Shooting with Film: My Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod 2 Experience
By Steve Huff
I will admit it right up front. I never ever shoot film anymore. As more time goes on, digital technology for imaging is getting better and better. Companies like Sony, Olympus and yes, EVEN LEICA are pushing the envelope in many ways from the groundbreaking Sony A7 series to the Olympus OMD series to the Leica Monochrom (A camera no other company dared to even attempt). Digital is starting to mature and we can do things today with digital technology that was not even imaginable back in the glory days of film. For example, can I shoot film at ISO 102,000 ISO and get a results I can use in a pinch? No way. Can a camera such as the Hy6, when shooting film, give me the convenience of digital? NO WAY, never.
So then, why on earth would I even use this camera and shoot film? I call it romance, beauty, soul, and most of the things that digital usually does not get right. Analog is a different beast than digital in almost every way. The colors, the true B&W, the grain, the contrast and depth and when talking about Medium Format we are talking about a format that also has some magic associated with it.
My fave film of all time, Kodak Portra 160 – click for larger
Even so, the Rolleiflex Hy6, with a lens and film back and finder will set you back close to $10k. Yes, $10,000. With that in mind, remember than a Leica Monochrom camera with a decent lens will also set you back about $10k and it will only shoot B&W digital in the 35mm format. The Rollei can do B&W film, color film, and even digital if you splurge for a nice digital back. Add to that the size of the film. You will get much more “soul” with the MF rig over any 35mm rig. So price wise, it is up there with the other Niche products in the imaging world. Leica S at $30k, the Leica M at $8k, the Leica MM at $8k, all without lenses. So taking that into consideration, the price of the Rolleiflex Hy6 is about right. Especially considering that it is probably the most versatile Medium Format film/Digital camera made to date. It’s a true beauty in use and with its auto focus capabilities it was shooting faster than the Sigma DP Quattro I had on hand at the same time.
Using Ilford HP5 film with the Rolleiflex – click for larger
This write-up is meant to be a short article about my time with the camera, not in any way a tech review. I find most of those boring anyway so instead I just want to chat about how I felt using the camera, the costs involved with it and the experience of shooting film again. The Hy6 Mod 2 is a large camera, especially when coming from 35mm cameras such as the Sony’s, the Leica’s and the Olympus’s of the world. The Hy6 is not a camera you will casually just carry around. It has a purpose, a meaning, a job to do. A camera such as this with the 80mm lens is really a portrait shooters dream camera. Auto Focus which is pretty fast and accurate (for MF) and a great ergonomic layout with a nice grip. The meter inside the eye level finder worked great as well. When I went out with the Hy6 I felt like I was a serious shooter and I got looks thrown at me like “what the hell is that guy shooting with”. It’s an impressive beast for sure but also a very functional beast.
The last time I shot medium format was when I reviewed the Fuji 670, and I adored that camera. It was slim, large and a true rangefinder. But for some reason, it was a totally different experience that shooting the Rolleiflex. It was lighter, and slower in use. It did not feel nearly as substantial in the build nor was it as bulletproof. The Hy6 is such a camera. It is built to a high standard, has all controls easily accessible and is a true photographers camera. It’s just large and a bit heavy, though nothing like the old school MF cameras of the 80’s which were like metal back-breaking bricks.
1st shot with HP5
and this one was in near darkness with Delta 3200 film – I LOVE Delta 3200 and always have
One thing that I thought would limit me when using this camera was LIGHT. With film, you have to use the film you have loaded and when I had Portra 160 loaded, any low light scenario was ruled out. With digital, you can go into any light and adjust your ISO settings in the camera. Easy. With film, you have to change your film when you want different sensitivity. Lucky for me, just as I finished up my roll of HP5, which is an ISO 400 film, I loaded in my Delta 3200 (which is an ISO 3200 film) and was able to shoot the image able in near darkness, even with the 2.8 aperture of the 80mm lens attached to the Hy6. The room was an old solitary confinement prison room from the old historic Yuma Territorial Prison. It smelled of urine, was creepy as hell and Debby was not too cozy inside. I asked her to kneel down and give me her serious face for a dark, moody but nice image. I thought the shot would be blurred or exposed wrong but when the scans came back from the lab I was very happy with the results from 95% of the images I shot.
Overall, when using the Hy6 I LOVED it and had a great time with it. It fit in one of my Wotancraft bags by itself and came out when I wanted a shot that I knew would be nice.
Again with Portra 160 out in Sedona (BTW, we have 2 seats left for the southwest workshop HERE and we will be in Sedona for this trip)
The Downsides to a camera like the Hy6
There are downsides to the Hy6 but image quality is not one of them. For me, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the camera. I was able to shoot with it for two weeks and within that time frame I shot 5 rolls of medium format film, 12 exposures each. Out of those images only two had issues that were my fault. The rests were perfect, spot on with metering and the lens performed as it should. But with medium format film one has to consider the costs involved of using it. For me, 5 rolls of film (purchased from Amazon), processing at my local lab as well as scans from my local lab (low res) cost me around $106. So basically, for 60 images it cost me over $100. Sure, many will say “I process my own film” and others will say “I scan my own film”. Even so, processing color film is not something many people do these days. Even if you do your own, you still have to buy the film and buy the chemicals and materials needed to process your own. Then you need to buy a nice scanner. Then you need the hours upon hours it takes to scan and do your own tweaks. It’s expensive and time-consuming.
So for anyone considering film these days, think about the costs involved is using a lab, or the time involved if doing it yourself. As for me, I have NO spare time these days to do any processing or scanning so a lab was my only choice. Shooting 60 images on my digital would cost me nothing so when really looking at it in this light, digital is a bargain 🙂 You still will not get that Analog tangible quality..the old school richness and feel, the reach out and touch it tonality and oh so delicious color. You will get close, and in many case you will get sharper and more details with digital but nothing can replicate the look of Medium Format film.
I see the Hy6 as a camera I would use a few times per year, for special occasions or when I wanted the 6X6 square format MF look. If this camera was $15k with a digital back, I would be all over it and would give up a Leica set to get it. But adding a digital back to this bad big will set you back around $30k and up. This is in addition to the camera cost itself!
So while there are loads of upsides to a camera like this, there are also downsides, depending on what you want to do with it and how much you would want to shoot. There is also no instant gratification with film. It took my lab a week to process and scan.
HP5 ISO 400 film
ISO 160 Portra
Wrapping it up
I sent back the Hy6 to Rolleiflex last week and wish I had it for one more week as I am going to shoot some Senior portraits next week. Would have been cool to do some creative shots with some nice film but I did not fink of it at the time. That right there is one of the occasions I would have loved to use this kind of camera for. They are few and far between for me but after browsing my images with this camera, on film, I have to say there is something special about them, even with silly subjects such as broken glass or an old abandoned building. I am a sucker for the square format and when I use it on digital as my aspect ratio it is never the same as a frame of Medium Format 6X6 film.
I really enjoyed the Rolleiflex and if it came inat $3500 I would buy one. At $10k, for me, it is a no go as I would not use it enough but for many this may be just what the doctor ordered. If you want medium format quality in a very versatile camera body that can do film or digital, that can shoot with autofocus and act like any modern-day camera and you do not mind shooting film with its costs and time involved, then the Hy6 may be just what you are looking for. For me, I would buy this over something like a Leica S camera because it is more versatile and I like the design better. With the Hy6 I can do film or digital and with a name like Rolleiflex, I would be shooting with a legend. The Hy6 also acts like any modern-day camera in regards to controls, settings, etc. It is all there on the side of the camera. Super easy to pick up and shoot. I did not even need the manual> i just loaded it, shot it, and it was all super easy without any confusion whatsoever. No long digital menus to drag through, just set it, forget it! Awesome.
You can buy the camera without a lens for $7900 at B&H Photo. They also have the accessories and digital backs for the camera.
I have shot with only four medium format cameras in my life but this is my hands down favorite to date. If I was buying a MF camera today, this would be it.
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Two days after this blog entry was published, DHW Fototechnik, the maker of this excellent camera, went bankrupt.
Yes, I heard. Sad.
I am not so convinced that the economics of digital is necessarily that much cheaper than film. Assuming you can get film in future and someone will be around to process it, that Hy6 will still shoot perfect shots 20 years from now with the same quality as a new film camera. I can improve the image sensor by purchasing the most up to date film emulsion (assuming there is one then). The lens and film will perform exactly the same way. Best thing is that I do not lose images from hard drive failures.
The Leica M8 for example cost $6K+ new and you struggle to sell one now for more than $1500. The Nikon F6 cost $2.5K new and they still sell for $1K second hand. The D2X which came out at the same time cost $5K new and now they are worth less than $900. The F6 will still shoot as well as the best film out there and you don’t need to change the camera as often as you change a digital.
I use digital for high volume shots where I know I will have a low strike rate e.g. panning shots of race cars. Alternatively, when the light is really low. Digital, like the computers they are, are good at doing the same thing over and over again.
But when I want the photo to take on a character all of its own, to stand out, to have depth, show something more than the light reflecting of the subject with a colour signature different to what I can get from a digital camera, it will be film for me every time. Especially from a medium format rig. Any of them. They are all outstanding. In my personal view, I still haven’t found a lens out there made by anyone that even gets close to matching the colour and image rendering of the Zeiss medium format lenses they made for Rollei and Hasselblad. Not even the monumental Leica S lenses. Then again the Mamiya RB and RZ lenses have a different character and perform brilliantly.
To my view even with the low resolution scans, the medium format film lens will render and portray an image differently from a 35mm lens. A large format lens will be different from both. I do not have a preference for any of the formats. i shoot with what I think is best for the assignment I undertake.
It’s horses for courses and each tool in the photo cabinet serves a different role and different purpose. i recently saw a documentary on Annie Leibowitz. When she worked, she took the same photo with 5 different cameras of different makes, formats, types on both digital and film just to get the image that matches the character of the moment she wanted to put forward for the cover of the magazine. I think it’s pointless trying to state one format or type is better than the other. It all comes down to what works for you.
You make some faery valid points indeed. 🙂
Noel, totally agree. You’ve summed it up perfectly. Now get out there and shoot some film people! 🙂
Hunter S Thompson when asked why he prefers typewriters to computer word processor
“I’ve tried. There is too much temptation to go over the copy and rewrite.
I haven’t gotten past the second paragraph on a type writer.
I guess I have never got used to the temporary words put up on screen.
I like to think when I type something, it’s good.”
Superb review, photographs and a dream “Grail” camera! Thanks Steve!
The Hy6 is ergonomically perfect, for much much less money and ergonomics almost as good and with the same results you can get a Rolleiflex SLX or 6000 series or 6008 AF if you want AF.
Thanks so much Ibraar!
Yes, the Mod2 w/ a Xenotar AFD and a 6060 back will set you back 10k, but that’s not a legitimate reason for not owning the system if you enjoy the experience of using it. You can pick up the original hy6 (2500) with a 4560 back (250) and a MF Xenotar (or MF planar) for 500-850. The AFD Xenotar will set you back 1300, but the former will render the AF improvements of the Mod2 irrelevant. If you need the upgrades of the mod2, then send it over to DHW. They can upgrade the innards and the body itself.
Funny how these trends come and go at the same time all the world over. Just a few years back you could get a nice Mamiya MF-rig from the flea market for less than 50 $. Now you can call yourself happy if you get a decent lens or film back for that price.
Still, there is absolutely no need to pay thousands of dollars as there is still loads of great equipment available in used condition for a fraction of the price of a new digital camera.
This article is showing the beauty of this camera better than DP comparison. Showing many images shot by film has an accumulating effect.
Very nice. An argument that I see frequently is that high resolution scans are necessary to equal the best of digital. Your photos seems to indicate otherwise.
What ? $10k with $100 more for cost production, it just get 1818×1818 ? …
but i admit is the best 1818×1818 i see in intire life …
maybe it not suit for scan, maybe best is just to print straight away … and hang it on the wall, so it will not rotten on computer …
oh yeah, with a lot sub mision article, i kind a miss youre writing steve, 🙂
coz this is stevehuffphoto.com right ?
of course i waiting what u writing or reviewing or playing or what ever youre doing … LOL
I’ve just recently gotten into MF(with a Pentax 67) and it’s true, the look is nothing like anything I’d used before. It’s very dreamy and very addicting. I have the time to process and scan my own so the cost isn’t too bad, especially if you consider the need(want? desire? GAS?) to buy a new digital camera every 18 months.
Nice to read this four weeks ago I started again with Film,
Nikon F801s / N8008s bought and Kodak Tmax 400 ISO.
And I like to make you a lot of fun back in the old way photos
Atmosphere ambiance are still the most important issues in shooting film so.
Gr, Richard. G of the Stouwe.
Cool. What is the size of those lo rez scans?
1818 X 1818. I posted them direct from the lab CD.
Ouch ! That’s… not big…
I get 6000×6000 from my lab (Noritsu Frontier) and I pay 10€ for development + scan, that’s cheaper than yours I think…
Frontier is a Fuji machine. Noritsu is a very separate company.
I think the Rolleiflex is overpriced, the rendering of a Hasselblad or Pentax 67 is much more pleasing to my eyes for a lot less…
The rendering of a Haseelblad with an 80 2.8 is actually pretty much the same.
Those images look more Hassey than old Rollei to my eyes.
Maybe because they’re HFT coated ( T*) lenses and not uncoated TLR ones.
Very nice colors on first photo. I wonder if multi exposure scan was not used?
Steve films brings out something in you .. deep man.
Couldn’t agree more! A strange phenomenon or maybe a more considered approach to shooting, as each shot is hitting your wallet?
Either way, these are great images Steve and a nice overview too!
Portra 160 is my favorite color film at the moment too. It’s very flexible for B&W conversions too, and looks great! Thanks Steve.
Wrapping it up section. typo….. “fink” – Think…
Delta 3200 in 120 format is a beauty for sure. Especially when souped in DDX. It is real a true 2000 box speed emulsion. But shoot it at 3200 and develop for 2000 and it is just so classic and other worldly.
Delta 3200 is a 1000 speed emulsion, check the Ilford paper. DDX just manages to squeeze more, and Diafine is even better!
I will fully admit I lust after that camera a lot. I own plenty of MF cameras, but not a single one did I buy brand new.
Great words about a great camera unit.
Than you Steve and patient models.
I have never seen one before. Medium Format is the key! Get an old Rolleiflex, mine a smallish Automat with Zeiss Tessar. The “creamy rich” images take one’s breath away.
Scanning easily done on most scanners.The price a far cry from those digital backs..Epson, Canonscan or Plustech affordable.
The one thing i notice when i shoot, is the percentage of successful images. 22 out of 24! (220 Roll),
Some rolls it’s 100%..and i am fussy. Oh! I can take months to shoot a 12 exposure roll…
I have used Mamiya C series (best after Hasselblad) Pentax 6×7 and Hasselblad.
I preferred the Mamiya C series over Hasselblad.
The film goes like Pentax 6×7 in a straight line, not in turns..
Result is sharper images. Very close to those Zeiss on Hassie.
Anybody thinking about it, do it!
And if you use Ilford XP2 (or the discontinued Kodak BW400CN) you can shoot from ISO 50-400 on the same roll without altering the processing time. At ISO 200, both of these films are the best. At 400 they are fast and almost grainless. Highly recommended!
Now, get the new LOMO LC-A 120…Love to see a review of it!