domingo, 26 de junio de 2011

Rolleiflex SL 35 system

©Carlos M. Freaza 2011(
This blog has no commercial purposes. 

The Rolleiflex SL 35 System when it was introduced in 1970 (click on the thumbnail)

Asahi Pentax developed a 35 mm SLR camera with instant return mirror in 1954, it was the first attempt with industrial success, after a few previous ones from others manufacturers had no continuity. Main Japanese manufacturers abandoned the 35mmm RF cameras development from this Pentax success to dedicate their efforts to manufacture new and improved SRL cameras, this way the Japanese industry got an advantage they would never lose in the future.
About twelve years later, Heinrich Peesel, the new Rollei CEO, had a meeting with the company technical management and putting a Pentax Spotmatic on the table told them he wanted a similar Rollei camera. One of the problems was that Peesel and the market conditions established a short camera development time, the Rollei R&D people had no experience developing 35mm SLR cameras and they needed to start from  scratch since several patents protected the Japanese designs; thus, while Rollei was designing a new focal plane shutter, a new lens mount, a new mirror and a new shutter drive, Asahi Pentax was working for improvements like open aperture TTL metering for the Spotmatic second version .

The Pentax Spotmatic inspired the Rolleiflex SL 35 development.

When the Rolleiflex SL 35 appeared for the market in February 1970, it was already a dated camera from some points of view because Rollei designers had a limited budget  and no time enough to add more features, it did not offer open aperture TTL  metering, it was necessary to press a dedicated stop down button at the camera top to take the readings and the SL 35 did not have an accesories shoe from factory, it was only optional; the viewfinder could be better. In spite of these drawbacks, the SL 35 was a very well built camera, elegant and easy to use with very good ergonomics. It became the beginning for a camera system manufactured almost for 25 years based on the Rollei Quick Bayonet Mount (QBM, see a detailed explanation on the QBM versions and lens adaptors in the Appendix A, all QBM lenses and QBM cameras mounts are compatible except for a few specific functions) and different bodies, including the Voigtländer cameras made by Rollei.

The elegant SL 35 design (click on the image)

Rolleiflex SL 35: Manufactured 1970 - 06/1972 in Germany, 24.500 units in chrome and black, Singapore from 06/1972 - 12/1976, 118.500 units in chrome and black, about U$S 300 in February 1971($1,672.01 in 2011).
Germany: #4.000.000 - #4.029.999; Singapore: #4.030.000 - #4.499.999. Rollei FP cloth manual shutter: B, 1 sec to 1/1000; Cds TTL stop down metering, Gossen needle lightmeter in viewfinder, selftimer, PX13 battery for lightmeter only, 1/60 sync, accesories shoe optional, pentaprism. QBM bayonet I. 141x94x48(prism 87)mm WxHxD; 775g with Planar 1,8/50.

After the initial six lenses made by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen for the Rolleiflex SL 35 with QBM in 1970, several others CZ lenses were added to the catalog (from the Distagon 3,5/15mm to the Tele-Tessar 8/1000mm). In February 1972, following the Zeiss Ikon/Voigtländer demise, Carl Zeiss and Rollei with a bank support had a join-venture agreement to create the “Voigtländer Optische Werke”; according it, Rollei would manufacture Carl Zeiss lenses under license in the former Voigtländer optical factory at Brunswick, bought by Rollei. The multicoating process applied to Rollei lenses from 1972  received the “Rollei-HFT” name (High Fidelity Transfer) even if they were manufactured by CZ with the T* multicoating process, this way the Rollei lenses preserved their description uniformity (read CZ explanation in Appendix B). Rollei already manufactured lenses in Singapore from 1971 through the “German Optical Co” and “Rollei Optical Co” afterward, first under Carl Zeiss license, after with Schneider and Voigtländer Optische Werke licenses too. From about 1977 a new line of Japanese lenses (Mamiya, Tokina, Kiron, Sigma, Yabe) were added for Rollei and Voigtländer QBM cameras with the generic name “Rolleinar”, they were cheaper but as good as the CZ and Schneider lenses in general and moderner for some cases, they also provided zoom lenses that CZ couldn’t offer yet. Rollei manufactured most of these lenses under license too. Beyond the official lenses line, some independent manufacturers like Tamron made lenses for the Rollei QBM. There is no doubt  the lenses quality is one of the SL 35 cameras family and 2000 and 3003 cameras strongest point (See Appendix B for a detailed QBM lenses description).
The standard lens
The standard lens for the Rolleiflex SL 35  cameras family was the Planar 1.8/50, seven elements, six groups. This is a Carl Zeiss Ultron 1.8/50 design type except for the first element, it is concave for the Ultron and convex for the Rollei Planar. This lens was labeled Color Ultron for Voigtländer QBM cameras, a name more close to the lens history that started with the Voigtländer Ultron 2/50 in 1950; it was also labeled Ifbagon with M 42 for the Ifbaflex camera, a Voigtländer VSL 1 TM made by Rollei for the French photographic chain and distributor “Flash” that could not use the Voigtländer name in France due to legal issues. Other standard lenses were the superb Planar 1.4/50, HFT from October 1972, the excellent Rolleinar (Mamiya) 1.4/55 MC and the very good Rolleinar (Mamiya) 2/50 and Schneider Xenon 1.8/50 (See Apendix B for a detailed QBM lenses description).

The impressives Carl Zeiss Tele Tessar f8/1000mm (8800g) and Mirotar 5,6/1000mm (16500g)were also offered in QBM mount (click on the image) 

The Rolleiflex SL 350 solved the SL 35 drawbacks, engineer Claus Prochnow, one of the Rollei technical heads, wrote in his “Rollei Report 3” about the SL 350 “...for me, the most beautiful in the Rolleiflex series of miniature cameras...”   
The camera needed a mechanism to transmit shutters speeds and f stops values to the lightmeter for open aperture metering, Herr Prochnow comments they were working on the SL 35 body with serious space problems. Engineers and technicians found the solution using a Bowden cable, similar to that one used for cars brakes and clutcher, and a differential to carry shutters speeds and f stops settings to the lightmeter; an arc in the camera bayonet mount was opened to receive the new lens pin to simulate the f stops settings for the lightmeter (these lenses and bayonet features became Rollei standard including SL 2000 and 3000 cameras) .  Rollei management accepted this solution to start the SL 350 production but they were not convinced about the Bowden cord erronously. The SL 350 was provided with a hot accesories shoe from factory, the viewfinder was improved too. When the planned 7000 SL 350 units manufacture was reached in Germany and the production was mature for the travel to Singapore according the original project, there was a Rollei internal power struggle between former Voigtländer employées working for Rollei now and veteran Rollei employées; the management finally decided to cease the SL 350 manufacture without the planned transference to Singapore, the Bowden cord issue was mentioned again as poor solution for the open aperture metering despite it was a very good technical component used by other cameras manufacturers at the time. Facts were that Rollei had bought the Zeiss Ikon/Voigtländer Icarex/SL 706 camera production line (the ZI SL 706 had open aperture TTL metering without Bowden cord use) and it was transferred to Singapore instead of the 350, the management preferred a larger camera in spite of this design commercial failure when it was made by Zeiss Ikon/Voigtländer and the Japanese SRL cameras success with more compact designs and the beginning of the electronic metal shutter era. The Rolleiflex SL 35/350 as genuine and innovative Rollei development had no continuity, a project to build an advanced electronic camera, the SL 35 A, was abandoned. The 350 is an appreciated collector item today.

The nice Rolleiflex SL 350 (chrome and black) added new features regarding the SL 35

Rolleiflex SL 350: Manufactured 1974 - 12/1976 in Germany only, 7.974 units in chrome and black.   #4.500.000 - #4.599.999. Rollei FP cloth manual shutter: B, 1 sec to 1/1000; Cds TTL open aperture metering, Gossen needle lightmeter in viewfinder, selftimer, PX13 battery for lightmeter only, 1/60 sync, hot accesories shoe from factory, pentaprism. QBM bayonet II. 141x94x48(prism 87)mm WxHxD; 810g with Planar 1,8/50.

While Walter Swarofsky, former Voigtländer cameras designer that built and developed the first Voigtländer Icarex  prototype (after made by Zeiss Ikon) was in charge of the Voigtländer VSL 1 TM and BM cameras development and  production with the ZI SL 706 tooling bought by Rollei, Friedrich Papke, former Voigtländer R&D technical head, built the first Rolleiflex SL 35M prototype, it was identical regarding the VSL 1 except for the name. The management  became unsatisfied with the results for the camera with the Rollei name and maintaining their opinion about to build a large camera, they decided to introduce some changes, it required very expensive new tooling. The SL 35M kept its ZI SL 706- VSL1 frame, viewfinder and open aperture metering, but got a new cover, a new viewfinder prism, thicker new dials, new self-timer lever among other internal changes. It was said the SL 35M new parts had a too short development time to receive a right test before the camera regular production and it was the cause for reliability issues, some comments add that key internal pieces were too small despite the camera size and its solid look, in the other hand others have commented that the Icarex cameras models including the SL 706 (it did not receive a commercial name because ZI had decided to stop cameras production when they started to manufacture the model) are very well built cameras and then the Voigtländer and Rollei cameras based on the Icarex- SL 706 are good too.
I bought my SL 35M cheap a few years ago because the mirror was jammed at the upper position, this seems to be a common problem for the SL 35 family today in spite of the bodies different construction, however a simple cleaning solves it most of the times as happened for my camera. There is no doubt the SL 35M is a large camera, I have big hands and can hold it well, but it could be uncomfortable for smaller hands. I like to shoot with the SL 35M, it has an excellent viewfinder with a ground glass and Fresnel screen combo, a RF diagonal band, microprism and two central circles, the Cds TTL coupled lightmeter is exact (I’m using the original PX 13 battery...) and the body cover gives good grip, the film loading is very easy too.
The commercial failure for these cameras made by Rollei had similar reasons regarding those ones for the lasts Zeiss Ikon cameras failure, a dated design despite they could be good cameras technically. SL 35M and ME also were pretty expensive cameras, perhaps Rollei needed to pay the price for the new additional tooling and parts development...  

Rolleiflex SL 35ME
The SL 35M and ME have identical shape except for the “E”, this letter means the camera has electronic components for its working, the shutter with electronic control. The camera has shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/1000 sec and B, it works automatic with f stop pre-set or manual. The electronics required 4 MS 1.5v 76H batteries use, it recalled me a brand new Mamiya 645 I bought in 1980, it also had a cloth FP shutter with electronic control and needed a 6v silver -oxid battery to work, the shutter worked fine. The SL 35 ME could be used with mechanical shutter speeds from 1/30 sec to 1/1000 sec, a moderner silicium cell LED lightmeter was added to replace the Cds lightmeter. During the ‘70s the electronic micro circuits reliability caused problems for German cameras manufacturers like Rollei and Leica, the SL 35ME was not the exception; Japanese manufacturers were luckier on this point. The Voigtländer VSL 2 Automatic was a similar camera.

The Voigtländer VSL 1 BM (and TM) was based on the Zeiss Ikon SL 706 as the Rolleiflex SL 35 M and ME, however they were not identical, similars only.

The Rolleiflex SL 35M received some changes regarding the VSL 1

Rolleiflex SL 35 M: Manufactured 04/1976 - 1979 Singapore, 63.800 units in black only. #4.700.000 - #4.899.999 and coded. Similar to Voigtländer VSL 1 BM. FP Cloth manual shutter: B,  ½ sec to 1/1000;.Cds TTL open metering, needle lightmeter in viewfinder, selftimer, PX13 (625) battery for lightmeter only; 1/40 sync; F stop display in viewfinder, pentaprism. QBM bayonet III (=II, lenses external cover changes). 147x99x52(92 prism)mm WxHxD; 885g with Planar 1,8/50.-

The SL 35 ME is identical regarding the M externally, however it has electronic cloth shutter

Rolleiflex SL 35 ME: Manufactured  09/1976 – 1979 Singapore, 32.900 units in black only, #4.900.000 - #4.999.999 and coded, .a SL 35M evolution, similar to Voigtländer VSL 2. Automatic. FP cloth automatic/manual electronic shutter: B, 4sec to 1/1000 electronic automatic shutter speeds with pre-set diaphragm, 1/30 to 1/1000 mechanical shutter speeds; Silicium cell lightmeter TTL open metering,  green and red LED; 4 MS 76 H 1.5v batteries, 1/40 sync, F stop display in viewfinder, pentaprism. QBM bayonet III (= II, lenses external cover changes). 147x99x52(92 prism)mm WxHxD; 885g with Planar 1,8/50. 

About 1971 Rollei started to develop a new electronic MF camera, the SLX, this development included a lens central metal shutter with electric motor. Rollei also wanted to develop an electronic focal plane metal shutter for 35mm cameras, Japanese companies Copal and Seiko had became significant suppliers for this type of shutter, it could be installed as a finished assembly in the camera (previous cloth shutters required the camera disassembly to be repaired), and Rollei wished to avoid foreign suppliers dependence. Copal and Seiko metal electronic shutters had the drive gear on one of the sides (asymmetrical), Rollei was already thinking about the cubic SLR 35mm camera (2000 and 3001/3 cameras), this design recquired the lens position at the camera body exact center, a shutter with the drive gear on both shutter sides was better for the purpose (symmetrical, more details in Claus Prochnow’s “Rollei Report 3”).
The Rollei electronic metal symmetrical shutter development started in 1974, changes in the Rollei management led to two quick “rectangular” cameras prototypes construction for the new shutter while the cubic camera project was maturing; the cameras would be a new design concept according the times, new electronics with LEDs,  smaller, lighter and handier than the ZI SL 706 descendants. After some names changes and development problems, the Rolleiflex SL 35 E and Voigtländer VSL 3- E were ready for production, it started in October 1977 for the VSL 3 and at the beginning  of 1978 for the Rollei version, both cameras shared 80% of components, being the Voigtländer model cheaper than the Rollei one, as for previous models, shutter speeds were from 16 sec to 1/1000 sec using a 6v silver oxide battery and was prepared to use a motordrive.
The Rolleiflex SL 35 E kept the M and ME prism design and the dials thickness that looked excellent in the smaller body, it also had multi-exposure capability and a memo-clip on the back. Rollei produced ten Rolleiflex SL 35 EF units, an improved model with TTL flash metering, but the bankruptcy aborted the project.
The SL 35 E was a very nice camera from several points of view, but some units suffered electronics  reliability problems, most of these cameras are no longer in the market, you can find the good ones today.       
 The Rolleiflex SL 35 E was a nicer, lighter, smaller and handier camera than the previous models based on the Zeiss Ikon SL 706, it was a new 35mm camera concept for Rollei

Rolleiflex SL 35 E: Made from 1978 - mid 1981 Singapore, 118.250 units in chrome and black, #6.300.000 - #6.499.999. A totally new development. Similar to Voigtländer VSL 3 E, camera with electronically controlled metal focal plane shutter: 16 sec to 1/1000 sec, mechanical and X shutter speeds: 1/125 and B, automatic and manual modes; silicium cell lightmeter TTL open metering, LED and F stop in viewfinder; 6v PX 28 silver oxid battery, pentaprism. QBM bayonet III (=II, lenses external covers changes). 135x86x49mm WxHxD; 760g with Planar.


QBM I: Rollei Quick Bayonet Mount was developed from 1966 by Rollei. Left: The camera bayonet has no slot to transmit f stops for open aperture metering. Center: The arrow shows the pin for the lens automatic diaphragm. Right: Arrows show the slider to switch the diaphragm Auto-Manual and the lens metal rings grip (click on the image).
Cameras: Rolleiflex SL 35.

QBM II/III: QBM II and QBM III are identical as bayonet, QBM II was developed for the Rolleiflex SL 350 with open aperture metering, lenses external construction is identical regarding QBM I but they no longer have the A-M slider;  QBM lenses got a significant external design change in 1975 and then they became “QBM III” in spite of the QBM II bayonet identical features. Left: The arrow shows the new slot to receive the second lens pin to transmit the selected f stop to the lightmeter for open aperture metering. Center: The arrow shows the new second lens pin linked to the slot commented previously, these features are common for QBM II and III. Right: The image shows the lenses new external construction, diaphragm ring and focusing ring have a plastified cover with diamond patterns, they became QBM III keeping QBM II bayonet features.
Cameras: Rolleiflex SL 350 (QBM II); Rolleiflex SL 35M, ME and E, Voigtländer VSL 1BM, VSL 2 and VSL3-E (QBM III, click on the image).

QBM IV: Several QBM lenses have the QBM IV from about 1977, its new feature, a step with a variable depth according the lens largest aperture, is only useful for the Rollei cubic cameras SL 2000F (made from 1980) and 3001 and 3003,  the lenses general construction is identical regarding QBM III. Left: The arrow shows a step with a recessed depth level or groove, getting deeper for lenses with smaller apertures, to transmit the largest opening of the lens for correct display in LED indicators in the viewfinder. Right: According the depth of the step, the aperture PIN (arrow) is depressed into the camera bayonet. QBM IV f 1.4 lenses have the same level or depth regarding the rear end of the revolving aperture ring than f.e. the older QBM I Planar 1.4/50 lens, it means that this old lens will be read correctly. For lenses with max aperture from 1.8 to 4.0 or smaller, if they are not QBM IV, exposures readings won’t be correct, the cameras mentioned above have options to solve this problem anyway (click on the image).
Cameras: Rolleiflex SL 2000F, 3003, 3001.

Special note about the “PR V TM” (M42): The Rollei engineer and cameras designer Claus Prochnow that typified the different Rollei QBM mounts in his books “Rollei Report III” and “Rollei Report IV” (they are PR QBM I, II, III and IV really, Prochnow Register, PR),  called “PR V TM” the  ContaxS/Praktica/Pentax thread mount M42 used in SLR 35mm cameras made by Rollei, he adopted the term to include these cameras and lenses within his Rollei products classification system. The M42 cameras and lenses made by Rollei are QBM II/III bayonet equivalents, except for the thread of course.
Cameras: Voigtländer VSL 1TM and Ifbaflex M102 TM.

There are several adapters to use QBM lenses in several digital cameras today, Canon EOS film and digital cameras specially. I only mention below the adapters made by Rollei to use M39 LTM lenses and M42 lenses and the interesting 66/35 adapter that allows to use the Rolleiflex SL 66 lenses entire range in QBM cameras, including the SL 66 lenses retro position.
Above, the M42x1 and M39x1 lens adapters made by Rollei to use these lenses for the cameras with QBM mount, the company manufactured M42 adapters that keep the diaphragm automatic function and others that don’t keep it . Marc James Small in his book “Non- Leitz Leica Thread-Mount Lenses, a 39mm diversity (First English Edition 1997), notes the exact Leica thread-mount lenses have a mounting diameter of 39mm and a pitch of just 0.997mm, it’s evident Rollei engraved “39x1” on the adaptor to simplify the description, it works fine.

Rollei also manufactured a  66/35 adapter that allows to use the Rolleiflex SL 66 lenses entire range in QBM cameras, including the SL 66 lenses retro position. The image above shows this adaptor with a SL 66 Distagon 50mm retro mounted on a Rolleiflex SL 3003.

Notice: The QBM lenses chart below belongs to the Rollei post-bankruptcy era (1981), there were several other lenses manufactured previously that are not included in the chart, I’ll add these lenses afterward (click on thumbnail).
Rollei QBM lenses series started in 1970, most of them received HFT multicoating from 1972, several lenses were discontinued and/or replaced along the almost three decades of the system manufacture.


The Planar 1,8/50 was the standard lens from factory for the Rolleiflex SL 35 cameras family and SL 2000 and 3000, its diagram is very similar regarding the Carl Zeiss Ultron 1,8/50 except for the first element, it's concave for the Ultron. The Planar 1,8/50 was labeled Color-Ultron for Voigtländer cameras made by Rollei and Ifbagon for the Ifbaflex 102 TM camera, it's an excellent lens.

The Planar 1,4/50 was and is made for several mounts, one of them Rollei QBM, it's considered one of the best lenses for 35mm photography, the MTF diagrams are for f1,4 and f5,6.


Carl Zeiss "Camera Lens News Nº 13, Spring 2001":"How do Zeiss T* and Rollei HFT compare?

Since this has recently grown into a frequently asked
question we feel it is appropriate to provide an
official and unequivocal answer from Carl Zeiss:

HFT, meaning "High Fidelity Transfer", is a
multi-layer anti-reflection coating system
co-developed by Zeiss and Rollei. This occurred
several decades ago at a time when Zeiss T* coating
was new on the market and could only be applied at the
Zeiss Oberkochen plant to rather small camera lens
production batches. Rollei envisaged very large volume
production in their then new Singapore plant and
therefore encouraged this joint development.

Today the situation is this: HFT has become a well
established trademark for Rollei's proprietary
multi-layer anti-reflection coating. The optical
performance of this Zeiss/Rollei co-development is so
close to the performance of the original Zeiss T* that
one can hardly detect any difference in all practical
picture taking.

The Planar®, Distagon®, Sonnar® lenses that Rollei
produces under license from Carl Zeiss are all HFT
coated by Rollei. All the lenses that Carl Zeiss
produces for Rollei at the Zeiss Oberkochen plant are
actually Zeiss T*. coated. However, the designation on
these lenses is "HFT" in the interest of remaining
fully consistent throughout the Rollei product range. "
Camera Lens News No. 13, Spring 2001, Kornelius J. Fleischer, Redactor

©Carlos M. Freaza 2011(
This blog has no commercial purposes. 

This is the main Rollei plant in Singapore on Chai Chee Road (Chai Chee neighborhood) first stage about March 1973, a large additional area was still under construction at the time (click on thumbnail). 

11 comentarios:

  1. I appreciate it very much, as Rollei user, collector and lover.
    Thank you!!!

  2. Thank you very much, I appreciate your comment.

  3. Hi!
    I have been shooting with the SL35E with the 50mm 1.4 HFT for many years and didn't realized how spoiled I was. I just bought a digital camera, the Nikon D600, and wanted to get the lens converted for Nikon but that wasn't possible. It is however possible to get the 50mm 1.8 converted. I have two of these lenses. The first says Carl Zeiss on it and it is not an HFT lens. The second says Rollei on it and it is HFT coated. Do you know which is better? Any thoughts are very appreciated.

    1. They are same lens, different results maybe bacause of good or bad copy. But I will choose the Zeiss than Rollei brand. I have the Zeiss one.

  4. my father worked for rollei singapore
    one of my first camera was a rollei sl35e
    and i am still using it today
    many good memories of rollei
    very sad the day rollei closed its factory in singapore

  5. Terrific stuff- very useful blog

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  8. Excellent information, maybe the best resume of the SL35 I see for a long time. I linked your blog from mmy own