5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

By Eric Norris

My forays into various types of film cameras usually go something like this: 1) Go to the internet and read/watch something that leads to a link to another link to yet another link about a really cool camera. 2) Become entranced with the thought of using said camera. 3) Perusing eBay and buying a (usually inexpensive) camera. 4) Liking it. 5) Buying a more expensive version of the same camera. 6) Looking for a really cheap version of the expensive camera.

The last step is related to my other hobby–cycling–which I use as a springboard to find interesting things to shoot. I always carry a camera in my handlebar bag, but I’m concerned about taking really expensive kit on the bike in case the jostling might damage the delicate internals. For this reason, I have a minty Olympus XA and a somewhat more used XA (that still takes great pictures) that I carry on the bike.

A recent journey through the wonderland of cameras involved TLRs. I had never tried one, but I was intrigued and bought a Lomo Lubitel 166 (which I will write about separately). Shooting with that camera convinced me that this was, indeed, a very fun way to take pictures, which led to … Rolleiflex. I’d been thinking of buying a Rolleiflex for a while, so away to eBay I went! I tracked down a very nice Rolleiflex K7A Type 1, with an f2.8 Tessar lens. I shot some film with it, and was hooked. Such a nice camera!

Too nice, in fact. I didn’t want to have it bumped around on the bike and possibly harm the recently CLAed internals.

Back to the internet, which planted the seed of buying a less-expensive but still nice Rolleicord, sort of the Chevrolet of Rollei TLRs. I hunted around and found a great Rolleicord Model III Type II that cost about 1/4th of what I paid for the Rolleiflex. It took amazing pictures, and I was quite happy with the purchase, but …

Could I go even cheaper?

Well, eBay turned up a third camera, a Rolleicord II with a Carl Zeiss lens, made in 1937 in pre-WWII Germany. It arrived and, although the leather case was falling apart, the camera seemed to be in fine condition. Shutter speeds seemed right, everything worked, it was even cleaner than I thought it would be from viewing the listing on eBay. And all for about 1/15th the price of the Rolleiflex! Sure, it was missing the folding focus magnifier, but I found a super low-cost solution to that problem.

In went some film, and … success! More than 80 years after it left the factory, the little Rolleicord is still delivering high-quality images that are pin-sharp, yet manage to have plenty of character. My journey to the bottom of the price spectrum found a great little camera that I can safely carry, knowing that if it gets bumped around, there’s only about $65 worth of equipment at risk.

And now, on to the photos, from the first few rolls of film. Enjoy.

I used Kodak Ektar for all of the color shots in this post. Here’s my bike at a historic marker on US 40 in the California foothills.
Valencia Club, a night spot near Newcastle in California.
An old Amtrak car, now part of a commercial center. I love the colors I get from Ektar.
These bolts are part of the supports for the Guy West Bridge over the American River, a pedestrian and bicycle crossing. Shot with Ultrafine Extreme 100.
On the American River, during Golden Hour.

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About The Author

By Eric Norris
While my professional life for the past 30 years has revolved around urban planning, my love of photography goes back much farther. I inherited an old folding camera from my grandfather in high school, and was soon taking over the bathroom develop and print film. Since then, photography has remained a common thread in all my endeavors, which have included a stint as newspaper reporter and several decades of long-distance cycling. In addition to 35MMC, I post to Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube under the user name CampyOnlyGuy
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Comments

David Murray on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 25/09/2022

I used a Rolleicord IV a few years ago but found focus difficult on the ground glass screen. I asked my boyfriend to sell it off for me on ebayuk and bought a Zeus folder circa 1938. This has a pop up viewfinder hats very bright and gives 6 cm X 6cm use like the ‘cord. I’ve since discovered that I have a cataract in my right eye. I’ve also found an old ‘flex that has a simpler viewfinder: in the hood is a cross with a small circle in the centre with a mirror facing the photographer. He centres his eye in the mirror and his periferal vision frames the shot. I think it’s a Rolleiflex old standard. I’m not sure whether to take the plunge. I’m getting on really well with my three Zeiss folders. The open frame finders are currently serving me well and I’m getting accustomed to estimating distance.
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David Dutchison on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 19/08/2020

Back in The 70‘s, our high-school had a Rolleicord IV that none of the other kids ever wanted to use - so I commandeered it for 3 years. Loved that camera, very light in spite of its size, and the W/L finder and leaf shutter made it surprisingly inconspicuous to use as well. The ergonomics were also beautifully arranged, so all combined, the camera was a complete joy to shoot. The Xenar lens was fantastic too, Never felt disappointed about that either. It’s a simple, no-nonsense working camera.
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123456 on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 05/04/2020

Film, T.A. Cranks and a front load...alright! Eric, ApeCase makes a yellow padded box that will fit most handlebar bags nice and snug. It's made to be put into non camera bags. 10 bucks too.
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123456 on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 05/04/2020

Film, T.A. Cranks and a front load...alright! Eric, ApeCase makes a yellow padded box that will fit most handlebar bags nice and snug. 10 bucks too.
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Stephen Scarlett on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 05/04/2020

You had me at the first paragraph.... I do that ! ..I am not alone ! Actually I'd bet there are quite a few of us following your procedure. I started the TLR thing with an Ikoflex, went to a (fabulous, indeed ) white face 3.5F Rolleiflex -- and then an Autocord to protect the Rollei. Now thinking of a Rolleicord 11b to protect the Minolta. If the 11b produces shots as good as yours I guess I'll be looking at Seagulls/Lubitels... Great pictures, Eric.
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Peter on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 05/04/2020

I have a slightly newer rolleicord ii model 5 but still with the Triotar and am looking to add a good handlebar bag so I can take it on miyata 650b conversion all road. I agree the price is really good. I paid $37 canadian and $15 to ship. It still works well and has a compur rapid shutter so a little faster at 1/500. I did have to get a new mirror but that was cheap from Ebay and easy to fix. I really liked the stucco building and your classic steel ride.
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Laurie on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 03/04/2020

I have a Rolleiflex that my father left me and I love it. Wouldn't mind having a "beater" version to drag around too, so now I will have to start looking. LOL. Also loved that first pic - if I look about a block and a half down my street, I see cars driving by on the Lincoln highway...way over here in Ohio. Enjoyed seeing the western starting point!
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Andrew Craig on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 03/04/2020

I enjoyed your photographs and your write-up. Like you, I am a cyclist, love my steel bikes and Campagnolo - but I don't think I'll be carrying my Dad's Yashica 124 over the Surrey Hills on my Gios fixed gear! (I found an old blog, but it looks dormant?)
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Eric Norris replied:

Comment posted: 03/04/2020

Andrew: I stopped blogging a while ago as my interests changed. I ran the CampyOnly.com web site for about 25 years until I finally decided I needed to spend my time on other things. My cycling nowadays is about half riding/half art project, which makes it so much more fun.

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AC replied:

Comment posted: 03/04/2020

Ah yes; photography is not the only thing done better at a speed you can see!

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Andrea on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 03/04/2020

I am amazed every time I think about these cameras. It is unbelievable how after 80 years (and some times more) they can deliver such beautiful picture and emotions to us.
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Aivaras on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 02/04/2020

Impressive quality of shots!
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john s on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 02/04/2020

thanks for the post, i loved the Ektar photos- bright colors, etc... Good to see some old bikes still being used, reminds me of the pre-carbon fiber heavy metal era ;) thanks also for instagram link, great to see the heritage shown on some of your TLR cameras - Greece, LA, ...
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David Allen on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 02/04/2020

As a fellow cyclist I loved this article. I'm all 35mm or digital at the moment. However I'm going to have to look at some medium format TLRs thanks to you're good self!!
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AmDe Sidik on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 02/04/2020

I love looking at old film cameras. Never had a chance to own one until digital arrives..
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Rock on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 02/04/2020

Glad you enjoy using Rollei cords and flexes. They are super cameras and there is definitely something intriguing and cool about using TLRs. Unfortunately I can no longer use them due to bad eyesight as I need something right up to my eye to be able to focus and compose! So always glad to see other peoples' efforts with one. Thanks for the photos, they are great. California must be a great (and large) place to cycle around taking photographs. Cheers, Rock
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Mr Tom price on 5 Photos with the Cheapest Rollei TLR I Could Find – By Eric Norris

Comment posted: 02/04/2020

Such a beautiful camera, I have a 1936 model 2, wonderful character full images, enjoy !
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