Rollei has been making twin lens reflex cameras since 1929. Like their German brethren, Leica, they were extremely well engineered with outstanding lenses, however, they easily surpass Leicas in the quality of prints that can be obtained from their large 6cm x 6cm negatives. Rolleiflexes were favoured by legendary photographers such as Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Vivian Meier, as well as celebrities like Paul McCartney and James Dean. It is a testament to their craftsmanship that many of these 50+ year old cameras still work flawlessly today. Sadly, Rollei ceased operations in 2015.
Besides a Rolleicord VA, at one time I had in my possession a Rolleiflex f3.5 E3 and a Rolleiflex f2.8 F, which allowed me to evaluate their handling and results side by side. The Rolleicord is a simplified and cheaper version of the regular Rolleiflex. I initially found the Rolleicord somewhat difficult to shoot because of the retro cocking mechanism. You have to cock the shutter and then pull the cocking mechanism the other way to fire the shutter (apparently there is an original soft shutter release button that can be inserted into the cable release socket, but these were invariably lost and are very rare today). The Rolleiflexes have a more traditional shutter button. However, with some practice I found that I was able to hold and fire the Rolleicord steadier than the Rolleiflexes when I braced my thumbs on either side of body and used my middle finger to pull the shutter. With the Rolleiflexes you press the shutter into the body from the front and thus unless you have the camera braced against your stomach I found I had some camera shake at slower speeds. I also found the Rolleicord’s winding knob preferable to the Rolleiflex’s crank, so in the end the Rolleicord handling was more to my liking.
With the various different lenses available on the Rolleicord and Rolleiflexes there is the inevitable endless debate about which is better. Different models come with either the Zeiss Triotar, Zeiss Tessar, Schnieder Xenar, Zeiss planar or Schneider Xenotar. The Zeiss Planar f3.5 and f2.8 lenses are the most highly regarded and are reflected in their prices. My Rolleicord VA came with a Schneider Xenar 75mm f3.5 that has 4 elements and 3 groups. Both my Rolleiflexes had the sought after Zeiss Planar lenses. When I compared the negatives from controlled shots on a tripod, I could see very little difference, perhaps a very slight advantage to the Rolleiflexes, however, the bokeh from the 2.8 lens was not particularly more attractive than either the 3.5 lenses. The 2.8 Rolleiflex had a problem so it was sent back to the seller, and I decided to sell the 3.5 Rolleiflex as it was almost 7 times more expensive than the Rolleicord but was not anywhere near 7 times the advantage in optics or handling. Maybe I was lucky with my Rolleicord, everything works perfectly, the speeds are spot on, it was overhauled and new skins put on by a Rangefinderforum member, and did I mention that it is more compact and lighter than the Rolleiflexes? To top it all off when I compared negatives from the Rolleicord and a Hasselblad 500CM with a Zeiss 80mm 2.8 C lens, the Rolleicord was again equal if not better. Hard to believe but true, here is a more scientific evaluation that came to a similar conclusion. The Rolleicord is one of the best medium format deals available if you can find a good one; it is super compact, fits into a small bag and delivers great images. Click on link to purchase: Rolleicord, Rolleiflex 3.5, Rolleiflex 2.8.