Peter’s ‘Original Rolleiflex’ Tips
Because of the relatively low production numbers, the soft aluminum alloys used in its construction of the original and the intense usage they were subjected to, not many original Rolleiflexes have managed to survive nearly 80 years of adventures. As a result it’s unusual to find one that’s straight, still fully functioning and cosmetically beautiful. However if you do manage to find a good original Rolleiflex, you may find the information that I’ve written below useful:The ‘Original Rolleiflex’ was Franke & Heidecke’s first twin lens reflex camera and was descended from their well know Rolleidoscope stereo cameras. This original Rolleiflex camera was produced for only a short period (1929-1932) before being phased out by a new model (referred to today as the ‘Old Standard’). It was designed to create six 6x6 photos on 117 roll film. Some cameras were later modified to work with 120 film.
It’s important to know that 117 film is very similar but not identical to 120 film. The paper backing and film is dimensionally identical but 120 is longer and has twice as many exposures (12 versus 6). To make room for the extra film & paper, the flanges of the 120 film spool have a slightly larger diameter than the 117 version. The result is that 120 film will not fit into an completely original, unmodified first version ‘original Rolleiflex’. The flanges will foul the body.
Film work arounds
Trim the 120 spool flanges or remove metal from the inside of the body to create extra space. The latter is difficult and not guaranteed successful. I know because I’ve done a few conversions for clients. Alternatively, cut down 120 film into six exposure strips in a darkroom and use original 117 spools.)
- Handle original Rolleiflex cameras carefully. Unlike the later Rolleiflex models which are die cast alloy, the original versions were hand made out of very soft aluminum sheet metal. You can literally bend the camera out of shape by squeezing it too hard. I also highly recommend you have it in a case to protect it while being used.
- Use caution when opening and closing the hood. Since the aluminum and brass sheet metal is even thinner than what is used on the body and door.
- Normal versions have a red counter window to allow you keep track of the exposures. Make it a habit to always advance the film after each exposure and you will never have problems with accidental double exposures
- When you want to use fastest shutter speed on a Compur shutter be aware of the fact that the shutter can only be set to its top speed when it is uncocked. The shutter must be uncocked when setting it to the fastest speed. If you try to force it, you will damage the shutter.
Opening the camera hood
- Put your left hand on the top of the hood to slow it down and to keep it from popping open abruptly. Push the small lever near just above the wind knob. This lever will unlock the hood and allow you to open it. You can now see the mat glass and this can be used to focus and frame your compositions.
- There is also a spring loaded magnifying glass to help you study the matt glass. It can be folded up on top and it has a special tab the hooks onto another tab on the right hand side on the hood. You can manipulate these tabs to lock and unlock with your fingers (using the square opening at the rear of the hood helps to gain access to the tabs).
The mirror in the hood (a nearly useless option)
- Additionally there is a mirror housed in the hood for another viewing option. To use it make sure that the magnifying glass in its normal lower position. On the left side of the hood there is a small brass knob which is attached to a lever. This lever can be pushed downwards until it catches on a small protrusion on the hood. (This will set the hinged mirror at 45 degrees.) Once this is done, raise the magnifying glass out of the way and lock it in its upper position. The world can now be viewed upside down and mirror reversed through the square opening in the back of the hood.
- To raise the mirror, put the left side of the hood. This will disengage the mirror from the protrusion and cause it to spring back into its normal position.
Closing the hood
It’s important to do this carefully and slowly in the correct order. Rushing through the steps incorrectly or forcing the hood down will bend or damage it.
- Make sure that the mirror is in its normal upward position and that the magnifying glass is in its normal lower position.
- Fold the right side hood flap down onto the matt glass and then fold down the left flap. Push down on the small chrome strut (which helps stabilize the rear of the hood) with a finger and fold the rear of the hood gently downwards. When the rear is almost down, the front of the hood can now be folded into its closed and locked position.
The film counters
Normal versions of this camera have a red counter window which is used to view the exposure numbers printed on the paper backing of the film. However I have come across one rare version with an unusual film counter ring mounted around the wind knob. This version had two counter systems on the camera. You can use the normal red counter window on the back of the camera or the counter wheel around the wind knob. However because each system uses a slightly different spacing between the negatives you must decide on which system you wish to use and stick with it for the entire film. (The counter dial system has slightly larger spacing to avoid overlap problems.)
Normal red window system
- The red counter window system is quite normal. Load film into the camera in the traditional way, close the camera and wind until you see the number 1 in the red counter window on the rear of the camera.
- After a photo has been taken, wind to the following number 2. Continue this process until all exposures have been taken. After the last exposure continue winding until the film’s paper backing is no longer visible through the counter window, then open the camera and remove the film.
The counter dial system
- To the counter dial, load film into the camera as usual and set the first exposure at 1 one in the red counter window on the back of the camera. (After this step you must ignore anything you see in this window and rely only on the counter dial.)
- Rotate the counter ring counterclockwise (it has a knurled edge for extra grip) so that the number “1” aligns with the arrow on wind knob.
- After the first exposure, wind the knob one full turn so that the pointer swings past number “1” and then bring it to rest on number ”2”. (It does not stop automatically.) You are now ready for the second shot with out having to look to the red counter window...
- Repeat this process for each following photo. Always wind one full turn the old number before coming to rest on the next new number.
- This is process is repeated for all 12 exposures. After the 12th exposure continue winding until the film’s paper backing is no longer visible through the red counter window on the rear of the camera, then open the camera and remove the film.
Peter and Petra