The Wonderful World of Rolleiflex TLR Photography: Street Photography


There are several schools of thought regarding whether or not a Rolleiflex TLR is a good camera for street photography. On the negative side, the exposures per roll are limited to 12, the vintage design often attracts attention, and it takes longer to advance the film to the next frame. On the positive side, the camera can be operated stealthily by shooting from the waist and/or aiming the camera perpendicular to the direction you’re facing; the 120 negative is much larger than its 35mm counterpart; and the leaf shutter is quieter and has less vibration than a camera with a moving mirror or shutter curtains. More important than which camera is used, is how it’s used, and how comfortable a photographer is using it. While you may miss a few shots shooting with a Rolleiflex TLR, you will savor the ones that were caught that much more.

Once a photographer is familiar with the operation of the Rolleiflex TLR, it’s time to put the camera through its paces and shoot some beautiful photographs. For street photography, a good method is to set the focus to 10 feet and the f/stop and shutter speed to a combination suitable for shooting in shade or sunlight. As you move from sunlit to shady areas, you should adjust the settings as required. By always having suitable exposure settings, a photographer will be ready to respond to photo opportunities at a moment’s notice. When you want to compose a tighter shot, it’s a simple matter to rotate the focusing knob to six or seven feet.

Of course, if time permits, it’s usually preferable to focus in the traditional manner of looking through the viewfinder. And when you’re close to a subject, some photographers will appreciate moving the camera slightly forward or backward to find focus as opposed to moving the focusing knob—it’s a matter of preference. In writings and interviews, legendary photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Weegee, and others often discuss the virtues of this simple approach. These universal principles are easily applied to most cameras and formats, not just the Rolleiflex TLR.

General Street Photography Strategies

In urban areas, it’s advantageous to walk against the flow of foot traffic to facilitate photographing the faces of passersby. While rear views can sometimes tell a story, they’re seldom as compelling as frontal shots that include faces. Additionally, by choosing which side of the street to walk on, one is also choosing whether a person will be back or front lit, and if they’ll be in shade or open sun—providing, of course, that it’s a sunny day, that the sun is not directly overhead, and that nearby buildings, trees or other obstructions are tall enough to create shade. In areas with tall buildings, you can often find that a pleasing combination of directional and soft light is created by sunlight bouncing from reflective surfaces.

One shooting method is to select an area with interesting lighting, choose a camera position with an uncluttered background, and simply wait for interesting subjects to walk into the frame. Although this method can yield good photos, it’s seldom as fruitful as simply being ready for and responding in a less predetermined manner. To increase the opportunities for catching elusive and fleeting moments, scan fifty or more feet ahead of where you are walking, for people with interesting faces and for moments in the making. Something as simple as two friends meeting in front of a restaurant can result in an emotionally charged photo opportunity. Part of the reward of street photography is improving one’s skills at accurately anticipating how people will behave, how moments will transition, where to position the camera, and how to conduct oneself to capture these meaningful slice-of-life vignettes.

Many photographers are understandably reticent, at first, to point a camera in a stranger’s direction. However, with practice and a smile, it is not only possible to become comfortable with photographing strangers, but in many cases it is easy to engage in pleasant conversation with them. In fact, with their quirky, vintage appearance, the Rolleiflex TLRs are often conversation starters themselves, and can even elicit requests from strangers to shoot their photo. When considering the importance of telling stories with facial expressions, never rule out the value of expressions that run the gamut of human emotion—even an expression of discomfort can tell a memorable story. Photographer Richard Avedon was a master at this, and would often peer through his Rolleiflex TLR for awkward minutes until a subject’s “public face” fell to reveal who they really were. This is not to suggest that a photographer shouldn’t be aware of and considerate of how others may feel when photographed. However, when photographers display a sincere desire to elevate a subject or an event, to communicate their vision, and to create art, this sincerity will be apparent to others and not only put them at ease, but enlist them to the cause, as well. Although a delicate matter, it can be done.

The Rolleiflex Experience

While shooting with a Rolleiflex TLR or any TLR is relatively easy to do, like other artistic endeavors, it takes years of dedication to tap its full potential. For those who have never shot film, the best part of the process is often wondering what the photo will look like when it is developed, and whether or not it will meet or exceed expectations.

The biggest adjustment for those who have only worked with digital cameras is that it is not possible to review a shot on the spot after it has been taken. However, with practice, it is possible to envision what the photo will look like and to make the necessary exposure and other adjustments that will realize your vision prior to releasing the shutter. Having a photo in one’s head and capturing it with a camera is a rewarding experience, and examining the finished result for flaws is an excellent way to learn and improve your skills.

Rolleiflex Ergonomics

Rolleiflex TLRs were designed with all the controls in the perfect location for waist-level shooting. Looking down, it’s easy to see the two, tiny windows displaying the f/stop and shutter speed, which are adjusted by thumb dials on either side of the lenses. On the left is a robust focusing knob with exposure-meter needle, depth-of-field scale, film spool releases, and filter compensation scale that corresponds to the factor number printed on filters. On the right is the film advance/shutter cocking lever, which advances the film when rotated forward, and cocks the shutter when rotated backward. The lower right corner of the camera features the shutter release and shutter lock, while the top right has the self-timer/flash synch selector, and the bottom left has a locking synch outlet. All in all, the ergonomics are easy to understand and quickly become second nature.

Rolleiflex Viewfinders: Tricks and Tips

Because waist-level viewfinders don’t have prisms, photographers have to become used to viewing their subjects laterally reversed. The stationary mirror behind the taking lens allows for proper vertical viewing, but doesn’t correct for the horizontal. Things can get confusing, however, when trying to follow a moving subject, because it is instinctive to pan in the same direction in which the subject is moving. However, when using a Rolleiflex TLR to challenge yourself, hone skills, or as a way to shake things up and shoot in a different way, each difficulty or obstacle can be viewed as beneficial.

Newcomers to the world of Rolleiflex TLR’s often report having difficulty holding the camera level. My feeling is that when you don’t think too much about holding the camera level, the shots come out perfect. It simply takes a little getting used to. Of course, shooting with a focusing screen that has a grid, or looking for objects such as buildings, curbs, or trees can aid in keeping the camera level.

One of the most popular uses for a waist-level finder is shooting ground-level shots, since it is possible to see through the finder without having to lie down on the ground, as with an eye-level finder. However, Rolleiflex TLR waist-level finders can approximate an eye-level finder with eye portals on the front and rear panels that function as a sports finder. While not optimal, with practice this function can prove useful in situations where obstructions prevent waist-level shooting. The advantages of shooting from the solar plexus is that people will look more “heroic,” as the horizon line and related background areas behind a subject will be shifted higher.

For shooting from a higher vantage point, try holding the camera above the head while looking up to compose and focus. One can see this technique demonstrated by none other than Fred Astaire in the movie “Funny Face”—a must–see for any Rolleiflex TLR shooter.

The Rolleiflex 2.8f, 3.5f, and some later 2.8e and 3.5e models have removable viewfinders. This offers the option of shooting with a chimney finder, and 90-degree or 45-degree eye-level pentaprism, which are heavy but allow photographers to view subjects without the image appearing laterally reversed.

Proper Exposure with Rolleiflex 2.8f and 3.5f Cameras

The Rolleiflex 2.8f and 3.5f models have removable waist-level finders, with many having coupled exposure meters, as well. The coupling feature means that when one changes the ISO setting, filter compensation dial, shutter speed or aperture, it will affect the light measurement. This is different from earlier, non-coupled meters, used by photographers to obtain an exposure value number they can then use to set the proper exposure. Unfortunately, most Rolleiflexes are more than 50 years old, and their selenium cell meters no longer function or are inaccurate. Even if the exposure meter works, it’s quite easy to learn how to do without it. Simply use the f/16 rule of thumb, also known as the “Sunny 16 Rule,” which states that in bright sunlight the correct exposure will be f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/film ISO. Therefore, with 400-speed film, set the camera to f/16 and 1/400-second.

One of the best reasons for learning to set good exposures without a meter is to prepare for shooting rapidly unfolding action sequences that occur in low light, shade, or sun. An example might be at a sporting event that takes place in open and heavily treed areas. Having to spend time taking exposure readings could result in many missed shots.

Depth of Field

One disadvantage of a TLR, as compared to an SLR in terms of subject viewing, is that you can’t look through the taking lens and see the depth of field for a specific aperture, or see the effect of certain filters such as polarizers. Fortunately, the TLR’s focus knob has a white band that widens as the lens opening is reduced, and that corresponds to the distance scale on the part of the knob closest to the camera. Distances in the white area will be in focus and those outside this area will be out of focus. A photographer would thus focus on the closest and farthest parts of a scene they wanted to be sharp, note the distances and focus on a spot approximately 1/3 in. So, if the near distance was 10' and the far distance 40', you would set the focus to 20' and rotate the aperture dial until the white band included everything between 10 and 40'. When calculating depth of field, bear in mind that:

  • Because the distance scale on some TLRs might require calibration, it’s a good idea to check your scale for accuracy with a tape measure.
  • With practice, one will become skilled at guessing subject distances accurately, and knowing what distance is required for a portrait, full-length, group shot, or landscape.
  • Generally, 10' is a good working distance for a full-length shot.  
  • During street shooting, or any photography involving moving subjects, and when shooting quickly is a necessity, the ability to pre-focus can make or break a shot. The theory is that the longer one fiddles with focusing, the more stale a given moment becomes, along with the likelihood a subject will appear self-conscious. Therefore, shooting quickly and accurately is vital.
  • With time, one can shoot candid portraits without the subject being aware of your presence.

Using a Polarizing Filter

The standard procedure for using a polarizing filter is to look through the filter with the naked eye while rotating the front ring until the desired polarizing effect is achieved. Simply view the scene to be photographed through the filter, rotate the front ring until the desired effect is achieved, note the number on the top of the filter, install the filter, and rotate the ring until the notated number is on top. While this might not be as fast as using a polarizing filter with an SLR, it works quite well.

One thing to consider is that many vintage Rolleiflex polarizing filters, which go by the name Rolleipol, suffer from damage such as waviness and fading. The same is often true of dark red filters. Good ones can be sourced, but it may take some effort. The numbers around the perimeter of a Rolleipol are from 1-18. Fortunately, Heliopan still makes bayonet-mounted filters in several sizes, including Bay III size for the 2.8f, and Bay II for the 3.5f model cameras.

Using ND and Yellow Filters

Many photographers appreciate the benefits of shooting with just one film sensitivity, such as ISO 400, which is good for many low-light situations. The downside is that when shooting with ISO 400 in bright sunlight, the working aperture of f/16 may result in more depth of field than the photographer wants. For this reason, it’s a good practice to carry a 2x or .6 ND (Neutral Density) filter. By using this ND filter, the effective film speed is reduced to ISO 100 and the photographer can shoot at f/8.0, an aperture 2 stops wider than f/16. An alternative to using an ND filter for photographers favoring black-and-white photography is to use a 1.5 Yellow filter, which has the advantage of darkening a blue sky, while also reducing the effective film speed from ISO 400 to 160.

The filter factor number on the filter housing matches the number displayed on the filter compensation dial on the bottom left side of the camera. Simply rotate the dial to the number on the filter and the coupled exposure meter will adjust the exposure accordingly. For instance, the number 1 would result in an exposure increase of 1 stop, which correlates to the exposure decrease of 1 stop from using the filter. To achieve the same result when computing exposure with a separate meter, simply adjust the ISO setting by 1 stop.

Fear of Flaring

Rolleiflex lenses are single-coated and therefore prone to flare—so don’t forget to use a lens hood. By the way, a lens hood will also serve as a protective bumper and help shield the lens from light rain. The benefit of not being multi-coated is that by reducing maximum density, the lens creates an illusion of greater shadow detail. Flare factors to consider include the following.

  • In 99 percent of circumstances, flare and the accompanying lowering of contrast and subject edge detail are issues to be avoided.
  • For artistic purposes, there are occasions when a photographer will want to embrace the fear of flare, especially in strongly backlit situations, to produce cool and dramatic effects.
  • At smaller lens openings, the five aperture blades will yield pentagon-shaped flare that is easily enhanced during printing.

Flash Photography

For flash usage, the leaf shutter will synch with electronic flash at all speeds, which on a Rolleiflex 2.8f or 3.5f is 1/500 of a second. To trigger a flash, simply connect a synch cord from the flash to the synch outlet on the bottom left of the front of the camera and set the flash synch lever on the upper right to X for electronic or M for bulb flash. The synch outlet on a Rolleiflex TLR has a lever that will lock when used with a Rolleiflex-specific synch cord. Small flash units may be attached to an optional third-party cold shoe that is connected to the bayonet mount on the taking lens, held with a bracket screwed to the tripod mounting screw underneath the camera or Rolleifix quick release, or handheld. The benefit of shooting with a handheld flash is that a photographer can aim the light in more directions.


Shooting film with a vintage Rolleiflex TLR is a great way to return to or learn the basics of photography. The knowledge acquired from film shooting and developing can be readily applied to digital work, and vice versa. And for photographers interested in building a distinctive body of work, shooting with a specific camera and format for several years has a good chance of producing the desired result. If it’s fun, challenging, and feels right, you’re on the right track.

The Wonderful World of Rolleiflex TLR Photography is a three-part series. If you missed Part 1, Buying a Used Rolleiflex, or Part 2,​ Loading Film, just click the links.

Dan Wagner has been shooting Rolleiflex TLR cameras for years, and his latest book iNever Seeing Nothing.



The best camera is the one you like, the one that feels comfortable and the one that gives you good pictures. Rolleiflex negatives are over 4 times the area of 35mm. The resolving power of the lens is legendary and they can be very fast to operate, once you have the hang of them. I'm unashamedly a fan and think that they're better than any other camera.  Having said that,  most of my pictures are taken on 35mm, because automatic cameras are very convenient. 

No one would argue that Rolleiflex is in the very top tier of manufacturing quality but pay extra and get a good example. Don't go bargain hunting or you will be disappointed. One of my Rolleiflexes is nearly 60 years old. It still operates perfectly.

Dan, thanks for the well-written article. I have never shot medium format before and just purchased a used Rolleiflex.  It is a bit overwhelming, but your calm and encouraging words make it seem less so.  I can't wait to hit the streets, or better, the churches!  I enjoy photographing South Carolina's historic churches, many of which are in ruins, all of which give me the time to refer to your step-by-step suggestions!  Best wishes, thanks again...    

Hi Bill,

Thank you. My daughter graduated from Davidson in North Carolina -- beautiful part fo the counrty and great people. The Rolleiflex is a great choice for architectural photography -- so much detail and smooth tonal transistions. I'm sure you'll be happy with the shots you take. Pairing a vintage camera like the Rolleiflex with a historic subject like historical churches is a great combination.


Very informative article, Dan.  I happened to be at a rural auction this week and bought a Rollei for $50.  I am a painter, not a photographer and know next to nothing on the subject.  I watched Finding Vivien Meier a few weeks ago and was intrigued.  After a quick Google search, I stumbled upon your article.  Could you please point me in the direction of where I should first start to learn about this beautiful camera.  It just looks like it would be so much fun to use.  It came with several filters and accessories, but not with a manual.

Hi Jego,

Congratulations on your new Rolleiflex. Speaking of Vivian Maier -- you could begin the way she did and learn how to load the camera -- which is one of the articles in this series. Then find an introductory photography book to learn about lens apertures, and shutter speeds. You may like the Pearson Education Book: A Short Course in Photography: Film and Darkroom (Ninth Edition) B&H # PESCIPFD9EDThere are Rolleiflex specific manuals and books readily available on eBay. Fortunately you're already a painter, and have the most important ability -- a good eye. Film and developing supplies are in abundant suppy at B&H :)  Without knowing more about your photographic background, it's hard to be more specific. However, if you own a digital camera, and can put it in full manual mode, then by setting the ISO to that of the film you're using, you will have a way to judge exposures and such before shooting film. Hope this helps.

Please feel free to comment and ask more questions. 


what are the exact image dimentions of the Rollie 2.8 and 3.5?

That is the exposed area of the negative.

Hi Gordon,

Thank you for your question. Funny, but I've never contemplated the actual dimensions of the exposed area of a piece of film. Like many other photographers, I just think of the format -- such as 6x6 with 120 film. So to make sure I provided you with accurate information I contacted legendary Rolleiflex repairman, Harry Fleenor of Oceanside Camera Repair in Manhattan Beach, California. Here's Harry's reply:

The Rollei Manual by Alec Pearlman says "The actual measurement of the negative of the modern instrument are 59 x 55 mm. generally referred to as 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 or 6 x 6 cm".

I measured the exposed area of some negatives at 56.5 mm square.

Harry's shop is outfitted with state-of-the-art repair tools and measuring devices. So, I'm certain his measurement is on the mark.

Best regards,

Wonderful article! Really informative.  Well written and with good example images.  Thanks. 

Thank yu for a great article.  Are you printing digitally?  If one is not developing his/her film, where do you recommend to send the exposed roll?


Thank you.

Leon Papir

Thanks Leon and Yash.

Glad you liked the articles. I've been printing my scanned negatives on Epson Exhibition Fiber paper with an Epson 3880. I love the results. In terms of finding a lab -- I recommend locating a lab in your home town. I think it's helpful to be able to speak face to face with the person processing your work. I shoot a lot of film and the cost of sending it out for processing would be prohibitive. I can process up to 24 rolls in a single day -- so it's not too much bother. Although for color, it's nice to find a lab with nitrogen burst agitation with dip and dunk machines -- really improves the quality. And with Digital Ice, it's easy to remove dust and scratches on film.

Best, Dan

My comment will immediately tag me as an old-timer, but I do find something condescending in the premise of the suitability of using a Rolleiflex TLR for “street photography”. It is somewhat akin to describing the suitability of a Cadillac Coupe deVille for a Sunday drive.

The Rollei TLR is one of the most iconic and significant designs in the history of photography. Don’t take my word for it; go to the site of the illustrious Ecole nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière in Paris, and you may download a reprint of a 2014 master’s thesis on the significance of this design on the history of photographic art.  Far too expensive for most amateurs, the Rolleis were almost exclusively the prized possession of professionals, where they rivaled the Leicas and the large-format Speed Graphics. There were many knock-offs, some excellent in their own right, like the Mamiya C330. The less sophisticated  and less expensive Yashica-D might be a better candidate for the “street photography” article, or Rollei’s own, low-cost version of the Rolleiflex, the “Rolleicord”.

The Rolleiflex lenses, described in the article as “subject to flare” are actually the legendary Carl Zeiss Planars and Schneider Xenotars, considered at the time among the finest optics ever produced, and still capable today of results sharper than most photographers are used to seeing. Indeed, one of the joys of using the Rolleiflex is getting the negatives back and seeing all the minute details in the distance one had not noticed in real life. This joy is only equaled by the smooth, creamy “bokeh” produced when one deliberately sets a background out of focus. The depth of field, as mentioned in the article, is not visible in the viewing lens, but there is a depth of field scale on the focus knob, which one may easily learn to use for precise control of sharpness distribution. This is only one of the many ways in which the twin-lens Rollei is one of the best platforms, if you can afford it, to learn about the basics of photography.

Alas, while not giving credit to the real qualities of this iconic camera, the article also failed to mention the most serious drawbacks. The discontinuation of 220 film is one, making film loads twice as frequent as they were during the heyday of the camera, but more importantly the Synchro-Compur shutters were always subject to sticking, and required regular maintenance. As there are few people today really qualified to do this maintenance, and most Rolleis one does find will have been sitting on the shelf for years, it is highly likely that the shutter will not work at all, or at least not at any speed below about 1/30th, which significantly limits the use of this fine photographic jewel.

Hi Greg,

LOL! I don't see how using a Rolleiflex for street photography could be condescending. Perhaps it would feel awkward at first. However with a little practice one can be very fast with it. My sreet photography book, Never Seeing Nothing, was shot exclusively with Rolleiflex cameras. I shot 1,800 plus rolls of film. I'd compare it to a Subaru Outback more than a Caddy. :)

Regarding shooting street photography with a camera that costs less, such as a Yashica -- a used Rolleiflex costs about the same or less than many the DSLRs you see people shooting street photography with. I don't think there's a price point for a camera's suitability for street photography. 

This street photography Rolleiflex article is the third part of the series. Most of the issues you mention in your last two paragraphs are discussed in great detail in part 1: Buying a Used Rolleiflex, and part 2: Loading a Rolleiflex.

Best, Dan

I can't remember the manufacturer but some company is making 220 film currently (2022). A friend bought some and showed me the results - they were excellent. 

My Rolleicord was also my first camera back when 35 SLRs were the hot thing with my high school buddies.  I love shooting the square format and many nostalgic aspects of the TLR.  Having become heavily invested in digital, the thing I really like about DSLR images is that I can print them myself and make sure the prints are exactly how I like them.  I did grow up in a dark room and that is still an option.  But the film fork in the road (actually three) is to:  1) wet process my own B&W, 2) send it out and hope I like it or 3) scan the negative and work it myself with Photoshop and my Pro Inkjet.  So, I guess my point is that the disincentive to work more with my TLR isn't the photographing process itself, its the tradeoffs related to getting the image to print.  Even if I have a high quality scan you lose some of the film tonal gradation that set film apart from digital and honestly find with the new digital equipment I can get the same quality with my DNG images as I could with a scanned 120 negative.  Which, makes it more of a nostalgia experience than an outcome at least for me.

Hi Gregory,

You make many valid points. My process is to develop the film with a Phototherm processor. It can handle two rolls at a time. Then I dry the film in Kindermann metal cabinets. I'm lucky to have a Nikon 9000 scanner with a glass negative carrier. The scans come out great. I then adjust in PhotoShop and print with an Epson 3880. I've shown the prints to a few gallery owners, and they didn't know it was inkjet -- the Epson F surface Exhibition Fiber is very convincing. 

I've played with some film emulation programs for digital, and have been happy with the results. Whatever works. :)

Best, Dan

You say:

The advantages of shooting from the solar plexus is that people will look more “heroic,” as the horizon line and related background areas behind a subject will be shifted higher.

Do you mean the person in the foreground rises above the background?  Archimedes' lever and all that ;-)


LOL! I think I may have confused myself a bit on that one. When I was a student at FIT, the instructors recommended shooting fashion from a low angle to make models look taller and more heroic. Shooting from the waist or bit above is a compromise. And I generally prefer that vantage point over eyelevel. Archimedes' lever -- I try to employ that whenever I can.

Cheers, Dan

Dan, a couple of items,

#1 for me - where do you get GE 5's or Press 25's these days? I'm having trouble finding them and only have a few left. 

#2 - I love square format anyway though some of my cameras were either folding rangefinders or SLRs. My first TLR was a wonderful old Brownie box with a nice glass lens using 127 film. Then a Yashica Mat (Rollei knock off). My favorite one, which I still have but don't use a lot anymore is my Mamiya C33 that I got back in 1969. I've replaced the rubber light seal over the years and it has a poroprism finder and under-camera handle. The heavyness of the camera feels wonderful and solid to me, still.

#3 - I am curious about what the current drain could be on the Rollei flashes with either synch cord or bulb in socket. There is no instant-on circuitry (which really just means always on, therefore using current, just not showing). A physical switch is open (no current flow) or closed (wires together completing the circuit). On the face of it this doesn't make sense to me. While the bulb offers its filament as a current path you would still need the circuit to be closed (on). Without a path for current to flow there is just the shelf life of batteries and eventual chemical leakage with the attendant cell destruction (the white powder/crystals on the surface) to cause lose of electrical capacity.

#4 - I don't know many of us who do much shooting with our old film cameras anymore. Still, the cleaness and ease of shooting are so superior to the auto-anything, especially auto lenses where there is little practical good in using manual focus. A quick glance at the focus, aperture and shutter is still so much more direct and, I repeat, clean. Just a great feel. I keep waiting for a digital camera which has the same feel or sense about it. No luck. I was initially excited by Fuji but gave up. Even their viewfinder camera had shutter lag (hard to explain) and I shoot dancers. I am also a close-in wide angle guy and long ago figured the 28mm lens on a 35mm camera was too confined for the way I work. I preferred my old 20mm. The designers keep thinking the 3.5-5.6 is an acceptable max f-stop (I shoot in dark situations and remember my old folding 6x6 rangefinder with a single-coated f/2.8 lens from the earl 1950's). These designers also want to outsmart themselves with way too many functions and options rather than give me a clean operation in the older, simpler and, for me, better, actually superior operation.

Hi Mike,

Thank you for the great, detailed reply. I get my bulbs on eBay. Right now I've got a few thousand in my garage. I keep them in cardboard boxes with the quantity and type of bulb written on the outside. When I get a new batch of bulbs I clean the bottom contact with an emery board or piece of sandpaper. This helps ensure a good connection. Then I put the bulb in a flash unit and check the circuit to make sure the bulb is still good. 

I like the bellows on the Mamiyas for close-up work. And the ability to change lenses, and lower cost are good, too. I missed out on a great deal for one with a lot of accessories. Thing is, most of my photo outings involve walking miles -- so the added weight is a deciding factor.

Regarding battery drain -- I insert the bulb and synch cord when I'm ready to shoot. I don't have figures on battery drainage. But, my batteries have lasted a long time.

...Great analysis of older cameras vs newer models. Yesterday I got to play with the Fuji X-Pro2. Very nice! I think you might like it. The lag time in one instance is only 0.05 seconds. The new Nikon D5 might work for you. Back in my assistant days, I was lucky to work for Jack Mitchell and saw some great dancers.

Best, Dan


Hi Dan, A very good article on owning and using the Rollei. As an avid Rollei user for the last fifty years it is great of you to inspire others to pick up or buy a Rollei and experience the fun of using this camera. The part where you discuss wedding, or any other fast action, events really got to me as I had an experience that exemplified that situation. I was photographing a wedding years ago with a young bride and a VERY DRUNK groom. At the cake cutting part I generally make four shots, they cut the cake, she feeds him, he feeds her and they kiss. Well, as it happened I only had three shots left on the 220 roll so I told them I would have to reload before the kiss shot.  As I said he was very drunk, and as I was reloading the camera he picks up the top of the cake and smashes it on her head!  Now that really put a damper on the party, to say the least. Obviously I didn't get that shot, the shot of a lifetime, and just for the foolish habit of not wasting a frame of film. I still have that image burned into my brain forever.  So friends, take Dans advise and always be ready for the unexpected.

Hi Paul,

LOL! about the drunk groom and the cake. It's funny how the shots we miss stay with us forever. I've shot my share of weddings, and seen things I'd like to forget. :) Like the time the best man smashed cake in the face of the groom's brother and it turned into an MMA match. I sht that scene with a D3 -- so I only had to worry about my safety, and not running out of film.

Cheers - Dan 

I live in a touristy area of Australia and a few weeks ago saw a Japanese gentleman using a Rollei, of course I had to go and talk to him about it because in these digital days it looked incongruous. To complete the picture he had a hand held exposure meter on a cord around his neck. I have had a number of Rolleis over the years including the 4x4 but am now firmly in the digital camp.

Hello all you Rollei lovers...I am one alo that still use mine. From the first one in high school (1955) To now a studio in operation for 54 years in Dearborn Hgts MI.  I have had many of the twin lens models and still do. They were instrumental in my Master of Photography  ( PPA) . My fond memories are of Heinz Grassoff in Ann Arbor MI. Heinz was a fellow that built them in Germany and he came to us in Ann Arbor USA :). Whenever my Rollies needed repair, Heinz literally took them apart and I came away with a repaired new camera.  Heinz has departed our world but he was truly one of the very best there ever was for us.  They still work for me and you should advance and fire the shutter  to keep  the lubrication working. Set it at 1 second and listen. If the buzzing sound is clean, continue to use it. If the sound has a hesitation, It is need of repair.  A TRULY BEAUTIFUL MACHINE to be creative with.  :) Joe in Michigan




Hey Joe, 

Wow! I envy your friendship with Heinz. That's very cool that you knew someone who actually built Rolleiflexes. Good advice about exercising shutters. 

Best, Dan

Excellent and instructive article that I hope encourages others to dip into the world of Rolleiflex TLR photography. When my father gave me his Rolleiflex 3.5F eighteen months ago, I spent quite a while getting the hang of it, not least because I had been shooting pretty much exclusively digital for the preceding ten years. I ended up teaching myself much of what you cover and it was a very enjoyable process. Once I engaged with the Rollei, I embraced film again, shooting not only with the Rollei but also 35mm. I still shoot digital but far less than I used to and I have come to love the look of film and the very different process that film photography entails, including doing my own developing. I feel much more rounded as a photographer as a result and enjoy it more than ever.

Hi Richard,

I feel the same way. Since taking photography in junior high school, I've always loved shooting and processing film. And I enjoy digital, too. Yesterday I shot with my A7 converted to infrared, and this morning I shot three rolls of Tri-X with my Rolleiflex in Midtown Manhattan. Tonight I'm putting new foam seals in my Nikon Fm camera. 

Best, Dan

Best rolleiflex article ever, thank you! One question - I have a 'rolleiflash' which appears to require a special battery and what appears to be a capacitor in order to operate. Can these be restored to working order? It looks so cool mounted on my 2.8E2, I'd just love to put it to work. Cheers.

Hi Greg,

Glad you liked the article. Thanks! I have about 5 of the Rolleiflash units. I use them primarily with #5 and #25 Press Flashbulbs. The flash requires a 22.5 Volt battery -- that's if we're talking about the same flash unit, which I think we are. I believe this is the battery:  I have some earlier 22.5 volt batteries -- same size that I bought years ago -- they still work. So on the good side, the battery can last a long time. I was told that leaving a bulb inside the socket, or a synch cord attached could contribute to draining the battery -- so I only set the flash up when I'm ready to shoot. 

I know one photographer who's figured out a way to use a transistor battery instead. However I don't have the particulars.

I agree that Rolleiflashes look cool -- but I'm Rollei-centric and biased. :) Your Rolleiflash most likey has a bay III adapter on one end for mounting on your top, viewing lens. I use mine with a 3' synch cord and hand hold as required by the shot I'm after. I get f/16 with my flashbulbs and 400 speed film wiht the reflector set to the wide, flood setting. I love using parabolic reflectors and flashbulbs -- the quality of light is crisp. It takes some experimentation to become comfortable -- but not too much. Best of all, it's very liberating to carry a few flashbuls and a small Rolleiflash, and be able to add nighttime, lowlight and indoor shooting options.

Be sure to set to selector to m for bulb or x for electronic flash. By the way, I was also told that leaving the selector on m all the time isn't ideal for the shutter -- has something to do with the delay to allow the bulb to reach peak intensity. Be careful when handling hot bulbs. Never flash near someone's face. Read up on all the precautions. Also, the back of the Rolleiflash has a small, round test flash button.There's a washer on this button that can be tightened to disable the test flash. The benefit of this (I found out the hard way) is that when locked you can't accidentally trigger the flashbulb.

As for restoring an old Rolleiflash -- if it's in bad shape it's easy to find another for about $20 on eBay. Look at the photos of the flash socket -- ones that have been used a lot will have burn marks on the front of the socket. These aren't bad, but there are a lot of Rolleiflashes out there that appear to never have been used -- and thy're a better value. 

Best regards,


Great series articles Dan! lots of helpful tips, maybe i'll take my rollie of the shelf and shoot with it for the first time years. nice work!

Thanks Everyone! Get those Rollies off the shelves and on the streets. :) 

And if you get your hands on some vintage flashbulbs -- use those, too. The bottom three photos of the Long Island Gantry Park in LIC, Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side of NYC, and David Blaine's Electrified were all shot with Press 25 flashbulbs.


Great article! Makes me want to get out there and start shooting!

Dan,  Great article!  Rarely read anything about these great cameras anymore.  I inherited my Dad's 60-year old Rollei and haven't used in some time. I will now!  Thanks.  

Terrific article! So many helpful tips! You've definitely inspired me to take my Rollei out on the street.

Fantastic article, Dan!  I've used a Rolleiflex for almost 40 years and still learned a few tips from your article.  Thanks!

After reading your first two articles and looking at your site I purchased a Rollei last week. So far I love it, and can't wait to take my new camera out on the streets after reading this one. Thanks Dan!!!