Fotografei voce na minha Rolleiflex. I've been a Bossa Nova aficionado for a long time. Those were the song lyrics that had me wondering, for years, "What in the world is a Rolleiflex?" Or more precisely, what in the world is a "Holy-Flex." You see, in Portuguese, Rs are pronounced as Ss. So when listening to Tom Jobim's "Desafinado," you'll hear João Gilberto singing about a "Holy-Flex."
It wasn't until I asked a Brasilian friend what was this "Holey-Flex"-thingy they were singing about. And he told me. It was a camera.
The Rolleiflex (I still refer to it as "Holy-Flex" when I speak), was introduced in 1929, after three years of development, by the German company Franke & Heidecke. The company was founded in 1920 by instrument maker Reinhold Heidecke and Paul Franke in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany. The two had no idea that just a few years later Brunswick would earn the reputation as the "City of Photo Technology" because of their innovations.
The idea of the Rolleiflex was conceived with Heidecke's interest in making cameras that were easier to use than the cumbersome models of the turn of the century.
The Rolleiflex was the third camera model constructed by Franke & Heidecke, and was a breakthrough in the photography industry. A twin-lens reflex camera, the Rolleiflex uses light, passing through the upper lens, that is reflected from a mirror onto a ground-glass focusing screen, which is viewed through a hood. The film is exposed through the lower lens.
Although the Rolleiflex was not the first twin-lens reflex camera, it was certainly the first twin-lens reflex camera to achieve wide-spread public acceptance. The Rolleiflex was notable for its compact size, reduced weight and durable and simple mechanics. It's 6 x 6 cm format helped make the camera popular, producing sharper enlargements than 35mm film. Its large reflex finder screen made it easy to focus the 7.7c. f3.8 Carl Zeiss Jenna Tessar lens. The Cumpur shutter with rim-set controls had a maximum speed of 1/300 second. The camera quickly became a favorite of both pros and amateurs alike, who recognized the Rolleiflex's superior optics, durable all-metal construction and extensive catalog of accessories--making the camera a more complete system, allowing close-ups, added filters and quick tripod attachments.
The Rolleiflex cost $75 in 1929.
Franke & Heidecke introduced a smaller version of the Rolleiflex in 1931, using 127 vest pocket size film. The first few of these smaller cameras were called Babyflex, before the name was changed to Sports Rolleiflex.
Since the original Rolleiflex was introduced in 1929, dozens of other Rolleiflex models have been manufactured, including the Automat, the 2.8A, the Tele Rolleiflex, Wide Rolleiflex, SL66 and SL35 models.
Franke & Heidecke continued to manufacture cameras into the 90's, when the company was purchased by Samsung. In 2005 the company was bought by a Danish investment group and split into two different companies: "Rollei GmbH" in Berlin, owner of the Rollei brand and selling various OEM equipment, and "Franke & Heidecke GmbH, Feinmechanik und Optik" in Brunswick, an equipment factory.
Rollei cameras, camcorders, scanners and digital picture frames are still manufactured today. A novelty reproduction of the Rolleiflex is now available; The Rollei MiniDigi is 5.0 mega pixel camera that looks like a much smaller, original Rolleiflex, complete with a crank. Original Rolleiflexes can be found selling for thousands.
And I can be found still calling it a "Holy-Flex."
Rosenblum, Naomi. A World History of Photography. Abbeville Press, 1997.
Gustavson, Todd. Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital. Sterling Innovation, 2009.
Permutt, Cyril. Collecting Old Cameras. De Capo Press, 1977.
"Rollei Camera - The History," Photographic Community of Malaysia, http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/rollei/index.htm, October 29th, 2010.