The Rolleiflex 2.8 FX Medium Format Twin Lens Reflex camera is an intriguing tool – a long list of inspiring and master photographers considered it one of their favorites. Some famous Rolleiflex camera users include Richard Avedon, Robert Doisneau, Diane Arbus, and Vivian Maier, among others.
This was my first time using the Rolleiflex and thus, the review below is geared towards beginner Rolleiflex users.
Rolleiflex 2.8 FX Medium Format TLR Specifications
- Camera Type: Manual focus, leaf shutter, Twin Lens Reflex (TLR)
- Format: 6 x 6cm
- Film Back/Loading: Standard manual loading, match arrows, close back and wind to first frame
- Film Type: 120 film ONLY: 6 x 6 (12 frames)
- Lens/Mount: Built-in 80mm f/2.8 Rollei Planar HFT; Equivalent to a 52mm lens in the 35mm format; Angle of view = 53 degrees; Bay III filter mount size
- Shutter: Seiko mechanical lens shutter; Shutter speeds 1 sec. to 1/500th and B
- Shutter Release: Lock-able button release on camera body lower front; Accepts standard mechanical cable release
- Self Timer: Not Applicable
- Flash Synchronization: Flash synchronization possible at all shutter speeds
- Mirror Lock-Up: Not Applicable
- Exposure Metering: TTL center-weighted manual exposure; Metering range EV 3-18
- Exposure Bracketing: Not Applicable
- Exposure Compensation: Possible for TTL flash via ISO setting dial
- Depth-of-Field Preview: Not Applicable
- Viewfinder: Folding viewfinder hood is supplied as standard and is interchangeable with optional 45 degree and 90 degree prism finders. Parallax compensation corresponding to distance set. Interchangeable standard focusing screen is a split-image/micro prism type with grid-lines. Note: This camera uses the same focusing screens as the 6000 series Rollei models.
- Viewfinder Info: Metering indication by five LED’s
- Film Transport: Permanent manual film winding crank located on camera body side which simultaneously advances the film and cocks the shutter.
- Multiple Exposure: Yes
- Focusing System: Manual with rotating knob on camera body side; Minimum focusing distance = 1m (3.3 feet). This camera includes a gold-plated Rolleinar II close-up lens set. The Rolleinar II set is only available with this 75th Anniversary model. Optional Rolleinar I close-up lens set #ROR1SB3 allows for focusing at distances from 39 1/2 to 17 3/4″ (100 to 45cm).
- Power Source: PX28 type 6V silver oxide or lithium battery. Battery powers light meter only
- Tripod Mount: 1/4″ standard socket with integral mounting plate for rapid mounting with the optional Rolleifix quick-release tripod mount #96548
- Dimensions: 5.8 x 4.3 x 4.25″ (147 x 109 x 108mm) HWD
- Weight: 1.275kg (45 oz)
As soon as I received this camera, the first thing I did was read the manual and load the film. The instruction manual was not as descriptive as I would have preferred. Instead, I googled “how to load film in the Rolleiflex” and came across numerous youtube videos that solved my confusion. I was able to get the film loaded rather easily after watching a few video tutorials.
All the images from this camera are shot on 120 medium format film. The negative is 6 x 6, which means that all the images from this camera will be im square format.
After loading the film, I then started looking through the viewfinder.
The Rolleiflex has a waist-level viewfinder. This means that images are viewed by holding the camera at your waist and looking into the viewfinder from above. The viewfinder image is seen upright, however, the image is reversed left to right. What you view is actually the reverse of what is in front of you, which can make things a bit more difficult if you are not used to that sort of viewfinder. I spent 20 minutes just composing images around my office without even taking a picture, trying to get used to this foreign way of looking through the viewfinder.
Below: A view from above looking into the viewfinder while the camera is pointed out a window. You can see the image is upright, however, the image is reversed left to right.
The camera feels somewhat heavy – it weighs close to 3 pounds. A camera strap is useful since the camera is heavy, but I wasn’t impressed with the camera strap that comes with this camera. While it attaches very easily to the camera, the material feels cheap. But, this is not a deal-breaker for me – camera straps are easy to replace and there are many good options on the market as a replacement.
I also tested the focus before I started shooting any frames. I found it difficult to feel confident about focusing without using the magnifying piece. All of the images that I shot were with the magnifying piece.
While I used the battery (it was easy to install) it is only necessary if you are planning to use the light meter. If the battery dies while you are on a shoot, you can use an external meter or the Sunny 16 rule to meter, and you can keep shooting. I do like that feature!
After spending an hour and a half to two hours reading the manual, loading the film, and practicing composition and focus, I was finally ready to start taking some images.
It is a fun camera to use and it is a conversation starter as it looks different from modern digital cameras. People are curious to know about it!
Even with the magnifying piece, it is still hard to nail focus. A lot of my images came back soft and some were wildly out of focus. But, I expected that as I only had about a month to use this camera. I am sure with continued use my focusing would improve.
I sometimes spent 30-40 seconds trying to get my composition how I wanted it. Looking through the viewfinder is counter-intuitive as what you see in front of you isn’t what you see with the twin-lens waist-level viewfinder. But instead of it frustrating me, it felt more like a fun creative challenge. Regardless, I did still end up with crooked images – you will see examples of those in section 4.
I did not take this camera to any weddings. I knew I would be far too slow at focus and composition, so I used it for personal use and at an editorial shoot.
I sent my rolls of film off to my favorite lab, Photo Impact Imaging, and there were lines that looked like scratches going through the image. I asked my lab if it was something on my end or theirs, and they said something inside the camera was scratching the film.
I tried to blow out any particles that might have found their way into the film back, but every roll was the same. While I could not figure out the culprit of the scratches during the course of the review, I figured out my problem after mailing back this camera.
Because I used YouTube videos to teach me how to load film, the videos showed older models of the Rolleiflex. Apparently, with this newest model, the way of loading the film is different. Past models required to load the film under the first and second rollers in the back of the camera. The new FX model does not want you to load the film under the first roller. Completely my mistake!
These are the first few images I have ever taken with a Rolleiflex and I know they are not all great in the technical sense. However, they show the trial and error necessary when using a new camera, especially when that camera is film where there is a considerable wait between shooting the images and seeing the images!
These are all taken in natural light on Portra 400 film.
I found flowers are a great way to practice because they do not move! :) They are patient when I take up to 1 minute to focus and compose :)
Below: You can clearly see the scratch marks that are on the negative because of my film loading problem.
Below: A self-portrait in a mirror ;)
Below: More unfortunate scratch marks.
Below: This was super out of focus, but I converted it to black and white and called it “artistic” ;) But clearly, this would not be one for the portfolio!
Below: This “winner” is both out of focus and crooked. You win some, you lose some sometimes. ;) I could tell it was crooked when I took the photo, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to get the lines straight on this particular frame because of the counter-intuitive viewfinder.
This camera is not easy to use – it is the type of camera that makes you slow down, which is actually nice. I wouldn’t call the experience of using this camera frustrating, but there is a learning curve.
This would not be my go-to camera when photographing, but I did find it to be a nice creative challenge.
Rolleiflex 2.8 FX Medium Format Twin Lens Reflex Camera
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Ease of Use
- Speed and Performance
Photography Life Overall Rating
The Rolleiflex TLR is one of the most iconic cameras ever made. The original viewfinders could be pretty dim. I have several and I had one updated with a much more modern screen. It makes a world of difference. Calibration of the focusing system is essential as well. But the results can be stellar with some wonderfully sharp lenses.It is possible to add a pentaprism, but that just makes it even darker. Like any tool, it does take some getting used to.
Can you imagine rating one of the greatest cameras ever made a “3.9” because you don’t know how to use it? I wish I had a 2.8FX. I would cherish it until I’m old, and then pass it on to my grandchildren.
These fully analog, manual focus cameras are not easy to use. It’s why autofocus lenses were invented. Photography is like music- its a skill that needs to be developed over time and never truly mastered. You’ll always be learning, no matter how good you get. But to give a camera like this a down-score because it was hard to get the focus or composition level, would be like giving a violin a lesser score because it was hard to play in tune. I have one of these cameras and can easily nail the focus and keep it vertical, but then again, I’ve been using these TLR cameras for 25 years. The reason they are so expensive is because they are made in Europe, not china or Malaysia, and they are made is much smaller numbers. I have one of the FX-N versions, of which they made only 20 of them. It’s high quality, made in a country that has a high cost of living. The lenses on these are the nicest of all TLR cameras. Nothing about any of that would make it inexpensive!
couldn’t agree more. well said
I think it is one of the best ever made. I have used it extesively at Big Bend National Park and in New Smyna Beach,FL. It just seems to be more fun and I have not been disappointed. Currently it is being refurbished and I am using the pocket Rollei the 35S.
I use two Rollei cameras regularly, both from the 1960’s: a Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar (80mm) and a Tele-Rollei f4.0 Sonnar (135mm). They are wonderful tools for film photography. If waist-level viewing is a problem, purchase a prism (be sure you have a later model that uses one) or use the open-frame finder. The prism provides a huge view, makes focusing easy, and eliminates the “reversed” image. Have some of your negatives scanned and they will produce files that “blow away” all but your most expensive digital cameras. I also use a Hasselblad, and it’s interchangeable backs and lenses are convenient, but the Rollei’s are by far my most enjoyable to use medium format film cameras.
I used a Rolleiflex for landscape photography in the 1990’s, took it hiking with me and the results were nearly always exceptional – a heavy beast to carry around up mountains but worth it. The comment about needing to “slow down” is telling, with so few shots per film and not exactly an easy film changing process to put in a new film on a cold mountain side I treated each shot as my last! It made the whole process of taking photographs relaxing and rewarding. I still have my Western Master light meter from those days but stupidly sold the Rollieflex on Ebay for a couple of hundred pounds ten years ago. Three years ago I bought a Mamiya 6×6 which so far hasn’t left its box but reading this article made me recall that its still waiting to be used and its time to dust it down and retrace my memories on taking photo’s the original way.
Laura, I have a Vintage Roleiflex camera passed on to me by my grandparents. Could you help me place the year of manufacture, model and basically appraise it for me?
Check this out.
$8850.00. EEK! Cool camera, but out of my budget. There are old units from the 80’s available from time to time for around 1500.00 or so. Wondering how well they perform compared to the new ones.
I chuckled when you said the camera requires a learning curve. I was a police photographer and was issued a Yashika TLR camera. I don’t think I EVER got a photo that was completely straight. Things were crooked and I could never get it quite, exactly straight. But my goodness you could get right up on your subject if you wanted and the photos were So clear. Thanks for the article. It was good reading.
Hi Laura! Great article, thank you for the review. Congratulations on your 2.8FX, you just got the ultimate TLR! It will serve you well for the rest of your life (may it be long!) Don’t let the negative comments here discourage you. I have been a 2.8FX user for 10 years now, it is the most amazing camera I have ever used and I do not regret any cent I spent buying it. I recently added a Hasselblad to the collection, mostly for the convenience of changing lenses and backs. But my Rolleiflex is still the one I take if I want to have only one simple camera with me. Out of my (not very large) collection of cameras, the Rolleiflex lens provides the best images in my opinion. The 2.8FX has a very reliable meter which is a big asset when you want to travel light, not lugging tons of equipments with you. The meter is precise enough for shooting slide film.
A side note – judging from your camera pictures it seems that you are missing the focus knob cover. Here a few snapshots of mine with the cover in place and the cover removed. I suggest to get in touch with the seller to get one!
There are a few recommended accessories: filters are available in Bayonet III (Bay III or Bay 3) size. There are 2 kinds of lens hoods, a metal one and a rubber one – I personally use the rubber one and also use a UV filter. If you ever use your Rollei on a tripod, I highly recommend you to use a tripod adapter called Rolleifix. The Rolleifix provides a way of quickly attaching/detaching the camera from the tripod and also protects the baseplate of the camera from mechanical stress which could damage the film cover.
Hope this helps, let me know if you have any question! Have fun with the Rollei! :-)
Looks the pictures disappeared when I edited my post to correct a typo. Here they are again just in case.