Blog post | The Rolleiflex TLR by Paul Ellis

What did you get for Xmas? I got a Rolleiflex TLR (twin lens reflex). Lucky me. Well actually it was a present to myself as I’ve always wanted one.

So why would I have always wanted an old-fashioned film camera, one where you can’t even change the lens? Well the Rolleiflex TLR (particularly the 80mm F2.8 version) is a legendary camera. It was favoured by many great portrait photographers (Arbus, Avedon, Penn, Pyke, Duffy, Bailey, Donovan, Maier to name but a few), it had a fabulous Zeiss lens, and it was over-engineered and built like a tank. Franke & Heidke, the company behind Rolleiflex, were so obsessed with quality that instead of making the Rolleiflex TLR with interchangeable lenses, they felt that quality would be compromised if the lens could be changed, so they made three fixed lens cameras; a wide angle, a normal and a tele-photo.

Photography courses blog

The Rolleiflex TLR with 80mm Zeiss F2.8 lens was designed and built to do one thing very well. I thought about this and realised that many of the people who attend my One Day Digital Camera course, Beginners Digital Camera course or Intensive Photography Course with a DSLR camera, quickly find (because the learning curve is fast) that the basic zoom lens that came with their camera instantly limits their newly acquired creative skills. They soon start to realise that to follow their particular photographic passion (be it portraiture, close-ups, architecture etc.) they need a dedicated Prime lens – a fixed focal length lens and not a zoom.

Why is this?

Well, like the Rolleiflex, a prime lens is designed to do one thing and to do it well. A prime lens is almost always optically better than a zoom lens and always has a ‘faster’ maximum aperture. Many course participants quickly find that they want to concentrate on portraits and therefore the prime lens of choice for the DSLR owner is a short telephoto lens (something like 85mm for a full-frame sensor). Nikon make an 85mm F1.4, Sony have a Zeiss 85mm F1.4 and Canon even has an 85mm F1.2. These lenses are of astonishing quality, and because of the extremely ‘fast’ maximum aperture, have the ability to throw the background wildly out of focus, thus keeping attention on the face and eyes and to create beautiful bokeh. These lenses often become firm favourites of their owners. They simply love them and use them all the time, because they make such a huge difference to their photography.

I’m sure my Rolleiflex TLR will be the same for me – because a Rolleiflex isn’t just for Xmas, its for life.

Paul Ellis
Photofusion Education Leader & Course Tutor