiflex Standard, built from 1932 to 1935, was the mother of all Rolleiflex cameras. The Rolleiflex is part of a family of cameras called Twin Lens Reflex, or TLR in short. Simply means the camera has two lenses: the upper lens is used to frame the image, the lower lens is actually a shuttered lens and takes the picture.

The design proved very successful and as a result, many other brands also built TLR cameras. TLR cameras were built in Germany, Czecho-Slovakia, The USA, France, and of course a lot were built in Japan! But, the Chinese also built a pretty good Rolleiflex copy!

Below is my former copy of the 1960s series flagship, the 2.8F Planar version. I consider it the medium-format equivalent of a Rolex watch: beautifully made and a precision picture-taking machine! Many of those type-F cameras nowadays have a dead meter and parts are getting hard to come by, but this one had a meter that was checked for accuracy by mr. Hans Klinkhamer in the Netherlands and it was spot-on when compared to three other exposure meters I own, including one in a Nikon DSLR.

Rolleiflex manufacturers Franke und Heidecke also produced a simpler camera, called the Rolleicord. In general, it had lenses of slightly lesser quality but yet there were no slouches amongst the Rolleicord lenses either, a reason while Rollei always has been a brand that is held in high esteem. A Rollei TLR almost certainly was a good one, and Rollei provided the service to back that reputation and quality up too.

From personal photos I can only show you the two cameras I owned. I have nothing to be ashamed of, they were the among best of the 1960s series that F&H produced. But, there is a busload of other great Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords, that I cannot supply photos of here. If you want to know more… No, if you want to know it all, visit the extensive overview page at

One more word before you go there (and forget where you all read it first, haha), what about film? Well, contrary to popular belief lots of films still are available. Granted there used to be more and some good films were discontinued, but that often requires the photographer to think outside his frame (pun intended) and discover a new film. Have a look at Fomapan or Rollei black and white films, here. Or choose color films from Kodak, Fujifilm and other manufacturers here (those guys have a lot of stuff for traditional photography anyway). But I digress, back to the Rolleiflexes!

The Rolleiflex Tele shown below had a Sonnar lens, made by Carl Zeiss. It had a 135mm 1:4.0 lens, since this was a tele-lens camera! It was the perfect portrait camera and as such was used by both photo journalists and artists. Only a limited number of them was made. I used to own one, complete with the matching leather case. The strap was not original but matched the case perfectly!

The next shots were taken with the Tele-Rolleiflex and 22-years expired Fujicolor 160. Groningen, May 25th 2012

Groningen, Vismarkt. 2012. Johan Niels Kuiper, fotograaf in Assen, Drenthe

Groningen, Vismarkt. 2012. Johan Niels Kuiper, fotograaf in Assen, Drenthe

Useful links

A small buying guide for a used Rolleiflex, from a 2010 issue of Amateur Photographer UK:

New to Rolleiflex TLR cameras? Here’s a very good instruction video on how to load it and use it!

The old Rolleiflex model ‘Standard’ cameras from 1932-1935 still can work like a charm! Have a look at this video to see a very special camera used in modern times!

Want to see and hear the Rolleiflex explained in under fifteen minutes? Ted Forbes from The Art of Photography is your man!

Don’t think the Rolleicord is much less of a camera than the Rolleiflexes are! See the first owner of this old Rolleicord explain the functioning of his beloved companion in this video. Dutch with ‘sub’titles.

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