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Home > 6x6 cm TLR Cameras > Developments and Particulars

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Page Index

  1. Origin and Design
  2. Automatic film transport
  3. Xenotar or Planar
  4. Exposure Value System
  1. E-type exposure-meter
  2. Flat glass
  3. 12/24 Exposures
  1. Prototype with interchangeable lenses
  2. F-type exposure-meter
  3. Whiteface

Rolleiflex 2,8 E, Photo Karl Keung
Photograph of the film feed chamber with film sensor rollers, Rolleiflex 2,8 E. The film has to be fed between the two lower rollers.
Photo © 2008 Karl Keung. Photo used with permission.

Developments and Particulars

The origin and design

Franke & Heideck were a well-known producer of stereo cameras. In 1928 the idea came up to develop a twin lens reflex camera based on the stereo camera. It looked quite simple: cut one third of the stereo camera off and you are nearly done. This is exactly what Mr Heidecke did, but he soon found out that things were more complicated and a lot more work had to be done. At the end of the day he used his cut-up stereo camera to convince his commercial partner Mr Franke that more funds were needed to develop the TLR.

From the beginning it was clear that the camera had to be small. Not as small as the Leica but as small as roll-film allowed. That determined the choice for a roll-film with a small diameter spool. The B 1-6. It allowed only 6 exposures of 56 by 56 mm. A few clever ideas were realised in the design. The basic design consists of two camera parts: on one hand the viewing camera with the focusing screen, reflex mirror and viewing lens and on the other hand the taking camera with the taking lens and film aperture. The reflex mirror was sunk into the taking camera as far as possible and the film chambers were located in unused space. The un-exposed film resides in the bottom of the taking camera near the lens, while the exposed film is stored behind the reflex mirror in the viewing camera.

Soon 6 exposures proved a bit too limiting and cameras could be sent back to be modified for 620 film that allowed 12 exposures. Developments in the field of roll-films went fast in those years and it became clear that roll-film 120 was going to be the winner. The 120 film however needed more room in the film chambers than could be made available in the First and Second Model Rolleiflex. For 120 film a completely new camera design was necessary: the Standard model of 1932.

Three major product lines existed. The top of the line Rolleiflex (6 by 6 cm) for the professional market, the economy model Rolleicord (also 6 by 6 cm) for the amateur market and the 4 by 4 cm Rolleiflex. In the following text general remarks and features to be found in several camera lines or models are printed against a grey background. Not all existing TLR models are described (yet). Several systems are in use for naming the Rolleiflex cameras. In this text I have used the names given by the factory. In Anglo-Saxon countries different names are common. If you get confused, please consult my serial numbers lists on this site. They list all common camera names.

Automatic roll film transport

The automatic film loading and transport feature for roll-film was a wonder of mechanical engineering, unheard of at the time and never offered again by any other manufacturer not even after the patent had expired. The user has to feed the paper beginning of the roll film between a pair of rollers, then pass it over the film aperture and finally feed it into the take-up spool. After this all he has to do is close the back and turn the crank forward until it stops, then crank backward until it stops again. The film is at exposure 1 now. The rollers - one fixed, one moving - form the feeler mechanism for finding the bulge of adhesive tape that fixes film to the backing paper. The combined height of paper, film and tape for 120 roll-film was standardised in a German Industry Norm (DIN) to make automatic film loading with a Rolleiflex happen. The hundreds of thousands of Rolleiflexes in use by professional photographers and amateurs made the entire photo industry comply with the DIN standard for 120 size film. Even today automatic film loading in a Rolleiflex still works flawlessly with most modern films. In recent years some new films seem to have thinner backing paper but malfunction of film transport may be also caused by the rollers being out of adjustment. Automatic film transport was used in most top of the line Rolleiflex cameras. For reasons of economy cameras from the 2.8 GX no longer have this feature.

Rolleiflex 2,8EC, Photo Chris Protopapas
Photograph of Rolleiflex 2,8 C © 2016 Chris Protopapas. Photo used with permission. The camera is equiped with an early Planar from Carl Zeiss, Oberkochen. Click on the link for a larger image.
Xenotar or Planar?

In the 1950s and 60s the Xenotar was used when there was a shortage of Planars. Carl Zeiss wanted their optics to be ordered one whole year in advance. In the light of a growing Rolleiflex production shortages were rather common in the Fifties and Sixties. The shortages were filled with Schneider optics. In the 1970s, when production numbers declined the Xenotar was the preferred lens, because they could be ordered in smaller batches and on shorter notice. Mr. Prochnow (Claus Prochnow, Rollei Report 2) writes that when a 500 pieces special edition was going to be produced in 1984 a batch of 500 Planars had to be ordered with Carl Zeiss at huge cost. The last Xenotars had been used for the 1983 ‘Aurum’ batch. He also writes that 2.8 Planars had not been ordered for over 10 years.

Exposure Value System

In order to use the Exposure Value System (EVS) a new shutter had to be developed with linear set of shutter times. Moving up or down will either double or halve the shutter time. The Synchro-Compur MX-EVS/CR00. The basics of the Exposure Value System (EVS) are quite simple. The result of exposure metering is given in one number instead of a set of aperture and shutter-speed. You can use a hand-held exposure meter or an built-in meter to meter the scene and read the number. A hand-held meter may have to be switched to ‘EV’ Let's say it is EV 12. You set the number 12 to the EV-system of your camera. You lock aperture wheel and shutter-speed wheel together and you can select an aperture while the shutter-speed will change automatically in order to keep exposure at EV 12. Or the other way around. The system was quite common in those days. Rollei introduced the EVS with the 3.5 B and the 2.8 D. The factory needed some time to find the right way to do this. The first 3.5 B cameras lack the locking facility to hold the choosen EV. Later ones were locked all the time except when pushing and holding a button. The final solution gave the user the choice to set the system in either locked or unlocked position. The 2.8 got this final solution from the start. When buying a 3.5 with EVS it makes sense to find out what is on offer. In my opinion EVS can work provided you can read exposure in EV from your meter.

E-type exposure meter

In 1956 exposure-meters became available. The Rolleiflex got a dual range exposure-meter by Gossen. It used a Selenium cell and no battery was needed. This meter was ‘uncoupled’. It means the result was not tranferred to shutter/aperture. The photographer selected a metering range using a mechanical switch on the name shield, metered and took a reading from the appropriate high-range or low-range window. Aperture and shutter were linked together, a proper sign of progress in the 1950s: EVS (please see above). The determined value was transferred to the aperture/shutter and locked. Now the user could change either aperture or shutter setting and the other setting would follow, maintaining the selected exposure. Once you get used to it, it is convenient but to those who are used to fully automated rigs it is more like being sent off to the Stone Age.

Flat glass

Film flatness is a concern when using roll film. The Flat glass was developed to improve film flatness. It is a flat glass positioned right before the film plane. It can be found in cameras from the first half of the 1960s. The camera body has to be prepared to accept the Flat glass and has to be equiped with a special camera back having a three-way pressure plate. Altough the pressure plate is lifted during film transport the glass gets dirty easily and the dirt shows fine on the perfectly flat film. In 1965 roll film 220 became available. The absence of backing paper promised improved film flatness. Rollei quickly decided to drop the flat glass and make the cameras suitable for 220 film. Most of the Flat glasses are lost by now. The main reason is F & H did not supply photographers with a third hand. You need one hand to hold and turn over the camera, your second hand to operate the push button to free the Flat glass and a non-available third hand to catch the thing before it is smashed on the rocks. Surviving glasses remained well tucked away in special pockets in the camera cases until those cases were sold to people who removed the Flat glass and broke it at first opportunity. I know, I am a pessimist. Anyway it is worthwhile to take a look in Rolleiflex cases on offer. In that little pocket in the back. Just incase. You never know. Flat glass backs were also sold separately and can be mounted onto suitable bodies. Look for a half-circular button next to the film feeler rollers. The button moves one edge of the film gate a tiny bit sideways. Just enough to free the Flat glass.

12/24 Exposures

The factory had high expectations of the new 220 size Roll film. It offered not only 24 exposures instead of 12, the lack of a backing paper should provide better film flatness. From 1966 the 12/24 exposures option was available. The solution was a bit primitive. The film counter was to be reset from 12 to 0 in mid roll. All cameras had the modified film transport but the actual switch was not built into all cameras. The slightly elevated platform with two chrome rings around the crank shows the new film transport as an ear shaped bump near the exposure counter window. Although moderately popular in the USA, the 220 film did not really catch on in Europe and most of the rest of the world. Quite a few buyers preferred not to have the switch on their camera. By replacing the complete camera-side it was possible to add the switch later on. Eventually the factory lost interest in 220 film and the 12/24 option was dropped in 1973.

Rolleiflex T, Whiteface
Name shield of a so called Whiteface. This is the Rolleiflex T with № 2316388. It is one of the last T's fitted with a Tessar, before the switch to Xenar.
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Rolleiflex prototype with interchangeable lenses

In the Nineteen Fifties lens interchangeability became an issue. A Rolleiflex prototype with interchangeable lenses was designed but never made it to production stage. After the idea of lens interchangeability was dropped by Mr. Heidecke himself, two special Rolleiflex models were developed from the standard E-type. The Wide-Angle Rolleiflex (April 1961 - End of 1967) having a 55 mm Distagon mounted and the Tele-Rolleiflex (September 1959 - Mid 1975) with a 135 mm Sonnar. 4000 Rollei-Wides were produced and 8000 Tele-Rolleiflexes.

F-type exposure-meter

The F-type exposure-meter was ‘coupled’: no metered value had to be set anymore. It has two needles. The metering needle is connected to the Selenium cell and indicates the amount of light. The second ‘follower needle’ is connected to both aperture wheel and shutter-speed wheel by means of the differential. Either aperture wheel or shutter-speed wheel can be used to line up the follower needle with the metering needle for correct exposure.

After the 2.8 F came available the differential shutter of the 3.5 F was dropped and replaced by the Synchro-Compur MXV and the cone-wheel differential. This is F-type 3. Type 3 also had the 6 element Planar or Xenotar. The 6-element lenses were not meant as an improvement. It was a cost cutting measure by the lens producers Zeiss and Schneider. According to Mr. Prochnow (Claus Prochnow, Rollei Report 2) it was difficult to maintain the required specifications with 5 elements. By adding an extra element this was cheaper even taking into account the additional costs of producing and mounting an extra element.


In 1971 the camera serial-number was moved from the top to a newly designed shiny silver name shield on the shutter cover. It had no black lines and smaller print. Later such a camera was called a Whiteface. Whitefaces are no separate types, it was just a cosmetic change in mid-series. It is an easy way to identify Rollei TLRs made later than around 1970. Therefore and as result of collectors interest they usually sell at a higher price.