A weekend with a 44 year old Rolleiflex 2.8F

September 5, 2011

The only thing that comes close to the excitement of nailing the perfect shot is buying a new camera. It doesn’t matter if it’s new, used, cheap or expensive, has all the bells and whistles, or even, is a plain simple pin-hole camera. In your hands, it’s a box full of mysteries and challenges. What is it capable of and how do you get the most out of it? That was the question last bank holiday weekend when I bought a camera which is old enough to be my dad: the Rolleiflex 2.8F.

Of course, the first part of the question was easy to answer. Rolleiflexes are outstanding cameras which are capable of giving outstanding results, but, did I have the skills to tame the beast? I had two 120 films to find out, a total of 24 exposures.

For people who are unfamiliar with what a Rolleiflex is, and/or even how it looks, I put my product photography skills to the test in an attempt to show you. In the picture below, you can see my Rolleiflex alongside it’s case, lens cap(s) and a roll of 120 film. Rolleiflexes are medium format, TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) cameras, some come with a meter (picture: little window on the right) and some not, but they are all manual exposure and manual focus. For a bit more information, click here.

So, there I was, standing in Manchester Piccadilly gardens with my “brand new” camera round my neck and Gary Rowlands, friend and Rolleiflex guru, standing next to me. First roll of film loaded and the camera indicating frame 1 is ready to go. “Only twelve frames, I need to make them count” I thought, so I was very reluctant to press the shutter. “I shall avoid my normal street shots till I learn how to use the camera first. I think it’s better if I go for city-scapes for now…”. But, by the time I finished that thought, I heard Gary shouting: “Hey, my friend, this man just bought a camera and he wants to try it out! Do you mind if he takes a picture of you?”. “Haha, you’ve got no chance” I thought. But to my surprise, the man (originally from Portugal apparently) saw the Rollei and said, “Yeah, why not?”. Cool, my first Rollei picture would be a street portrait… Frame count: 1/12. (Click on pictures to enlarge – Recommended, but fair bit of warning: The images today are quite large in size so they might take a while to open)

The real surprise was what followed next, a pattern started to emerge and it went something like this: “Nice camera dude”, “Cool, want a picture with it?”, “Oh yes, come on then”.  Gary hopped on the tram home and I got the bus. But before I did that, I wanted to give a go at shooting a cityscape with the square format. Composing was easy and natural. Frame count: 7/12.

My ex-flatmate, Nick, came over for a visit so, the plan for next day was: have a coffee, a walk around town and do a bit of shopping. A typical agenda for when Nick comes over. But then, I remembered Jenson Button was going to drive a Formula 1 car in Manchester, so I put that on the agenda too. Before we left home, I was debating if I should get my Canon 7D (Super fast auto-focus, 8fps, long lens) to grab a picture of Jenson driving the Formula 1 car but then decided against it. I knew Deansgate would be rammed with people trying to get a glimpse of Jenson, so getting a clear shot would mean there would be a lot of pushing and shouting, something I was not prepared to go through. The Rollei won. Deansgate was rammed with people trying to get glimpse of Jenson…

Frame count: 8/12. I’m ashamed to say that frame 9 was wasted as I forgot to take off the taking-lens cap before taking the picture (It was raining so I put the cap on to protect the taking lens). I’m even more ashamed to say that I didn’t think of re-using frame 9 by not winding on to frame 10 (Bad habits from digital).

The Formula 1 car was loud, fast and then Jenson stalled it so we went for a coffee. Becoming a veteran with shooting portraits using the Rolleiflex (joke) I took three shots of Nick and my fiancée whilst having our coffee; I’ve been warned not to post them (So frustrating when your friends are so camera shy). Frame count: 12/12; Film count: 1/2, Shots remaining: 12. I changed film and then we hit the shops. First stop: Harvey Nichols, a high end designer label store.

Medium format cameras were/are at home with fashion photography. Since we were in Harvey Nichols, I thought I’d take one picture to honour that connection. Who knows? This very camera might have shot some fashion 40-odd years ago… I clicked the button and smiled. “I bet you appreciated that” I thought. Then I realised I was “talking” to a camera so the smile quickly wiped off my face. Then it came back, who cares, it’s 44 years old… If the pictures come out alright, I’ll buy it a lens hood.

A while later, we were at the food section overlooking Manchester through big glass windows. I’ve always wanted to take a picture from there but I could never get the framing I wanted. Thought I’d see how the scene framed on the Rollei. Fliped the lens cap open, opened the top. Perfect framing! Focused, clicked, happy, mad (lens cap!), lens cap off, focused, clicked, happy, mad (forgot to reuse frame 2!).  Frame count: 3/12.

Then, for some bizarre reason we decided to go to the Disney store. We went, we looked, we left (or so I thought). My fiancée was glued on the cartoon playing on the screen (One of her favorite episodes from her childhood). So I took a picture.

Then we headed home. Frame count: 4/12.

Next day, we decided to drive up to the Lake District. I was really looking forward to it as I had 8 pictures remaining and the lakes should have many photo opportunities and indeed they did not disappoint. Not even five minutes after we got out of the car, two photo opportunities were staring me in the face.

Then, another two not so good ones and then we jumped in the car to drive to a different lake. Frame count: 8/12.

While driving I saw an old sign saying “Kodak Films Sold Here”. So I stopped. I knew my chances of finding 120 film were slim but turns out they didn’t even sell 35mm film. “Unfortunately, it’s an old sign, you know, now with digital we didn’t sell many so we stopped stocking them.”

Slightly disappointing, but the village was very nice so we stopped to have a wonder around. A small blackboard listing Homemade Cakes caught my eye. Frame Count: 9/12.

Then Nick went into shopping mode, how can someone be looking at lemon curds for 15 minutes is beyond me. I took a picture of my fiancée. Frame count: 10/12.

Then for some reason a little cafe drew my attention. I don’t even know why, there was nothing special about it but it felt like a shot. It just fit perfectly in the square frame.

Frame Count: 11/12. One more to go.

By then, the clock struck 5pm and everything in the little village was closing down. Time to head back to Manchester. But first, one quick snap to finish off the film.

That was it, 24 frames in three days, and surprisingly, I never felt I had too few.

So, answers to the questions: Can it deliver? Undoubtedly. Can I make it deliver? I think so. Good Purchase? Definitely.

Lens hood ordered!

Question of the day: Which photo do you like the most and why?

There are 21 comments in this article:

  1. September 5, 2011[Gm] says:

    Great set of photos, Christakis. So, it’s like hanging out with your dad, huh? :D…

    “Only twelve frames, I need to make them count” I thought, so I was very reluctant to press the shutter. “I shall avoid my normal street shots till I learn how to use the camera first. I think it’s better if I go for city-scapes for now…”

    I think this is going to be the main reason I won’t shoot (mainly) film. I’m still thinking of trying shooting film, but it’s probably just for landscape or the like… something you can take time and think; not something spontaneous. Like you said, “I need to make them count”.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy shooting film — very much that you will forgot about the M9 and 7D. When that day come, do let me know. I will give you my address, and you can ship them to me :D…

    Btw, my favorite photo would be Rollei007 (the pier, the boats, the birds). Very contrasty and rich detail.

  2. September 5, 2011Jim (Kidder) says:

    As usual Chris, stunning images and very informative pose. I do like your style.
    The Bowness pictures are my favourite, as this is one of my favourite places in the Lake District.

  3. September 5, 2011Stuart Grout says:

    A very nice journey of discovery with a ‘new’ camera.

    Clearly the Rollei is a chance to take a different style of image than you might with a Leica.

    My favourites are probably 5 & 7, mainly for their contents.

  4. September 5, 2011Mark Stuttard says:

    Very good read mate, glad you enjoyed your weekend with the new toy…. and some great shots in there too :)

  5. September 5, 2011Helder Ferreira says:

    WOW! Well done Chris! The photos turn out to be very very nice! Bravo!
    PS: See? portuguese guys are nice. :)))

  6. September 5, 2011Bob France says:

    Well done Chris! A very nicely written peice.
    You’ve discovered the magic if the TLR. The reaction they get from the public is something Leica can only dream about. As you’ve noticed it instills a very different way of shooting. You’ll have also noticed you get a higher ratio of keepers. Film focuses the mind. :0)

    My fave is the view over Manchester. Nicely composed and it clearly demonstrates the massive differences in the nature of 35mm digital and 120 film.

  7. September 5, 2011Christakis says:

    Thank you all for your kind comments.

    I kept bouncing between 35mm and 120 film but now glad that I ended up going for the 120. As some of you mentioned, it gives you a whole different experience, and unlike 35mm film, the chance of getting bored of it is very slim. The square format works wonders for composition.

    On the experience of shooting film, 12 frames per film are a lot and indeed the ratio of keeper has shot up. Since at no point I felt I lost a shot because I was using film, I can say the “shooting film experience” was a pleasant one. Having said that, I doubt I will be parting my Leica M9 any time soon but the Canon 7D is up for sale.

  8. September 5, 2011Bob France says:

    Yes, keep your M9. You’ll want it as a backup for your Rollei. ;0)

  9. September 5, 2011Christakis says:

    :-)

  10. September 7, 2011Daily Awesomeness | thephotoroll.com - featuring photography says:

    […] A weekend with a 44 year old Rolleiflex 2.8F Photographer Christakis Schinis discovers the beauty of the medium format photography […]

  11. September 8, 2011Mike C says:

    What a treat fella! That is an awesome camera, and I can only dream of getting to use one of them. But it looks like you’ve hit the ground running.

    I actually like the first shot the most, the street portrait.

    Can’t wait to see some more :o)

  12. September 8, 2011Christakis says:

    Hey Mike, thanks. If you’re even in Manchester drop me an e-mail and I’ll give it to you to shoot a roll :-)

  13. September 9, 2011Mike C says:

    I’ll hold you to that, fella ;-)

  14. September 11, 2011Simone says:

    Hi, really nice Rolleiflex F and great shots! Really sharp, great focus and exposure! The one I like the most, is the first shot. Considering that was your first shot with Rolleiflex, I think you can be proud of it :)

  15. September 18, 2011Guy says:

    I’m hoping that we will see some more of your great images from the Rolleiflex soon, or have you given up on it now that the M9 is back again?

    I am still shopping for one, £2000 for a good condition 2.8f with 80mm zeiss lens is the only local one I have found and somehow I just can’t make myself take the plunge.

  16. September 20, 2011Christakis says:

    No definitely not have given up on the Rollei… I think £2000 is a very steep, even for a very good condition one. Look around, you’ll definitely find a better deal than that.

  17. January 29, 2013PauL says:

    I have a rolleiflex 3.5 that don’t load anymore the frames. You just turn the “wheel” in circle for nothing.
    Suggestions?
    Thanx

  18. January 29, 2013PauL says:

    p.x.: I payed for it 250 euros. and dome just 3/4 rolls.
    Thank you
    Ciao

  19. October 1, 2013Ron Lefebvre says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience with your Rollei. I have just purchased a Rollei 10 days ago and I took it out this weekend. Took 1 roll of film, black and white photos. Can’t wait ot see the results!

    I always wanted a Rollei and I had the opportunity to purchase this camera and I suggest to anyone out there, if you have the chance to purchase a Rollei, jump at it because in my estimation it is the very best camera in the world!

    Make yourself HAPPY, you only live once. ENJOY it while you can.

    I was amazed at the people around me, looking at this camera and asking all kinds of question. It’s like going around in an classic car.

    Cheers, Ron from Montréal Canada

  20. October 18, 2013David Edmond says:

    I’ve been thinking for a while I would like to try film again, your article may have pushed me that much closer. Loved the quality and square format of your images. Though not cheap to buy, I will keep looking.. Harvey Nichols is a beautiful shot.

  21. March 21, 2014Stan Blev says:

    Hi Chris, I use both the Rolleiflex 28F and the Tele-Rolleiflex. But my first Rollei was a Rolleicord Vb. If one wants to have the “Rollei experience” on a budget I highly recommend the Rolleicords. They are less “automatic” but also weigh less, are smaller, and not as expensive. They give great results and are perfect as walk-about or travel cameras.

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