While not quite Leica premium, Rolleiflex is a premium brand. Which means you pay a lot (sometimes too much) for what you get. Any Rollei with a fast lens (2.8 is fast in the medium format world) is expensive. Any recent Rollei is expensive. Rare or collectable Rolleis are stupid expensive.
But older, slower-lensed Rolleis are in the Yashica and Mamiya TLR price range (around £250), so you can experience Rolleiflex joy (and there is joy to be had) at a reasonable price.
My cheap Rollei is an Automat 1 from around 1937. The ‘Automat’ bit means it senses when the film is at the right point to start to exposure counter. Which is nice. It’s got a simple 75mm 3.5 lens.
What’s good about it
- The uncoated Zeiss lens gives great colour and atmosphere, especially with Portra 400 – you can make beautiful pictures with this camera
- You can see the aperture and shutter settings from above and change them with your thumbs – lovely
- It’s relatively small
- Beautifully built – it’s 82 years old and has only needed servicing once (as far as I know… the camera has been in my family since the early ’70s)
What’s not so good
- The screen is really dull (even after a CLA)
- The minimum focusing distance is about 6 miles
- You can only select 1/500th before the shutter is cocked. Because I always wind on (and cock the shutter) after a shot (just can’t get out of the habit) this means the max speed is 1/250th
Is it better than similarly-priced alternatives?
In this price range, let’s say around £250, the only TLR (or any other 6×6) that I’d prefer is the Mamiya C220. I really like the Mamiya. It has sweet lenses (interchangeable), a relatively bright screen, macro-like focusing distance and makes lovely pictures. But it is big and a bit uncomfortable to use. The Yashica Mat is cheap to buy and has a lovely bright screen, but the image quality isn’t quite there (that said, my Yashica’s lens may be a bit foggy).
So, if you want a beautifully engineered camera that will last forever, produce lovely photos, and you don’t mind a dull screen and no close focus, a low-end Rollei is a great choice.