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The Ultimate Guide to The Rolleiflex 2.8E3 Camera

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Rolleiflex 2.8E3 - Review, Features, and Buying Guide

The Rolleiflex camera is a medium format twin-lens reflex film camera that has been a favorite of photographers for decades. It's a wonderful art deco piece, with its sleek lines and elegant curves, and a joy to hold and use. Its ergonomic design makes it easy to handle and operate. In this review, I'll look at the 2.8E model, specifically the 2.8E3, which I own and use, and my model comes with the unparalleled Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens.


One of the things I find most impressive about the Rolleiflex is the way it truly elevates your photographic skills. To produce the masterpieces that this film camera is capable of requires a level of skill and attention to detail from you, the photographer, that is just not required these days with modern digital cameras. It truly forces you to slow down and think about your shots, which leads to more thoughtful and creative photography, and ultimately a much finer result.


A Rolleiflex 2.8E3 camera
Photo credit: Author's collection
 

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A Short Introduction to the Rolleiflex Camera - Model 2.8E3

This medium format film camera's focusing system is a truly wonderful mechanism: smooth and precise, allowing you to easily capture the perfect shot - every time. The finder is large and bright, and one of the standout features that I personally find the best about this camera (and twin-lens reflexes in general), providing a clear view of your subject. The quality of images produced is exceptional, with the Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens delivering sharp, detailed images with beautiful bokeh.


The Rolleiflex 2.8E was on the cusp of the technological revolution of integrating a light meter: it was an optional extra. Some examples come with the light meter fitted, while others do not (going forward from the 2.8F the light meter would be integrated always). My copy does not have a light meter, and I do not find this to be a significant drawback. Experienced photographers will be able to use their knowledge of lighting conditions to get the perfect exposure every time.


The Rolleiflex camera is an exceptional piece of photographic equipment that is sure to delight any photographer who appreciates art deco design and high-quality craftsmanship, and the 2.8E3 model is the ultimate combination of excellent value (vis-à-vis the 2.8F and later models) and advancement (compared to the 2.8D and earlier models). And you can read more about the genesis of the Rolleiflex camera on TwinLensReflex.eu.


Let's dive into more detail about each aspect of this medium format film camera!


 

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Rolleiflex - A Photographic Design Icon

The Rolleiflex is an art deco masterpiece that looks as good as it performs. The camera's sleek lines and elegant curves are testament to the skill of its designers. It's a joy to hold and use - its ergonomic design truly makes it easy to handle and operate.


A Rolleiflex 2.8E camera with accessories
Photo credit: *嘟嘟嘟* from Taiwan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The camera's controls are well-placed and intuitive. You can quickly adjust settings on the fly. The shutter and aperture linkage allows you to vary depth of field quickly with one motion, without altering the exposure in similar light conditions; and if the light changes, it's simple to unlink the controls and alter them separately. The shutter release is practically silent so this camera is great for when you need to be extra quiet (the drawback is that you sometimes don't know when you've taken a shot if you're not super attentive!)

 

Prints Available Shot Using the Rolleiflex 2.8E3:

 

The Focusing Experience

The focusing system on the Rolleiflex is smooth and precise, allowing you to easily capture the perfect shot. The camera uses a twin-lens reflex system that allows you to see your subject through one lens while focusing with another. What this means is that, unlike with SLRs, there's no moving mirror: so no mirror slap, and thus no extra noise or camera movement, allowing you to handhold at much slower shutter speeds than you would with an SLR; alongside which there's no viewfinder blackout the moment the shot is taken.


The focusing screen is large and bright, providing a clear view of your subject. The screen also has a built-in magnifier that allows you to focus on fine details with ease. Sometimes I feel like the image of the world seen through the Rolleiflex viewfinder is more vivid and beautiful than the actual scene itself.


The Taking Lens - Pin Sharp Image Quality

The Rolleiflex 2.8 series came with one of two 80mm standard lenses - either a Schneider Kreuznach Xenotar f/2.8 or a Zeiss Planar f/2.8. I've never shot a Rolleiflex with the Schneider lens so I can't comment here, but from secondhand accounts I hear that the performance of both is pretty similar, though the Planar seems to provide slightly more defined bokeh than the Xenotar. Either way, the quality of images produced by the taking lens is exceptional, delivering sharp, detailed images with beautiful bokeh. Both lenses as mentioned have a maximum aperture of f/2.8, which allows you to create stunning portraits with shallow depth-of-field, or use the camera in low light situations without increasing the shutter speed too much.


The lens also has excellent colour reproduction, producing images that are vibrant and true-to-life. It performs well in low-light conditions, allowing you to capture stunning images even in challenging lighting situations.


A Rolleiflex 2.8E camera from the front.
Photo credit: *嘟嘟嘟* from Taiwan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Metering Light - Exposing Your Film with the Rolleiflex

While my copy of the Rolleiflex 2.8E3 does not have a light meter, this is not a problem. As I emphasised before, experienced photographers will be able to use their knowledge of lighting conditions to get the perfect exposure every time.


In fact, many of us seasoned pros prefer using cameras without light meters because it forces us to think more carefully about our shots and encourages us to slow down and consider things more carefully - such as lighting conditions, shutter speed, and aperture before taking a shot.


Sourcing a Rolleiflex Camera on The Secondhand Market

If you are looking to purchase a Rolleiflex - any model - on the secondhand market, there are several things you should look out for:

  1. Condition: Check the condition of the camera carefully before purchasing it. Look for signs of wear and tear, such as scratches or dents on the body or lens. Make sure that all the controls work properly and that there are no issues with the focusing system.

  2. Price: The price of a Rolleiflex can vary widely depending on which model, its condition and other factors such as age and rarity. You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $4,000 for a good condition model.

  3. Seller: When purchasing from an individual seller, make sure that they have a good reputation and that they are trustworthy. Ask for detailed photos of the camera and any accessories that come with it.

  4. Accessories: Check if any accessories come with the camera such as lens hood, filters, or carrying case.

  5. CLA: If you are purchasing an older model or one that has not been used in some time, consider getting a CLA (cleaning, lubrication, adjustment) service done on it by a professional technician. Rolleiclub has a good directory of people still servicing the Rolleiflex camera

Review sites such as Film Shooters Collective, Films Not Dead, and forums such as Photrio to find more information about purchasing a Rolleiflex camera system.


Sample Rolleiflex Images


Wrap-up - A Delightful Camera

In conclusion, the Rolleiflex - especially my 2.8E3 model with its Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens - is an exceptional piece of photographic equipment that is sure to delight any photographer who appreciates art deco design and high-quality craftsmanship. As a medium format camera, the image quality truly blows away 35mm film. If you've never shot a twin-lens reflex before, you're sure to be delighted by the truly stunning experience and tactility; make sure you get your hands on a Rolleiflex - it's expensive, but truly worth it.


 

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