I’m currently borrowing a Rolleicord Va and Rolleiflex 3.5F from Kamerastore for a film testing project and while I have them both at my disposal, I though I’d share some of their key differences. I actually always wondered how they’d compare. I’ve been using Rolleicord for a quite long time now and this summer I finally got my hands into the much desired Rolleiflex as well. I expected them to feel more similar compared to each other. After all, they look much alike. When you hold them in your hands, the differences become apparent. In my opinion the key differences boil down to size, weight, build quality, controls and the fact of Rolleiflex having a light meter.
Size and weight
At a glance, both cameras look pretty similar in size. Rolleiflex is slightly larger though and you’ll notice it immediately when holding it. The focusing knob, that also features the light meter, bulbs out quite noticeably too, creating a much more complicated body shape with things sticking out from it quite annoyingly. Rolleicord manages to hold much neater box shape, that fits neatly in the camera bag. The body size difference is only some millimetres, which creates the illusion of similar body size. It’s only when you pick them up, you’ll notice that Rollecord is actually much nicer to handle due to it’s smaller size.
Rolleiflex also weighs about 300g more, which is actually quite a lot, bearing in mind that they are so similar in size. Rolleicord feels like a feather compared to the tanky Rolleiflex. In my opinion Rolleicord actually is a pretty comfortable carry, but I wouldn’t hang a Rolleiflex on my neck.
Almost all the controls are pretty different compared to each other. The biggest differences are the exposure controls, that are much nicer done in the Rolleiflex. They are ergonomically better located at each side of the lenses and they work smoothly. Rolleicord has a different approach and it features much harder to use levers that lacks the feeling of precision mechanics.
Rolleiflex has a really nice film advance lever that also cocks the shutter while you advance the film. On Rolleicord, you’ll have to do them separately. I thought I would’ve liked the big lever on the Rolleiflex more, but I actually prefer the film advance knob on the Rolleicord more. The long lever of the Rolleiflex has some amount of resistance to it. It also creates so much of leverage that you’ll end up cranking the entire camera, thus having to hold it really firmly with your other hand. The small knob in Rolleicord doesn’t create the same amount of leverage and it’s much nicer to handle, at least in my opinion.
Rolleicord was originally aimed for the amateur market and Rolleiflex for the professional one — as you must know already. Both cameras come with a variety of lens options and are optically pretty much on the same level. I’d argue that optics alone doesn’t favour Rolleiflex over Rolleicord — they both take beautiful images! Where they differ is the quality of the mechanics and body parts. Rolleicord feels like well made machine of course, but Rolleiflex has more of a premium feel to it. Everything is less clanky and more smoothly operating.
Light meter or not?
Rolleicord doesn’t have any kind of light meter, as you’d expect from a camera like this. It’s actually quite surprising to find a meter on a TLR and even more surprisingly a one that works. Rolleiflex has a selenium cell meter, which means it doesn’t require batteries. When it dies, it’s a goner — no way to fix it. At that point it’ll come dead weigh, as it is built into the camera.
Which one to choose?
Like I mentioned, I’m only borrowing these cameras for a long term film testing project, but if I’d have to purchase one with my own money — oh man… it would be a hard decision. Rolleiflex is of course the top of the line model. On the other hand, that would be pretty egoistic and irrational reasoning for choosing one. It’ll also cost considerably more and I would most likely have to settle for the Rolleicord for that reason alone. I might end up choosing Rolleicord anyways, because it is slightly smaller, much much lighter and I think I’m leaning towards liking the film rewind system slightly more. Rolleiflex is more famous and a really iconic camera so it would be nice to just own one, but for shooting, Rolleicord might just be a bit more practical. Rolleicord also has one major thing less to break: the light meter.