65 years of photographing

The Rolleiflex camera: Love at first sight

Posted by Harold Feinstein on May 15, 2013 and tagged: , , , , ,
Seeking Shade, Coney Island, 1946. This is one of my very first photographs shot with my neighbor's Rolleiflex the year I began taking pictures. I love the simple framing of the square, which helps to compose the elements of the photograph.

Seeking Shade, Coney Island, 1946. This is one of my very first photographs shot with my neighbor’s Rolleiflex the year I began taking pictures. I love the simple framing of the square, which helps to compose the elements of the photograph.

Someone once asked me what my favorite camera was. That’s easy. The Rolleiflex medium format TLR. In fact I would call it the most beautiful camera I’ve ever seen. It was relatively easy to use, light weight, extraordinarily well-constructed, simple and had the best lenses in the business. Everything worked again and again and again. Constant reliability, performance and excellence in a camera. I suppose the only objection some might have to it would be looking down into finder lens. But that never bothered me. As a medium format twin lens reflex with 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (in) format, there are two lenses — the taking lens and the finder lens. You look down into the finder which is giving you a reverse image mirrored from the taking lens. You do see what you get with the exception of very close range photographs. Visually the square format is elegant and symmetrical, but also offers the option to crop either vertically or horizontally. And, the 2 1/4 film means generally better quality large prints than you can get with 35mm.

The Rolleiflex Automat, Model 3 was produced from 1945-1949.   It was my very first camera.

The Rolleiflex Automat, Model 3 was produced from 1945-1949. It was my very first camera.

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The Rollei was the very first camera I ever used. Initially I borrowed it from our upstairs neighbor in Bensonhurst, who later made me rent it for $5 a day — an extraordinary amount of money for a 15 year old in 1946. But, I did get hooked on it and later was able to save my pennies and purchase my own.

I had the Rolleiflex Automat Model 3 which was produced between 1945-1949 and also known as the K4B2. It was available in two lens. I couldn’t afford the more expensive Zeiss Jena Tessar lens and instead used the Schneider Xenar lens, which I found just as good.

I recently found Jacob Deschin’s book: Rollei Photography: Handbook of the Rolleiflex and Rolleicord Cameras (Camera Craft, 1952) in a box, which prompted these musings. I contributed two essays and a number of photos to it. Here are a few for you.

Sharing a public bench, NYC, 1948

Sharing a public bench, NYC, 1948


Boy in Sunglasses, Coney Island, 1949

Boy in Sunglasses, Coney Island, 1949

Passengers Sleeping & Reading on NYC Subway, 1949

Passengers Sleeping & Reading on NYC Subway, 1949

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7 Comments

  1. bob salzman
    May 16, 2013

    Oh, who does not love stories of first loves, cameras, photography, Coney Island, and other genres, people not excluded. What I loved so much and grew from as a student of yours was the many love stories you told us, and the love stories you keep on telling. The Rolleiflex is one I never heard before. Thank you teacher and uncle.
    Bob Salzman
    P.S. I imagine myself to be the boy in those sunglasses

    Reply
    • Harold Feinstein
      May 16, 2013

      Robert: I must admit that I’m still in love and I wake up beside her everyday. Talent is wonderful, but luck is necessary. Hugs for you and Kaethe.

      Reply
  2. Barbara Bullock-Wilson
    May 16, 2013

    From the mid-sixties until his death in 1975, the camera Dad used most often was an SL66 Rollei 2 1/4. Just last night, I gave a presentation on Dad and his work for the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University which is currently hosting an exhibit called “Seeking Answers: Wynn Bullock Photographs”. After the event, I was talking with a member of the audience who wanted to know about the cameras Dad used and I told him that from the mid-sixties until his death in 1975, the camera he used most often was an SL66 Rollei 2 1/4.

    Reading your blog this morning was another wonderful and poignant experience for me. All your postings remind me of the talks Dad and I used to share together. I loved the images you included with this piece and I want to thank you again for the stories you are offering through your blog. Each one is a special gift and brings me joy.

    Reply
    • Harold Feinstein
      May 23, 2013

      Barbara: Thanks, as always, for the heart-warming response. Wynn’s work is so moving and vibrant that I felt especially honored when to have the two-man show with him in China a few years ago. What a special treat. And — he was a fellow Rollei user, no surprise! Hope to see you again before too long. Let us know when you’re out our way!

      Reply
  3. Dan Wagner
    June 16, 2013

    Really like your photos Harold. I’m a Rolleiflex photographer too — check out my stuff on danwagnerphotography.com — I have a lot of Coney Island shots and was there this past Saturday — shot 10 rolls of tri-x which I will develop myself tomorrow.

    Reply
  4. jason gold
    May 23, 2014

    What a wonderful story.
    I love the photo with the “kid with sunglasses”.
    Those candids outstanding.
    I use a Rollei TLR periodically.
    Looking at my best photographs, the Rollei scores the highest!
    When I began my photography life in early 60′s, a seasoned pro said “Get a medium format.
    The Rolleiflex TLR.”
    I knew better..
    Today I look back and think, i would have had way less negatives stored, not printed,
    way smaller collection of prints but I am sure better!”
    The Rolleiflex TLR, to my eye is the most beautiful camera.

    Reply

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