Fun With Film – Rolleiflex Automat K4/50

[29th March 2019]

I have had a 1950 Rolleiflex Automat K4/50 medium format twin lens reflex camera for many years but only ever put a few rolls of film through it and was always disappointed with the results.

It was fairly sharp on the right hand side but very soft on the left so about 20 years ago when the shutter jammed the Rolleiflex just got put away in the loft and forgotten about.

Recently, while looking for some old lenses, I found the Rolleiflex and sent it off to the ‘Rollei Guru’ Keith Leedham. Although now retired Keith still carries out a few service and repair jobs on these excellent cameras and for the princely sum of £75 he repaired the jammed shutter and winding mechanism as well as cleaning the hazy viewing and taking lenses. Keith also shimmed and realigned the lens platform, the cause of the focus issues.

The first film I put through the camera after the repair was bit disappointing but I think this was more down to the combination of a very dull day, Rollei Retro 400S film and the Rodinal developer, the results were rather lacking in contrast and very grainy. I then tried a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 film on a sunny day and was astounded by the sharpness, contrast and colours, a subsequent roll of Ilford HP5+ 400 had me hooked.

My camera has a 75mm Zeiss-Opton Tessar T single coated f/3.5 taking lens from the ‘real’ Carl Zeiss factory at Oberkochen rather than from Jena. The Compur – Rapid leaf shutter is mounted in the lens, as are the 10 aperture blades, and has speeds from 1 second – 1/500 second plus bulb exposure.

The Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera (TLR) features a separate viewing and taking lens, the upper viewfinder lens (a Heidoscop Anastigmat 75mm f/2.8) reflects a reversed image via the fixed reflex mirror on to the ground glass viewing screen housed in the folding waist-level finder. It can be used to ‘shoot from the hip’ or raised to the eye like an SLR when the built in magnifier is folded out. 120 roll film is used giving 12off 56mm square photographs per film, this is ‘proper’ medium format with an image area around 3 times larger than 35mm film (36mm x 24mm) or a full-frame digital camera, therefore massive crops to virtually any shape or size are possible. Modern digital ‘medium format’ cameras like the FujiFilm GFX-50S and 50R, Hasselblad X1D-50C and Pentax 645z ‘only’ feature the Sony 50MP 43.8mm x 32.9mm CMOS sensor and even the £30k plus 100 megapixel Hasselblad H6D-100c and Phase One XF 100MP (53mm x 40mm) still fall short of the vast image area of 120 medium format film.

I regularly use the Rolleiflex as my main film camera, composition can be a challenge with the reversed image on the ground glass screen but overall it is a very enjoyable experience.

Here is a selection of images from my Rolleiflex Automat K4/50 (click on the thumbnails for larger images);

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