While deciding which TLR to buy, I did a little research on the Rolleiflex and Rolleicord. The following is my findings that I hope you will find useful when choosing your Rollei TLR.
BTW, I finally picked a Rolleicord V with Xenar 75/3.5 as my first TLR.
Rolleiflex and Rolleicord
Rolleiflex was first introduced around 1928. The original Rolleiflex had either a 75/4.5 or a 75/3.8 taking lens. Subsequent Automat and E/T/F models had 75/3.5 lenses. In 1949, another series, the Rolleiflex 2.8, was introduced with 80/2.8 lenses.
Besides the Rolleiflex lineups, there is also a low cost camera series - Rolleicord - introduced in 1933. These cameras were targeted toward the budgeted users. Cranks were replaced with winding knobs for film advance. Also the shutter need to be cocked separately.
Different models of Rolleiflex and Rolleicord TLRs are fitted with different taking lenses:
Triotar is a 3 elements lens. It is usually found on pre-war models and usually not coated. Soft at the corners, even when stopped down. Maybe not suitable for landscapes, but many photographers love to use it for portraits.
The famous Zeiss design. 4 elements in 3 groups. The post-war version is usually coated. Image quality is acceptable even when wide-open. Becomes very good after f8 or f11.
Schneider's copy of Tessar. Both Tessar and Xenar share the same design.
Available in 75/3.5 and 80/2.8 versions. The 75/3.5 version is either 5 or 6 elements in 4 groups. The 80/2.8 version is 5 elements in 4 groups.
Both the 75/3.5 and the 80/2.8 versions are of 5 elements, 4 groups design.
Which One to Buy?
First, ignore all the confusing models. Simply pick the lens your want. But which lens is better? It is commonly agreed that, at least when judged by sharpness, Planar/Xenator is better than Tessar/Xenar which in turn better than Tritor. But there are endless debates between Planar vs Xenator and Tessar vs Xenar.
My advice is: unless you are a collector, need to shoot in low light, or very into TLR, otherwise choose either the Tessar or Xenar 3.5 versions. They are priced more reasonable and good enough for most users. But if you can afford it, of course you won't go wrong with Planar/Xenotar 3.5 or even the 2.8. Choose Triotar if you are on a tight budget.
Once you figured out which class of lens to go with, I suggest you to forget Planar vs Xenator, or Tessar vs Xenar. I don't think you will find any different in daily use, unless you like to shoot newspaper to look for sharpness.
Next is to choose whether you want a Rolleiflex or a Rolleicord. Rolleiflex models are priced higher. Some people think the winding crank on Rolleiflex is easier to work with than the knob on Rolleicord. But I actually find the knob to be more user friendly for handheld. I also prefer the Rolleicord that requires separate action for cocking the shutter. I found it more logical to cock the shutter just before taking a picture. Anyway, you mileage may vary.
The best place to find a used TLR is on Internet auction sites. There are usually plenty of them to choose from. And they are usaully reasonably priced, except those collectable models.
Look for cameras with clean glass, working shutter, smooth film transport, and most importantly -- the one that is priced reasonably. Don't get too excited on a particular item and place bid that is higher than the set price in your mind. Remember, there are plenty of TLRs out there.
Personally, I would suggest to go with at least a Rolleicord V. Cameras older that this model are usually beaten to death. Note that in Rolleicord, only the Vb model has a user changable viewfinder and screen, if that is important to you. Also, when you are buying a 30+ years old camera, forget about the built-in lightmeter, if there is one. It is usually not in working order or inaccurate. You are better off with a handheld meter.
And finally, if you can't find a Rolleflex or Rolleicord suitable for you, there are still many choices out there. Some of my suggestions are Minolta Autocord, Zeiss Ikon, Yashica etc. Stay tune for more of my reviews on these TLRs.
Tips on Using a TLR
- Stop down. Nearly all TLR cameras produce reasonably sharp images when stopped down.
- Use a cable release, even when handheld. For TLR, it is hard to fire shutter while trying to keep the camera steady. Use a cable release to avoid shaking.
- Use a shade, if you can find one. These old lenses are prone to flare.
- For Rolleicord, when the shutter is cocked, don't move the lever to or away from 1/500. The 1/500 second speed requires a separate high-power string to fire the shutter. When cocked, the shutter may be damaged if switching to or from 1/500. If you really need to change the speed and the shutter is already cocked, cover the lens and fire the shutter. Then enable the double exposure function, select your intended speed, cock the shutter, and take your photo.
|Original||1928||1 - 199.999||Zeiss Tessar 75/4.5 or 75/3.8|
|Standard||1932||200.000 - 567.000||Zeiss Tessar 75/3.5|
|Automat 1||1937||568.516 - 805.000||Zeiss Tessar 75/3.5|
|Automat 2||1939||805.000 - 1.050.000|
|New Standard||1939||805.000 - 927.999|
|Automat 3||1945||1.050.000 - 1.099.999|
|Automat X||1949||1.000.000 - 1.168.000|
|Automat 4||1951||1.200.000 - 1.427.999||Zeiss Opton Tessar 75/3.5|
|3.5 MX-EVS||1954||1.428.001- 1.479.999 |
1.479.000 - 1.739.999
|Zeiss Opton Tessar 75/3.5, Zeiss Jena Tessar 75/3.5 or Schneider Xenar 75/3.5|
|3.5E||1956||1.740.000 - 1.787.849||with lightmeter|
|3.5E||1956||1.850.000 - 1.868.442||without lightmeter|
|3.5E2||1959||1.870.000 - 1.872.010 |
2.480.000 - 2.482.999
|3.5E3||1961||2.380.000 - 2.385.034|
|T1||1958||2.100.000 - 2.199.999|
|T2 (version 1)||1966||2.220.000 - 2.228.999|
|T2 (version 2)||1968||2.242.000 - 2.249.999 |
2.310.000 - 2.314.999
|T3||1971||2.315.000 - 2.319.999 |
2.320.000 - 2.320.300
|3.5F1||1958||2.200.000 - 2.219.999|
|3.5F2||1960||2.230.000 - 2.241.500|
|3.5F3||1960||2.250.000 - 2.299.999 |
|3.5F4||1965||2.800.000 - 2.844.999|
|3.5F5||1979||2.845.000 - 2.870.149 |
3.555.000 - 3.559.999
|I (art deco)||1933||1.460.000 - 1.759.000|
|I||1934||1.590.000 - 1.759.999|
|Ia||1936||1.760.000 - 1.947.000||Zeiss Triotar 4.5|
|Ia2||1937||1.966.000 - 2.124.000|
|Ia3||1939||611.000 - 1.042.999|
|II||1936||1.758.000 - 1.973.999|
|IIa||1937||1.260.000 - 1.457.405|
|IIb||1938||612.000 - 858.999|
|IIc||1939||859.000 - 1.006.999|
|IId||1949||1.007.000 - 1.134.999|
|IIe||1949||1.135.000 - 1.135.999|
|III||1952||1.137.000 - 1.344.050||Schneider Xenar 75/3.5|
|IV||1952||1.344.051 - 1.390.999|
|V||1954||1.500.000 - 1.583.999||Schneider Xenar 75/3.5|
|Va||1957||1.584.000 - 1.599.999|
|Va2||1958||1.900.000 - 1.943.999|
|Vb||1962||2.600.000 - 2.649.999||Schneider Xenar 75/3.5||user |
|Vb2||1970||2.650.000 - 2.665.999||Schneider Xenar 75/3.5|
|2.8A Type 1||1949||1.101.000 - 1.114.999||Zeiss Jena Tessar||shutter 1/500|
|2.8A Type 1||1949||1.115.000 - 1.139.999||Zeiss Opton Tessar||shutter 1/500|
|2.8A Type 2||1951||1.154.000 - 1.163.999||Zeiss Opton Tessar 80/2.8||shutter 1/400|
|2.8A Type 2||1951||1.201.000 - 1.201.999||Zeiss Opton Tessar 80/2.8||shutter 1/500|
|2.8B||1952||1.204.000 - 1.259.999|
|2.8C||1952||1.260.000 - 1.457.405|
|2.8D||1955||1.600.000 - 1.620.100|
|2.8E||1956||1.621.000 - 1.664.999|
|2.8E2||1959||2.350.000 - 2.356.999||Zeiss Planar 80/2.8 or Schneider Xenotar 80/2.8|
|2.8E3||1962||2.360.000 - 2.362.024|
|2.8F||1960||2.400.000 - 2.451.850||Zeiss Planar 80/2.8 or Schneider Xenotar 80/2.8|
|2.8F2||1966||2.451.851 - 2.479.999||Zeiss Planar 80/2.8 or Schneider Xenotar 80/2.8|
|2.8F3||1969||2.600.000 - 2.799.999||Zeiss Planar 80/2.8 or Schneider Xenotar 80/2.8|
|2.8F4||1976||2.900.000 - 2.959.999|
|Aurum||1982||2.570.001 - 7.571.249|
|Aurum||1983||8.300.000 - 8.301.499|
|Platin||1984||2.985.000 - 2.985.499|
|Platin A||1989||2.986.500 - 2.986.599|
|2.8GX||1987||2.985.500 -||Rollei Planar HFT 80/2.8|
|2.8GX||1993||8.810.000 -||Rollei Planar HFT 80/2.8|
|2.8GX Edition||1989||5.010.000 - 5.017.999|
|1992||6.030.000 - 8.036.999|