I bought my Rolleiflex Automat in 2014, before I really knew anything about film. All I knew was that it was a beautiful camera that I had always wanted since I first saw Natalie Portman with it on the movie Where the Heart Is.
I went on Ebay and quickly found that the prices for this camera were pretty steep for me. I shopped for a while before I finally found a really good deal for a Rolleiflex Automat. Its not the most desired model, but I didn’t care. I often tend to go in the opposite direction of what’s popular.
It was in pristine condition and very well taken care of over the years. It was from the original owner and came with all the original paperwork, manuals, and a lot of accessories.
The day it came in the mail, I had just missed the mailman and was so upset because it was a holiday weekend and I didn’t want my camera sitting in the post office. I tracked down the mailman and got him to give me my package. I’m too embarrassed to even say how I tracked him down. Yes, Rollei had me going temporarily insane.
But can you blame me? Look at this beauty.
When I first held it in my hands I was instantly in love with this camera. It is a brick, but not like an Argus C3. It is an elegant brick if you will. It’s not as heavy as other medium format cameras. Even hanging around my neck, it’s not as bad as my Nikon F. You can just tell while holding it that it is intricately designed and well thought out.
Even the accessories come individually paired with small leather cases. The box for the Rollei is also beautifully designed with ornate markings.
To find out what model you have visit the Rollei Club website. My Rolleiflex is the 3.5 Automat MX model. It has an f/3.5 Xenar taking lens and an f/2.8 Heidosmat composing lens on top. The shutter is a Synchro-Compur which was really just a Compur Rapid with M synchronization. This model was made from 1951-1954, and it was given the name Automatic MX because there was no need to line up the film backing paper before closing the back; it has an automatic stop at all frames, even the first.
The MX designation is for the bottom right lever for flash synchronization. The M is for the M class flash bulbs and the X is for connecting an electronic flash, although most photographers at the time stuck with the bulb flashes.
The camera uses 120 film and gives 12 frames with 6 x 6 square images. The first problem I came to was the medium format. I knew nothing about this film, and at the time there wasn’t much access to it yet. After some research I found out I could get the Rolleikin 2, an adapter that would make it so I could shoot 35mm film in my, now favorite, camera. So I went back to Ebay and found the set that went to my model.
I installed the kit and changed the pressure plate in the back door to adapt to the 35mm negatives. I was so happy that I could modify the camera to my needs and be able to shoot with it.
I immediately started taking pictures. At this point, as I mentioned above, I didn’t know much yet about film photography other than using compact cameras when I was a kid. I briefly had a Canon EOS Rebel G when I was 12 years old, but sold it when digital came out. So I was essentially experimenting with this camera. Not many people start out learning film photography with a camera like this, but I didn’t have anyone guiding me in the right direction.
I got my first rolls developed at a local shop and didn’t get my shots back for weeks because the demand was so low at the time that the man who did the developing only developed film once he got 5 rolls or more at a time.
Once I finally got them back I was hooked. They were sharp and I loved the contrast of the black and white shots. I was actually surprised that I was able to get the exposures correct considering I had no meter and no experience.
I have been shooting only 35mm in this camera since I got it, but soon I will be uninstalling the Rolleikin, taking off the training wheels so to speak, and running a roll of 120 film through it. Until then I’m going to cherish this format in the Rolleiflex for just a little bit longer.
Recently, I decided to take the camera out to take some street photos. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I have not been able to get approval for physical therapy since being in the hospital back in June, so I have been rehabilitating myself. Going out and taking photos even just in my back yard has helped tremendously. So this was the first time I would walk around downtown Stuart in a long time. There weren’t many people around, because it’s Florida and people don’t really like to go outside, so the shots are more or less of architecture. I really enjoyed myself. It never ceases to amaze me how much joy this hobby has brought to my life, just in the short months since I came out of the hospital.
Check out my YouTube video to see more from of my day out taking photos with the Rolleiflex.
To make this a proper review of shooting 35mm film in my medium format Rolleiflex, I have to mention the cons as well as the pros. My main complaint of using the Rolleikin is that the mask in the waist level viewfinder is very small and often I have a hard time seeing the entire picture that will be taken, but I tend to have this problem with all of my cameras because I have bad eyesight.
Another issue is the film advance. There is a square mechanism that gets installed inside the camera that the 35mm film runs across and snags onto the sprockets of the film. In order to advance to the next picture, you have to press in the film counter button that comes with the Rolleikin, this releases the film and allows you to turn the winding lever to advance to the next frame until the film re-catches.
The issue I have run into is the film snagging way too soon or not at all. I am not sure why that is. It doesn’t happen every time. This has resulted in partial double exposures as well as entire rolls of film never advancing the whole time I was shooting with it.
Ultimately, I have had far more good experiences and results than bad with the Rolleikin. I do highly recommend this set up if you want to shoot 35mm film as a more economical choice than medium format. I also highly recommend it for beginners.
Now I know the Rolleiflex is not a beginners camera, but it’s also not very hard to learn to use. So if you inherit your grandpa’s Rolleiflex, or find a good deal, by all means, don’t be intimidated. Pick up a Rolleikin adapter (there’s different types depending on what model you have. See my video above) and learn to shoot film using the cheap stuff first and then roll into medium format.
To see more of my photography please visit my website and my instagram. Comment below if you’ve ever used the Rolleikin in your Rolleiflex and your thoughts. Leave links to your shots taken with your Rolleiflex. I’d love to see them.