Let’s start with the elephant in the room – this camera comes with some serious bling. It is in fact, a special gold-dipped version officially called the “Rolleiflex 2.8GX Expression 75 years edition”. I assure you I had no intention of obtaining all this bling but it happened all the same ☺
Long story short, I was in the market for a Rolleiflex TLR that was in the best possible shape and sold by a seller with a good reputation. This particular camera was sold new/unused under the price of other good condition used cameras I’d seen in excellent shape.
In short, it ticked all the boxes.
Even though it’s still a bit too shiny, I’ve gotten used to the gold and think the color combination looks beautiful. I think it’s a rare case of a golden shelf queen actually being used instead of just being looked at.
My intention is to share with you my Rolleiflex 2.8GX user experience. I’ll be focusing more on simple everyday use and will provide you with (well, show off) many example photographs I have taken. Don’t expect to find deep technical expertise or to obtain a detailed explanation about the GX and other Rollei TLR models with all the neat technical differences – I can’t help you on this as I don’t have the necessary extensive experience with different Rollei models.
Why the Rolleiflex GX?
Well, it’s not my first step into medium format and even not the first step into the TLR world. I already owned Yashica-MAT 124G with its vintage lens signature and a bit of a tendency to flare/haze.
I was looking for something different, something with good sharpness and contrast, which is why I started to look into Rolleiflexes and Carl Zeiss Planar lenses with the latest coatings. My first priority was the FX-N model, but to find one at an accessible price is equal to finding a real unicorn in pet shop…
So I went to look for an FX or GX model and my final decision to settle on GX was based not on model preference, but more on condition and price of the particular camera.
Expectations and intended use
I switched to TLR’s for my medium format photography in order to have portable, uncomplicated 6×6 fixed lens camera mostly for portrait shots. What I expected from GX was high-quality photos, the ability to shoot in any demanding lightning conditions without loss of contrast and smooth bokeh in high-quality package that would bring pleasure in handling department too.
So far 2.8GX delivers everything with excess.
The camera is built to very high standards. It’s definitely sturdier, more pleasant to use and precise compared to my other TLR, the Yashica-MAT 124G.
Let’s take a quick look at the camera’s physical aspects.
Body and controls
The front of the camera is dominated by the viewing and taking lenses the shutter speed dial on the left side (which offers half-stop settings…strange for a TLR), an aperture dial on the right-hand side, and a threaded and lockable shutter button on the bottom right side. There is a window on top of the viewing lens that shows the selected aperture and shutter speed combination.
On the left side of the camera you have the focusing knob with integrated battery chamber, film spool holder knobs, flash mount and ISO setting wheel. There is a battery check lamp next to the focusing knob.
The right side of the camera has the film rewind/shutter cooking handle and exposure number window. The film door lock/open mechanism are on the bottom of the camera along with the tripod thread…and aside from the top of the camera, that’s pretty much everything that I can tell you about the simple body of a standard TLR.
The topic of viewfinders/focus screens on medium format cameras is a complicated one. On one hand, large and bright waist level viewfinders are one of the distinctive features that draw users to start with medium format film photography.
They give the ability to compose pictures with a great level of detail, accuracy and the ability to clearly pre-visualize the frame. On the other hand, precise focusing and viewfinder brightness is an often issue with medium format. And then there is this left/right inverse view issue that needs getting used to…
I have zero reservations about the usability of the GX’s viewfinders. It’s big, and under the right conditions (occasionally having to shield the screen from stray light), I can see the entire scene. Working this TLR is a dream…
I suppose that it’s a bit hard to get to grips about particular viewfinder’s brightness characteristics without actually looking into it, so I’ll try to help you by providing some subjective comparisons.
The screen of the 2.8GX is the same brightness as standard Yashica-MAT 124G screen, its dimmer than Mamiya 645 1000s finder with an f/1.9 lens mounted. Somewhere in the middle between the standard and bright screen of my friend’s Rolleiflex 2.8C.
The ability to focus critically with a medium format camera is a very important thing, especially if you are a bokeh addict like me and like to shoot the lens wide open.
The GX’s focusing screen has two focusing aids – a center split-screen and surrounding micro prism collar. Both of those aids work perfectly accurate and are easy to use. Another thing that is worth to note that it’s impossible to accurately focus on other zones on the focus screen other than the center. For critical work, a focus and recompose technique has to be used. As for minimal focusing distance – it’s the TLR “gold standard”: 1 meter.
One of the cool functions of the GX is inbuilt metering. By cool I mean not the fact that it has a built-in meter, but more about how it’s implemented:
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First – It’s through the lens (TTL) metering.
Second – It shows under/overexposure of the scene via red/yellow/green LEDs on top of the focus screen inside the waist level finder. Green means correct metering, yellow means half a stop under/over and red means one stop under/over.
Third – The meter is very accurate.
Fourth – While the manual says that its center-weighted meter, when you look at the metering area covered in the viewfinder, it’s almost a spot meter as it covers only a little bit more than central focusing aids (both split-screen and microprism collar area).
I like spot metering, it helps to select best settings for higher contrast frames, but have to admit this metering pattern is for more advanced users. I still stick to my habits and do most of my metering work with Lumu app on my iPhone, but I notice that over time I started to rely on the camera’s inbuilt metering system more and that helps me fiddle less with gadgets during shoots.
The shutter button
To the balance good with the bad, let’s get to a bit detail about shutter button. Due to the built-n meter, Rolleiflex had to incorporate a way to activate metering and in my opinion, didn’t implement it in the best possible manner.
They redesigned the shutter button and made it “two-stage” like most modern cameras: depress it halfway and you activate metering, depress it fully and the shutter fires. Sounds logical and convenient but the result is that shutter button is stiffer and there is a higher risk that you will move/shake the camera while depressing it.
The result is that you will probably need to increase your TLR-specific “safe-slow-handheld” shutter speeds.
It’s not a problem for me, as I’m used to shooting my critical work from a tripod with shutter release cable but it might be a big issue for those, who are used to shooting handheld. I’m not saying that it is impossible to shoot at shower speeds this way – I have perfectly sharp results from handheld shots at 1/15 and even 1/8, but I also had an experience where I accidentally moved the camera while depressing the shutter button, hence this statement.
I read that the shutter button becomes softer when the camera runs in and my GX being new/unused, I will keep an eye on this.
The Rollei Planar HFT 2.8/80 lens
Basically, I got what I expected and even more: classic “perfect” Planar rendering, very sharp stopped-down, stable performance across the frame, good flare resistance, gives good deep colors and high contrast.
What I’m especially happy is the special look that I can get when shooting it wide open. I have difficulty explain, it is somehow softly-sharp at focus zone and then has a smooth focus transition zone. If the distances between camera and subject are not close, it’s hard to melt backgrounds into total non-existence, It’s an f/2.8 lens, after all, but it separates subject in a very pleasant and controllable manner. I hope that pictures will explain better than my complicated words ☺ I added the f-stops used in the pictures below where I remembered them.
Getting back to that “softly sharp” effect – for example wide open my Yashica-Mat 124G look sharper to me, maybe its due to the f/3.5 lens compared to the f/2.8 on the Rollei, but maybe it’s just due to different lens designs. But this minimal softness is very suitable for full aperture portraits, they somehow look painterly.
Dealing with parallax
If we talk about TLR, we have to stop on TLR-specific issue – parallax. Due to the fact, that you look through one lens and take the picture through another. and that the viewing lens is higher than the taking lens, there is a difference to what you see and what the camera records on film.
The point of view of the lower (taking) lens is always a bit lower than the viewing lens (always by the amount of space that separates them. The closer you are to your subject, the more pronounced this effect is.
However, this Rolleiflex has a built-in mechanism to compensate for that!
There is a mask just behind the focusing screen and it moves when the camera-focusing wheel is turned. The mask provides parallax compensation in the viewfinder. In other words, it helps you capture what you see on the focus screen more or less. My advice here would be to be careful with framing, when the camera to subject distance is shorter there is still a difference between what finder shows and what is recorded on film. After some experiments and mistakes, I now try to compose in such a way that there should be some space left for cropping at the bottom and top of the picture.
The Rolleinar close-up lens
The Rolleiflex GX’es lens hoods, filters and other accessories are mounted by was of a BAY III bayonet. I got one of the close-up lenses with my camera – the “Rolleinar 2”. This particular accessory lets you focus camera at distances from 30 to 52 cm.
Worth to note is that close-up lenses have parallax correction built-in. It means that the viewing lens is mounted at a slight angle and it enables a change of direction of your viewpoint. My experience is that parallax is not totally corrected; you still have to leave a place for different viewing and taking positions.
Regarding image quality, nothing is lost.
At the end of the day, it appears that the camera is golden not only in terms of its exterior but also in terms of usage and results! Well at least for me, taking into account my wishes and expectations and at my present state of skills. 🙂
Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed pictures!
Rolleiflex 2.8GX Expression 75 years edition technical specifications
|Manufacturer||Rollei Fototechnic GmbH & Co. KG|
|Camera name||Rolleiflex 2.8GX Expression 75 years edition|
|Manufacture dates||1995 (900 copies manufactured)|
|Camera type||Twin Lens Reflex|
|Film format||120 format roll film (12 exposures)
135 format film (with 35mm adapter Rolleikin 2)
|Image format||6x6cm (120 film)|
Rollei Planar HFT 80mm f/2.8 (Bayonet 3 attachment).
Schneider or Zeiss Heidosmat 80mm f/2.8 (Bayonet 3 attachment).
|Shutter||Synchro Compur X, 1-1/500 second max speed.
B, X-Sync and self-timer
|Viewfinder display||5x LEDs above the focus screen. When the shutter is half depressed, one LED will light up and remain active for 30 seconds.
Red (left): underexposed by at least 1 f-stop
Yellow (left): underexposed by at least ½ f-stop
Green (center): correct exposure
Yellow (right): overexposed by at least ½ f-stop
Red (right): overexposed by at least 1 f-stop
|Metering||Central weighted average metering (2x SI-photoelements)
Manually set ISO from 25-6400
|Flash||Direct X-Sync, all speeds|
|Power||PX28 (6V) or equivalent|
|Weight||1275g (no battery)|
|109mm x 147mm x 108mm x (WxHxD)|
|Accessories||Rolleinar II and III Close-up attachment
Rolleikin 2 35mm film adapter
Five interchangeable focus screens
Two interchangeable focus prisms (90 and 45-degree)
Eveready case (hard)
Soft leather carry case
Flash adapter (SCA 356)
Tripod head attachment
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