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This camera is often considered an old-school Steam Age artifact. Actually it is younger than Leica: the first Rolleiflex appeared in 1928.

The most famous camera ever manufactured by Franke & Heidecke (Braunschweig, Germany) introduced the innovative twin-lens reflex scheme: its bright upper lens was used for viewing/focusing and the coupled lower one for shooting, thus eliminating the need for moving mirror:

The first Rolleiflex (1928-1932, shown above) was made for unpopular 117 format and produced only 6 frames per roll, but it could be easily converted to 120 format (twelve 6 x 6 frames per roll), adopted for later models.
Assembly at the Braunschweig factory
Cameras awaiting quality control

 

Its cheaper / simpler companion, Rolleicord, appeared in 1933.


And from 1931 you could purchase a Baby Rolleiflex - compact version for 127 format (4 cm film). This camera (a 1938 Baby Sport model shown) wasn't a great success, but it made a nice comeback in 1957, clad in gray leather:


In the 1950s, Rolleiflex was the choice of many successful reporters. And not only reporters:

James Dean and his Rolleiflex

In the Seventies, the camera has been relegated mostly to the fashion / portrait duties. It was the daily instrument of Helmut Newton (any objections to his gallery here, anybody?). Tele-Rolleiflex (1959) is its special portrait version with a 135mm lens:


The wide-angle version made its first appearance in 1961. It is still produced today, just as the main 2.8FX model and Tele-Rolleiflex.


Together with Rolleicord this techological masteriece was a source of inspiration for numerous camera-makers in Germany, Austria, France, Japan, USSR, Czechoslovakia and China. Beyound any doubt, Rolleiflex honestly earned its place in the 20th century Most Important Cameras List.

There's more pictures in the Cameras Album

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