Rolleicord Va giving the impression that it works

The Pitfalls of Buying 2nd Hand… When 2nd Hand is all there is – By Chris Hooke

Well, this is quite embarrassing.

This, my first post for 35mmc, would tell the glorious tale of a Rolleicord Va, newly acquired from a well know auction site. It would include the unboxing, cleaning, any minor repairs, and finally, those first glorious, world class images that I would obviously take with it.

And in the story of my life, soon to be made into a tragic comedic Hollywood blockbuster, its broken. Of course it is. Not badly broken, but it still doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just jump into the “Buy it now” syndrome like some damn fool. I know Rolleicord well, having bought and sold a fair few over the years. I’m well acquainted with the good old honest, ducking and diving, wheeler dealers on fleabay who found the camera in a drawer and hasn’t a clue how it works (google?) so can’t check it, there are no shops nearby who sell batteries, has actually never seen a camera before… but it was working 40 years ago. Honest.

The camera in question is in immaculate condition. The seller said so, and the photos did prove a point. Did he actually say it worked? No. Did my heart rule my head? Yes. My mitigating circumstance was that I had bought from the seller before, he accepted returns, and it had been a really hard day at work, a Sunday no less.

Love at first sight
Unboxing the Rolleicord Va mk II. Love at First Sight

I’m sure many of us, if not all, have found ourselves in the same position. I have read countless threads on forums about people walking into a thrift store and walking out, one dollar poorer, with Cartier-Bresson’s Leica. Let me tell you now, it has never happened to me, or anyone I know. For our American cousins, in the UK, we have charity shops, full of badly fitting items of clothing and last year’s must-have annoyingly cute kids toy. Sadly, no cameras, apart from the odd battered box brownie.

So, we are left with a few alternatives, mainly online, which can be a really scary place. its a wasteland when it comes to camera shops. When I was a lad, you couldn’t find a decent Coffee Shop because they were all being taken over by bloody camera shops. Everywhere you looked, you could get a Leica, but not a Latte (I am joking. When I was a kid, no one this side of Don Corleone knew what a Latte was)

There are still a few good hard working photography outlets, but the film cameras are more often resigned to one, very dark corner and fade into the shadows, dwarfed by the next shiny 30 million megapixel superstar, that promises to turn us into the next David Bailey (I apologise to the numerous stores out there that I have not had the pleasure of visiting, that are truly focussed on film). There are, of course, online sellers who will buy the second-hand camera for you, test it, and then sell it on for a modest mark-up. I know, because I’m one of them.

The point is, we know that we will still be wading through the 20k plus cameras that are up for auction. We will always lust after the ones we can’t afford, even after 30 years of forgetting about them. But then, there will be the one. You know you want it. You’ve read the blurb, you looked lovingly at the pictures, and you just know that this seller is as honest as the day is long, (believe me, there are some). And maybe, just maybe, when it arrives, it will be everything we dreamt of, leaving us to spend the rest of our lives, happily wearing away our vertebrae as it dangles around our necks (I’m talking to you at the back, with the Mamiya c330)

So back to the original storyline. The Rolleicord Va. I’m glad to say it will feature in a future post. It had a problem with the shutter cocking mechanism. I messaged the seller, and, nice chap that he is, agreed to refund me almost half the original price. It will be packaged up and sent off to my go to Rollei repairers, Newton Ellis (Liverpool) for a full service. When she comes back, I’ll be able to continue with the original blog idea, and pretend that this never happened, and I would never buy a broken camera as I’m far too experienced to do that.

But damn, that’s one nice doorstop.

My new, expensive doorstop
Rolleicord Va mk II getting used to its new job

The Rolleicord will be back. I’m looking forward to bringing you reviews and my personal favourites and views on the world of film photography.

If you find yourself looking for a way into analogue cameras, feel free to pop over to my etsy store. All cameras are personally tested by me, and will probably be written about on 35mmc in the near future.

By Chris H – 35mmadventuresuk – Etsy UK

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23 thoughts on “The Pitfalls of Buying 2nd Hand… When 2nd Hand is all there is – By Chris Hooke”

  1. This was fun to read.
    When I was a lad kids did not look for coffee shops because they did not drink any, (this is only for grown ups).
    And how could you spot me with my Mamiya C330 from up front?

    1. Thanks Martin, when I was a kid it would have been a glass of orange juice if I was lucky, but I’d still be able to spot you with the Mamiya because you would be wearing a neck brace, the same as me !! Got to love the c330 though, even from our hospital beds

  2. There are a couple of really good specialist dealers in UK. The items are thoroughly checked. And most importantly – are guaranteed.

    1. Thanks Luke, the old Zenits would survive any catastrophe, and are well worth saving. Unfortunately, they’re not even giving them away near me

  3. Thanks for this witty post Chris.
    It certainly struck a chord with me ( tht pun wasn’t intended but suitable). Perhaps I’ve been luckier than most with charity shop buys one of which, a few years ago, was a grey Rolleicord Vb. The price was……well, I’m not owning up to it but suffice to say I felt guilty that I didn’t advise them to put another zero on the end. I ran a test roll through it with impressive results although it was obvious that the shutter cocking mechanism was stiff to operate. No problem thought I, it’ll free up with a bit of use. It was also obvious that 120 roll film and I don’t see eye to eye when it comes to loading a spiral. As, anyway, my scanner at the time only only took 35mm I lashed out on a Rolleikin 35mm adapter, well two actually to get all the bits to make a complete one. The Rolleikin makes an already idiosyncratic camera even more so and using one in a ‘Cord necessitates disengaging the double exposure lock. Thereby followed my unintended but nonetheless “artistic” double exposure period. Still we cut quite a dash together at 1940s reinactments – me in my ARP uniform with a suitably vintage TLR which I was actually using.
    All this time the shutter cocking remained stiff and I also gradually came to the conclusion that that the ‘Cord/’Kin combo wasn’t so much idiosyncratic as bloody awkward. So it took pride of place in my display cabinet for a while. Last year it came out because it seemed a waste to have it just sitting there looking pretty and because having found a reliable colour processing lab I had an idea to to try some 120 colour film in it. I removed the Rolleikin and, and……the shutter/cocking lever just flapped about achieving nothing whatsoever.
    In these straitened times I’m hestitant about justifying the cost of a repair although Newton Ellis would seem to be the best people to do this. As such I’m very much looking forward to your follow up post to find out how you got on.

    1. Thanks Peter. Its a hard decision to make in these troubled times, but you just know you won’t regret it !! I had the same experience with a 40’s weekend and an MPP Microcord around my neck. People were asking me why I was wearing jeans as they thought I was part of the show. Got to love a TLR

  4. I sent my Yashicamat to Newton and Ellis for a full service and they did a grand job, it came back all shiny and mechanically smooth running. I also added a bright viewfinder screen from China, that makes focusing so much easier. People might say and have to me “wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy another camera than get it serviced”, (I’d had my Yashicamat for a few years before its shutter failed) well maybe, except my camera body and lens are in excellent condition and another ageing camera would likely have the same shutter problems. Enjoy your lovely serviced Rolliecord.

    1. Thanks Phil. I agree with you about sending them away. You know its all shiny and fresh, ready to go. Will be taking the Rolleicord out very soon !!

  5. From your statement, I can see you have plenty of eBay shopping experience.

    ” wheeler dealers on fleabay who found the camera in a drawer and hasn’t a clue how it works (google?) so can’t check it, there are no shops nearby who sell batteries, has actually never seen a camera before… but it was working 40 years ago. Honest.”

    Like you, I’ve had my ups and downs. My best deal ever from a charity site (Goodwill) was a Maxxum 7D camera with two lenses for 36.00. These usually go from 200-450.00. In all the images, it was dirty, and the back panel looked slightly damaged. I bought it only half expecting it to work. After wiping it off, it was completely fine–just dusty. Even better, it has worked perfectly for the last 3 years and counting. Fortunately, for actual duds, I have been able to return them for refunds.

    I turned my eBay buying experiences into a set of rules, The Rules of Acquisition–eBay Edition ( From the above quote, I can see you have encountered at least three of the rules. Good luck with the Rollei–I’m looking forward to the review.

    1. Hi Jerome, I think we’ve all been there as far as ebay is concerned. I love your rules of acquisition, there’s obviously a lot of experience gone into compiling that, and a certain amount of heartache. Rule 6 is particularly familiar – “It was working perfectly when I last used it 10 years ago” Riiigghhttt.
      We keep coming back though for that bargain, and we’ll still get stung once in a while. The Rolleicord is back from its service and is looking lovingly at a couple of rolls of FP4 !!

  6. Enjoy your Rolleicord Va once you have it serviced Chris. I bought my similar Vb in immaculate condition for $50 in 1963.. That was when it was approximately 8 years old. Local secondhand prices suggest it would easily sell for $1000 today. So on that basis you should expect to be able to sell your Va for 20X whatever you paid for it if you are willing to wait 60 years. I’ll never sell mine.
    I also have a similar vintage Rolleiflex 3.5 in perfect condition that I paid $350 for in 2013. Now possibly worth $1500.
    Very recently I fitted each of them with excellent bright screens from Aliexpress costing about $60 each.
    If you do that, be careful those little flat retaining springs don’t go flying across the room.

    1. Believe me, Graham. The Va will be in a lot better condition in 60 years than I will. I just think there’s something about Rollei’s that once you own one, you’ll always have one or be looking for one. I’d be interested in looking at a bright screen. Didn’t realise Aliexpress did them but I’ll certainly taking a look. Thanks for the recommendation

  7. Chris simply download the Aliexpress app and search for Rolleicord bright screen and you’ll find it showing all the other models of Rollei they fit. I ordered one and it arrived to New Zealand in 2 or 3 weeks. It was excellent so I ordered a second one which also arrived in a couple or so weeks. These are screens that completely replace the original screens. It’s quite easy to DIY but you’ll need a jewellers screwdriver and offset tweezers are handy to hold the small screws. There are cheaper screens that fit on top of the original screen that I don’t imagine are as good. I use Aliexpress quite a lot and they have been reliable except for 1 or 2 very cheap items that took 3 months to arrive. Once you log in with your own password your device will remember your card details as well as your address and it’s all too easy to buy stuff with a couple of clicks.
    The price was NZ$63 they add on our GST tax and usually not much for freight. So in pounds I guess you’d be looking at half that.

  8. This is a nice-looking Rolleicord! You have done a good deed to the film photography community in having this beauty overhauled and repaired. It is definitely worth the cost. And you will enjoy it for decades.

    You are in the UK. It’s interesting that the focus knob on your camera is marked in feet.

    There are still some bargains on ePrey, but you need to weed through the “I don’t know anything about cameras” sellers. Why would any seller admit to that? Is he trying to get some sympathy? And these are the clowns who often list the highest prices, utterly absurd. Back to the topic: I recently bought a clean Pentax Spotmatic F with the gorgeous SMC Takumar 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens for $35. That is what 2 rolls of film cost now. I sent it off for a cleaning and overhaul, and it is ready to work to the end of my days.

    Enjoy your Rolleicord!

    1. Thank you. Kodachromeguy. There are certainly genuine sellers out there who want to see their cameras to go to good homes and will be completely honest. Unfortunately, trying to find them is easier said than done. I must admit, the old Pentax’s and Konica/Minoltas are good ones to look for. You got a bargain there. The Takumar 1.4’s are pretty special.
      Funnily enough, I have an article on the go at the moment where I’ve challenged myself to see what cameras are available for £30 in the UK. I was surprised at what i managed to find. Keep an eye out for it, there may even be a Spotmatic on there.

    2. Kodachrome Guy, My very similar Rolleicord Vb focus knob is also marked in feet, including Feet written on the knob. I bought it secondhand in Auckland New Zealand where I live around about 1963 when it was about 8 years old. Rollei cameras were very popular up until then. The NZ agency was Agfa New Zealand so most likely my one was imported directly from Germany. But my Rolleiflex 3.5 of similar vintage has its focusing knob marked in metres.
      When the Yashicamat TLR arrived around 1963 local sales of Rollei practically dried up. Yashicamat TLR were imported directly from Japan by Reynolds NZ, a film production company I worked for at the time.
      I can’t remember the prices but the Yashicamat may have been 1/3 the price of a Rollei, depending on the model. For most people the Yashicamat was just as good. At least the results were just as good.

  9. Excellent! I had one ebay seller who claimed he couldn’t test the camera because he didn’t have the right batteries. It took two AAs (Konica C35ef3)!

    My Rolleiflex experience was similar. I bought one of those 60 Jahre Edition GXs because it was the most beautiful thing I had seen. From a very well known Leica shop in Europe, shipped to the USA. It was in immaculate condition but the shutter speed and aperture dials were extremely hard to turn.
    They actually were very nice about it, said just get it fixed and send them the bill. They refunded me the repair. There are some good people on ebay!

    1. What a beautiful camera to have in the end, Huss. There’s definitely good people out there, but like so many things in life, if money is changing hands, the lowlife will want to make a quick buck. I’ve recently bought an Automat off the bay, which was advertised as fully working. I’m keeping everything crossed.

  10. Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne

    We all make such mistakes. It helps to remember that when it comes to dealing with one’s passion(s) in life – photography in this case – money is only paper…

    In the case of Rollei TLRs, I’m one who should know. Over the years I’ve bought (and mostly sold) enough ‘flexes and ‘cords to stock a small camera store. Why I did this is beyond me to figure out. For the joy of owning them and playing with them, likely.

    I stil have four, a 3.5E2 I bought new in 1966, two Ts I picked up dirt-cheaply in the mid-’00s when digital hit us full-on in the face and all those wonderful old film cameras were being thrown out like unwanted kittens, and a Vb, picked up a few years ago from a deceased estate sale. I paid AUD $95 for it and a bag of “bits” including a Rolleikin 35mm kit which is a joy to play with, and makes film shooting affordable.

    To me a Rolleianything is a work of art, a marvel of German precision engineering, a superb image-making machine, a hand-crafted tool, a means of recording small moments of history and preserving them in visual terms.

    As the happy owner of a Rolleicord Vb kit (the second I’ve owned, my first being one I bought from a secondhand dealer in Sydney in 1982 for all of AUD $80, which came with a case, a lens hood, two filters, and a fantastic book on Rollei/TLR photography by Alec Pearlman – the Vb went to a new owner long ago but the “bits” and the book remain in my possession. I’ve used it to make some of the finest images it has been my privilege to take in my long life.

    To this day I find myself wondering, was my acquiring this (first) Vb only happenstance or a door opening to something far more meaningful in my life? The jury is out on all that, but I know that TLRs took me in new directions in my photography, and taught me many valuable things I’ve gone on to use in all other aspects of my image-making, even now with my digital Nikons.

    I’m very much an “old style” photographer, having taken it up in my teens in the early 1960s. I cut my teeth on those wonderful old Kodak manuals, How To Take Good Pictures, which taught me the basics of using pre-electronic era cameras as well as the basics of good composition – the “rule of thirds” has always served me well.

    Some would say I’m a dinosaur clinging to old ways of making my images. Over the decades I’ve sold thousands of photos for stock, I’ve been published in books on travel and architecture as well as magazines (for a decade or longer, my one- and two-column photos in the Economist more than paid for my film costs and kept my darkroom going) and my clients never complained that my work was “staid” or “dull” – they liked my images, they bought them and published them, and best of all, they paid me for them.

    Usually I’m hesitant to give advice to anyone (I have yet to take most of my own, so in that area I’m no avatar, guru or mentor to anybody!!) but in the case of a Rolleicord I would unhesitatingly say, get it repaired by someone who knows what they are doing, pay what they want, and use the camera. It will almost certainly outlast you and it can then become a personal or family heirloom to be willed to someone you know will treasure it and maybe even use it, if future prices for 120 roll film ever come down…


  11. Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne

    A quick note to Peter Robert. A great post, delightful to read and most informative also. Congratulations!!

    As a lifelong roller owner, may I suggest, bite the bullet and get the camera fixed. See my previous post for comments as to my reasons why I would suggest this. A Rollei is for life. One of mine has outlasted my two marriages and two overseas moved and is still going on with doing what it does best, making good pictures. Unpretentiously and unfailingly.

    One question, if I may. You mentioned a “grey” Rolleicord. I’ve never seen such a beast. Are you sure it wasn’t a Rolleiflex T? The early Ts from the late 1950s were all battleship grey, very elegant cameras, equipped with the legendary 75/3.5 Zeiss Tessar that was the mainstay of Rolleis from the 1930s until the 1970s when the manufacturers, F&H, changed from the Xenar back to the Tessar, a recomputed optic which produces the most superb images (tho’ the old Tessar is no slouch either in this respect).

    Apologies from me to everyone for having “hogged” this thread with two posts, but my curiosity about the grey ‘cord got the best of me.


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