BACK TO THE FUTURE WITH THE ROLLEIFLEX 2.8 GX
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.