DescriptionRoll-film camera
ManufacturerRollei, Germany
Time Period
DetailsTop lens: Heidoscop-anastigmat, 1:3,
1 ff-7,5 cm
Bottom lens: Carl Zeiss Jena, NB1833031, Tessar 1:3,5 f=7,5 cm
Dimensions13.5 x 9 x 9 cm
Strap measures 82 cm
LocationUCL Cabinet of Obsolete Media
Inventory nºUCL201736

The Rolleiflex was first introduced by the German manufacturers Reinhold Heidecke and Roland Franke in 1929, and since has given rise to different models of the camera, incorporating different upgrades and components with each model. As a type of a twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera, it consists of two lenses, both of the same focal length. TLR cameras have existed before the Rolleiflex and were developed in the 1870s, from the revelation that having a second set of lens besides the lens used to take the photo would allow the photographer to focus without having to exchange the ground glass screen for the plate each time, thus increasing efficiency.[1] This idea came into fruition with the use of a reflex mirror to enable viewing from above and subsequently enhancing balance and stability whilst handling the camera.

This principle of how a TLR operated was fundamental in the birth of the Rolleiflex. Heidecke and Franke eliminated the common limitations that TLRs faced, mainly relating to the bulky structure and its weight.[2] They successfully created a more compact, roll-film TLR; though the use of accessories such as additional lenses were not possible, the Rolleiflex received wide attention from photographers due to the improved quality, smaller size, and the ability to focus until and during exposure. These cameras tend to be medium-format TLRs, which would require a roll film that would allow 8 to 32 exposures per roll. Medium-format also means that these film sizes are large, which means photographs of higher resolutions can be produced, in addition to having less restraint in terms of the depth that can be captured. 

The Rolleiflex overall is a compact, boxy structure allowing for placement of the film roll in the back, composed of two lens. The lens on top is the viewing lens, where there is a diagonal mirror from it that allows for it to be a viewfinder. The bottom lens is the taking lens and due to its alignment with the top lens enables the focus without actually having to open the shutter. The built-in exposure meter near the bottom allows for the monitoring of the exposure value readings. The knob on the left side control the focal point, and once rotated will either make the plane with the lens protrude out or recede. Once the lid is opened from above, one can look down into the camera to see the viewfinder from the viewing lens; this design allows the camera to be used at waist-level as the viewfinder can be accessed from above. There is also an additional mirror with the open lid that allows further zooming into the picture.

Though it has been said that the idea for the Rolleiflex came from Heidecke’s preoccupations with photography in the trenches in 1916 in order to take photographs beyond barriers while keeping the photographer’s head hidden, its production has undoubtedly relied on the foundations of its TLR predecessors.[3] Ultimately, it is Heidecke and Franke’s new, compact and efficient design of the TLR that has propelled its popularity up to present day.  


[1] Barry Toogood, “A Severely Abbreviated History of The TLR,” TLR-Cameras.

[2] John P. Ward, “Rolleiflex,” Oxford Reference. 2006.

[3] Barry Toogood, “Franke & Heidecke – Rollei TLRs,” TLR-Cameras. 2004. Accessed April 22, 2019.