It happened again. I picked up another Rolleiflex, this time the 1956 2.8E with the Carl Zeiss Planar.  If you remember in the past, I had a Rolleiflex 3.5 with the Xeontar that I wasn't overly happy with. The lens had issues (fungus, cleaning marks) and the rear door wasn't in great condition (slight dent on the hinge that leaked light). Also, the viewfinder was really dark and almost unuseable at dusk. So, for many reasons, I dumped it a couple years ago.

Yet, I missed it.

Ever since I first held and used the Rolleiflex 3.5, I coveted the Rolleiflex 2.8. I happened to come across a very clean one and couldn't resist.  So, let's get into my review of this, then continue into how I feel it compares to my beloved Plaubel-Makina 670.

Rolleiflex 2.8E Technical

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E

The Rolleiflex 2.8E (internal model K7E), produced in 1956, was the successor to the 2.8D (1955) and added a light meter as an option. The Rolleiflex 2.8 line began its journey in 1949 with the A series and ran up to the F series (1960-1981) and later spawned the GX, (1987), FX (2002) and finally the FX-N (2013).

For the camera used in this review:

  • Type: TLR
  • Weight: 1250g
  • Lens: Carl Zeiss Oberkochen Planar 2.8, 80mm, coated
  • Finder lens: Zeiss 2.8, 80mm, Bay III
  • Lightmeter: Dual-range / uncoupled (based on a selenium cell)
  • Shutter: Synchro-Compur MXV CR0 leafshutter (1 to 1/500 & B)
  • Film: 120  (6×6, so 12 frames)

I've also added a couple pieces of bling to this.  1st, the Tom Abrahamsson Soft Release button (in blue). This is the mini, as it needs the clearance to get past the lens. I read the normal size gets hung-up.  What I like about this button is it provides a nice, smooth shutter release, and looks kind of cool. It's a finely crafted piece of convex aerospace alloy. I prefer convex as my finger more naturally rides on the button and gives a more smooth release.

Next, I also added the Gordy's Camera Strap with blue cords to match the button.  You can see the strap at the top of the page.  I swear by their work as I have had 3 wrist straps for the Leica's and all have been crazy good. For this strap, along with the blue cord, I also added the neck piece. It does a nice job of spreading the weight well.

In my opinion, there is no camera as pretty at the Rolleiflex 2.8 series.

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E

Rolleiflex 2.8E Performance

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E

TLR's are a much different beast to handle than rangefinders and SLR's. With a big waist-level viewfinder, it's like watching a small, yet awesome, TV screen.  I could look at the viewfinder for says without getting bored.  As it's TTL (finder lens, not taking lens) it's nice to once again have a preview of the depth of field. Like my previous Rolleiflex 3.5 and Hasselblad, these waist level finders are just dynamite. And this one is my brightest yet.

For an aside, the viewfinder is swappable. There is a ton of info on the internet to upgrade your viewfinder.  Split-level focus, bright finders and so on.  A ton of options and reviews for you to dig into.  But what my research has pointed to is that the stock ground glass is the best for focusing.  Your eye needs contrast to help focus, and this (apparently) provides the best. Though the bright ones are excellent to look at, the word is, they are a bit tougher to focus. Also from what I read (no experience) the Maxwell Bright Screens are the cat's meow. Ha ha ha.

I'd love you to chime in below!

I was able to confirm the lightmeter this weekend as well. I headed down to Newburyport, MA with Mike to test out our Rollei's with a little walk through town and on Plumb Island. I'll provide more on that below.

The dials on this camera are buttery smooth. Flipping between shutter speeds and as good as I've ever tested and they click into place at each increment. Same goes with stopping up and down the aperture (f/2.8-22).  If you want to know more about how to use all these dials, here's a great resource for the users manual from imagesandcameras.com of the Rolleiflex 2.8E & 2.8F.  You can reference this manual page on butkus.org for a quick guide where these components are located.

I've tested the self-timer which is flawless (~10 seconds) and also works with syncing the flash, though I have not tested the flash port but was assured by the previous owner that it works fine.

Also, there's a knob for counting 35mm exposure which this camera nicely accepts via the Rolleikin. I have this setup that came with the camera though it's not something I've tried yet, but on my todo list. See here on how to use 35mm film with this body.

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E

Shooting the Rolleiflex 2.8E

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E

A quick how-to for those that never held a Rolleiflex before.  Once the film is loaded (see manual), take your light readings, either off the Rollei or off a handheld meter. Using the shutter speed and aperture dials on the front of the camera, between the lenses, set to the metered speeds (again, I broke out the Rollei meter below). Next, hold the camera at waist level and look down into the viewfinder (it easily pops open from the back) and use the focus knob on the left to focus on your subject. To "zoom in" while focusing, use the pop-up magnifying glass located inside the hood (front). Once sharp, return the magnifier to it's original position. When ready, smoothly depress the shutter release (the blue button on my camera). Finally, advance the film with the crank on the right, about a 1/2 turn, to get to the next frame.

To take double-exposures (we know I love those) there is a tiny tension release located on the base of the crank. Click that over to reset the shutter on the current frame.

The Rolleiflex Lightmeter

The majority of Rolleiflex meters this old no longer work. I had little faith that I'd get a working one, but lo-and-behold, this one is spot on.  It took me some research to figure out how to use it, but once you get the hang, it's pretty damned awesome.

Once you load your film, you need to set the ASA/DIM to the speed you want to expose for.  As I expose at half box speed when shooting color, (and only use Fuji Pro 400H or Kodak Portra 400) I set the meter to ASA 200.

If you look at the image to the right, you can see how the ASA is labeled within the dial. I had the hardest time figuring out how to set this as I didn't want to over tension the focus knob and break it.  Come to find out, it's pretty easy.  Rotate the meter setting ring (thin silver part) of the focus knob in the direction you want to go until it stops. Then you can twist a little more firm and it will click from stop to stop until you hit the speed you want.

Remember, the meter setting ring is just the little silver piece on the outside of the focus knob.

Once that is set, you need to decide if you're in dim light or not.  There is a range switch on top of the body for swapping between dim (down position, red dot exposed) and bright light (up position) settings, and a corresponding box on the meter for the reading.  Notice in the photos below, there is an exposure value (EV) box on top with bright light, and an EV box with a red square for dim light.  You just need to match the EV dot up top on the switch to the right one, and the meter will be correct.

Exposure Values

Now that you know you are metering for the proper light, look down on the meter (below left) and take a reading by rotating the thin silver knob until the dark meter marker (red) is over the thin meter needle (black). If you are metering in bright light, read the setting off the box on top (see image, below left).  In dim light, then use the reading off the red box in the back (see image above, right).

Rolleflex 2.8E

Finally, it's time to transfer these setting onto the lens. Looking at the front of the camera, there are two dials on either side of the lenses. Looking down, to the left is the f-stop and to the right is the shutter speed. There are also arrows by the indicator (see image, above right) to remind you.

Rolleflex 2.8E

Now if you notice on the shutter speed dial, there are corresponding EV settings for what you read off the dial.  As you spin both the shutter and f-stop dials, you'll see a small arrow that will point to the EV. Find the right combination for your desired depth and speeds and you're ready to frame your shot.  I know it sounds like a lot, but it becomes second nature.

Now, to get more into the shooting of this, I think it's time to bring in the Plaubel-Makina for the compare. I really wanted to talk about what I like and don't like and it makes more sense to me with a side-by-side.

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670

Rolleiflex 2.8E VS Plaubel-Makina 670

Not quite apples to apples, but as these are both medium format shooters with 80mm glass I felt this is justified. Also, I've stated that the Makina was the best camera I've ever used, hands down, so this may speak volumes here.

Loading Film

Both are pretty straight forward.  That Makina has a simple left to right feed and the spools pop out very easy with pressure release buttons. The Rolleiflex is a little more complex with the tension rollers, but not a heck of a lot more difficult.

Advantage: Plaubel-Makina

Film Types

The Plaubel-Makina takes both 120 and 220 film. But with 220 being near impossible to find (I'm down to 2 rolls) that benefit it wanning. The Rolleiflex takes both 120 and 135 film, painlessly.

Advantage: Rolleiflex

Film Advance

The Makina is double-crank. Don't even get me started. Ha ha ha! The Rollei is a winding lever. I much prefer this.

Advantage: Rolleiflex

Holding the Camera

The Makina you hold like a typical rangefinder (all be it industrial sized). The Rolleiflex is either waist level when using the ground glass, or the peep hole to frame at eye level. The weight advantage is to the Rolleiflex at 1250g while the Makina is just about 100g more at 1345g. But I really enjoy holding a rangefinder much more, though with another weekend under my belt with the Rolleiflex, I may feel my loyalty shifting.

Advantage: Plaubel-Makina

Viewfinder

The Makina is a rangefinder, and I know you know all about that. The patch is tiny and tough to use, but I am used to it. The Rolleiflex is waist level TLR with DoF preview. This is a tossup. I love the TLR viewfinder, but find it more difficult to focus. I love rangefinders, though the Makina has a tiny patch.  I like each for different reasons, so...

Advantage: Tie

Focusing

Talking just the knobs here (not the focus patch in the finder mentioned above), the focus knobs of each are pretty different as well. The Makina's focus knob is on top of the camera and can be operated with the thumb (one hand operation) though it can be tight when focusing near. The Rolleiflex has a beautifully massive knob operated by the left hand that's extra smooth. Again, many plusses and minuses to each.

Advantage: Rolleiflex

Composing the Frame

The Makina has a 6x7 viewfinder with bright frame lines. The Rolleiflex has a 6x6 viewfinder with a grid (on this glass).  I find it easier to frame a subject with the simple rangefinder viewfinder. I think the Rollei is a little more convoluted - in that your image is flipped. Not top to bottom, rather left to right. It just takes a bit to get used to.

Also, with the Makina, the photo you get is what's within the frame lines. With the Rollei, it's the entire screen.  You're basically looking at the finished product when you click the shutter release.

Advantage: Plaubel-Makina (I'm a rangefinder boy and really prefer the 6x7!)

That Glass

The Plaubel-Makina comes with a fixed Nikon f/2.8 80mm lens. The Rolleiflex 2.8E with the Carl Zeiss Planar f/2.8 80mm lens. Both are fantastic performers and give stunning results throughout all apertures. I honestly didn't expect the Rolleiflex to keep up with the Makina, but I have to say, it did.

Advantage: Tie

Shutter Release

Vastly different once again. The Makina has the shutter release button within the focus knob on top of the camera. The Rolleiflex has the shutter release at the base of the camera. While the Makina has the window-rattling k-l-u-n-k like a Hasselblad, the Rolleiflex has an ultra-quiet leaf shutter.  Quite stealthy. It's my guess that I'll be able to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds (less vibration).

Advantage: Rolleiflex

Frames per Roll

OK, I know, unfair.  The Rolleiflex gets 12 shots and the Plaubel-Makina only gets 10 (20 with 220). Though I prefer the 6x7 look, I prefer the 12 shots over the 10 shots per roll.

Advantage: Rolleiflex

Side-by-Side Image Compares

I put these two cameras side by side for these shots.  Matching film (Fuji Pro 400H), speeds, depth and distance. For all these images, Rolleiflex on the left, Plaubel-Makina on the right.

1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670
1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670
1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670
1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670
1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670
1956 Rolleiflex 2.8E vs Plaubel-Makina 670

All things considered above, the Rolleiflex (surprisingly to me) checks more boxes. But I still prefer the frame of the Makina (6x7). Which one will be my goto camera?  Damn, just don't know yet.

UPDATE: I do know. I can't do squares, so the Plaubel-Makina ended up ruling all.

Photos taken with Rolleiflex 2.8E and Plaubel-Makina 670 using Fuji Pro 400H with all development by Richard Photo Lab and my Color PAC.

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