Focus problems with 1951 Rolleiflex Automat

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by gary_smith|23, Jul 15, 2011.

  1. Good Morning all,
    I just got back my first set of prints (BW 120 format Fuji Neopan 400) and I am a little disappointed with the results. All 12 of the images seem to be soft and none have any sharpness anywhere within the images. I know I shouldnt expect too much from a 60yr old xenar lens but it is a Rolleiflex and I expected more. Is there a way of testing the focus, as images through the WLF are very crisp but images produced dont seem to match the view I'm seeing. (Of course I'm assuming my 43 yr old eyes are good!!) All of the above mentioned images were taken handheld so perhaps I should test on a tripod, so any advice would be gratefully received as I really want to get into MF photography!
    An example of one of the shots mentioned is hopefully below (taken at about f11, 1/500s), if i can get it posted!!
  2. Some things to check:
    1) A shot like the one you posted is unlikely to be sharp from front to back at f11. Examine the depth of field marking on the focus scale of your camera and try to focus 1/3 into the scene.
    2) If pix aren't sharp anywhere, check the lens for mold. Without film in the camera, open the shutter on B, open the camera back and look at a light source (like a light bulb), preferably at an angle. You may see a slight haze, which can be cleaned off by a professional repair man, or ice-like mold, which is bad news and may mean the lens is beyond repair. A 60-year-old Xenar is capable of delivering excellent results, just as good as any other 4-element lens of any age, but condition is crucial.
    3) A (very) stiff shutter release can mean that every picture, even at high shutter speeds, suffers from camera shake and is unsharp.
    Sounds like your Rollei could use a servicing (it may never have been serviced before)!
  3. Focusing a MF camera for the first time isn't that easy. There is the chance you have made slight focusing errors. Have you used the built-in magnifier while focusing? Many of us over 40 need it for sharp images.
    The Xenar is a Tessar-type lens that should be sharp when stopped down. f/11 should be all right.
    Focus can be tested with a matte glass in the film plane, but most people do not have one on hand. Before doing anything else I would suggest trying another film. Yes, use a tripod and the magnifier. Another thing: looking down on the screen from a distance is great for composing, for focusing many of us "elderly photographers" have to close in on the magnifier. Good luck and enjoy the camera.
  4. The pictures should be quite bitingly sharp at f11. Sometimes if the camera has been dropped it's possible for the lens board not to be parallel to the film plane. Look carefully at the gap between the lens board and camera body, it should be the same all the way round. If not there will be focusing errors.
  5. Many thanks for some great advice after just an hour! The lens board looks straight but I havent checked the lens for fungus with a light as suggested. I have noticed some quite light scratches on the surface of both the taking lens and viewing lens. These appear to be cleaning marks but I havent tried to clean the lenses myself at all and will probably get a CLA done when I return to UK after summer. I dont want to spend a fortune, however, as the camera only cost me 70 UK pounds!! I will continue to practice and test this camera and hopefully will succeed with some sharper images. I also have a lens hood now (which I didnt have before) so that may help I guess.
    Thanks again for the invaluable help, this is a great resource for us MF 'noobs' !!!
  6. I hope this is not the case with your Automat, but there are Rolleis out there that have had their taking lens mis-matched when rear and front lens groups from two cameras are mixed on one camera, or a separated lens group has been recemented inexpertly. The original Tessars or Xenars consisted to two matched lens groups, and it can be difficult to achieve original sharpness when non-matched groups are combined. As discussed before, an Automat with a functional Tessar or Xenar lens should produce very sharp images if depth of field is controlled properly.
  7. If everything is right with the camera, I can pretty much guarantee the point you focused on would be sharp. Before deciding about it though, you should try it on a tripod and with a subject you can easily focus on. Stop the lens down as others have suggested for maximum sharpness. Holding a TLR is a bit different than what most of us are used to, and because it's medum format, depth of field isn't quite as much as most people today are accustomed to. The thing with old cameras is that you never really know what you're getting, or what might have been done to it during all those years. The taking and viewing lens have to be perfectly mated and adjusted or else you won't get the focus that you saw in the viewfinder.
  8. Hi Gerry,
    I guess that that is one of the problems of online auction sites for buying these cameras. There's no way of viewing/testing the cameras before purchase and a very small minority may build a 'good quality' camera from spares. I have no way of knowing either way but there are some very obvious scratches on both the front and rear of the taking lenses of my version, i dont know how these would affect sharpness though. The scans were produced by the lab that developed the negatives/prints and are a large size but just dont seem to have that 'rollei' look, even though they do have a kind of atmosphere! I am still a beginner when it comes to MF, having moved briefly from digital. Doing everything manually is a challenge and steep learning curve!!
  9. The most likely thing is that the lenses are out of adjustment. The first thing to test is infinity. First make sure that the viewing lens gives a sharp image at infinity when the lenses are racked all the way in. Use a distant tree to view or a distant building with bricks. If the viewing lens gives a sharp image at infinity then shoot some film and see if the taking lens is sharp. In sunshine if you get at least 1/250th shutter speed at f5.6 you should be able to do that without a tripod.
  10. <p>
    I just got a Rolleiflex 3.5 Automat MX myself on eBay. Probably never been CLA'd, or at least not in recent decades. Cleaning marks on lens. Very dim viewfinder... could hardly see. (This isn't typical of Rolleiflexes, right?)
    But I still get sharp photos. This was scanned at low resolution by my local processor. Nothing special--it's what they do for free to put the images on their website. (Don't remember aperture, but probably around f4 - f5.6 -- note shallow DOF.) Ektar film. Handheld.
    Odd thing is that the two robins are missing from the scan! (OK, so I admit, they were never there.)
    <img src=''>
  11. Thats definately sharper than my initial attempts. I will try the advice about using a matt focus screen at the rear of the taking lens, at the film plane (I have a spare one) whilst focussed on something close. I will also try and get a picture posted, of the lens showing scratches, for any advice on quality/conditions. Thanks again for all the assistance!!
  12. Coming to this thread a bit late but have you tried examining the negatives through a loupe? It could just be a below par scan that you are looking at. As already suggested the best way to check focus is with a ground glass taped over the film gate. You can then check the image from the taking lens against the image formed by the viewing lens. You can also check the accuracy of the distance markings on the focus scale for closer objects by using a measuring tape.
  13. My 1938 Rolleiflex Automat Jena Tessar does fine so long as I keep in solidly on a tripod, and I triple check my focus. DOF is narrow-ish in MF. Good sample:
  14. Gary:
    One of the things that happens over the years, this may not be the case with your camera, is the alignment between the viewing and taking lens is off. Usually only the top Rollei repair techs check for this because, I believe there's some very precise equipment you must have to re-align the lens. As you know, when dealing with old used equipment, we never know how much knocking around they've gone through.
    Whatever the case may be, I hope you get it solved. I know how frustrating it is not to be able to trust your equipment....
  15. Hi Gary,
    I have currently 2 Rolleicords and 3 Rolleiflexes including 1 Automat MX and 3 of those 5 had the viewing and taking lens misaligned. These camera's are old and a lot can happen with them even if they look OK.
    A 60 year old Xenar lens will produce wonderfull pictures; my Rolleicord III has a Xenar of the same vintage as yours and I regard this as my best lens on a Rollei. My oldest Rolleiflex is a Standard from 1932 with a uncoated Tessar which is (provided I have the sun behind me) as sharp as any modern lens.
    There is nothing special in checking the alignment:
    1. Put the shutter at B and use a cable release that keeps it open
    2. Probably the most difficult step; obtain a large focussing screen from another old camera or use something similar; please make sure it is absolutely flat
    3. Tape this screen where the film normally sits; make sure you have it on the correct rails (check where the film would run)
    4. Check with a magnifying glass the focus and compare it with the focussing screen of the camera itself; the easiest check is at infinity but any distance should do it.
    If it is misaligned you will either need to sent it away but you can also try it yourself. It can be done without special equipment for checking the aligmnent (confirmed by a Dutch Rollei repairman!) but it will depend a bit on your own confidence in doing this since you will need to "open" the camera.
    My Standard and Automat MX both were realigned by myself; you can see the results in my gallery:
    Hope this helps,

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