Founded in 1920, the Rollei company began as an optical goods manufacturer located in Braunschweig, Germany. It wasn’t until 1928 that the business would produce a camera, and its Rolleiflex medium-format, twin-lens reflex became an instant classic. Equipped with a Zeiss lens and 6x6 cm negatives, the Rolleiflex was the first twin-lens camera to use rollfilm.
Known as the “Standard Leverwind” design, this Rollei became one of the most popular rollfilm cameras on the market. Cherished by professionals and amateurs alike, almost 200,000 units of the 611, 612, 613, and 614 model Rolleiflexes were manufactured before being upgraded in 1932 to the 620. Part of the camera’s success was its self-cocking shutter, meaning it cocked while winding the crank to advance the film, an improvement rare among rollfilm designs at the time.
The 4x4 cm format baby Rolleiflex was added in 1931, and in 1933, the company debuted a cheaper medium-format model, called the Rolleicord, aimed specifically at amateur photographers. The Rolleicord came with cheaper three-element lenses, a simple knob-wind, and a manually cocked shutter. Rolleicords were made either with a plain leather exterior or a patterned, Art-Deco metal case. The design was so successful among amateurs that the company continued to produce a similar model through the 1970s.
In 1937, the Rolleiflex Automat was introduced with a new loading method that fed film under a feeler roller so users didn’t need to use the standard tiny red window to align the film’s first exposure. This model also incorporated the bayonet filter and hood mounts, which were eventually copied by many other manufacturers.
Following World War II, Rollei launched its f/2.8 line of Rolleiflexes fitted with low-quality Tessar lenses, which were eventually replaced by Zeiss Planar or Schneider Xenotar lenses. Despite its initial lens issues, this model would go on to become one of the most desirable Rollei cameras on the resale market. Today, Rolleiflexes are still produced by the German company DHW Fototechnik.