Try to imagine you are a battlefield frontline photographer and taking picture in the trenches. In addition to thinking of how to photograph the enemies, what else would you think? Would you want to design a camera that can help you to save your life? It is said that in 1916, Reinhold Heidecke really had this idea while he was in the trenches. He believed that a periscopic approach to focusing and taking photos can reduce risk to the photographer from sniper fire. In 1920, he and his business partner, Paul Franke founded “Franke & Heidecke” (F & H – now known as Rollei) camera company, and the idea from the trenches achieved out. In 1929 F&H developed and marketed the classic camera – Original Rolleiflex (or called Rolleiflex I type K1)!
The appearance of some products has a kind of magic, you love them at first sight. In the history of camera, of course, there have been these breathtaking products. Personal point of view, a camera has a pair of big lenses, upright-shaped design, users have to bow to focus, is definitely my first choice – this kind of camera called TLR. TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex camera), actually refers to a camera has two lenses, one is for view-finding and focusing (finder lens), another one is for projection of the image to the film (taking lens). This design existed as early as the end of the nineteenth century, probably the 1880s. But the Original Rolleiflex is really the first TLR changed the history of photography!
What makes the Original Rolleiflex different from the other early TLRs? 2 major factors: Lightweight and bright viewfinder. The early TLRs are not using roll film, so they are more cumbersome. In addition, most of the early TLRs’ viewfinders are not bright enough. F & H one-off to get rid of these two major drawbacks, also play to the advantage of TLR design, such as quiet shutter and shooting stability, coupled with a very attractive 6cm x 6cm (6×6) square image formats. All these reasons made the Original Rolleiflex became the darling of the professional and amateur photographers. Afterwards, F & H has introduced many different improved versions of Rolleiflex. Rolleiflex started to occupy a large part of the camera market share, and became the synonym of TLR! Other manufacturers seeing the Rolleiflex success, whether in Europe, the United States or Asia, one after another rushed to plagiarize or imitate the design of the Rolleiflex, launched some similar TLRs, let Twin-Lens Reflex camera popular more than thirty years!
Some people they mixed up TLR and Stereo camera (which is used for shooting 3D images), as both of them are equipped with two lenses. However, as described above, TLR has only one image taking lens, so it is absolutely shot no stereoscopic images. Having said that, the Original Rolleiflex viewfinder system was really taken from its stereo camera brother – “Heidoscop”. Heidoscop was produced ~4 years earlier (1924) than Rolleiflex K1. F & H directly applied the 6×6 Heidoscop viewfinder to the Original Rolleiflex, so it laid the classic Rolleiflex photography format.
Original Rolleiflex has four different sub-versions (excluding prototype Model 610), available in different size of the lens aperture and the camera back design. Model 611 / Model 612 are the two earliest models without hinged back. Model 613 and Model 614 are the later sub-versions with the hinged back design. Furthermore, Model 612 / Model 614 are equipped with a larger aperture f/3.8 lens (p.s. Model 611 / Model 613 are equipped with f/4.5 lens), so the launch prices of 612 / 614 are also higher. Among these 4 models, the Model 612 is the rarest. According to the reported information, only 820 sets of Model 612 were produced.
The above pictures are showing my collection Original Rolleiflex Model 612, the appearance and function are almost perfect. Such a wonderful camera, of course, I cannot make it only sitting on the display. Here are some of the pictures taken by this classic and rare camera.
You might find it very strange, why my sample images are all in rectangular shape but not in 6×6 square format? Because I was using my old trick, using Fujifilm instax mini film to test this camera, which was introduced in my last article: Kodak Petite (I have received a number of questions from the readers asked about how to use Fujifilm instax mini film in those old cameras. I’m very sorry, I have not yet collated relevant teaching, but I promise that one day I would mention the method in this blog…).
Details of the Camera:
Camera model – Original Rolleiflex (Rolleiflex I type K1) – Model 612 (SN: 41652)
Type –TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex)
Year built – 1929
Taking Lens – Zeiss Tessar f/3.8; 7.5cm (SN: 1051762; Filter size 28.5mm);
Finder lens – Heidoscop Anastigmat f/3.1; 7.5cm
Shutter – Compur
Shutter speed – 1sec to 1/300 sec, T & B
Total quantity built: 820 (Model 612)
Made in Germany