An exotic modern classic, the Rolleiflex FX-N

An exotic modern classic, the Rolleiflex FX-N

By Brett Price

Hello Steve/Brandon,

Its been a while since I’ve submitted anything for your site, I thought it was long overdue. I recently purchased what I believe to be my dream medium format camera, a Rolleiflex FX-N and I thought I would share some photos and experiences with it since owning it for the month or so I’ve had it.

Rolleiflex FX-N

Before owning this camera my primary medium format camera was a Hasselblad 501cm which I loved but often felt as though it was the wrong type of camera for my style of shooting. It’s an excellent system, but focusing can be slow and if you use a prism of any kind it becomes rather large and cumbersome. I had a kit with a few lenses, a few backs, a waist level finder and a prism but often felt like I really only shot it with the 80mm and carried one back 99% of the time. I also rather hate the need for extension tubes to get closer than 1m which can feel somewhat limiting for someone who primarily takes portraits.

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The FX-N is my perfect medium format camera because it solved most of my issues with shooting with the Hasselblad in one camera that didn’t have any negatives to me. It’s extremely small, not really needed more space than a Leica with a lens when put in a bag. It has a fast 80mm f2.8 lens, perfect for portraits. It’s quick to focus, moving from min focus to infinity is extremely easy and fast, the Hasselblad often would take 2-3 full slow turns to do that. It uses a leaf shutter, something I’ve grown accustomed to and is nice when working with flash or low shutter speed, It’s insanely quiet, almost inaudible and has no mirror slap so it can be handheld at low speeds easily. It has a built in meter, something the Hasselblad required an electronic prism for. But the main reason I sprang for it was its close focus ability, allowing me to get up to 55cm away from a subject without the need for an extension tube or magnifying filter. I hate carrying these things around, and I often feel like the sweet spot for portraits was just under the 1 meter that most cameras allow.

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So now this camera comes with me everywhere I go, easily. It doesn’t sacrifice anything I find to be important in a system and will shoot the way I want it for 99 percent of anything I typically throw at it and I’ve been hugely enjoying it thus far.

I actually thought twice about writing this short review for a camera that most people would never buy. Dropping the amount that this camera cost is not something that anyone would take lightly but when I considered the long-term usage over the course of a lifetime and the problems it has solved for me in finding an all round system that I like, it seemed like a reasonable amount. I also loved the ability to support one of the last companies still producing film cameras. I sold a bunch of gear to help pay for it, and part of it was a wedding gift from my now wife. It came in just in time for my recent wedding, which was the first day I used it for. It’ll always have a place in documenting our lives together.

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I think one of the things our generation forgets is that a camera used to last you a lifetime. It used to be something you would pass along through generations. I’m not knocking on digital cameras but that is certainly one quality I miss in modern cameras that digital will probably never be able to offer us again. I hope you like the photos I’ve shot with it thus far.

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I have more posted on my tumblr here:
brettprice.tumblr.com

Or on instagram here:
@brettwayneprice

I try to post at least a photo a day to those places if you’d like to see more.

Cheers,
Brett

29 Comments

  1. I totally love your pictures and your vibe. I’ve shot and printed B&W for many decades and with many cameras–lately, I’ve moved away from large format–and am shooting with Tlr’s including the my Rolleiflex 3.5 Planar. If find the TLR viewing very inspiring–both for composition an artistry.

  2. Marc. Thanks a lot for the data about the adapter, it’s going to save me a lot in importing. Contax and Sonnar are strong names.
    Interesting, you and Elenor have the same camera…

  3. There is a digital way to get the dreamy gentle subtle look
    Of the Rollei
    Although not shallow DOF

    Sigma SD9 from over a decade ago
    Any m42 manual focus lens with m42 to SD adapter
    Then in sigma photo pro software set sharpness slider to negative
    I.e. make the image a little soft.
    The first Foveon sensor does the magic.

  4. I especially like the photos of the girl dressed in black with the Hasselblad (on your tumblr). Something mysterious about these shots.

  5. This is really fascinating, and I love your images – 6×6 negatives, I take it, and what a versatile format a square is with an 80mm (50mm equivalent ?) lens. I have a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta IIIB in mint condition with a Tessar 75mm lens waiting to have some time given to getting to know it. You’ve encouraged me to think medium format and TLR – tho’ perhaps I’ll be limited cash-wise to a Lubitel !! I know where I am with B&W film, but would you have a moment to say what film you used for those lovely colours? Thanks.

  6. Gosh thats dreamy.

    In Camden, London there’s a vinatge camera store.
    I dropped by the other day to chat Rollei with the proprietor.

    There’s just something about them.

    • Thing about getting a current model as FX-N
      it wont have issues :

      focus screen not flat, straight;
      backs not completely closing tightly;
      lens not parallel to film plane;
      stiff focusing, aperture, shutter;
      shutter not firing at slow speed eg1 second or making a rasping sound which is an indicator the shutter is on its last legs;
      hazy lens elements;
      separation in lens elements;
      corrosion dirt fungus oil inside body

  7. Some day Rollei or X Company may just offer this fixed-lens, TLR in its digital reincarnation. Wouldn’t that be sweet?

    • lve had a digital TLR concept couple of years
      Could blow photographers minds.

      Would have to be 40*40mm
      As the largest current commercial digital camera sensor is the
      Dalsa 40.2 x 53.7 on Hassleblad H5D-60, Mamiya Leaf Credo
      … $30BIG ones.

      Nvidia Tegra K1 processor (found in best gaming tablet and in Smartcars).
      60*60mm LCD LiveView.

      Monochrome sensor to keep electrons & software processing simpler.
      And for no Bayer interpolation (calculating 2/3 info from 1/3 data).

      Dials for all controls.
      Manual focus only.
      All metal with leatherette.

      Heat dissipation easy cause large body.

      Price it can be built £5k sale £7k.
      Covering RnD , promotion.
      However to include stunning built in lens add £5k.

      Meanwhile far more cost effective to get Rolleicord Vb Xenar F3.5 $200-$300 mint
      its lens & pictures pretty much on a par with the classic Rolleiflex Tessar F3.5E,
      120rolls and travel.

      • Actually including amazing lens a new digital TLR 4*4cm can be sold $5k.
        100mm * 100mm live view LCD.

        R&D well the guy who put a sensor and LCD in the Konica showed how straight forward it was.
        Similar procedure on existing classic Rollei.
        Thus probably professionally retro fit a classic Rollei for say $1k.

  8. Now like in the old days a nice, cheaper alternative is the Rolleicord (same maker, just different name to indicate a cheaper product line). I made your same move, and ended up selling my Hasselblad gear after buying, out of curiosity, an old (mid-50s) Rolleicord III. After that I couldn’t pass over another Rolleicord, this time a IIb with a Triotar, for which the seller was asking just 30€ 🙂

    The III and the IIb both have a beautiful (and different from each other) optical signature. I like their “styles” even better than the Planar’s, and that’s why I didn’t end up (like I thought I would at first) buying a proper Rolleiflex.

    The only problem is that having to buy them used, many of this old cameras are out of spec. Luckily it is pretty easy, if you are handy with a jeweler screwdriver, to calibrate again the lens and let them take tack sharp pictures. There is also a guy that sells modified ground glasses – that work wonderfully, I bought one for the IIb – to replace the dimmer ones of the older models.

    BTW, all beautiful pictures, but the framed birds and the girl (I suppose your wife) watching the lake are really a notch or two above the others!

    • F4.5 Triotar is like a super landscape.classicy when the Flex Planar is stopped down to 4.5 can’t really tell difference from the Cord.
      Although my personal fave is the Xenar 3.5 on the Cord version V
      Wide open holds up ever so well to the clasdic Flex 3.5

      Will need a decent light meter for the Cord.

      One bonus about the Cord its easier to personally CLA
      As its less complex than the Flex.

      • The Xenar on the III was soft when I received the camera. A quick CLA in-house to register the focusing coupling (with the help of a digital camera using as a collimator*) and now it is razor sharp straight from TA. Same thing happened with the Triotar; now it is still less sharp at the borders, and with a more distinct look in terms of bokeh and tonality, but in the center I can’t honestly tell it apart from its big brother.

        The digital camera will also make a nice exposure meter, or alternatively there are quite a few exposure meter apps for iPhone or Android that works pretty well (once calibrated against your film and workflow). Besides, if you are into black and white only you can often just expose “by feel” if you stand develop (like I do) in Rodinal*. In that case the negative will have an outrageously big latitude, tons of detail and will scan as a breeze.

        *you can check the posts on my blog that explains both procedures in detail, if you’re interested

        • That’s the thing about Rollei TLR and any classic camera really performance discrepancies, differences are more a result of

          focus screen not flat, straight;
          backs not completely closing tightly;
          lens not parallel to film plane;
          stiff focusing, aperture, shutter;
          shutter not firing at slow speed eg1 second or making a rasping sound which is an indicator the shutter is on its last legs;
          hazy lens elements;
          separation in lens elements;
          corrosion dirt fungus oil inside body.

          Gosh I forgot about light meter app.

          For anyone who does portraits they may well prefer the look of the Troitar has that gentleness glow.
          Also for atmospheric landscapes.

          Xenar in the Vb Cord is one sharp lens wide open in a mint or CLA Cord.

          Either way can’t go wrong with whichever Cord if it’s mint, professionally CLA.

  9. I’d like to buy a rolleiflex too, but still it’s far of my resources.
    I disagree with the part about that digital vs film cameras about lifetime lasting. My brothers and me have digital cameras working for already ten years and even one that is damaged by water still works. Instead to my film camera I’ve to buy (import) exotic batteries from USA, if there is a defect there is no technic service (one of the reasons you wisely bought two as I did for my SLR too) and every year is harder to get labs skilled in processing film. So film cameras have the same problem, for different reasons of course, to get difficulties in be passed through generations beyond a decoration or collectible item.
    (BTW the photo of the birds framed by the silhouette is spectacular and the autumn tones are great)

    • The exotic batteries are just the ones with amplifier transistor bringing the voltage to 1.5 V instead of 1.35. But you still do not need it. Use the current ones test your exposure meter and compensate for the loss. You have digital for ten years, it is not big deal my friend. My Nikon F2a is 35 yesrs old and still going strong after about 120000 clicks. Another world. If you have not lived it it is difficult to understand it.

      • HI Dimitris, thanks for the advice, I’m going to try the battery suggestion. My SLR is a Canon EF that can have 35 years too, actually was an odyssey repair it despite being a tank but it’s again strong. I think I wasn’t clear but my point were that despite a film camera can works perfectly it’s everyday harder to use them as functional machines, at least in South America.

      • You can purchase a small battery converter called the MR-9 adapter, that uses 1.5V silver oxide batteries and converts the current to 1.35 for older cameras that used mercury batteries (px625) to power the light meters. As for old cameras, I still use a pre-war Contax II (1937) with an uncoated 50mm Sonnar f2 lens. The camera works perfectly. You can purchase the MR-9 at this web site or from ebay. http://www.smallbattery.company.org.uk/sbc_mr9_adapter.htm

    • Francis, Brett Price is right on this. My favorite camera is my father’s 1937 Contax II which he got from his father. It works like charm, has memories and emotions attached to it, seems indestructible – and should it break, it’s ever fixable because its construction is solid mechanics. Same goes for my 1962 Rolleicord Va or even my 1976 Pentax MX. Which can’t be said of your 10 year old digital. Once it breaks – and it will – it’s garbage.
      I don’t know where you live. In Europe, film photography is seeing a renaissance. Every year, it gets easier purchasing and developing film. As Dimitri points out, your battery problem is an imaginary one. You should give film photography a try before you complain about hardships that may not even be there.
      Why does it have to be a Rolleiflex to start with? For medium format, good Rolleicords or Yashica Mat 124s are on the market for 120-200€.

      • Thanks Elenor. Actually I shoot film every time I can. Sorry if I gave the impression I was bashing it. Although when the digital cameras break I wouldn’t call them garbage because there are a lot of memories they gave me.
        I hope the European renaissance reaches the world, I purchase ebay film from sellers in Israel or Asia.
        About the batteries I prefer to don’t risk the batteries of the camera, so (and I hope that proves a bit my care about my film camera) I purchase them from sellers in USA.
        My complains aren’t that, are observations, I was saving for a bronica GS-1 or a Fujifilm ga645zi 😉 Kind regards.

  10. Hi Brett,

    Congratulations for the wedding and the camera. I am following you at Tumblr since some months ago and I really enjoy your photos. Thank you so much for sharing them, photo nº 14 is my favourite.

    Oriol

  11. I’d not hesitate one fraction of a second to buy this beautiful camera if I had some loose cash. I’m using a much older model (like 50 years older) which is somewhat battered from outside but still working as new and just keeps cranking out beautiful images.

  12. Brett,

    I really enjoyed this piece and in particular I liked the colour shots at images 9-10 and 12-13. Great work!

    Regards

    Robert (robw1098 on Flickr)

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