2.8 GX:

By: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

With its unmistakable binocular TLR ( Twin Lens Reflex) look and its vintage appearance, the Rolleiflex 2.8 follows a very classical concept, from both the mechanical and optical standpoint. Not in vain, it´s one of the still alive maximum testimonies of a fable era of photography (approximately between 1930 and 1960) in which the essential premises for a professional camera were the
Rolleiflex 2.8 GX Edition, a great twin lens reflex camera in 6 x 6 cm medium format, following the trail of the legendary Rolleiflex TLRs of a golden period in the history of photography. Watch the unfolded sports finder.
almost integral absence of budget restrictions, the use of the best possible manufacturing materials (specially very high quality noble metals), the utter mechanical reliability and an absolutely exceptional optical quality, attained in this case thanks to the synergy between the fabulous Carl Zeiss or Schneider Kreuznach lenses usually sported by the Rolleiflex 2.8 as a standard lens and the big surface of medium format negative 6 x 6 cm, four times bigger than the 24 x 36 universal format.

It doesn´t cease being surprising that this camera (whose basical design has remained unaltered for nearly eighty years, with the exception of a few updates essentially tied to the exposure metering system) goes on being currently -in spite of its lack of interchangeable lenses- a top-notch photographic tool, virtually unbeatable within its domain of thorough and methodic medium format photography.


From the end of XIX century, the concept of TLR camera - with an upper viewing lens and a lower one for real image taking- was well known, though exclusively reduced to the realm of big format cameras with sublime brass lenses.

But in 1929, the Braunschweig (Germany) sited firm Franke & Heidecke put on worldly market a design by the German photographic pundit Reinhold Heidecke (1881-1960), consisting of the already known TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) system, but applied to a much smaller, compact and handeable camera in 6 x 6 cm medium format.

Reinhold Heidecke, with huge talent and future vision, managed to reduce the parallax error to the utmost, using the empty spaces inside the camera body for the progressive advance of the medium format 120 film rolls after each exposure and besides, he lowered the reflex mirror up to a position located in the non used space of the taking lens, in such a way that both lenses could be made being nearer each other.

The name Rolleiflex stems from the abbreviation of ´Roll Film Camera Heidecke´.

Eight years later, in 1937, the hugely talented Reinhold Heidecke patented his Rolleiflex Automat System, which won the Grand Prix of the Paris World Fair. This device, utterly revolutionary for the time and an authentic wonder of mechanical engineering, achieved an automatic loading and transport of film, through the insertion of the beginning paper of the 120 film into a pair of rolls, then making it pass on the film plane and finally introducing it in the taking spool. Following this, the photographer only had to close the back cover of the camera, move the lever backwards up to its buffer and then move the lever backwards until reaching its buffer once again. And at that precise moment, the first frame is ready to be exposed.
Therefore, both the fixed roll and the movable one make up the sensitive mechanism feeling the adhesive tape fixing the film to its paper backing.

This legendary automatic film loading system works flawlessly currently with Rolleiflex TLR from thirties, forties and fifties, with the advantage of being able to use more modern and evolved films.
On the other hand, Franke & Heidecke had a great commercial wisdom on manufacturing two parallel product lines: the proper superprofessional Rolleiflex TLRs and the Rolleicord TLRs (above all the widespread models Va and Vb) with some fewer specifications and lower price, albeit from the viewpoint of optical and final image quality got - starting from good knowledge on photography-, differences were minimal.

For decades, it was a camera needing a correct exposure calculation, fundamentally based on the photographer´s experience, but beginning with the Rolleicord E models, the German concern introduced a non coupled selenium meter which would be also replaced by a selenium one, but coupled, in the extraordinary Rolleiflex TLR F, maybe the best TLR ever built, which was in production until 1981.

On the other hand, from the optical side, the history of the 6 x 6 cm format Rollei TLRs has been greatly presided by the use of the gorgeous Tessar 80 mm lens with maximum apertures of diaphragm between f/3.5 and f/2.8, depending on the epochs and models (during the years following the Second World War, the Rolleiflex TLR with Zeiss Tessar 80 mm f/2.8 standard lens had such a towering price, that it was predominantly exported to United States). This superb standard lens was built by Carl Zeiss Jena and for some time periods, it alterned its existence in the 2.8 diaphragm models with the also fabled Opton Tessars manufactured in Oberkochen (Germany).

During fifties, the interchangeability of lenses began to be something important, but oddly enough, Franke & Heidecke decided not to set for that trail, so as to keep as intact as possible the philosophy of maximum mechanical/optical quality and minimum weight that had been the epicentre of Rolleiflex from its launching to world market in 1929.

Notwithstanding, from the basic design Rolleiflex TLR Model E Standard, two special versions of Rolleiflex were built: the Rolleiflex Wide-Angle (1961-1965) featuring a Carl Zeiss Distagon 55 mm and the Tele-Rolleiflex (1959-1966) boasting a Sonnar 135 mm lens.

Semifrontal image of the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX in which you can see the Heidosmat 80 mm f/2.8 HFT upper viewing lens and the Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 HFT lower taking lens.

As it is seen in the image, on the left of the space between both lenses is the dial for shutter speeds, while the aperture dial is on the right of the space between both lenses; and on the far left end of the low area we can see the shutter release button, while on the far right end we find the gold-plated PC Sync socket, under which there´s a little metallic silver knob that makes up the opening latch of the camera back.

And just on the 2.8 figure engraved on top of the Heidosmat 80 mm f/2.8 viewing lens, there is a little window in which the photographer can see at every moment the chosen aperture and shutter speed.

The big knurled wheel in black colour located on the right of the image is used to make the manual focusing and the hole it holds on one side is the compartment for the meter battery.

The little green colour gauge that can be clearly seen, has the function of checking the battery condition.

The little knurled thin wheel placed just on the dedicated hot shoe for flash, is the scale of film sensitiveness.

Just on the left of the big knurled wheel for manual focusing and attached to it, we´ve got the scales of distance and depth of field.

The protruding black colour knob in intermediate size located on the lowest area, is the retainer of the 120 film roll; while the identical protruding knob place on the upper zone, just on the big knurled wheel for manual focusing, is the retainer for the 120 film roll take-up spool.

Image of the right side area of the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX. On top zone, on the left, we see the metallic neck-strap lug.

The little round window in whose inner surface you can read ´S´, is the frame counter and just under it is the excellent folding crank for film advance and shutter cocking.

And on the right lower area of the image, you can see the shutter release button beside the little shutter release lock; and on them the lower taking lens and the upper one for viewing.

Image of the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX lying upturned. Watch the thread for tripod on the lower area; on the left, a bit over it, we see the shutter release button with the shutter release lock just by it; and on the right, we have the gold-plated PC sync socket.

Just watch the gorgeous chroming and mechanizing of both lenses.

Semilateral view of the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX, with the inscription in German with regard to the 60th Anniversary of the manufacturing of the first twin-lens 6 x 6 cm medium format TLR in the world.

On the left of the image and in upward direction, we can see: the 120 roll film retainer, the dedicated hot shoe for flash, the circular scale of film sensitivenesses, the big knurled wheel to get the manual focusing (with its side compartment for the meter battery), the little green colour gauge to check the battery condition, the retainer of 120 film roll take-up spool and the neck-strap lug.
Both the fairly beautiful finish and the everywhere refined details of this glittering medium format camera must be emphasized.


After the vanishing of Franke & Heidecke in 1981, the firm was refounded as Rollei Fototechnik, and with strenuous effort, it has gone on manufacturing and bringing up to date new medium format and top quality TLR models.

Introduced in 1989 to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the appearance in the world market of the first medium format 6 x 6 cm Rolleiflex TLR, the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX is essentially a medium format 6 x 6 cm TLR inspired by the classic and terrific Rolleiflex TLRs, but sporting a modern TTL metering system integrated inside the camera body, which clearly improves the old selenium exposure meters.

Thus, Rollei engineers, faced to the formidable task of bringing up to date this classical camera full of special savoir faire, installed behind the upper viewing lens (it would have been more difficult and expensive to build a photometric cell behind the lower taking lens) an up-to-date centre weighted metering system by means of two silicon photodiodes and added a TTL flash metering cell with a silicon photodiode located behind the extraordinary leaf shutter Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 taking lens, placed on the lower part and whose image coverage is equivalent to a 52 mm standard lens in 24 x 36 mm format.

Although in the catalogs and firm information the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX metering system is described as centre weighted average, the truth is that the metering area is small enough and it is rather a semi spot system.

On top of the focusing screen, some easy to read LEDs appear, indicating sub or over exposure in half stops: A (in red colour) means -1 EV; B (in yellow colour) means -1/2 EV; C (in green colour) is equivalent to correct exposure; D (in yellow colour) implies + ½ EV and E (in red colour) means +1 EV.

When using any type of filter, the best thing to do is putting it on the upper viewing lens in order to make a metering reading through it and then put it on the lower taking lens to make the photograph.

As well as the built-in TTL exposure meter, the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX boasts a TTL flash photometric system measuring the light reflected on the film surface during the exposure, and any flash can be coupled to the camera through the dedicated hot shoe located on the left side of the camera body and a SCA 356 adapter, so from that moment we can make use of controlled TTL flash.

It's therefore a camera encompassing all the traditional Rolleiflex virtues (quick, convenient handle, high quality tough building and fabulous lens), but with the added advantages of the most sensitive and accurate metering system ever built inside a TLR Rollei.

Nevertheless, it´s fair to clear up that so as to avoid a very steep production cost, Rollei Fototechnik was bound to accept some quality compromises:

a) To dispense with the mythical automatic film loading, so you must manually advance the film roll until aligning the two arrows appearing on the paper back of the emulsion with some red dots.

b) A new something more rigid shutter release than the classic ones had to be manufactured ( notable by their outstanding mechanical complexity and their smoothness), so with the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX the handheld shots can only been assured from a shutter speed of 1/90 instead 1/60 and even 1/45 allowed by the fabled traditional Rolleiflex TLRs.

c) The self-timer has been removed.

d) The lever for choosing 120 or 220 film roll has been eliminated, along with the two positions excellent metallic pressure plate, which was one of the characteristic features of the fabulous Rolleiflex 2.8 F.

e) Lesser mechanical sophistication than the classic Rolleiflex TLR classic.

On the left part of the camera, we find a big texturized focusing knob with a wide depths of field scale on its base.

On its lower part, there´s a discreet selector dial for film speeds (old fashioned, in ASA/DIN and not in ISO) between 25 and 6400.

And under it, there is a three contact hot shoe for dedicated flash with SCA 356, contributing autoflash TTL metering through a silicon photodiode located behind the lower taking lens.

The manual advancing lever is excellent.

The upper lens of the camera is the reputed Heidosmat f/2.8 viewing lens featuring Rollei HFT multicoating and under it we find the superb 5 elements Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8, made by Rollei under licence and boasting HFT special multicoating and extraordinary resolution, contrast, bright colours and overall image quality.

It also sports the mythic SYNCHRO-COMPUR leaf shutter, with a speed range between 1/500 seg-1seg + B and huge reliability.

The shutter release button features an electronic connection activating the exposure meter and its action is very smooth and predictable.

On front area of the camera and between both lenses, we find the classic knobs for selection of apertures and shutter speeds, and the chosen combination appears visible on a little window placed on top of the upper Heidosmat viewing lens.

It has parallax error (since the framing made with the upper viewing lens doesn´t correspond at a 100% with the area photographed by the lower lens which is the one really taking the photograph).

The users of the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX are a breed apart, purists of the high quality photography, utterly to the service of human creativiness, with full control of the photographic act, without any dependence on manifold electronic circuitry or extensive automatized functions.

Historically, the Rolleiflex 2.8 TLRs have been objects of desire among the connoisseurs and professional photographers specialized on ´Fine Art´, the handmade high end black and white photography with the best B & W films in the market and manual development, and the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX isn´t an exception to this respect, allowing to make ambient light photographs at very low shutter speeds owing to its luminous lens, the releasing smoothness of its shutter and the typical waist finder with focusing hood (which contributes huge composition advantages).

Regarding its handling, this camera, in the same way as all the TLR medium format cameras, makes up a new world for the users accustomed to the 35 mm modern autofocus cameras, because with the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX the completely manual focusing is made turning a knob located on the left side of the camera, while thumbs must be used to handle the selector dials for apertures and shutter speeds, though a significant percentage of professional photographers and advanced amateurs used the right thumb with the shutter speeds dial and the index with the dial of apertures, in such a way that the fingers can be easily moved to focus.

Moreover, the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX has got the classical crank, whose turning movement forwards fulfils three simultaneous functions, namely: frame advance, shutter cock and exposure counter advance.

On the other hand, most times you only work with the Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 lens, which compels you to move your feet to find the optimum frames, though there´s the option of using Rolleinar close-up lenses - with which you must be careful to avoid parallax errors- or the Rollei Mutar wide-angle x 0.7 or tele x 1.5 converters that are attached to the lower taking lens.

The viewing screen is clear and brilliant, which eases both the focusing and the framings, even under low light conditions. And besides, the camera waist finder has a built-in unfoldable magnifier increasing the focusing accuracy.

The quoted wait level hood viewfinder, despised by some deep ignorant of the subject, who lacking knowledge deem it as ´obsolete ´, features remarkable advantages in the medium format photography, since it allows to evaluate with both eyes the composition and framing, something so as seeing the slide in real time before being captured.

Therefore, the Rolleiflex 2.8 GX has flash connection, double exposure prevention system, automatic frame counter, waist level finder with different interchangeable screens, battery check, multiple exposures prevention with provision for multiple exposures, distance and depth of field scales, shutter lock, film memo holder, choice of film sensitiveness between 25 and 6400 ISO, cable release socket, and so forth. Therefore, a rather complete set, focused on that strictly essential to take out the photographic act, and allowing to delight in an extremely classical working method, in search of superb results.


Besides the standard model Rolleiflex 2.8 GX appeared in 1989, in 1995 other two special varieties were manufactured in a limited number of units:

a) The Rolleiflex 2.8 GX Special Edition 75th Anniversary, of which 900 units were made, with outer parts of the camera body gold-plated, F & H corporate logo engraved in 12 carats gold on the hood of the waist level finder, presentation box in noble wood, authenticity certificate with the serial number of the camera, Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 HFT lens with multicoating on each one of its elements, Rolleinar 2/III set for close-up photography and luxurious anniversary book with leather cover titled ´History of the Rolleiflex TLRs´.

b) The Rolleiflex 2.8 GX Royal Urushi, a dream camera of which only 130 units were manufactured, also featuring the Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 HFT, sumptuous noble wood presentation box, certificate of authenticity and above all made with a special hand made coating through a very high quality Japanese technique of lacquer inlaying known as Urushi.


Cámara: Rolleiflex 2.8 GX TLR.
Dimensions: 14, 7 x 10, 9 x 10, 8 cm.
Format: 6 x 6 cm.
Weight: 1275 g.
Focusing type: Manual.
Shutter: Synchro-Compur, with speeds between 1/500 seg -1 seg + B, flash sync at all speeds, with apertures and shutter speeds coupled to the exposure meter.
Metering: Centre weighted average - which is actually a semi spot system-, through TTL coupled meter, made up by two silicon photodiodes located inside the camera body.
Range of speeds: From 1/500 sec - 1 second + B.
Viewing Lens: Heidosmat 80 mm f/2.8
Taking Lens: Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 HFT, equivalent to a 52 mm in 35 mm format.
Multiple exposures: Yes.
Prism finder: Two interchangeable models, for 45º and 90º.
Interchangeable screens: 5 different.
Type of film: 120 roll for twelve expositions in 6 x 6 cm medium format.
Range of sensitiveness: Manual setting of film sensitiveness between ISO 25 and ISO 6400.
Type of flash metering: Automatic, off the film surface (OTF) during the exposure, by means of an additional silicon photocell.
Flash synchronization: At all speeds between 1/500 sec + B. The camera possesses a hot shoe with contact for central sync together with contacts for automatic TTL flash in combination with different flash units through the special SCA 356 adaptor.
Film advance: Through the classical crank coupled to the shutter tension.
Focusing range: from 1 m to infinite.
Batteries: Silver oxide PX 28 or lithium PX 28.

© Copyright José Manuel Serrano Esparza