Should I jump in to the TLR world?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by agnes_felicia, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. I have been using an old Konica manual SLR and I turned to digital SLR now. Recently, I'm interested on learning more about manual cameras and stumbled into a Rollei. I've been researching and couldn't figure out which one to buy. I have a budget of $200-$400. Any suggestion for a beginner user? :)
    I found one Rolleflex T type 1 on ebay for $425. It's clean but the back casing has been changed (said the seller). I called Krikor to find out what types he has, and he said that I shouldn't buy a T because it's easily broken and hard to fix? He has one for $500. Should I splurge and get his instead?
    Please help me...I'm confused...
  2. You should check the date the camera was made. This is easy on the internet. The older Rolleis had lenses that were softer. You might prefer that look. If you want a really sharp one, get one from the sixties or later. My favorite little camera for shooting in natural light is a 1958 Rollei with a Zeiss f3.5 lens.
  3. Take note of Bruce's advice, and yes the photographic experience with a good Rolleiflex TLR is very enjoyable. As well as getting back to basics, they are capable of delivering beautiful images, and it's all up to you.
    You will learn more about photography with one of those, than with any digital SLR thing.
  4. Condition is an important factor. If a TLR is in good spec and has had a recent CLA by a good tech, that is worth at least a couple of hundred dollars to you as a buyer.
  5. My choices would be Rollieflex Automat from the 1950's or Rolleicord, same vintage! Wonderful simple cameras with great lenses and build quality.
  6. 1) If you can afford it, and 2) get a sample that has the superior Planar or Xenotar lens, and 3) get one in good working order (especially the slow shutter speeds apparently), then you will probably have a winner.
    I settled for a really cheap 1938 Rolleiflex Automat. It has the lesser Tessar style lens, and is uncoated, which makes for hellacious flare. But it works correctly, and gives decent results. I'm very happy because I got a deal and I get to try out TLR without spending many hundreds. But I still / now lust over the >$500 clean / functional / Xenotar.

    More here:
  7. Rolleis are superb but consider other options. I have three Mamiya C series TLRs. This is a shot taken on my C220.
  8. ... and here is the detail in the centre.
  9. Well Brad, that tops anything I've seen for a while. Beautiful ... everything
    Agnes, note Brads excellent use of the 6x6 format.
    And by the way, Welcome to!
  10. The Mamiya C series TLR's are great for their interchangeable lenses, but are bigger and heavier, especially the C330. Some other possibilities if you can't find the Rollei you want and find the Mamiya too heavy: Yashicamat (especially the 124G), Minolta Autocord, and the Ricoh Diacord.
    Avoid the new Seagull TLR cameras. A used Rollei or other TLR is likely going to be more reliable.
  11. Agnes, for that $500 you mentioned, you could pick from a great many medium-format cameras. The advice above is excellent in its way, but let me add one slightly different opinion: You MIGHT consider getting an inexpensive Yashica TLR as a starter camera in medium format. When I first wanted to try medium format, I bought a cheap Yashica TLR on a big auction site. I had a world of fun with it, and when I finally bought a MF SLR, I sold that Yashica for more than I paid for it in the first place. (And since then I've bought another Yashica TLR just for the fun of it.)
    Anyway, the Yashica C or D -- or even the A model -- isn't as good a camera as a Rollei, but it WILL give you very good images at medium apertures, on HUGE 6x6 negatives, and will let you see if you like medium format at a very comfortable entry price. And if you love using a TLR (I certainly do), you can always start shopping for a Rollei. Just MHO--good luck, and have fun!
  12. Hej Agnes,
    Är du svensk? Don't get a Rolleiflex T for $425 although a good camera it is just too much. Be patient and check "Blocket", Lp-foto auctions, if you're Swedish of course. I was offered a Rolleiflex 2.8 with Planar just a couple of days ago but I just ordered a Hasselblad. If you're interested I can give you the phone number of the seller. I have no idea how much he is asking but there are regular Rolleiflex bargains in Sweden. Also check Apug classifieds, classifieds, Craigs Nationwide (craigslist) for good deals. I saw a Rolleiflex 2.8C in nearly like new condition +extras just sell for $450 on the Rangefinder forum. A good cheaper alternative are older Yashicamats like the LM, EM and 124 (not the 124G). I bought a Yashicamat LM in a Swedish thrift store for 4 Euros. Yashicamats with the Yashinon lens are just excellent. I have a few images taken with it.
  13. I agree with Krikor as far as durability. The T is expensive and fragile compared to an Automat, and although its late Tessar lens is very nice, that's not much help when you can't tell what aperture or shutter speed you've got set. You can get an Automat MX for $200 or less that will give better service.
  14. For what it is worth, through the years I have had and used many TLRs. I think it comes to 3 or 4 Yashicas of which I still have one, inoperable. They were cheap cameras and, well, they were made cheaply. I've had and still have 2 Minolta Autocords. Great lenses and I like the handling. They are a good value for the low prices asked for them as long as the focus is operating smoothly. Rolleicords, I had one about 40 years ago. I'd put them in the class of the Autocords. A really nice one will cost as much as a Rolleiflex so.... Rolleiflexes, 5 or 6 I think. I still have two, a 2.8C Xenotar and a 3.5F Planar. There is no finer picture taking machine on earth than a 3.5F. Mamiyas? I picked one up once and immediately decided there would be no fun taking a dump truck to a sports car rally. I also have a Ricohflex somewhere and a couple of Kodak Duoflex 620s (my first TLR when I was a kid) but they don't get used too much anymore.
  15. I think it comes to 3 or 4 Yashicas of which I still have one, inoperable. They were cheap cameras and, well, they were made cheaply​
    The Yashicamat LM that I have is of excellent external build quality and it is still going strong although it's 50 years old. Ok, the shutter goes on strike once in a while, but after some fiddling with the release button it has always started going again. A tip for using old Yashica Mat TLRs is to wind the film slowly. Great camera.
  16. Wow...thank you so much everybody for the advices... Hadn't known about before I searched for rolleiflex. I have a few more questions though if you guys don't mind.. MX-EVS type 1 is equal to an Automat? Which is better, a MX-EVS or an older 2.8A? But both with good condition...and below $300.
    @Brad: That's a really nice picture... =)
    @Kevin: Thank you...I think I'll have a great time here with lots of nice people giving honest advices =)
    @chrise boris: sorry I don't speak swedish....I'd like your advices on where I can get good Rolleis if you don't mind :) Been spending a lot of time at the famous fleabay without finding a good one within my budget...
    Sorry I have too many questions...a newbie at these things...
  17. I'd recommend a Rollei anyday - of course I have my father's TLR D, a GX, etc. They take wonderful images, and are light enought o carry around quietly all day. Don't (if you can avoid it) buy anonymously (ebay) but rather from someone known - like Harry Fleenor, or Krikor, or one of the photo sites. $200 is too cheap for a good one (probably) and condition is everything - esp lens and rack, not nec.the body. So if you can, spring a bit higher ($400-500) and you'll find what you need.
    I posted somewhere a site which tested the 50 yr old Rollei vs. hassy and the Mamiya 7 - which was the best. But the surprise was how well the old Rollei did - right in there, all the way. Great cameras.
  18. I'd recommend a Rollei anyday - of course I have my father's TLR D, a GX, etc. They take wonderful images, and are light enought o carry around quietly all day. Don't (if you can avoid it) buy anonymously (ebay) but rather from someone known - like Harry Fleenor, or Krikor, or one of the photo sites. $200 is too cheap for a good one (probably) and condition is everything - esp lens and rack, not nec.the body. So if you can, spring a bit higher ($400-500) and you'll find what you need.
    I posted somewhere a site which tested the 50 yr old Rollei vs. hassy and the Mamiya 7 - which was the best. But the surprise was how well the old Rollei did - right in there, all the way. Great cameras.
  19. I have a 2.8A and an MX. The 2.8A is a nice collector's item and a very decent picture taker, but the MX-EVS will be a bit sharper and the better choice as a user. If you get up into the $400+ range where the T was, I'd look for a 2.8C - better in every respect that I can think of than the T.
  20. I'm a little puzzled by the comments here re: the Rollei T's fragility. I've had mine since 1980 (bought second-hand, of course), and it hasn't given me a single problem. The film-loading system is technically less complicated than the automat models, and so there's less to go wrong. Results-wise, you'll probably not be able to tell the difference between photos taken with the Tessar lens and those from (much) more expensive Planar and Xenotar models (Rollei engineers never could). As for the price, $425 sounds a little too much. I've seen a near-mint example here in the UK recently for £175 (about $300).
  21. I have a Rolleicord V and a Rolleiflex MX-EVS, and love them both. Great photos. Basic camera. Love composing on the big groundglass, love the precise feel of the controls, and love the results.
    Yes, your skills with a camera will most likely improve from chronic use of one of these icons. They force you back to the basics, in a very good way.
  22. My father has a T that that has seen good use since the 1960ties and is fine. I broke mine within two months and when I opened it I found it to be a complete dissapointment compared to my Automat. I would not advise anyone to buy one, the clutch mechanism of the handle is so primitive that when it fails it is almost impossible to fix.
    An Automat sells for the same money as a T and is a joy to own. If you are on a tight budget you might consider a Rolleicord Vb, those sell for around 150 euros my part of the world.
  23. Rolleiflexes have delicate mecanisms. In particular the T. But if you use it as it is supposed to be used, it will work for years. I had myself a T made in the late 60's and it worked as a swiss watch !
    The T and the automat have a tessar lens. You can also find a 3,5 E for exemple quite cheap with an even better lens.
  24. Ditto on the Planar; best lens on a Rollei, IMHO. But, as many classic camera fans would agree, there's something about those uncoated Tessars. I've been through two dozen Rolleis but kept an Old Standard,a 39 Automat and my wife's grandfather's 3.5E Planar.
    Krikor is the best. I'd gladly pay a little more for his service ( because he's 10 minutes away from my house and is usually up for a good chat if only I'm just stopping by for a friendly visit ).
    I've owned and used dozens of Yashica TLRs. My advice is to stay away from the 124G. The film crank is annoying, slow speeds often fail, meter is kah-kah and it's generally overpriced.
    $50-75 is well-spent cutting your teeth in the Twin Lens realm if you get a good, clean Yashica D.
    I had two Minolta Autocords that I used regularly for over 10 years. I retired one immediately after 9/11, the other I sold a month after it received a CLA. Good ones are priced right up there with Rolleiflexes.
  25. dlw


    If you're looking to slow down and get back to basics, TLR's are wonderful. I've used several and now own a Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Xenotar. Of all the cameras I own, it's my favorite. It's been CLA'd by Harry Fleenor and he installed a Beattie screen for a brighter viewfinder. It's light enough to carry around all day and the lens is razor sharp. While the square format isn't for everyone, I like it. It dosen't have a meter, but I use a handheld meter anyway so I don't care. I normally use it on a tripod, but would use it handheld anytime. If you buy a TLR, spend a little money and buy one in good shape and has been recently CLA'd. TLR's are not for everybody, but they're a great way to get into MF photography.
  26. On old Rolleis, make sure the shutter works.
    Long story short, Rolleis have a problem with their shutter - if it hasn't been "exercised" for while, they'll freeze. It happened to my father's camera - he let it sit for 30 years. If they've been using them frequently, you shouldn't have a problem.
    When I was asking around about it with dealers, one of the first things they asked me was about the shutter. When I inquired why it was such an issue, they told me about the Rollei reputation.
    Oh, and none of the typical eBay camera seller "the shutter sounds like it fires" crap. My father's camera's shutter sounded like it fired - the 'click' - but the shutter did not open. I even ran a roll of film through it to double check - nothing was exposed - even on 'B' for 10 seconds in daylight.
    Many of those cameras for sale up their are just like my fathers': they've been sitting around in someone's closet for years.
  27. IMHO, a series 3 Rolleiflex 3.5F with six element Planar (appx. circa 1962) is the cats pajamas. On the other hand, an MX from the mid 50's with a coated 3.5 Tessar, on a tripod with the lens stopped down between f/11 and f/16, can be simply stunning depending on the individual example. But yes - go for it...and go the extra mile by investing in Bill Maxwell's focussing screen - then go out and discover "freedom in simplicity" at its best!
  28. "the comments here re: the Rollei T's fragility"
    I have both a 1950s Rollei with a Zeiss Opton Tessar (red "T" for coated) and a newer (but not much) 3.5F with a Planar (but no red "T"! I've been ripped off!), and the 3.5F is a heavier camera with a lot more metal in it. The shutter lock on the older one strikes me as easily broken when in the unlocked position, and not wanting to damage such a nice camera was the main reason I got the 3.5F. Also, the metal does seem kind of thin when opening it up to change film. There's nothing optically wrong with the Tessar; it puts gobs of lovely detail on the film. But the 3.5F really is better mechanically.
    KEH (whom everyone recommends highly) has Rolleiflexes in stock at reasonable prices. You get a CLA'ed, functional camera from KEH, and no fooling around with flaky selllers on the 'bay.
  29. Agnes, as long as your considering medium format TLR etc type cameras, also take a look at other medium format cameras such as Pentax. They're very good and I have a Pentax 645 for sale at $400 if you're interested.
  30. Now I have a few more ideas about the camera. So KEH's cameras been CLA'ed? Will the bargain condition be good enough or I should look for the good or excellent condition?
    @Bryan: Thank you for your offer, but I really want to try the Rollei this time..
  31. They say the proof is in the Pudding: Here is a scanned Ektar negative from my Rolleiflex that dates to 1937-1939 That has a Tessar lens on it 75mm @ 3.5 So look at the foto asnd you judge for your self : Scanned without any clean up do to it: sorry for spots and dust in it:
  32. I'm a big fan of TLR's and would recommend you try one out. One major thing to consider if you're new to them that is taken for granted by someone already owning one, is to remember that unless you have a prism, you are looking down directly onto the ground glass onto which the viewing image is projecting the light, so images are "flipped" left to right. By some miracle of the brain, this doesn't seem to affect me very much - the laws of composition seem to hold up. Even so, this arrangement is hard for some folks to adjust to. Personally, I feel it has helped me to really look closely first at the live scene, and then frame the image.
    I use a Mamiya C220 - I tried a Rolleicord and didn't care for it - it needed a brighter screen, and it had a small light leak. If I could afford the cost, of course I would LOVE to own a mint, CLA'd Rolleiflex (with ANY of the lenses) but given my budget, I am quite happy with the Mamiya. And while I have only used the "normal" perspective 80mm lens, the novelty of having a 55 wide available in 6x6 TLR is pretty great.
    The best thing about the Mamiya (apart from a fantastic lens) is the build quality. It is quite heavy, which I like, and since I have big hands, gives me something to hold on to. The robust build enables me to not think twice about packing it into the mountains (with lens cap on) or drag it around with me pretty much anywhere.
    Also, using a TLR when you wish to remain low profile is a great decision - no mirror so the only sound indicating exposure is the quiet leaf shutter clicking, manual advance, and I have found the "indirect" way of looking down while shooting is less confrontational and/or intimidating than a barrel lens point at someone. I have had people tell me they thought I was a surveyor when I've had it on a tripod.
    Just my two cents - I'll try an include a sample image...
  33. I too own a Rollie automat, roughly post war vintage.......and a Mamiya C220. I like the mamiya a whole lot for the lens interchangability and that's why I bought it. I bought the Rollie because I got a good deal on it.
    Having used both, I actually prefer the handling of the Mamiya. The Rollie is actually too small for me to handle a TLR. I like the larger size of the Mamiya...I can steady it in my hands better for some it has a left-hand grip. the Rollie, I've only found a grip that goes underneath and I hate it.
    On a tripod, all the handling likes/dislikes go I've not sold the Rollie. it does take beautiful pictures. Is the glass better than Mamiya? Maybe in massive enlargements, but up to 11x14 inches I personnaly can't see a difference.
    Altho, I must say, my Mamiya 7/lens images tromp on both of the TLRs I own....well, maybe not tromp, but noticably sharper. Probably a little better glass and a larger size negative can be attributed to that.
  34. Agnes, with regard to KEH and bargain grade gear: Unless they've changed their policy, you can send anything back to KEH for any reason, within 30 days. So you're not at much risk ordering from KEH. Most of my used gear that came from a store (rather than a person) came from KEH in "bargain" grade, and I've never been dissatisfied with any of it. Be sure to give the camera a good test when it first arrives--shoot slide film, test the shutter speeds, look for light leaks, etc. Good luck, and have fun with that new TLR!
  35. Clearly there are many TLR fans here, so I'll stand against the wave and say TLR's are an aquired taste that is not every ones cup of tea. Coming from an SLR you may find the lack of depth of field preview to be a pain, you are always looking down so shooting at eye level is more difficult (but shooting at a low angle is easier). Of course you are composing in a square, which is not bad but takes some getting use to.
    I agree with Gabor. Pick up a clean used Yashica D, Minolta Autocord or Ricoh Diacord for around $100. They are very good cameras, with good lenses, and see if you like this type of camera before dropping larger sums on a high end model. You might find these lower end cameras suit your needs just fine with money for a CLA and film/ processing left over.
    I have several good TLR's myself but they don't see near as much action as my Bronica SQ-A which is a 6x6cm SLR with interchangable lenses and backs and within your price range.
  36. Rather than reiterate what most have said about TLR cameras, and Yashicas and Rolleiflexes in particular, I would suggest that one way to get to know a TLR is to first put away your other cameras for a month and sally forth, cold turkey, with it. The first thing you'll notice, aside from reversed imagery, is that you can't follow action with it, at least not by looking at the screen (get a Maxwell or a Beattie, they brighten things up wonderfully). Flip up the sportsfinder and off you go. If you stop down enough and guestimate distance correctly you should get sharp images. When I got my first TLR, a Rolleicord, I initially tried carrying it about in its leather case, but soon got over that. Too cumbersome and fiddly.
    While a TLR makes one more contemplative and thoughtful, you can still shoot action stuff quite well, so it's more of an all around camera than most people would think. A friend who first saw me with my 'cord, said, " Well, I see you're one step away from a view camera." Not necessarily.
    As others have mentioned, taking street shots of people is not nearly as threatening as with an SLR, and you just might get better images because your subjects tend to be more relaxed. Then there's the curiosity factor. Most folks today probably have never seen a Rolleiflex, for example, and it seems to them as some sort of very serious camera. I have found photographing people quite a bit easier, perhaps because of this?
    I tend to shoot mostly in black and white because I can process it myself and because I love the larger neg when I'm working in the darkroom. Failing that, a good film scanner and printer will suffice.
    I can't recommend KEH too highly. I've bought several cameras from them over the years and their grading system is quite conservative. I once bought a "bargain" Pentax Spotmatic from them that most sellers would have rated EX.
    Good luck, Agnes. Let us know how it turns out.
  37. The posted images do not, for whatever reason, do justice to the crispness of the negs from the TLR's. There is a lot in them, they make stellar 16" sq prints - just so you don't let JPG reductions for the web sway the thinking! Here is a shot from a GX, scanned.
  38. I had a Rollie T for many years, and it finally did break. The shutter wouldn't cock. Got it fixed. I had taken thousands of photos with it. However I sold it and bought a 2.8F that needed repaired that had a Zeiss Planar lens . Got it repaired and it was great. Later I bought a 3.5E3 witha Zeiss planar lens that is magic. Every shot looks like 3D. The T lens was good but nothing I have ever seen compares to the 3.5 planar.
    The thing about the Rollie is that taking lens is matched to the viewing lens and if everthing is still adjusted then the focus is absolutly correct. Years of shooting the T got me adjusted to looking down and having everything backwards. Now I shoot a Pentax 645 and D90 Nikon. I still have the 3.5E3, and I sold the 2.8F (wish I hadn't).
    The Rollie prisms are not very good. I have one and never use it. Too dark, and are no good if you wear glasses.
    If you can find a good one the Rollie is in a class by itsself, and you will never regreat it.
  39. Another thing. On most of the Rollies (not the cord) when you set up the sports finder there is a lens that allows you to see the screen and focus the camera. Though not very well.
  40. The Minolta Autocord is a great TLR & I highly recommend this camera great image quality on par with any Rollei !
  41. ****The TLR came out as young man's action camera marketed to shoot sports with.***
    I used one in High School to shoot sports; with a stock screen.

    Today collectors and old farts tend to use them; often with poor eyes.

    Thus the bright screen dogma is preached. Today some folks cannot even focus on static objects; ie ebay cameras do not even focus well on a solid brick wall.

    The TLR has gone from a 1930's SPORTS CAMERA; to a 1950's 1960's + wedding camera; to a collectors camera.

    The existing cameras in use are old; the users are old too. Screens are dimmer today because mirrors are dirty; worn; covered with a smokers tar.

    A TLR was like the Canon EOS in the 1930's; an action camera. In the future EOS collectors will too state that one cannot shoot sports with an EOS; maybe they will require a tripod too? saying a TLR cannot be used for moving objects is absurd and comical; thats what they were designed for and a generation of folks used them for that. What it really means today is folks today cannot do it; thus it is not possible.
  42. What it really means today is folks today cannot do it; thus it is not possible.​
    I think you exaggerate: it doesn't really mean that you can't do it, but it means that they are hopelessly outclassed for this task nowadays. This seems beyond argument to me. In their day the Rollei's were presumably (arguably) the best thing to use, but those days have past long ago.
  43. I just moved up to a 2.8F so I have a MX-EVS (first model) for sale. Krikor went over it last summer and installed a bright screen. Everything works except the self-timer and cosmetically it is pretty good. Comes with a "Neverready" case (worn, but useable) orange filter and 2 very nice rolleinars, 1 and 2. $300 for the kit plus shipping (I would be glad to check the cost whichever way you wish). Keh is good, too. If interested, leave me a message. Jim
  44. Thank you so much for all the advices.. I definitely learned a lot from everybody here. Thank you.. Now I set my mind on finding an Automat or 2.8C and later, or a 3.5 E and later.. I guess they're pretty good. I'll look around everywhere, everyday, hopefully I'll stumble into a good one with a good price.
    Jim, I PM'ed you..
  45. Agnes, I'm glad that you have stayed the course to get a Rollei, if for the reason alone that they are mechanically superior to the Yashica and other Far Eastern knock-ups of the period.
    The engineering of the Rolleiflex TLR has never been surpassed by any other brand TLR alternative.
    The Mamiya C330 found it's way into professional use because of it's expanded design, primarily allowing for interchangeable lenses, which are also renown for their sharpness, as illustrated by Chris Waller 's very impressive, distortion-free cathedral interior. Being much larger, they are more robust than their little Japanese cousins and rarely ever report mechanical failure. So when the TLR was popular in professional use, it was either a Rolleiflex or Mamiya.
    On the other hand, I gave up sending the Yashica 124G for repairs to the film advance. It remains as a paper weight, until someone needs it for parts eg. the lenses. It's simply not a camera for professional use.
    (Hmm - Chris really knows how to use that Mamiya)

Share This Page