Bringing home a new baby… The Automatic Rolleiflex 4×4 (featuring Rollei, ReraPan and Kodak 127 format films) – by Sherry Christensen

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Let me tell you about my adventures with my new Baby Rolleiflex 4×4 (technically speaking, the “Automatic Rolleiflex 4×4”) and Rollei Nightbird, ReraPan (and ReraChrome), AND Kodak Portra 160NC film… The adventure started way back in 2016 when I saw the Vivian Maier documentary and was just starting out with film. I really wanted a Rolleiflex in the worst way! I knew absolutely nothing about them… but I wanted one so badly!

I had an hour to kill one day and went into a little antique store and in the cabinet was a Rolleiflex! I had to have it and the price? Perfectly affordable! I bought it not knowing it was the Baby Rollei… insert palm smack to the forehead here but before you copy me, just LOOK AT IT…!


When I got home I was super excited to shoot this little camera… think of a little kid at Christmas who just got exactly what they wanted from Santa — that kind of excited! I had roll film ready to load in my Holga so I should have been ready to go right? Wrong.

You see, that was when I discovered I had purchased a 127 format camera, not the 120 version I had expected… dang it. I have a lot to learn, but if I was going to buy a 127 film camera, I sure picked a good one!

My next step was to go online and buy some film right? Whoa there…127 film is a bit rare and I now knew why the Rolleiflex was a bargain price. However, I could buy some film for it. It was rather expensive but I thought the camera needed to be shot and it would be a shame to have a shelf queen. I could get expired film OR fresh film and I opted for fresh, my options were limited but here they were:

* Film Photography Project and B&H sell Rerapan in both.

I also have a couple of rolls of expired Verichrome Pan, fresh (in the early 1970s) in the fridge. I’m not expecting much from it since it has probably been stored poorly… but let’s get back to Rollei Nightbird which was the first film I took out for a spin!

The question begs, why buy redscale film if you don’t really like the look of it? I did do a Google search before buying it… look at that, I am learning already! The simple answer is, if 127 format is available when there are not many options, I should be supporting it. If we don’t, it will disappear and no options will be available. Plus who knows… maybe once I shoot some redscale… maybe I will actually like it.


I ended up putting the Nightbird on ice and began shooting conventional formats in the Baby Rollei until July 12 2019. Why that date? It’s 127 Film Day (12th day of the 7th month) and what better way to shoot the project than with a unique film stock! Strictly speaking, there are three 127 Film Days each year: Jan 27th, July 12th and December 7th.

Back to the story and redscale is not my ‘thing’ but I shot some anyway. The first thing I did was check Google for advice on how to shoot Nightbird and found very little information, maybe because it has since been discontinued… but I did see what it would look like. So then I looked up how to shoot redscale and found many different articles about how to make your own, etc.

Interesting to read about, but not helpful to someone who has never shoot redscale film before and wants to learn.

Automatic Rolleiflex 4x4 with Rollei Nightbird 127

I ended up just kind of ‘winging it’ and using the information of the label of the box, “for best results shoot at ISO 640” which is an odd number… but what the heck, I’ll try different ISO’s and see what I get. Worst case scenario is I will get a roll of badly shot film, not what I’m aiming for… but it happens.

The first 3 shots I metered for 640 ambient light on a nice sunny day. Those shots were very dark and VERY well red! No other tones but black and red. Not exactly what I was expecting. Then I metered for the shadows at the same ISO and got less dark, but still really red shots. Bright red everything! With a subtle hint of orange and yellows… better, but not what I wanted yet.

Next let’s try ISO 500, the lowest listed on the box. With ambient light meter reading it was lighter red with hints of orange, but still mostly red. Pretty much the same result as ISO 640 metered for the shadows. So what happens when I meter for the shadows at EI 500 in bright sun?

Ahhhh… there we go! Yellow, orange, reds… the colours of redscale! Now the film is called Nightbird for a reason, so the dark red and blacks are probably what the film is supposed to look like… but to be honest, I did not like the look! However when given a bit more light? I kind of liked those photos! I have two more rolls of Nightbird in my freezer, and I plan on trying it at ISO 400 and 200 to see what happens, but probably will shoot most of it at ISO 500 metered for the shadows, because in truth I didn’t mind those shots.

Let us move on to processing and scanning and how that went. Processing is standard C-41, easy! I do my own C-41 at home in my kitchen sink, but when I opened the tank? I was sure I had messed up the roll completely, it was an odd colour film base and very dark looking, but as it dried it did lighten somewhat. On to scanning… that is when the biggest challenge began, my Epson Perfection V600 at first scanned things with a weird blue tint! Ok, Sherry… turn OFF the colour correction and enter “generic” in the settings… there it is, no more blue tints… now come on and find the frames, Mr. Epson.


The Epson failed because the film base was so dark and it struggled to see where the frame lines were, but when I manually selected the frames, the scanner did the job. It was a bit more labour intensive to scan plus the film did not dry flat, in fact it was the worst film for curling and cupping I have scanned to date. Will I shoot more redscale after my Nightbird is gone? Probably not… unless it is 127 film!

—–

Now on to the Baby Rollei… the camera I didn’t mean to buy! Once I sent it away for service… it runs just as well as my full-size Rolleiflex, just smaller! It features an f/3.5 60mm Schneider Kreuznach Xenar taking lens which is fast enough for me. The ASA dial (this is a mid-fifties model, pre-ISO standards) runs from 8 to 800, although acts only as a reminder due to the lack of a meter in the camera. The taking lens’ shutter runs from “Bulb” to 1/125 second. It’s not quite as speedy as its full-size brother… but those settings offer a decent range of options.

The one thing I don’t care for is the sharp knurled dial around the taking lens for setting the shutter speed and aperture. It is fiddly to set either and a bit hard on the fingers. If you have large hands, this would be a pain in the butt!

Automatic Rolleiflex 4x4 - Lens Close-up

Focusing is pretty easy. Subjects snap into focus with a large focusing knob on the left-hand side. Instead of a crank, a large knob on the right hand of the body is nice to use to advance to the next frame. There is no red window like many 127 cameras, just turn the knob to the next exposure and the camera will stop you when it’s advanced enough film. No worries about going too far and blowing a frame or having the frames lining up improperly.

The Automatic Rolleiflex 4×4 also features a sport finders and ground glass magnifier in the viewfinder to double check focus – pretty nice for my aging eyes! Examples from ReraPan (black and white film), ReraChrome (color slide film) and Kodak Portra 160NC (color negative film) follow:

The use of flash is possible as well, with either funky flashbulbs or a PC sync port, however like the full size Rollei there is no cold or hot shoe, so you would need an L bracket screwed in the tripod socket on the bottom. To be honest, I haven’t shot flash with it…yet.

All in all… it is a really well built 127 format film camera and as the name “Automatic Rolleiflex 4×4” suggests, it produces 4x4cm frames (the so-called Superslide format). If you do decide to try one it would be good to budget for a CLA, the shutter on mine was sticking at slower speeds when I got it. Plus also, if you don’t wany to fiddle with slitting your own 127 and using your old backing paper, the film is still out there, but pricey and the pickings are slim.


Thanks for reading.

~ Sherry

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12 thoughts on “Bringing home a new baby… The Automatic Rolleiflex 4×4 (featuring Rollei, ReraPan and Kodak 127 format films) – by Sherry Christensen”

  1. Very nice article. I owned a Rolllei2.8E back in the days (now 85 going on 60) as a professional photographer. Most people don’t know to thread that paper under the roller, because, not doing so, will simply cause the film to wind and not activate the counter. Didn’t know after all these years that the Rollie came in 127. Over the years, I have used film in every size, from 8mm (Minox I owned one), to 5×7 (in studio), and even 828. It includes 116 and 616 !!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for this story. I also have the Baby grey Rolleiflex.
    Like you mentionned it, the problem is to find affordable film. So there is a simple way to cut down 120 film to 127 size.
    Search for “127 film cigar knife” and you will find plenty of answers to cut your film. Then it will be much cheaper.
    I use this camera a lot and this is my favorite camera. It is small, light, it produce great shots and it a joy to use.
    The xenar lens (Tessar like formula) is really great.
    The other alternatives are yashica 44 which are cheaper and Primo JR (a.k.a. Sawyer’s Mark IV) which is a better performer with less character.
    I used the Rera chrome. It has yellow cast.I think it is better suited for summer shot when the light gives a light gold tone to it.
    I used some roll of Bluefire Murano (actually portra 160) and its gorgeous.
    That is a pleasure to read a review on this camera, often overshadowed by their 6×6 big brothers.
    Thanks again for your review and experience

    Reply
  3. Hi Sherry, you didn’t indicate how much you paid for the camera. My search indicates it could be somewhere north of $400. Yikes! That’s a lot to pay for a film format that is on it’s knees compared to 135 and 120 film stock.

    Reply
    • Personally, I love reading about other’s adventures with old cameras and unusual films. It’s why I visit Emulsive. It’s a given the cameras may be expensive and the film may be hard to find – no news there. That’s kinda what makes it fun to read about. Was there anything you liked about the story? Did it bring any joy to your life to share in Sherry’s adventure, even for a few minutes? It did mine. 🙂
      Sounds like it at least sent you shopping for a Baby Rolleiflex! That’s a start.

      Reply
  4. Doing a minimal amount of research on a camera before buying it, I.e., finding out what film it uses, could save one a great deal of money and irritation down the road. The pickings for 127 film are pretty slim.

    Reply
  5. Sherry, mots wonderfully written article here, very refreshing and not boring at all!.
    What takes me the most are the two first images! Very special and somehow with their deep red colour something I never saw before. Thank you for including those.
    I prefer them over the other more orange and yellow images by far. I just found a Yashicamat 44 in my attic; working!
    Even the built-in lightmeter does his job it seems. I will buy a few rolls of the 127 format film. I once had a baby Rolleiflex and liked it very much.
    Back to my roots it seems..
    Stay healthy and please come up with more in the future
    Best regards
    Harry

    Reply
  6. You can use the Camerhack film slicer from Italy to slice your own 127 film from 120 film and you will also get some 16mm leftovers that you can use.
    camerhack.it
    Unfortunately I don’t get a commission from them ; )

    Reply
  7. Great story! Thanks for sharing. I’ve known the baby rolleiflex existed but never saw a review of one before. It does look adorable – I can see why you had to have it. What’s involved with cutting the film down? I inherited a plate adapter for my Rolleiflex 2.8e but have never used it, because I’d have to cut the sheet film down to size (no one seems to make 6×9 cm sheets anymore.) Cutting things accurately in total darkness sounds tricky…. would be great if you had film to use your “baby” whenever you want!

    Reply

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