In this blog post, the 8th part of my series reviewing my collection of twin lens reflex (TLR) medium format film cameras, I review one of the most special of my TLRs, the Tele-Rollei.
Born in 1960, the Tele Rolleiflex, known as Tele-Rollei was Rolleiflex’s answer to the fact TLR cameras came with fixed, standard lenses when some professionals wanted longer or short lenses.
Whereas Mamiya developed an interchangeable lens TLR (see my #tlrtuesday review no 6. of the Mamiya C330), Rolleiflex decided to make a dedicated telephoto TLR (and later a wide one I shall also review).
These photos (apart from those of the camera itself of course) are taken with my Tele-Rollei
Like anything else, it has its strengths and weaknesses. Obviously it comes with one fixed lens, and it’s a telephoto lens – so the camera is neither all purpose nor particular versatile. And it is pretty big and heavy.
But the telephoto lens it comes with is something special, as you would expect from Rolleiflex. It is a 135mm Zeiss Sonnar f4, producing both very sharp photographs but also images full of character – as I hope these show.
I used a roll of colour and a roll black and white with the Tele-Rollei (I think Portra and Tri-X 400) back in January 2017.
And again, as you would expect from Rollei, the camera is about as well built and engineered as you can imagine. Heavy but smooth; easy and thrilling to use.
Turning back to the downside though, one considerable one is the minimal focusing distance, a massive 2.60 meters. When I first tried one out in a second hand camera store in Vienna (packed with the most delicious used Leicas and Rolleis I have ever seen) I thought, what’s the point? The advantage a tele lens gives (a tighter, closer shot of the subject) is mitigated by the fact I have to stand a few feet further back from the subject.
But of course being close isn’t the only thing a telephoto lens is good for and, when it is, there is a (yet more costly) solution – the Rollinar close up series of lenses – like the one I bought and have on the camera above.
That too is engineered like a Rills Royce (or should I say Mercedes Benz) and as it opens and closes like a door, I keep mine on all the time.
The 135mm lens on a medium format 6×6 camera is approximately equivalent to
85mm or 90mm lens in standard 35mm film (or digital ‘full frame’) – i.e. a short or standard tele. On my 35mm cameras (mainly Rangefinders) I rarely ever use any telephoto lens (50mm usually close enough for me), but if I do it is most likely to be an 85mm or 90mm – so this is an equivalent.
135mm on a medium format camera is good for portraits, but I don’t often do staged portraits (bar the odd selfie) and if I did I’m not sure this Tele-Rollei would be my first choice. But I do like it for walking around outside and getting closer detail of subjects I am far from.
The camera weights over 1.5kg, but it doesn’t actually feel any heavier than the Rollei 2.8f. The only thing is, if you take it out with you, you are stuck with a tele lens. I could take it and a Rollei wide at the same time, but that would really weigh me down. Thus, whilst this is a lovely camera in many ways, it is too specialist for most purposes. I would rather have a standard Rollei for walk around every day.
And if I wanted a medium format interchangeable lens system camera I wouldn’t go for the Mamiya C330, as nice as it is, but a Hasselblad. I think they are just much better balanced and made for interchangeable lenses. The TLR works best with a fixed lens, and a standard one at that.
Which is why the Tele-Rollei is the second best thing, and the best for when you want to use a tele camera. It has all the advantages of a Rollei TLR – no mirror, quiet shutter, excellent lens,rbust and smooth mechanics with a lens made for the camera. Its only disadvantage is its raison d’être, it is a telephoto only camera.
But it is a lovely camera, and I found even using it for walk around street photography (which is really I mostly do) worked better than expected. The last photo I took, below, shows how the camera can work as a street photographer’s tool. I like the diaganol composition and the thoughtful look on the face of the man staring ahead whilst holding his phone. I would d not have been able to capture the detail with a normal social length, or I would have been too close and seen, but here it works just fine.
Thanks for looking