Monday, January 25, 2016

A Very Different Rolleiflex - SL2000F - My Latest Passion

So several weeks back, I went to meet my good friends Charlie and Alain for a photo outing. Charlie and I were discussing settings for his new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 when Alain walked up with this beauty.
Rolleiflex SL2000F and Planar 50mm f1.8 Lens
Now, I admit that I'm pretty passionate about cameras. Passionate, but generally careful. When I realized that this was a 35mm Rolleiflex, with both eye-level and waist-level finders built in, interchangeable lenses (Rollei QBM mount), and interchangeable film backs, well, that was it. I had to have it. I'd never seen anything like it. No looking it up online, no research at all, had to have it. I bought it right then, in the parking lot. Alain was nice enough to part with it for the price he paid. Here it is with the matching Sonnar 135mm f2.8 lens.
Driving away after our day out shooting, I thought "What have I done?" A dead lens mount (the QBM is no longer made anywhere), electronic (not quiet) advance only (no manual override), maybe I should have been a little more cautious. But, just look at it. So, I smiled and drove on home.
Then, just as soon as I got home, I started looking for information on this beauty online. Oh, no! Everywhere I looked were warning signs - electronic failure, no spare parts, DO NOT BUY THIS CAMERA! Well, it gave me pause, but again, just look at it. I decided to take my chances and just plain use it.
This camera is a total blast to use. Something between a Rolleiflex TLR and a 35mm SLR system camera, it's just plain wonderful.
And then, I found out even more that I liked - a Rollei-made auto-aperture adapter to mount M42 lenses! This immediately expanded my lenses from the Planar 50 and Sonnar 135 to my wider set of Pentax M42 lenses, including a 28mm f2.8 no-namer, 35mm f3.5 Super Takumar, 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar(!), 200mm f4 Takumar, and even a Yashica 300mm f5.6 telephoto. Lots to play with.
So what about all of this concern for reliability? Well, I could either try to find someone to service the SL2000F if needed, or think about spares. I determined that a spare body was the best approach. So, I picked up a Rollei SL35 (earliest model SLR) for $35 on ebay. Yes, it needed a little exercise, but now it works fine. Here it is with the Pentax 35mm mounted via adapter.
Rollei SL35 and Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f3.5
Of course, I also started a followed search on ebay for a second SL2000F body. Pretty slim pickings, as these cameras are pretty rare. But, within a couple of weeks, I found a fully-functional SL2000F listed in Germany, with another M42 adapter, Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f2.8 M42 lens, two film backs, the very difficult to find electronic wired remote shutter release, and, even rarer, the dedicated Metz flash and Rollei flash adapter, built specifically for the SL2000F. And at a great price. I emailed the German seller with a few questions, and went for it. The second camera is now here and appears to be fully functional.
So, now I'm really deep into these cameras, but loving every minute of it. And, to calibrate it a little, still have less invested than the cost of a single high quality DSLR body.
So, how does it work? Like a dream. Here are a few images from the first SL2000F body, shot on a recent road trip down to Asheville, NC.
The lenses are plenty sharp. Everything seems to work very well. No electronic problems, even though I had a few scares at first. Based on reports online of AA batteries being too high voltage for the camera (they fit), I took others' advice and ordered some rechargables and they work perfectly. I chose Panasonic Eneloop batteries, and highly recommend them.
More importantly, this camera just fits me perfectly. It truly feels at home in my hands. I love being able to use the waist-level finder when I want, more often the eye-level finder, without changing any parts. I love that it's 35mm. I love the lenses, both Rollei and M42. I love a lot about this camera.
So, I'm glad that I didn't make time to be more rational about this purchase. If I had, I would not have bought it, based on all the warning signs online. I'm glad I bought it, and feel quite fine now with a spare body, just in case.

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