Rolleicord - none better for top quality on a budget

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There is no finer or more satisfying introduction to medium format photography than the Rolleicord. As an amateur and a freelance, I have used many models of the camera for more years than I care to remember, and I have always found them totally reliable, easy and fun to use and capable of the utmost quality.


Rolleicord IId, 3.5 Triotar, c.1950

Consider the merits of the Rolleicord as a usable, durable medium format camera. First, although the Rolleicord was aimed primarily at the amateur market, it was built to the same exacting standards as the Rolleiflex, which for more than 50 years was the camera of choice for the professional.

Secondly, the fact that the Rolleicord was intended for the amateur is one of its undoubted advantages. A second-hand professional Rolleiflex is likely to have had more films through it in a week than the average amateur would expose in a year. It will have been out in all weathers and will probably have been thrown in the boot of a car from one assignment to the next. But a Rolleicord in the hands of a dedicated amateur is likely to have been well cared for and will probably have had light use.

Model Vb, last of the Rolleicord line

Thirdly, the Rolleicord was cheaper than the Rolleiflex because it did not have lever wind and wheels for setting aperture and shutter speed. The Rolleiflex up to the 2.8f also had automatic film loading, but later models use the Rolleicord system of lining up two red marks in the film chamber with arrows on the film backing paper. These additional features with their extra components and labour increased the price of the Rolleiflex. One operation, a half turn of the lever wind on a Rolleiflex, cocks the shutter and advances the film to the next frame. The Rolleicord requires two operations, but is that such a big deal? Rolleicord speeds and aperture are set by levers, which are just as convenient - in my experience more convenient -as the wheels on the Rolleiflex.

Fourthly, both cameras use the same shutter - a Compur, Compur-Rapid, or Synchro-Compur. Rolleicords from the III onwards have the Xenar lens whereas the comparable Rolleiflex has the Tessar with the Xenar available as an option. I have used more Rolleicord and Rolleiflex cameras over the years than I care to remember. In my experience, all the Xenar lenses were fully up to the standard of the best Tessar. However, not all the Tessars that I have used were up to the standard of the Xenar. I recently tested four TLRs - a Rolleicord IV with Xenar; a Minolta Autocord; a Rolleiflex T with recomputed Tessar; and a 3.5f with Planar. For practical purposes, the negatives cannot be separated, although it is likely that, for really big enlargements, the Planar has better edge definition. The photographer who places his centre of interest at the edge of the negative should seek such a lens - or perhaps take up another hobby!

Fifthly, on average the Rolleicord is about 20 per cent lighter than a Rolleiflex of the same vintage. For example, the Rolleicord III weighs 850 grams whereas the Automat weighs in at 1000 grams, the extra weight being accounted for mainly by the additional components for the automatic features. .

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