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Capturing the world with the Rolleiflex 3.5F TLR

Updated: Sep 30, 2019

The Iphone or Huawei with the latest fancy twin or multi-lens camera you have in your hands is probably good enough. But if you travel to once-in-a-lifetime destinations, every photographer should at least try out the original twin lens camera.


Somewhat bulky, and once used by fine art, studio, wedding photographers and the press, the Rolleiflex 3.5F TLR does a surprisingly remarkable job in rugged travel environments. The fully mechanical machine with exquisite optics can still churn out beautiful images on par with high-tech modern cameras.

The original twin lens camera

Unlike an SLR (single lens reflex), the TLR (Twin lens reflex) utilises one lens for viewing and framing, while the bottom one equipped with a silent leaf shutter is responsible for capturing the final image on the 120 medium format film. Made in the late 1950s until the mid 1970s, many of them are still working fine, but the majority of the units in good cosmetic condition are in the hands of collectors.


The unit we have was equipped with a built-in 75mm f/3.5 Zeiss Planar lens (similar to a 50mm on a 35mm full frame camera), and a top shutter speed of 1/500. Each roll of 120 medium format film yields 12 square frames of highly detailed images. Scanned properly, they can produce the approximate equivalent of 50 megapixel worth of resolution. More than enough to be printed for gallery exhibitions.


Tonle Sap lake, Cambodia, Shanghai GP3 B/W film, with red filter

Every shot makes you think, compose properly, slowing down the entire process. Zero automation found in modern gadgets are present here. Focusing is done manually by turning the knob which moves the focusing plane. Most of the cameras come with built-in selenium light meter cells that are inaccurate, but they can probably be fixed by a competent camera repairer.


Siesta at the Red Fort, New Delhi

Remarkable details from the Zeiss lens.

People hardly notice you after a while

Due to it's unusual boxy and "vintagey" shape, it gets a lot of attention from your subjects and curious people around you when you pull it out. However, since you have to look into the focusing screen from a top down position, they will assume that you are just fiddling around with the camera after a while and ignore you. The silent and almost vibration free shutter lets you capture your subjects stealthily. Shooting from the hip-level perspective also provides unique angles seldom captured.

Sunset over the Blue City Jodhpur, India

The Planar lens by Zeiss has an extraordinary amount of detail and is almost flare free in direct sunlight. A wonderful machine for landscape, street scene photography.


Portraits and people

Remember when we said earlier that people didn't know when their photo was taken?

Well these people didn't. Really handy if you are sick of photographing happy smiling people for any reason. Capturing real emotions and feelings may just be slightly easier with a TLR.


The main drawbacks of the camera would be the bulky shape, weight and non-interchangeable, fixed focal length lens. The expensive film, slow way of processing the film is also not really popular in the trigger happy Instagram age now. However, the sheer quality of the images more than make up for these modern age shortcomings.


If you ever come across one in good working condition, do pick it up and give it a go. You'll be surprised at how beautiful traditional medium format images can be.


*All photographs shot by us. Please do not reproduce or use without consent.*





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