Mystery Camera: The Great Wall DF Chinese Medium Format Camera

Today for your Throwback Thursday we will take a ride on the Time Machine and go back to the 1970s & 1980s to retrieve a mysterious camera from the Forbidden Kingdom Of China 😊

In a world where almost every other camera is “Made In China” it’s still relatively uncommon to find a camera from China here in the States, especially a film camera that was actually manufactured in China and made by a Chinese company, for the Chinese homeland market.

Behind the vast Chinese Empire and behind the Great Wall originated a camera they actually called the “Great Wall” or more officially the Great Wall DF camera! 😊

Today, we will try to unlock the mystery of this intriguing Chinese Medium Format camera.

I feel like Leonard Nimoy on “In Search Of” haha! And even though I’m getting older, I’m not that old! So how come it seems like nobody else remembers “In Search Of?” Did the show even exist? 😀😎👍🏻

INTRODUCTION

The Great Wall DF is a 6×6 medium format film camera produced by the Beijing Camera Factory. Although no information I could find list the exact years, they are stated to have been made during the 1970s and through the 1980s. It was marketed as a low budget camera for the masses.

WHAT IS THE GREAT WALL DF?

What is the Great Wall DF specifically? As mentioned it is a medium format camera that shoots 6x6cm images on 120 roll film. But it was also marketed as being able to shoot 6×4.5 via the insertion of a mask.

The camera is a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) in that it uses a reflex mirror for viewing. The difference between this and most SLR’s is that the mirror is part of the shutter mechanism and thus it uses what is called a guillotine shutter.

This is a similar shutter mechanism to the one used in the German Pilot cameras of which the Great Wall DF is based.

The lens mount is also interesting in that it is said to be a Leica M39 screwmount. Now this sounds good on paper but apparently due to technical issues, you cannot use the lenses the way you might think you could.

First of all those lenses are made for 35mm and this is a 6×6 Medium Format camera. If you could use it as a medium format lens, there would probably be vignetting, an image circle, etc. Secondly you probably won’t get infinity focus.

I can tell you that the few Leica screwmount lenses I have do not actually screw into the threaded mount of the DF. In other words, to use these lenses you’d have to use a technique called “freelensing” in which you hold the lens to the mount and just take the shot while holding the lens.

I have done this, especially in the good old days when adapters were not readily available. But trying this with a pricey lens, I’m not inclined to do! Don’t want to drop the lens or the camera!

I can also attest that with a lens such as the 28mm f/1.9 “freelensed” in front of the camera, it appears I could get some nice macro shots but it would have to be really close!

YOUTUBE VIDEO

As part of my attempt to integrate video into your experience, here’s my YouTube video for the Great Wall DF. It is close to 15 minutes which it really shouldn’t be! This is a cheap camera that not many know and my “Mystery Camera” segments are usually five minutes tops. But I’m trying to give you guys my all so this might be my new norm. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to some of you guys like I usually do but the edits and reedits kill me! I just want to make sure all my information is correct.

Besides, as a huge Bruce Lee and Martial Arts fan, I’ve always wanted to star in a “Chop Socky” Kung-Fu flick and the intro to this video shows my MMA skills or lack thereof haha 🙂

MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE GREAT WALL DF

As someone who has stated over and over again that I love all cameras, I’ve always been fascinated with the very few Chinese film cameras that pop up on the used market here in the USA.

My very first China based camera is the Seagull medium format TLR that is much more common on the used market.

It’s strange that even though Communist China has been trading goods with us for decades, especially since President Nixon opened China’s doors in 1972, we still have seen precious little of their photography gear market, or shall I say their film photography market.

The few companies that stand out in my head for film cameras are Seagull, Pearl River, Great Wall and perhaps a couple more that I can’t recall at this time.

Today, we may have a lot more Chinese companies like Yongnuo, 7Artisans, for example, selling digital gear (mostly lenses) but the film stuff from even decades ago, it is harder to come by.

Perhaps it’s because they were intended for the home market? Perhaps the Chinese knew that most of these cameras were not high quality items? Who knows. That’s why it’s a mystery!

IS IT A CULT CAMERA? 

It might possibly be, but if it is a cult camera, the “cult” must be very small because there is just so little on this camera. In fact, my YouTube video posted today seems to be the only video I can find on YouTube as of this writing.

There is actually another video of this camera that has been on the internet for a while. It’s a short clip showing how to work the camera, but it is very short and only hosted on the author’s webpage not on YouTube.

The very little that’s on this camera is scattered through blogs and forum postings. But I give credit where credit is due and those guys who have used this camera before me, their information is GREAT! I’ve tried to put all I’ve learned here and on my video.

PRELIMINARY SAMPLE IMAGES

Here are just a few quick and dirty samples from my first roll. They are not intended to be artistic masterpieces. I was just testing the camera and was actually just happy and relieved that the camera was working properly.

“Saturday Morning” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76.

“Zen Camera” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76.

“Sunday Star” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76. This might have been my best shot in the roll had it not been soft and off focus! Note the tiny bit of overlap from the next frame.

Please do not judge the technical merits of this camera based on these photos. There are in fact much sharper samples from this camera on the internet to look at.

This was a test roll from a first time user of the camera. The photos were every day photos taken around the house just to see if the camera was working and I’m happy to report it works!

I made some mistakes and encountered some issues with this camera. First mistake was using Ilford FP4 which is rated at ISO 125. This was disadvantageous when using a camera with a slowish f/3.5 lens but the reason I used the FP4 was because I had a problem getting film into the film chamber of this camera! This is addressed below in the “Issues” section.

Overall, I’m encouraged enough to try another roll in this camera!

MODEL DIFFERENCES

From all accounts on the internet, there may be as many as five or six different versions. Here’s my observations, not just from the scattered information I’ve read but from observing photos of the camera and comparing them to my copy. Feel free to correct me if any of this is wrong:

DF: Earliest model. No self timer, flash shoe, or PC socket.

DF2: “DF-2” imprinted on front name plate. No self timer, flash shoe, or PC socket.

DF3: Has self-timer, cable release socket, but no flash shoe, no PC socket.

DF4: Has self timer, cable release socket, flash shoe and PC socket.

DF5: ???

DF6: ???

Based on what I can tell, my model might be the DF4! In fact, I took the plunge on it because it was advertised as a DF-2 “Parts” camera and upon looking at the photos and the low price I said why not?! 🙂

Now if you can’t find a DF-3 or DF-4 don’t sweat it, they’re all basically the same cameras. Unless you really need to use a cable release or need a flash socket, I wouldn’t worry about it.

ISSUES

This camera has all the FUNK you’d want! It starts with getting a roll of film into the film chamber. The main reason I used the Ilford FP4 in it, despite it being a slower film for indoor use, is the fact that it was the only roll of film I could get to fit in it! Even then, I had to slightly bend the edges to get it in.

From what I’ve read, some films fit in there better, easier, like perhaps Fuji films vs Kodak. But the Fuji roll I tried was also stiff to get in.

Next issue is I could not see any of the frame numbers through the window for the “frame counter” so I had to guesstimate the spacing.

Next issue is sometimes when pressing the shutter release, the mirror flips up but I felt as if the shutter was not coming down. Since they are both a part of that guillotine shutter, I felt the shutter should’ve come down. Hard for me to explain but when you’re holding the camera and shooting it, you can tell when the shutter has come down by the feel and the “clunk” and when it is not coming down.

Next issue was frame overlaps. I had expected some of this based on the reviews I had read and to be honest, it was not too bad for most of the shots but on one shot it seemed like I had three exposures on one frame! Perhaps it was me, but I can’t imagine shooting and not advancing the film three times.

Part of the reason I did not take the camera outside for prolonged shooting was I got the impression that I might be wasting my time, fearing nothing was getting exposed but I’m glad I was wrong!

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

The Great Wall DF is somewhat rare on the used market but that doesn’t not mean it should be pricey.

First of all, not many people are looking for this camera. Only someone “special” or weirdos like me haha 🙂

Secondly, the build quality is not high. It feels solid enough but does not feel like it would take a lot of abuse. The seller even stressed to me it was on the flimsy side.

That said, it feels better in my hands than you would think based on people’s descriptions. Plus it’s one of the smallest and lightest 6×6 SLR’s you could buy.

I got mine for $75 but if you’re seeking one of these, do so carefully. Prices are trending at $60-160 USD. They usually come with the 90mm f/3.5 Great Wall lens. I wouldn’t pay over $150 for one of these.

The shutters have been known to fail so use gently. I’m not trying to scare you. It’s possibly that yours could last years, but it’s also possible it could fail tomorrow. That’s one great thing about cheap cameras. If they fail, you’re not out for much. But if this was a $1000 plus camera, I’d worry about it!

BOTTOM LINE

The Great Wall DF may never be a Camera Legend. Perhaps it is in China, I don’t know, but in the overall annals of history I don’t think it is or ever will be.

That said, it’s one of the more interesting cameras I have tried in a long time! There’s something addictive about “Cheap Plus Results” as I say. If it’s a cheap camera that gives me decent results, and it seems like it could do even better than the results I got? I’m in!

In closing, I know there’s just a small group of people fanatic enough about cameras to be interested in this camera but I hope that I have helped to demystify the Great Wall DF a bit for you if you are one of those uncommon people!

Thanks for reading and feel free to drop me a line if you have this camera!

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The Best Camera I Never Knew: The Super Ricohflex

Hello everyone! Looking back on my writings, it seems we haven’t had one of these “Best Camera I Never Knew” postings in a while! Over a year in fact!

So today we’re back with a camera that may not be well known to the masses, but is quite popular on photo sharing sites like Flickr and elsewhere. And you guys, my dear readers, are NOT the masses! It is a cult favorite, the Super Ricohflex.

THE SUPER RICOHFLEX

The Super Ricohflex was introduced in 1956 by Ricoh of Japan. It is a Medium Format twin lens reflex camera that takes 6×6 images on 120 film.

At its heart is the taking lens which is an 80mm f/3.5 Ricoh Anastigmat. It uses a geared focusing system much like the Kodak Reflex of 1946.

The camera has a shutter speed range of 1/10-1/200 secs plus Bulb in a Riken shutter. I have read of other models with higher shutter speeds, but I have had three of them at different points in my life, from different random sellers and they all had up to 1/200. If you have a model with a higher shutter speed range, I’d love to hear about it!

114621440.1bR7aP9r.SuperRicohSam

“Super Ricoh Man” 2009. Super Ricohflex, Ilford HP5 Plus in T-Max Developer. More than a narcissistic selfie, I hope you can see that stopped down a little, the Super Ricohflex is capable of nicely sharp images 🙂

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SUPER RICOHFLEX

When in working condition, the Super Ricohflex is capable of giving images with “character” especially wide open at f/3.5. That is the best way I can describe it.

The 80mm f/3.5 Ricoh Anastigmat is one of those lenses capable of giving you that ever popular on Flickr “swirly bokeh” look.

114622435.nMtB6g55.RicohZoeForestPBa

“Escape To Reality” 2009. Super Ricohflex, Ilford HP5 Plus in T-Max Developer. An example of the swirly “dreamy” image that the Super Ricohflex can make.

In my opinion, this usually comes from a lens that is optically not at its technical best, and the swirly bokeh is somewhat overplayed by bokeh fanatics, but that said, if used judiciously it can produce “dreamy” memorable images.

Stopped down, the images can be very sharp at f/5.6-f/8 as are most decent lenses.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

For those of you who prefer to watch a video, here is my first “The Best Camera I Never Knew” episode on YouTube starring the Super Ricohflex! 😎

It may seem like a shameless plug, and it is, but I am trying to expand your experience here and I’ll be tying in videos as I can so get used to it! 🙂

Think of it this way? Why would I want to do double work, blog and video, when I could just do one or the other? If it weren’t for you guys, my fellow Camera Lovers, I’d not bother with the videos!

And because I had received a critical comment from a reader who did not understand what  this series is about, I address this in the video too. Plus trying out some new theme songs haha! 🙂

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

Simple. I had three of these cameras! I got my first one in 2009. I sold one and I still have two. All three of them ended up having the infamous “Frozen Focus” issue. And what is that?

In the introduction, I mentioned that these cameras use a geared type of focusing mechanism. What that means is the viewing lens and taking lens are geared together and by moving one you move the other.

That in itself shouldn’t be an issue, but whatever grease Ricoh put into these lenses have been known to notoriously seize up with time.

Out of my three copies, only one was working, and even that one was already on the outs when I got it. It was not perfectly smooth. I left it on the shelf for about, I’m gonna guess cause it’s been years, but approximately 3-5 months. The next time I picked up the camera…stiff as a rock!!

So as of today, the two copies I have are pretty much worthless as shooters. Thankfully, they did not cost me much!

REPAIR?

A competent camera technician should be able to repair these cameras. From what I have heard, it’s not a simple matter of taking the lenses off and regreasing them yourself. It’s a bit of a delicate process. Therefore it’s better to leave it up to the experts if you have no experience with camera repair.

One person I remember offhand that might do the repair is Mark Hansen out of Wisconsin. He’s a great repairman with a solid reputation for working on Zeiss and Rolleis. I believe he is still in business though I do not know if he’s willing to repair the Super Ricohflex and if he is, how much it will cost. If you contact him, tell him Sam from CameraLegend.com sent you!

PRICES & WHERE TO BUY?

If seeking one of these cult classics, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices are trending at $20-60. Keep in mind, due to the possibility of the camera needing a CLA, the low price you might pay belie the true cost after the camera has received a CLA.

However, once you get a CLA from a good repairman, I can attest that the Super Ricohflex is a good and fun budget shooter.

BOTTOM LINE

As I love all cameras, it is not my goal to pick on the Super Ricohflex. Ricoh is a Camera Legend whose cameras I have used and praised often. I do totally understand that a camera this old may need a CLA as most cameras of this vintage would benefit from also.

However, as I mentioned in the video…This is no Rolleiflex. And it was not intended to be. It cost much less than a Rolleiflex or even most Rolleicords, the budget Rollei TLRs.

A Rolleiflex could be sitting there for 30 years and I’d be willing to bet, most would still be functioning. Not so with the Super Ricohflex. If you have one, use it often, keep exercising those gears! Whatever grease Ricoh used in these cameras are infamous for freezing up.

That said, when it worked, this camera gave me some memorable images that left me curious for more. That’s why I ended up with three of them only to find out that the Super Ricohflex is indeed, one of the Best Cameras I Never Knew! 🙂

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Photo Of The Day: “Saturday In The Park” Mamiya 6 75mm 3.5 G Lens

imgmamiya6kids094ps_66

“Saturday In The Park” 2016. Mamiya 6, 75mm f/3.5 Mamiya G lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in D76 developer.

In my effort to be more active for you good people, here’s a shot and short article for today. Shot with a Mamiya 6 and 75mm f/3.5 Sekor. I actually shot this a couple of years ago before I sold the camera. It was in Central Park.

Speaking of “Saturday In The Park” I recently saw a CNN documentary which I think is a couple of years old, on one of America’s oldest and greatest pop/rock bands, Chicago. I loved their stuff from the 70s and 80s although admittedly they went into the “soft rock” category with the rise of (then) lead singer Peter Cetera, not that it’s a bad thing mind you.

I always thought the band broke up because of Cetera and his ever growing star in the 80s. But now I’m not so sure it was really a case of someone getting a big head or whether he and the band could just no longer get along.

Just like another great 80s band Journey, I’ll always associate Cetera’s voice with Chicago just as I associate Steve Perry with Journey.

Anyway, I’m drifting off course! Music just happens to be my other passion. I especially like rock and popular music from the 50s through the 90s. Not much for music after that 😀

The Mamiya 6 is a Camera Legend. I had a complete outfit in 2009 including the body, 75mm f/3.5, 50mm f/4, and 150mm f/4.5 telephoto. I started selling off the lenses first, then the camera and 75mm because I wasn’t using it enough and needed funds for other things. You know the deal 😊

I’ve always thought of giving the Mamiya 6 a formal write-up on these pages and I’m sure I’ll get to it one of these days, but I’m not sure I could write enough to do it justice. It’s a fantastic medium format rangefinder. In fact, if I had the funds I could easily talk myself into it again!

If you look at the photo, you’ll notice some blotches, most notably on the bottom right, a result of my imperfect developing. Not making any excuses, but many people actually do not mind, and some even “want” these imperfectons these days! Don’t believe me? You should see what people are liking on Instagram! I guess it’s part of what people today consider a part of that “film look.”

Back in the day, I don’t remember people loving imperfect pictures all that much, but since this shot is imperfect…ok, I’m cool with it! 🙂

I’ve always said and it’s worth repeating that T-Max 400 is a beautiful film that develops best in T-Max Developer. As I did not have any T-Max Developer on hand, I decided to take my chances with D76.

I’ve noticed that when in D76, the T-Max will have a tendency to produce streaks and blotches. Sometimes I get lucky and get a clean set, but T-Max 400 seems more finicky than other films and results with T-Max Developer are consistently smooth.

Well, that’s it for this morning. Oh one more thing, these are not all my kids! 😀

Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar Test Images

imgRolleiflex35FZaydaC168

“Sunday” 2017. Baby basking in the Sunday morning light with her YouTube nursery rhymes on her iPad. Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer.

Many of you who read these pages would probably know that I’ve always been a huge fan of Rollei and in particular the Rolleiflex TLR cameras. My favorite of course is the glorious Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Schneider Xenotar lens which I wrote about here.

Even though I’ve shot my many various Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords which were f/3.5 models, I admit I have a peculiar fondness for the 2.8 models.

It may even be some kind of unconscious snobbery, but I (as I’m sure many of you) have a thing for fast lenses and in the world of Rollei TLRs, f/2.8 is IT.

Now this is not something exclusive to the Rolleiflexes or TLRs, it’s everything! I mean, think of how many of you will perceive a 70-200mm f/3.5 zoom lens versus a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom? Of course, many will gravitate towards the f/2.8 version. That half stop means alot!! At least in the mind 🙂

But the fondness for fast lenses is not just something we want for no reason. For me at least, I prefer shooting in natural or available light, sometimes in less than ideal conditions. A faster lens would allow me to choose a faster shutter speed, minimizing the chances of blurry images. When you’re shooting at f/2.8 and ISO 400 film in dim or available room light, believe me, you’re going to want all the light you can get. There is a method to our madness, a reason after all!

With that in mind, and being that I already have the 2.8C model, I’ve always kept the 3.5F Rolleiflexes out of my mind. The 3.5F just like the 2.8F is also a top-tier model. Both also offer the option of either the Planar or Xenotar lenses.

However the problem for me was that these cameras are also nearly as expensive as the 2.8 models and if I were going to pay that price, I’d just get the 2.8! Now I got the 2.8 fairly cheaply back in 2008. I wouldn’t be able to get one these days with my current finances 😦

So how did I come across the 3.5F? Maybe a little luck and like I said many times before, the cameras come to me! I was looking for something else entirely when I came across an ad for a Rolleiflex 3.5F in what was described as “user” condition. The party said he was selling for his uncle. I asked for detailed pictures and negotiated a price of $200 which was all I could afford at that time.

When I got the camera, I got the sinking feeling that this might be a piece of junk! It looked a little shabby, but I felt I could clean it up. The main thing that troubled me was the shutter didn’t have a reassuring sound. It seemed all the speeds sounded almost the same, and very weak at that. TLR’s generally have soft, quiet shutters anyway, but this one somehow felt different. On top of that the camera didn’t feel as robust as I’ve been used to from my other Rolleiflexes.

imgRolleiflex35FrancoR171

“Brother Fro” 2017. Gotta love the hair on Brother Fro! Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer.

I came to the conclusion that the shutter speeds were not accurate, but I decided to pop some film in it and give it a try. Not expecting much, I just shot randomly around the house using my usual “kid test” that I’ve mentioned before. I didn’t think I’d have anything worthy of posting for you good peeps! I said might as well try some film in it before I put it on the shelf while saving up for a CLA.

When I developed the roll, I said…WOW! This lens is SHARP!! It may even be better than my beloved 2.8C.

imgRolleiflex35FZaydaC169

“Sunday” 100 percent crop of the top image. Unaltered, sorry for the dust! But note the detail on the baby’s shirt and the fabric. It’s probably better seen on a computer versus your smartphone.

It’s not all positive though. I believe I was right about the shutter speeds not being accurate. They all appear to be a little slower than their rated speed. How much I can’t determine. Many of the images that should’ve been good were underexposed.

imgRolleiflex35ZoeZaydaC176

“Kodak” 2017. Rolleiflex 3.5F Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in T-Max RS Developer. An example shot showing the typical underexposure I experienced testing this camera. Admittedly, this is a bit of a tough lighting scheme and I’m probably to blame for my “guesstimation” exposure. But note the studio light to the right and the spoon on the table to the left. They are sharp. Oh, as a result of my imperfect development, somehow the word “Kodak” from the film strip is etched into this image, and seemingly in the right place for it! 🙂

But the ones that came out sharp, man they were sharp! And contrasty too. This lens made a better impression on me than the 2.8F Planar I tried back in 2004.

I’m going to try another roll in it. Maybe shoot some street with it. I think this lens would be great for that. Will keep you all posted. Till then, Happy Sunday! 🙂

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Classic Cameras: The Rolleiflex 2.8C Xenotar

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The Rolleiflex 2.8C  is a medium format, twin lens reflex camera introduced in 1952 by Franke & Heidecke, aka Rollei GmbH of Germany. The camera produces 6×6 square format images on 120 film.

Although the last remnants of Rollei as we know it vanished completely in 2015, it was and is considered one of the greatest names in photography. Rollei made many, many great and iconic cameras, but their TLR cameras are where they made their name. Today we look at one of their many standout models, the Rolleiflex 2.8C twin lens reflex camera.

UPDATE: One of our readers kindly pointed out that “Rollei” still makes digital medium format cameras.

https://rolleiflex.us/blogs/news-tech-tips-updates/factory-visit-summer-2016-yes-they-are-still-in-business

I’m glad to know this, although I do stand by my statement of the Rollei “as we know it” being gone. However, if the folks running Rollei now can return it to its glory, I’ll be the happiest guy here! Thanks for the information!

ROLLEIFLEX 2.8C INTRODUCTION

If I could only have one camera, it would probably have to be my venerable Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Schneider Xenotar lens. Introduced around 1952-1953, it was the first Rolleiflex model to feature either the Zeiss Planar or Schneider-Kreuznach Xenotar f/2.8 lenses.

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“Diary Of A Mad Man” 2008. Rolleiflex 2.8C, Kodak Portra 400 UC. The Rolleiflex is always ready to shoot…and it’s going to drive you insane man! 🙂

As far as I can tell, the very early versions are known as Type I and only offered the Xenotar lens. The latter version known as Type II offered either the Planar or Xenotar. Keep in mind that “early” and “late” for this camera was only from 1952-1955. I’ve read different accounts that the Planar was offered first and the Xenotar was just a “replacement” lens that were used when production of the Planar was in short supply. I really don’t know and at this point, does it really matter?

It might matter for camera historians, but for shooters either lens I think would be plenty fine regardless of which one came first on the 2.8C model.

Before I go further, I should say that Rolleiflexes have a large and passionate following around the world with many, many Rollei experts out there. I do not consider myself one of those experts. I am just an enthusiast who loves Rolleis and Rolleiflexes and have enjoyed using and collecting Rollei items over the years and doing so “under the radar” (until now I guess!) like I’m sure many of you out there.

The camera is over sixty years old and I think there are already some fine reviews out there. In fact, I’ve decided that I have much more fun giving you a “review” through my impressions and experiences rather than writing a long, formal review. I do try to give you everything I think you might need to know, but I might miss a thing or two. As always I encourage my readers to do more research if they’re really interested. That “search” bar will do you wonders 🙂

With that said, if you are new to TLR photography then I suggest you go and try one out. It doesn’t need to be a Rolleiflex. I could try and explain it, but it will be nowhere as helpful as actually handling a TLR.

This article focuses on the 2.8C model specifically. You will be fine with any of the Rolleiflex 2.8 series, A/B/C/D/E/F…you have lots of choices!

AS A CAMERA

Back to the Rolleiflex 2.8C…Why do I love it? Simple, it always delivers the goods. It’s got a great lens and doesn’t need batteries to operate. I got it used, in bargain condition in 2008. It has never had a CLA, though I think a CLA is long overdue. Keep in mind that the Rollei has a mechanical shutter and that is always going to be less accurate than an electronically timed shutter, so if you feel the speeds are way off, get a CLA.

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“Morning Fuel” 2008. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar. Can’t remember the film though it’s most likely Tri-X or Neopan.

The Rolleiflex 2.8C is well built, as are all the top tier Rolleiflexes. The camera weighs roughly 2.5 pounds. It will probably be heavier than a mirrorless with lens, but would weigh less than your mid-level or pro Canon/Nikon body with pro lens. The Rolleiflex is NOT pocketable 🙂

The focus knob is on your left side and the film wind crank is on your right side when the camera is in use. The shutter automatically cocks when you turn the winding crank and pull it back.

Right near the lenses, the aperture control dial will be on your left hand side and the shutter speed control dial on your right hand side. You depress in slightly, then turn. The Rolleiflex 2.8C does not have an EVS system and I consider this an advantage because you need not worry about those dials moving together and you’re free to choose whatever aperture/shutter speed combo you like.

The waist-level finder (WLF) is used for focusing and it snaps into focus nicely. As far as I know, this model is not compatible with the Rollei prism finder, though I never felt the need for one on a TLR. I suppose a skilled technician could modify this, but why bother? The waist-level finder is one of the thrills of TLR photography as far as I’m concerned. If you’re new to TLR photography, the WLF will probably have the biggest initial impact on you.

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A view through the Rolleiflex waist-level finder.

The camera feels good in the hand with a nice heft to it. I prefer it to the smaller Rolleicords. The camera is sure to get you some looks and maybe start a conversation if used in public enough, it is not unobtrusive or inconspicous in any way 🙂

The camera has a shutter speed range of 1 sec to 1/500 plus Bulb.

NO METER? NO PROBLEM

The 2.8C lacks a meter and I don’t miss it. Truth of the matter is, sticking to ISO 400 film and using meterless cameras for years now, I’ve instinctively come to figuring out the exposures I need without much thought. I do not say this in a braggadocious way. It becomes second nature with time and practice as many photographers can tell you.

I am a firm believer that practicing on a meterless camera will make you a more proficient photographer. Plus black and white film is very forgiving, so unless you’re way off, you should be alright. All of the photos in this article were taken with on the fly metering, without the use of a light meter.

But you can certainly use a handheld meter or download a light meter app on your smartphone. I’m not against meters by any means. I use them on any camera that has one. But if a camera has no meter, I don’t bother using one, it adds to the fun and I learn. I generally do find that many times, manually metering old cameras yields better results for me. Just remember the reading from a meter is just your starting point, not the end word to your exposures.

I have tried the phone apps to check against my digital cameras and they work great. In fact, if you’re used to using a meter, get a meterless camera body, start out with a handheld light meter (old school or phone is ok) and then ween yourself off the meter.

THE XENOTAR LENS 

While I hope you can tell from all the cameras profiled here that I am no brand loyalist, you might and probably rightfully so, imagine that I would have preferred the Zeiss Planar. The Zeiss Planar is very well known and quite popular with the masses. In fact, the first Rolleiflex I got years before I got the 2.8C was the 2.8F with the Planar lens, based on reputation of the Zeiss Planar alone.

The truth of the matter though is that while I have used both the 2.8F Planar and the 2.8C Xenotar, I actually prefer the Xenotar.

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“Tickle Me Elmo” 2008. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens, Kodak Portra 400. The lens was probably stopped down in between f/3.5-5.6.

The above photo of Elmo may seem a silly way to demonstrate the Xenotar lens, but I think the image shows the vibrant colors and high image definition the Xenotar lens is capable of. Check out Elmo’s nose for a little bit of that micro detail/contrast. The image also shows a little bit of the Xenotar’s bokeh in a disadventageous situation. The Xenotar generally delivers pleasing bokeh, but this may seem a tad busy due to those alphabet tiles. In that respect, it’s actually pretty smooth. I know of many other lenses that would not do as well with that background.

One note, I would love to post larger versions here, but the server here no longer supports that. I did try linking a Flickr account to do that, but it ended up being a tedious process of me editing  the links for them to show up correctly. But maybe I’ll try again.

Anyway, while I love the Xenotar, I’m never going to hate on the Planar though so let me just say this was a personal preference based on the two camera samples I had as opposed to something technical about the performance of the lenses. But since I know we all love to read these things, let me say that with these two Rolleiflexes I’ve used, the Xenotar exhibited better perceived sharpness and contrast.

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“Mom’s Kitchen” 2009. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in T-Max developer. This was shot in 2009, but looks like it could be a scene from any NYC kitchen from the 1950s and up. As a vintage photo fan, the Rolleiflex and b&w is vintage photo heaven.

The Planar was probably just as sharp, but showed lower contrast. This could have been due to sample variation or defects in the lens, ie, cleaning marks, haze, bubbles, separation, etc, though I did not detect any of this by eye inspection. Keep in mind though that both cameras were already at least fifty years old when I compared them.

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“Fall Back” 2007. Rolleiflex 2.8F, 80mm f/2.8 Planar, Kodak Portra 400 UC. Just a sample shot from the Planar. I would never hate on the Planar, I just like the Xenotar lens better based on my experiences with both lenses. But the soft out of focus areas from the Planar here look quite lovely I think.

Whatever it was, the better sharpness and contrast on my copy of the 2.8C resulted in images with that extra bit of snap to it. This is probably micro details, micro contrast or whatever “micro” you might call it. It adds an extra “pop” to certain images and accentuates that medium format look.

The funny thing is that this “pop” is usually attributed to Zeiss lenses, but in this case it’s not the Zeiss, but the Schneider lens. But Planar fans need not sweat it as the Schneider-Kreuznach (don’t you just love saying that?) Xenotar has been said to be a Planar equivalent or design copy. I have used plenty of Planar type lenses as well as many other Zeiss and Schneider lenses over the years and I can only confirm what others have said…you can’t go wrong with either. Both companies make top notch, world class, and yes, legendary lenses.

NOTES ON BOKEH

One interesting note on the Rolleiflex 2.8C is that the Xenotar on this model has the highly desirable ten aperture blades. That is one of the reasons I settled on the 2.8C. This should result in more rounded, uniform highlights in the out of focus area.

Generally, the Xenotar’s bokeh is smooth and very pleasing. It won’t be super buttery smooth like a modern lens though. You will sometimes get some coma shaped “orbs” in the background, which you see in a lot of vintage lenses. It may not be completely perfect, but I think it actually adds some character to the images. Even modern lenses such as the Canon EOS 85mm f/1.2L exhibit similar characteristics in the bokeh.

The lens does not really do “swirly bokeh” but once in a while, depending on the background, etc, you might see something reminiscent of a swirl I guess.

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“Schwing” 2011. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar, Kodak Ektar 100. This man was super chill in Batangas, Philippines.

I’m not making any excuses for it, though it might sound like that. This is a superb lens, but it is an old lens. It has character and I like it the way it is!

One other interesting tidbit to this is that while the ten blades are indeed desirable, most of the time when people are thinking bokeh, they are also using their lenses wide open in which none of the blades are making an impact on the images. Keep this in mind!

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“Gwapo On Grand Street” 2012. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar, Fomapan 400 developed in D76. Note the “micro” contrast/details in the hat of this man captured on Grand Street, NYC.

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“Madam” 2011. Rolleiflex 2.8C, Kodak Ektar 100, Manila, Philippines.

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“Nam Tan Wan” 2011. Rolleiflex 2.8C, Kodak Ektar 100, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. In Thai that means “Sweet Sugar” 🙂

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“Lots Of Opposites” 2009. Rolleiflex 2.8C, 80mm f/2.8 Xenotar lens, Kodak T-Max 400 in T-Max Developer. Baby Z holding one of her first reading books. My friends, boy how fast the time flies. Take plenty of pictures and enjoy life for it passes right before your very eye.

As with any lens of this vintage, it would benefit from a lens hood. Rolleiflex 2.8 models take Bay III filters, hoods, etc. I have not generally had too many issues with bad flaring on the Xenotar, but it’s good insurance to have a hood, especially for a vintage lens older than fifty years. Plus the Rollei hood for this camera is just so damn cool! 🙂

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“Serene” 2012. Rolleiflex 2.8C, Fomapan 400 in D76. Here’s a closer portrait using the Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Rolleinar II close-up lens. The film used was Fomapan 400. This is a wonderful setup for close but comfortable portraits.

BOTTOM LINE

In the 1990s I read a book called “Medium Format Photography” by the late great Lief Ericksenn and he stated Rollei claimed back in the days of the Rolleiflex: “A roll of film, and our camera and you’re in business.”

With all the camera choices we have these days, that may not ring true on specific terms. But relatively speaking, I still think they could make a case for it. With the 2.8C, you have a well built camera that needs no batteries and has an absolutely stellar lens. You have no gimmicks to get in the way or distract you from the joy of picture taking.

Especially when shooting film, medium format can produce results that are often superior to most 35mm film cameras and make images that are a pleasing alternative to modern digital cameras.

I have profiled many legendary cameras here on these pages, all of which are carefully chosen, but not all of them are true Camera Legends. The Rolleiflex series as a whole are without dispute among the most legendary and respected cameras of all time. Thus there is no doubt the Rolleiflex 2.8C is a Camera Legend. It is my favorite among all the TLR’s I’ve ever used and I absolutely love it!

The last remnants of Rollei disappeared in 2015, and they famously auctioned off whatever was left of their factory in Germany. A sad end to one of the true giants of 20th century photography. But the legacy of their cameras, especially the Rolleiflex, is very strong in the hearts, mind, and eyes of Rollei fanatics around the world. I have no doubt the Legend of Rollei will live on for a good long time to come.

Although I love all cameras, any time someone asks me to give my opinion of the greatest camera of all time, more often than not I will say…Rolleiflex baby! 🙂

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PRICE & AVAILABILTY

The Rolleiflex 2.8C is an awesome camera and the great thing is that it is not really a rare or super expensive camera so you can always find one if you keep an eye out.

I got mine in 2008 in BGN condition from KEH for a little over $400. From what I can see, bargains can still be had but prices are trending from $400-900 depending on condition, accessories, etc. Sometimes you may luck out and get one for less than $400, though I’ve never seen a legitimate sale for under $300.

Keep in mind though that, especially when buying from auction sites, the camera will likely be in need of a CLA so try to get one for the lowest price possible, factoring in that you will need to have it worked on, which could well cost you a few hundred more.

A very helpful and accurate way to check your Rolleiflex model is to look up the serial numbers which you can find on this great Rollei site.

http://www.rolleiclub.com/cameras/tlr/info/serial_numbers.shtml

Makes sure the shutter fires and everything that’s supposed to move actually moves. Check the aperture blades to see if they move and check the shutter speeds. The blades may have oil on them, but that should not be a major problem. You may even be able to use the camera for some time as is, even if it does eventually need a CLA. Also make sure whatever should not be moving, isn’t moving!

The main problem I see on these cameras are “shutter speeds not accurate” which may be not the end of the world, especially when using b&w film. Other problems may include dirty or hazy lenses with scratches, fungus, etc, which may affect picture quality. Film transport issues and overlapping frames have been reported, but I’ve never had that problem with the Rolleiflexes I’ve used. All these problems are actually things to watch for in any vintage camera, not just Rolleiflexes.

The good thing is that the Rolleiflexes are well built, durable, and many owners do take very good care of them because they inspire love 🙂

Anyway, if you do come across or own one of these awesome cameras I’d love to hear from you!

***NEW CAMERA ALERT!!!***

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