TBT – Rolleiflex Automat 2-3

Post by Paul Brodek our Used Equipment buyer

Apologies in advance for not having anything particularly frightening for Halloween. The closest I can get to that is a lovely camera  built during a time fraught with true horror…

This is a wartime Rollei Automat 2, or Automat 3, depending on which competing nomenclature scheme you follow. Wartime as in WWII, ’39-’45, built in Germany. No need to delve into the particular horrors happening then/there during this time. We’ve got some technical historical facets to explore, with a much wider historical background and context, which isn’t really what this space is for.

We’ve already covered, ad nauseum, the wonders of Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras, so just a summary here: big negatives, awesome Zeiss or Schneider optics, solid/precise build quality, quiet operation, quick handling. Arguably the best hand-holdable camera for medium format photography.

What most folks call the Automat debuted in 1937, with significant improvements in handling and usability. Film loading was automated (thus the name Automatic, or Automat), with the film counter and first frame automatically set with an internal roller sensing when the film started. Prior to this, you had to wind the film while watching a translucent window, hoping you’d see the “1” on the paper film back before winding past it. Film advenace changed from a small knob, involving multiple spins to advance each frame, to a long. leverage-happy crank. Shutter charging changed from having to yank a small knob near the taking lens, to back-cocking the nifty wind crank. Film loading became quick and foolproof, winding/charging went from a two-handed mess to an elegant front/back sweep of the crank.

The whole model identification mess is trivial to the non-retentive, all we need to say here there are at two competing schemes, both based on solid research of both factory production records and the cameras themselves. There is general agreement on production dates based on serial numbers. I’m grateful to be able to find out when this camera was built, a lot less concerned whether we call it an Automat 2 or Automat 3.

Despite being awfully advanced for wartime camera, there are some caveats for using an 80yr-old camera. The focusing screen is relatively dim, generally fine for outdoor lighting, but difficult, especially for older eyes, to focus indoors, or in dim outdoor lighting. We’ve had the camera serviced, but there is some residual haze in the taking lens, not likely to adversely impact image quality, but, still, not as crystal-clear as we’d like. Shutter timing is fine after service, a tribute to robust leaf shutter mechanisms, and the film advance and shutter charging is smooth.

You’ll see some of the common cosmetic flaws that develop with time, like the outer leatherette layer wearing, showing brown underneath. Some of the brass screws beneath the leatherette are getting a layer of verdigris, that green growth you find on antique brass, which causes little bumps underneath the leatherette. You’ll see a couple of these on the rear door. They are far more common on vintage Zeiss cameras, leading to the generic term of “Zeiss bumps.” Our tech also replaced the mostly missing leatherette on the lens stage, but it’s a pretty solid match.

So we have a lovely camera from a dark time, fully functional but with some issues, overall in better shape than many of us would be at 80yrs old. All this for only $479.99  

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