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Rollei 35 RF: Review
Old 06-10-2004   #1
Huck Finn
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Rollei 35 RF: Review

The Rollei 35 RF is an all manual, mechanical rangefinder camera in Leica M-mount for use with interchangeable lenses & with center-weighted meter. It is made by Cosina for Rollei & is identical to the Voigtlander Bessa R2 (also made by Cosina) - except for rangefinder coupling & the silver finish, which does make it an ideal platform on which to mount chrome or sliver lenses. The Rollei 35 RF improved on the 0.9 meter (3 feet) close focus capability of the Bessa R2 by rangefinder coupling down to 0.7 meters (27 inches). Since most standard & wideangle rangefinder lenses have a minimum focus distance of 0.7 meters, this is a signicant difference in the ability of the 2 cameras to maximize the capabilities of most lenses. Other than coupling & cosmetics, the functional differences are the framelines of 40/50/80 to match the Rollei lenses developed for this camera, a somewhat more grippable set of hand grips on the front of the camera body, & a more heavily knurled shutter speed dial. (The 80mm framelines also display the 40mm lines for comparison, although there is also a separate uncluttered 40mm display.) The Rollei version of the R2 comes with a deluxe padded leather camera strap & a 2-year manufacturer's warranty - an upgrade over the 1-year store warranty which accompanies the R2 when purchased from Adorama or B&H.

This camera has all of the back-to-basics rangefinder functionality & the bright viewfinder for which the Bessa R2 has become well known. Ergonomics are excellent as controls are well placed for ready access. LEDs in the viewfinder indicate in-focus, overexposure, or underexposure - making for easy metering in low light. All controls function smoothly. The die-cast, magnesium covered, aluminum body is sturdy & fits comfortably in the hand. Shutter speeds range from 1 sec. to 1/2000 sec. and B. Flash synchs up to 1/125 sec. Both of these features exceed Leica specs.

The selling point for this camera is the superb Carl Zeiss designed lenses made for it. The 40mm f/2.8 Sonnar lens is packaged with the body in a kit that is the most cost effective way to purchase the camera ($1099 at B&H). There is also an 80mm f/2.8 Planar lens; a 50mm f/1.8 lens has been announced for 2005. The 40mm Sonnar is fantasticlly sharp edge to edge with a smooth & easy rendition of color while emphasizing warmer hues. The lens is handsomely finished, all metal in construction, & of superior build. Both lenses are Leica screw mount with M-mount adapters included. Both have barrels built by Cosina & glass from Zeiss subsidiary Schott. Final assembly of the components is done at the Rollei plant in Germany where the glass is finished & then centered in the lens barrel.

This is a consumer grade body with some plastic internal parts - much like a Nikon FM3a. A professional-grade Leica build it is not. Nor is the shutter Leica-quiet. But for the amateur enthusiast who does not need Leica durability or features, the Rollei 35 RF is an excellent choice. It is another version of the Voigtlander Bessa R2 with improved rangefinder coupling - this one with Rollei warranty & parts support, another alternative in the category of the all manual, mechanical rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses. I've enjoyed shooting with it; it's a fun camera to use. More importantly, it has produced marvellous pictures of which I'm quite proud!

Last edited by Huck Finn : 01-26-2005 at 07:19.
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Old 06-10-2004   #2
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Old 11-28-2004   #3
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compared with the R2, which is a better choice to go with?!
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Old 11-29-2004   #4
Huck Finn
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They are the same camera - other than the differences in framelines & finish. The Rollei 35 RF is essentially a special edition of the R2 retrofitted with framelines to match Rollei lenses. If the price is the same, the Rollei is the better buy because it comes with a 2-year manufacturer's warranty, deluxe camera strap, & better manual. If the prices are close, you can also use color to decide. The Bessa R2 comes in black or olive green. The Rollei 35 RF comes in silver/chrome finish - best with silver/chrome lenses while black lenses match better with the black Bessa R2.

Of course, the frameline differences between the cameras also dictate choice. Bessa R2 framelines offer the more classic selection: 35/50/75/90. Rollei has 40/50/80 framelines, designed for use with their matching lenses. With the introduction of the Voigtlander 40/1.4 Nokton, there are now a few choices available in 40mm lenses, which also include the Rollei 40/2.8 Sonnar & the Leica & Minolta 40/2 lenses (Leica/Minolta available on the used market only). Regardless, there are far more choices available in 35mm lenses than there are in 40mm lenses. Furthermore, the Rollei 80/2.8 Planar is the only 80mm lens I know of, although I have had no trouble using a 75 mm lens with the 80 mm framelines. It means that the framelines cover only about 81% of what the lens sees rather than the traditional 87% coverage.

Finally, the 40mm framelines are easier to see on the .7x magnification viewfinder shared by both the Rollei 35 RF & the Bessa R2 than are 35mm framelines. Eyeglass wearers will find this beneficial when compared with the wide angle view from either the R2, R2A, or R3A.

Unless there are preferences for any of the features mentioned above, the R2 would seem to be the better choice because it is available at Photo Village (www.photovillage.com) for $499, while the Rollei 35 RF costs $599 at B&H and Adorama. The R2 also offers the wider range of focal lengths (35 - 90), so it is the logical lower cost alternative to more expensive rangefinder options, i.e. Leica. Photo Village seems to have the last of the R2s on the new camera market. Both the R2 & the Rollei 35 RF are out of production, so when existing stock is gone, that will be the end of the mechanical rangefinder as a new purchase option.
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Last edited by Huck Finn : 11-29-2004 at 05:47.
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