Tuesday, September 18, 2018


It was gratifying to see the response to my recent article about my own, personal Leica equipment.  I was surprised to see how many readers were interested in medium format, especially a new Leica medium format camera.

It is no secret that the Leica S line of medium format cameras is in need of an update.  Even though it is an amazingly well working camera, it is definitely beginning to lag behind the competition.  I have never been overly excited or interested in the pixel race, but I do recognize the fact that a higher pixel resolution is definitely a sales point, something that many potential customers do take a close look at.  It is hard to compete against 100+ megapixel cameras with only a 37.5 megapixel sensor.

But there is hope.  Rumors are that Leica will introduce a new medium format camera at the upcoming Photokina in Cologne.  Nothing more has been said and it is uncertain if this camera, providing the rumors are correct, will be an updated version of the current Leica S or if they will introduce a new, mirrorless camera.

Any discussion about this inevitably leads to a list of individual preferences.  Of course mirrorless is high on the list, as well as a much higher sensor resolution.  Since this is in reference to my previous article about my own Leica system, allow me some thoughts regarding my own preferences.

In my article, I mentioned that during the film days, I used a Rolleiflex SL 66 camera.  Several readers asked why I chose the Rolleiflex over the much more popular Hasselblad.

Hasselblad 500 CM

For good reason, the Hasselblad 500 system was most popular at that time.  As a long time Leica user, I don’t have to explain that general conventions have never been anything appealing to me.  So instead of a Hasselblad, I began to use a Rolleiflex SL66 because it offered several advantages for roughly the same cost.  Performance was no issue since both the Rolleiflex SL66 and the Hasselblad 500 cameras used the same lenses, made by Zeiss and Schneider Kreuznach in Germany.  However, the Hasselblad was tied to leaf shutter lenses.  The Rollei had a built-in focal plane shutter which made many of their lenses a bit less expensive.  When higher flash synch speeds were of a necessity, Rollei offered an 80mm and 150mm lens with leaf shutter as well.

Rolleiflex SL66 with 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar

In addition, the Rollei film backs could handle 120 as well as 220 film.  Switching over from one to the other changed the frame counter and the pressure plate to compensate for the different film thickness.  Hasselblad required the extra expense of a separate 220 back.

Rolleiflex SL66 with bellows extended and lens reversed

The Rollei also had a built-in bellows which allowed for close-up work without any additional expenses as was the case with the Hasselblad.  In addition Rollei had a built-in lens reverser which allowed close-up work up to 1:1 reproduction without any additional accessories.  Hasselblad did not have any lens reversers at all.  Since close up work by nature has very little depth of field, the Rollei also offered a tilting lens which allowed the application of the Scheimpflug principle to greatly extend the range of sharpness.

Rolleiflex SL66 with lens tilted down and up

The tilting lens also found application for architectural photography.  With careful adjustment of the camera back to be parallel to the subject matter, the tilting lens then allowed to adjust for converging lines not unlike on a view camera.

There was no question that the Rollei with all those extra capabilities was the better camera for me, especially since those extra features came at no additional cost at all.

Obviously, there are additional things to consider.  The Rolleiflex was an SLR which naturally results in a larger camera.  Subsequently, a mirrorless camera is the way to go, especially with a smaller sensor like in the Leica S.  However, interchangeable camera backs are worth considering as well.  Offering several camera backs with varying sensor resolution would allow a potential buyer to save considerable amounts of money if ultimate resolution is not necessary.  Several of the Leica competitors offer those choices, but only with their DSLR models.  That brings up the question if a mirrorless camera with interchangeable backs makes sense.

While the built-in bellows and lens reverser of the Rolleiflex was a very good feature, it does add to the size of the camera and probably should be offered as an accessory.  But a focal plane shutter like in the Leica S does make sense, especially if it is accompanied by leaf shutter lenses.

So much for this little excursion into wishful thinking.  Photokina will start in just a short time.  Hopefully we will get the answers we are looking for.

For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right

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