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Wednesday, 18 March 2015


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A digital Rolleiflex -- now that would be a silver lining. Actually, more like a dream come true! I've been praying for such a development since I somewhat reluctantly moved away from shooting film (often on a Rolleiflex, and before that on a Yashicamat 124G) a decade ago. Relatively compact and lightweight; gorgeous interchangeable ground-glass; quiet, unobtrusive leaf shutter; classic good looks... And if we're really lucky, a full 60cm square sensor! Though more likely it would be 36cm square, which would still do nicely.

While they're at it maybe they could team up with the design team behind the Mamiya 6 for a digital version of that! Heck, as long as I'm fantasizing, why not a full-frame (24x36cm) digital version of the Yashica T4 Super, complete with 35mm Zeiss Tessar and "SuperScope," of course...

Digital TLR could be a good idea. There is plenty of space for electronics in that big, boxy body, behind the mirror etc. I had a digital 'TLR' rollei for a while but that was the Minox miniature toy. It was unique with its square sensor, but a plastic toy with a poor lens. I would pay 2-3000 for a good one, but not 20,000. I am still hoping Minox would make a good 8x10 digital spy camera, worthy of the originals, before it also goes belly up. Not the plastic toys it has been focusing on, which will be its downfall.

A few years back while I was on a Rolleiflex kick I purchased that circa 1965 model I mentioned in a previous article. A year or so later I purchased what I also believe to be the final model, the Rolleiflex 2.8FX.

My Rolleiflex 2.8FX

Two things really impress me about this camera. First, how little had really changed with the camera. Yes, the 2.8FX was designed to be a replica of the classic camera. But holding one of these things is like taking a time machine back 30-40+ years. Ergonomics? Pffft, that's for new-age sissies. This is a gadget that works one way and it's up to you to deal with it. But it sure works well.

Second, what a perfected contraption the 2.8FX is! Like the latter models of the Leica M this camera is butter-smooth to operate and ruggedly built despite what its rather fancy animal hide wrapping suggests. Although I've run fewer than a dozen rolls through the camera I'd have full confidence dragging it through an extended escapade if need be.

It's fun to fantasize about a day when digital imaging technology might enable the creation of a full-frame 2.25 TLR. I believe the market for such a new old contraption exists today, perhaps similarly to the digital Leica M market. But I doubt it will remain long.

I have a beat up Yashica D. No way a "stealth" camera. Young folks come closer, exclaiming things like, "Is that real?" and "Wow. Is that a FILM camera?"

Would love a Rollei, but ...

I have two 1960 versions of these. I love using the TLR. The Rolleiflex is a great walk around camera. Those of you who admire the work of Vivian Maier or Dan Wagner (recently featured on TOP) know what I mean.

Gulp. North of 8 g's. I'll get along with my Sony a7 II.

Admission: I spent several decades living with a Mamiya TLR and so the TLR way of doing photography is baked into my genome, I guess. Yes, I now have a DSLR ( my fourth), a mirrorless (which I still marvel at) and an underwater pocket camera (who would have though such a thing could exist?) but I've always dreamed of a digital TLR. Why? No squinting into a viewfinder. Stability. How marvelous the notion of an LCD replacing a viewfinder screen....magic. I've no idea why the market has evolved based on the SLR DNA, but that is now history. Somebody please manufacture a TLR that is simple with a huge image sensor and an amazing screen with manual ergonomic controls. Yes, I would hang ten pounds around my neck to photograph with that combination of attributes.

I'd buy a square format digital TLR style camera. Or a mirror-less slr with a top mounted screen for waist level shooting which could be hinged so that you could tilt it down for eye level. It could use m/43 lenses which would be small enough to not make it two bulky.

The branding has the real value. The name is up there with Mercedes, Rolls-Royce and so on; quality, precision, reliability. It could have enormous value if it's use can be translated. However, as was said in the article, the name is being used in Germany for other photo products. These are popular, gimmicky products sold in stores that aim at the bottom of the market. While this avenue may produce some valuable revenue it could be undermining the value of the name.

The last Rollei I ever bought was one of those Hy6 mod 2 bodies. At the time, they came up with a chimney finder to sell me for it and also sold me a couple of extra inserts for the film back. It works fine with a Leaf Afi digital back, also. The time I spend using it is always a pleasure in my life.

A digital TLR? That's just silly. A cube with an LCD on the top and a waist-level hood would be cool, but what's the point of the second lens? No mirror blackout? Pfft!

But lets get back to the serious stuff, what about a review of the latest 12-250mm Hyper Digital ASPH lens for the Fuji XZTiQ !

Well, doesn't that sum up how the demise of Rollei will be treated in so many web sites currently mourning it's loss? They all made a big fuss when Vivien Maier's photographs hit the news, and if she'd been a contemporary photographer we'd have had her kit minutely studied so students of gear could copy her style. But I can't think of any mainstream web site that has said 'go out and buy some film and a Rolleiflex' because that wouldn't have brought in revenue. Film is dead after all.

So I think it is a bit ironic for a web site that clearly loves film based images, yet won't push film use or film cameras, to then mourn their demise. Cruel but fair?

My 124G restarted my like of photography many years ago.

I have wished for a digital TLR for a long time, but I'm not sure that it's actually a practical form factor for that. But if they make it happen, I will be saving my pennies.

In response to Adams comment: I agree completely that TLR's now attract a large amount of attention. However it should be noted that it always seems to be POSITIVE attention. Nobody seems to mind being photographed with a TLR because it seems like such a novelty. Nobody assumes you're up to something with a TLR. In addition, the fact that you're looking down to compose makes it further disarming. The camera might be looking at them, but you're not.

I love shooting with my TLR, with the exception of the cost and effort involved in handling the film. I'd love to shoot a real digital TLR, but I'm not holding my breath.

I have an ancient Ricohflex TLR that belonged to my mother. Not the same league as Rollei, obviously (I believe the lens is an 80mm f3.5 triplet design.)

I have toyed with buying a used TLR as I have enjoyed shooting squares in the past. I'd probably go looking for a Minolta Autocord. They seem to have a good reputation, and less used-market cachet than the Yashicamats.


A digitial TLR... that's an interesting thought.

I learned basic photography with my father's Argus brand Rollei knockoff and used Rolleis extensively in high school along with speed graphics.

I have to wonder what digital would bring to TLRs or vice versa. I totally get the idea of digital rangefinders since they offer an special way of looking at the scene and it's surroundings, but I guess I don't get why someone would want a digital TLR. I can understand wanting to use a lovely tool as is the Rollei TLR just for it's own sake, but would a digital TLR be a 'real' Rollei?

Perhaps develop one with a hybrid focusing screen (a la Fuji X100) with the ability to switch between grond glass and a lcd?

In any event, how could the local importer come up with the major R&D money to do anything so ambitious?

slightly off topic but I love your product shots and how their background melds into your central column .... probably pretty easy to do but I try to stay away from Photoshop ...

Dear Mike,

Uhhh, the digital Rolleiflex has been made.


Smaller than perhaps you envisioned (grin)?

pax / Ctein

I have been the proud care-taker of a 1959 Rolleiflex F with a 75/3.5 Xenotar for a decade. For somebody raised on 35 mm SLR cameras, it has been a great teacher. The square format, the shot discipline of the twelve exposures, the encouragement to try different viewpoints by the waist-level and sports finders, the bitingly sharp yet at times dreamy single-coated Planar-derived lens, all have made me re-examine preconceptions and bad habits, and have made me a better photographer. I agree with other posts that the machine makes a great conversation piece. We are lucky that there are still very skilled repair-people for these magnificent fully mechanical cameras. I have had excellent service from both Harry Fleenor, and Krikor Maralian. Of late, I've added a Minolta Autocord to get a sense of what Tessars are all about. The Flickr Autocord pool led me to Karl Bryan, who is an expert repair-person for those Japanese machines. I would encourage anybody who has not used TLRs to try one for a year. Very much in the same spirit as Mike's Leica for a year.

David Bailey once said in an interview that if he had to choose one camera for the rest of his life it would be a Rolleiflex TLR.

Many giants use(d) one for the best of their work. Diane Arbus, Richard Alvedon, Roger Ballen, Cecil Beaton, Eva Besnyö, Bill Brandt, Robert Capa, Imogen Cunningham, Robert Doisneau, Alfred Eisenstadt, Walker Evans, Larry Fink, John Gutmann, Rinko Kawauchi, Vivian Meier, Irving Penn, Hannes Walraffen, Ad Windig and so many others.

Roll film is getting very expensive so I only use mine for special occasions. A digital version would be very awkward. The computer screens are horizontal and are stretched more with every new generation. So let’s start a lobby for square sensors and computers first!

"So I think it is a bit ironic for a web site that clearly loves film based images, yet won't push film use or film cameras, to then mourn their demise. Cruel but fair?"

I don't think it's imperative for Mike to urge readers to shoot more film.

I'm shooting more film for my personal work but that's only going to last as I can find reasonably priced labs in the UK. It's not easy.

Dear Steve,

"So I think it is a bit ironic for a web site that clearly loves film based images, yet won't push film use or film cameras, to then mourn their demise.

Personally, I find partisan fanatics both boring and unreliable. I have no interest in reading their calls-to-arms.

Cruel, perhaps... but fair.

pax / Ctein

Twin-lens shooting is simply a different way of visualizing and composing pictures. I immediately connected with that when I got my first TLR in the 1970's. When I finally broke down and bought a better-than-snapshot digital camera, I knew I wanted that type of viewing available, at least as an option. I ended up with a Panasonic MFT that has a swivel screen and the ability to compose in square format. I can fold out the screen, set it up for squares, look down, and act like I'm using my Rollei (sort of). It really does get back to the same mindset and I've had a great time with it. Stick-on viewing hoods help. It can't substitute for the rock solid high precision steampunk feel of a real Rollei, but hey, Yashicas don't do that either.

My Rollei, a Model K4 Standard, was handed down by my father, who as a U.S. infantry sergeant acquired it in Belgium in 1944. He traded a Leica for it with another soldier. My dad later told me the larger negatives produced usable contact prints, and if he wasn't a supply sergeant he probably couldn't have wheeled and dealed for photo processing on the battlefield in any case.
I began using the Rollei in the 1960s when I was in high school and began a lifelong hobby. I liked the big negatives in my Omega enlarger, and experimented with the 120 Kodak emulsions, B&W and color. Confusion occurred when I tried using the waist-level finder to follow football action, but I then used the inverted flip-up eye level finder.
I moved to 35 mm in college and stayed with it through a 30-year newspaper career, but my new digital has a square format option that takes me back to Rollei days.
The old 1940s camera is still in my collection, and the shutter and the rest still work, but the mirror is tarnished -- something I'll fix one of these days.

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