Rolleiflex 4x4 (1957)
Looking at a photo of Reinhold Heidecke, it seems immediately obvious that he was a stubborn man, a millionaire, a gifted engineer but also a simple man. He had released a number of 4x4 cameras for production before, and again in 1957, when a significant part of the target customer group was already using 35mm film. How absurd – an expensive camera without finder but with a dark WLF, without the possibility to change lenses, without meter and with a film format with very limited availability. Rollei had all the assets to make a successful 35mm camera – money (Rollei was the biggest camera maker, by a large margin), resources, know how… This would have been the time to realise where the photographic world was really heading, and make the right decisions to continue to play a leading role in it. But no, only over my dead body was Heideckes verdict.
Admittedly, the 4x4 is a cute camera, but it is also a monument of bad management.
Rollei A26 (1974)
As such, the A26 is a well-designed camera, it cannot be held responsible for the shortcomings of the 126 film cassette (that does not keep the film flat well enough). The lens is sharp indeed; with some luck it is able to produce very fine pictures. But how can one justify a price tag of over 400 Deutsche Mark for a camera that does not allow any control over its operation apart from setting the distance, not even exposure correction?
Rollei A110 (1974)
Again, a well-made camera, a “palm stone”, that however proved to be very delicate, due to its soft aluminium shell. But this camera also meant inevitable customer annoyance! Imagine a man, solvent, maybe even a Rollei owner, walking into a camera store, looking for a compact camera, for himself, for his wife, maybe even for his car… He doesn’t want the Rollei 35, for its complicated operation, but Rollei doesn’t have a less complicated 35mm camera in its product line-up (why, on earth?). Instead, the dealer sells him a A110, and a pocket cassette full of film for 548 Deutsche Mark (unbelievable but true, at product introduction), knowing that the customer will inevitably end up with very bad pictures, because the 110 “pocket” format is just too small for decent quality (also see the Pentax auto110), in any case it will never produce anything adequate to the price of the camera. Not very likely that this customer will buy a Rollei again…
Rolleiflex SLX (1976)
The SLX isn’t odd, it is unique! An icon, the forefather of a camera line that stretches until today, many years ahead of its time at introduction, if not decades. The fact that Rollei had to design so many things from scratch (shutter, electronics, the whole concept) almost broke the neck of the camera, and Rollei – years went by from introduction to actual availability, and the first cameras weren’t reliably either…
Of course, this is a matter of taste, but I have owned a 6008 and a 6003 – and eventually the SLX stayed with me.
Apart from the fact that almost all these cameras are meanwhile defunct due to failing electronics, the question must be asked what Rollei was up to with this camera? It is a pretty sophisticated thing, its mechanics are unique and it must have been pretty costly to develop it and make it ready for production – while it offers no advantages at all (almost) and it even is a pretty boring camera, with nothing to adjust except for the subject distance, which in turn you have to do without any help, so a high percentage of unsharp pictures is guaranteed.
Claus Prochnow comments in his Rollei Report about Heinz Waaske (the designer) having all the freedom at Rollei after his huge success with the Rollei 35, and that Rollei was anyway in desperate need of new products to fill its Singapore plant – well, this is how this camera was created, at a time when there were already autofocus cameras in the market, even from Rollei (rebadged Japanese cameras), while the Rollei designers were busy designing film transport flaps…
SL 2000 F motor
The SL2000 expresses the creativity and the engineering skills of the people at Rollei, but it also speaks of the hectic pace in the seventies, when Rollei desperately tried to secure (or to regain) its place in the photographic world.
In any case it is also proof that common sense and/or market research were not always Rollei’s strong points.
As impressive as the camera features add up on paper, when using it for the first time the user will be disappointed (if not shocked) by its unhandiness. With the grip, the experience may be more pleasant, but (as Jan Boettcher wrote) if a camera definitely needs a grip, it can be assumed that there is something wrong with the camera design in the first place. Even Rollei realized this a couple of years later and presented the 3003, which improved the ergonomics by 1000%.
At the time, I really wanted to love the SL2000, this was in the midst of my Rollei trip, but the Pentax LX just is the better camera…
Something even Rollei tried in the early days of the
digital age is to make a digital back. If Rollei was still alive, and
the SL2000/3003, this would have been the only 35mm camera where a digital back
would have made sense.