What's the difference among the following Rolleiflex cameras:
- Rolleiflex 3.5T
- Rolleiflex 3.5F
- Rolleiflex 2.8C
- Rolleiflex Automat
What's the right one to choose for beginners of medium format photography?
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I have a Rolleiflex 3.5F and I love it. It's so much fun to use, and results are always pleasing. Strangers are always interested in it, and are often happy to pose for photographs. Try that with a cellphone!
According to the photo.stackexchange.com Help section, "questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much." This is true in the case of your question here. And the book that answers this question is 'The Classic Rollei: A Definitive Guide' by John Phillips. I used this book when deciding myself which model to buy, and I can say that it's meticulously researched and written by an obvious expert.
Rolleiflex TLRs are all at least 50 years old (essentially), and they were all invariably high-quality cameras. The model you choose is not as important as the condition of the particular example you acquire. The (taking) lens is the most important consideration, and there was a significant advance made when coated lenses were introduced. One thing that was important for me was to have a film advance lever, as opposed to a knob, but of course there are others for whom that wouldn't make any difference.
If you are looking at the later models, the Rolleiflex 2.8 and 3.5 models were aimed at professionals. The Rolleicord models were aimed at discerning amateurs, and the Rolleiflex T fitted in-between as a more affordable option than the top-end models. There are other more "exotic" models also, like the Rollei Magic (with automatic exposure control), Tele-Rolleiflex and Wide-Angle Rolleiflex.
With regard to naming, in those days, it was not so important from a marketing perspective to have fancy model names, so as successive improved models were released, the model name for the 2.8 series just ran from "2.8A" to "2.8F". There were some idiosyncrasies in the 3.5 series, such as the "3.5E" sometimes being called the "3.5C" - possibly depending on territory? Rolleicord models use Roman numerals for successive models, the final one being the "Vb" (five b).
I've put together a table showing later models, with their respective categories and year of introduction:
| "Pro" cameras | "Pro" cameras | Intermediate model | "Amateur" cameras | Telephoto model | Wide-angle model | Models with automatic exposure control | with 80/2.8 lens | with 75/3.5 lens | with 75/3.5 lens | with 75/3.5 lens | with 135/4 lens | with 55/4 lens | with 75/3.5 lens | | | | | | | 1949 | Rolleiflex 2.8A | Rolleiflex 3.5 Automat X | | | | | 1950 | | | | Rolleicord III | | | 1951 | | Rolleiflex 3.5 Automat MX | | | | | 1952 | Rolleiflex 2.8B | | | | | | | Rolleiflex 2.8C | | | | | | 1953 | | | | Rolleicord IV | | | 1954 | | Rolleiflex 3.5 Automat MX-EVS | | Rolleicord V | | | 1955 | Rolleiflex 2.8D | | | | | | 1956 | Rolleiflex 2.8E | Rolleiflex 3.5E | | | | | 1957 | | | | Rolleicord Va | | | 1958 | | Rolleiflex 3.5F (Types 1 & 2) | Rolleiflex T | | | | 1959 | Rolleiflex 2.8E2 | Rolleiflex 3.5E2 | | | Tele-Rolleiflex | | 1960 | Rolleiflex 2.8F | Rolleiflex 3.5F (Type 3) | | | | | Rollei Magic I 1961 | | Rolleiflex 3.5E3 | | | | Wide-Angle Rolleiflex | 1962 | Rolleiflex 2.8E3 | | | Rolleicord Vb | | | Rollei Magic II
Having said all that, there are of course some excellent resources already freely available online that will have almost all the info you might need. One of the best in my opinion is Ferdi Stutterheim's Rolleigraphy Users Site — see in particular the Comparative Chart Rolleiflex Twin-Lens Reflex cameras. That site also includes Points to watch when buying a TLR. There are further tips on buying a Rolleiflex at the following links: