Yeah, yeah, I know, another camera. Well, I’m not apologizing for this one. I found it tucked away in a local antiques store, and it was cheap enough that I couldn’t leave it there. Sure it was tired and worn, sure the lenses were fogged to the point of being nearly opaque, sure I couldn’t tell if it would work properly; at the price, it was worth rolling the dice. It’s a Rolleiflex. You would have done the same thing. Admit it.
To be more specific, it’s a Rolleiflex Standard (sometime referred to as Old Standard) K2 6RF Model 621, at least according to Rolleiclub, which appears to be the more-or-less definitive online source. Produced from 1932 to 1935, the 621 had an f/3.8 75mm Zeiss Tessar taking lens mounted in a Compur shutter offering speeds from 1/300 to 1 second, plus B and T. It takes standard 120 film and shoots (as do most all TLRs) 12 6×6 frames per roll.
By the look of it, this one lived a long, hard life. Not in a bad way – it wasn’t broken or abused – but in the sense that its owner(s) used it a lot. The paint on virtually every edge and corner has worn away, revealing the brass or aluminum underneath. The viewing lens has some rubbing wear in the center, evidently caused by the clasp on the leather case flopping against it when opened. It’s missing a small piece of the waist-level finder hood mechanism and a screw or two, but it is otherwise complete.
There’s no telling when it was put away by its previous owner, or how it ended up in an antiques shop, but it had been sitting for a while. The exposed brass was green with corrosion, the moving parts were very stiff from lack of use, and the glass (especially the lenses, but also the mirror and the ground glass) were fogged beyond belief.
But in spite of all this, it works. After some cleaning, gentle exercise, and light lubrication, the shutter works at all speeds, the aperture is smooth across its range, the automatic frame spacing is spot on, and the lenses are nice and clear. The terribly fragile mirror could not be cleaned – the silvering is too delicate to survive any contact – so it was replaced, and the ground glass was very dim and cracked, so a more modern plastic screen (with Fresnel rings and a split-image focusing spot) replaced it; both of these changes improved usability, but the camera worked with the originals in place.
It’s a remarkable piece of engineering and craftsmanship, especially considering that it’s still going after 80 not particularly delicate years. The body is light and compact, and all the movements are precise and smooth without being heavy. It’s really a pleasure to use. But of course, the fundamental judgement must come from the images a camera produces. For that, you will have to wait for Part Two.