Rolleiflex T

The time has come that I finally write a review of our all time favourite camera. The Rolleiflex. My brother and I have a few Rolleiflex’s and we love them. This review will be on the Rolleiflex T. A 3.5 model which comes with either Carl Zeiss Tessar or Scheider Xenar lens. We have them in both flavours.

Coffee and Rollei

The Rolleiflex began it’s humble origins in 1928 with the first of the 3.5 models. When I refer to a 3.5 model I am referring to the aperture of the taking lens. They also released 2.8 models in the 1940’s. Several models have been introduced covering more professional needs and more amateur, down to the Rolleicord of which you can read my review here. The rolleiflex was the trend setter of the Twin Lens world. While Twin lens reflex cameras had existed before, they were far too bulky and unreliable. The Rolleiflex is widely known as the “THE” camera that set the standard in TLR design. Many offshoots came from the original Rolleiflex design with companies all over the world creating their versions.

The Rolleiflex makes use of a Waist Level Finder (WLF) as opposed to traditonal viewfinders which are very dark, small and inaccurate by comparison. The WLF of a Rolleiflex is a magical composing device. It allows comfortable, ergonomic viewfinding which covers 100% of what will end up on film. The only Caveat is Parallax error. You can read about Parallax error Here.

Composing on the WLF is easy and allows the photographer to concentrate more on framing and balance as the image is reversed. The ground glass is bright and easy to focus with. Some models have additional split screen focussing aides. Most Rollei WLF’s also have a pop up magnifier which makes achieving accurate focus very simple and the WLF’s on some of the Rolleiflex’s are removable allowing for a Prism finder to be attached for sports or documentary photography where you will be on the move and can’t be distracted by the reversed image.

The negative size produced is the very common (for the time) 6×6 size. That ends up being an actual 56mm x 56mm square. Being a square format means that there is no need to tilt the camera to get a landscape or portrait orientation. A crop can later be applied in printing to achieve these results making this another great feature of the Rolleiflex. Masks can also be inserted to crop the image down to 6×4.5 or even smaller is the RolleiKin adapter which allows for the use of 35mm film in the Rolleiflex.

Lens quality is superb while a little soft in the corners. Wide open it sharpens right up across the board from 5.6 onwards. many photographers have claimed the the Zeiss optics particularly suit f/11 on the Rolleiflex’s but that is subject to opinion. The Zeiss Tessar lens is of 4 element design and has been copied by many TLR manufacturers due to it’s simplicity and ability to resolve insanely fine details.

See here a high contrast shot from Coogee beach. Take note of the details (view large) Coogee Beach

As for useability, I have found that the Rolleiflex is equally at home in a studio or slung around my neck. I really can walk around all day with a flex over my shoulder. It’s light enough and discreet enough that it’s never a burden as some SLR’s can become with their long heavy lenses. In the Studio the Rolleiflex also performs excellently coupled to any form of studio lighting situations, ranging from hot lights to studio strobes and radio triggers.

Loading the Rolleiflex is a breeze as is most TLR’s although over time the mechanism can allow for some error in frame positioning and a CLA is recommended every 30 or so years (pun intended)

Adjusting the aperture and shutter speed is done via one small knob on the left of the taking lens (while camera is in hand.) A sliding up/down action will select EV, while pulling out on the knob first will allow aperture to be selected independently of shutter speed. an EV number scale is shown on the left of the viewing lens and Aperture/Shutter speed scale is listed on top of the viewing lens. Focussing is via the main knob on the left of the camera which also houses a reminder for type of film. Film winding is a lever wind which in one direction winds the film to the next frame and in the other cocks the shutter and allows the lever to be nestled back into the camera body out of the way.

The 3.5 features a Bayonet I filter holder on each of the lenses, this makes it easy to snap on filters and lens hoods as needed. The lens hood uses the outer ring of the bayonet allowing filters to be used on the inner ring. A range of filters are available including the popular Rolleinar close up filter set allowing close focussing of subjects. Be aware that when using the Rolleinar there may be some parallax error.

Here is a shot taken with the Rolleinar +1 in Centennial Park in Randwick NSW. Centennial Park Flower

This remarkable camera has stood the test of time lasting over 80 years during it’s lifetime. You can still buy them new today! Although Franke & Heidecke have suffered and a new company has taken the reins, only time will tell if the legendary Rolleiflex camera will live on.

The fact it has been produced for so long is testament to not only the build quality and popularity of this camera but just how sexy TLR’s in general are. Flickr even has a Girl with a TLR group.

If you have any questions or comments i’d love to hear from you, head on over to the contact page.

15 thoughts on “Rolleiflex T

  1. Austin O'Hara

    Thank you for taking the time for the excellent review of the Rolleiflex.
    I have just seen a television documentary about Vivian Maier ( who used this camera and sparked my interest.
    I have looked on eBay and see a hugh range of prices for this camera.
    Do you have any advice for purchasing a second hand one?


    1. neal

      Thanks for the comment.
      You just have to be patient, first thing would be to decide on what model you want. there are many variances.
      try for more info.

      Decide how much you can afford and then keep searching ebay, a good deal will present itself with time. If you would rather buy from a trusted source, then definitely contact Bellamy Hunt (in Japan) he will find the right camera for you for a decent price.

      Best of luck!

  2. Matt

    Rolleiflex T never came with Schneider lenses, it always used Carl Zeiss Tessar f/3.5 75mm lens. Earlier models of Rolleiflex “Automat” used f/3.5 Carl Zeiss Tessar and equivalent Schneider Xenar (not Xenotar as stated, 3.5 Xenotar was used in later models, read below). There was also a short run of Tessar version with f/2.8 lens. Later, more advanced models had either f/3.5 or f/2.8 lenses made by Zeiss or Schneider, depending on the model: Xenotar f/3.5 75mm, Planar f/3.5 75mm, Planar f/3.5 , Xenotar f/3.5. Detailed info is available here:

    1. Matt

      I meant “Xenotar f/3.5 75mm, Planar f/3.5 75mm, Planar f/2.8 , Xenotar f/2.8.” , for some reason can’t edit my post.

  3. Mickey von Kaschnitz

    I have a rare ‘White Face’ T equipped with a Schneider Xenar f/3.5. It is from the last months of rhe production run. I cut my teeth on view cameras and have always been more than well-pleased with Schneider glass.

    1. neal

      Nice one! I have a few Schneider enlarger lenses that are fantastic too! even my old 6×9 folder has a Schneider radionar triplet thats quite good considering.

  4. Alan Fisk

    Can you give me any tips on how to attach the hinged lens cap and the Rollei lens hood? They are obviously supposed to be pushed into the recessed gaps in the housing and then twisted into position, but whatever I try, they keep falling off. The problem is certainly with me, not with the camera, but what am I doing wrong?

    1. steve Post author

      Alan, the hinged lens cap goes on like a filter. I usually fold it in half then put it on the viewing lens (like you would a filter) then fold it down over the taking lens. Mine is a little loose going on, and once on it’s still a little loose but doesn’t fall off.

  5. Jon

    Hi, A belated thank you for this comprehensive review. I just got one of these lovely cameras and couldn’t quite work out the knobs, even with the book in front of me. Your review explained it perfectly! If one of your readers want one, now is the time. Prices here (US) are low on the big auction site.

    1. neal

      Thanks for the kind words!
      the prices have certainly been heading upwards though! get one while you still can.

      I’m glad our article could help, I hope you are enjoying your Rollei!


  6. Eric

    The knowledgeable members of this group may be able to answer this question…

    I have heard that the Tessar on the T was recalculated in the late 50’s with more modern/improved glass types… can anyone shed some light on this?

    Many thanks for the many great articles on this site!!

  7. neal

    Hi Eric.

    Sorry for the slow reply, the T only came out in 1958 so I’m thinking perhaps the previous Tessars were updated for the T build. From my understanding the Tessar lens arrangement is the same, It’s quite possible that better coatings were used with the changes but I can’t find any references to back that up!

    Thanks for taking the time to ask! If I find any further info I’ll post back here.


  8. Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne

    A truly good article, with many good comments. So win-win!!

    I bought into Rolleis in the 1960s – my 3.5 E2 dates from 1961 but I bought it new in 1966 and have used it off and on (mostly off, alas, since 2009 when I decided to cut back on film shooting and made the move into digital). In the ’90s I decided to ‘cut the load’ down a bit and bought two Rolleiflex Ts with 16 exposure kits which are lighter to use and give me 17 shots (if you crank carefully, getting an extra shot from a 120 roll is easy-peasy) – I used these to shoot mostly stock images in Southeast Asia and the quality of my slides and B&W negatives easily reaches the best I can get from a Nikon D800 (36MP).

    A last comment. My two Ts are 1960s models and have the 3.5 Tessar. A friend has the later (last model made) version from the 1970s with the Xenar lens. My Rollei books tell me both are equally good. Zeiss and Schneider in those days never really made a bad lens. So the story goes.

    The Ts were amateur cameras, so most used Ts on the market today haven’t been used and abused like the ‘pro’ Rollei 3.5s and 28s which were studio beasts and often got flogged to death and beyond. That they kept on working is nothing short of miraculous, but when you buy an old studio Rollei you inherit a shipload of problems that means one thing – expensive repair bills. Best to go for the T (also the cheaper but equally good Rolleicord Vb) and stay with the amateur ranking – the accessories for the T/Vb are bayonet 1 and much cheaper than anything you will want to buy for the pro Rollei models.
    An interesting side point is the T also has a 24 exposure kit available – which gives you basically 35mm images on 120 roll film. The 16 and 24 exposure kits have an added advantage in that they produce horizontal images, unlike almost all 4.5×6 cameras which have to be held vertically to shoot panoramas.

    I’m now in my 70s and still reasonably fit, but I like to travel light – when I go somewhere in Asia to shoot temples, statues and old colonial buildings I find that my basic Rollei kit – one camera, a lens hood, two filters, a Gossen exposure meter, a Rolleikin and grip and of course lots of film – isn’t too bad to cart around in a backpack, unlike my lovely Nikon D800 which produces superb color images but weighs like a small brick and usually means I will want to carry other lenses as well, so the weight goes up and I suffer.

    Yes, Rolleis are film cameras and as such have become living antiques – we are fossils who insist on using film and playing with our cameras gives us a lot of pleasure, for me it beckons past decades in my life when I was young and the world was my oyster and life seemed to mean forever and a day and every image I made with my beloved TLR was a mini-masterpiece. All gone now. But I can still load my Rollei and go out with it and boom! back I go to those heady days in my past when everything in my life was exciting and wonderful and new discoveries were everywhere around every corner I turned. Illusions? Maybe. But I prefer those to what is really out there now, and my T kit helps me maintain my equilibrium. So it suits.

    1. neal

      Hi Jay

      Thanks so much for your detailed comment, you have a great history of experience with these cameras and it’s nice to hear from a fellow Rollei admirer.
      between us, my brother and I have several Rolleiflexes; a 2.8FX, 3 T’s (one grey face) and a Rolleicord VB. We have the 35mm kit with masks as well however I’ve not used it.

      They are still fantastic cameras to use today and like you I tend to grab it when I know I want to travel light but still be able to capture loads of detail. Not to mention composing in a 6×6 square is such a joy!

      Thanks again for the comment!


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