I sometimes seem to be on some weird mission to try every square format camera in existence. The Rolleiflex SLX slr camera is the ... let me think for a moment ... seventh 6x6 medium format camera I've owned. And oddly enough, it came into my possession while on a quest to figure out which 6x6 camera best fits my needs for carrying along while cycling. Although that is a topic for a different blog post that I haven't completed yet.
For this page of red-hot SEO gearspeak, I'm just going to talk about my experiences with the Rolleiflex SLX.
The first thing about this camera that I want to mention is that I've fallen in love with it for use as a medium format camera to have hidden in my bag as I walk about life. Given that the SLX is the heaviest 6x6 camera that I own, this seems kind of a weird role to fill.
One of the features though that sells me on this is that the Rollei SLX is capable of shooting in a fully automatic exposure mode. To not have to fiddle with a light meter, or try to remember the exposure value for anything other than Sunny 16 is a nice luxury. So far I've found that the metering is very accurate. Even the few rolls of slide film that I let the SLX auto expose for me all look wonderful.
But with auto exposure comes electronics. And with electronics comes batteries. If you've spent any amount of time on forums dedicated to people who use film cameras, then you are possibly aware of the existential dread that many film users have about using cameras that rely on electronics and/or batteries. How someday the keystone photograph for a series they are working on will present itself in front of them, and at that very moment, the battery goes dead. And of course, since batteries never go dead, the photographer doesn't have a spare in their bag. Thus, this photo goes untaken, and the series it would have belonged in never gets a solo exhibit at MOMA. Strange as it might sound, I'm sure it happens daily to people who risk shooting with cameras that rely on batteries.
But in all seriousness, while researching the Rollei SLX the general internet chatter was mainly "It takes batteries, and the electronics go bad! DON'T USE! DON'T USE!"
So I'm going to talk a little about the Rolleiflex SLX's batteries and electronics from my experience. I'll start with the batteries.
So the line I wrote before about buying extra batteries to keep in your bag, while works just fine for the vast swath of film cameras that operate on batteries, is sort of different for the Rollei SLX.
See, the camera operates with a large, proprietary rechargeable battery pack. So, if you are in the field and the camera goes dark, you are not going to be able to swing into the nearest convenience store to pick up a new battery.
Secondly, it is a rechargeable battery. A rechargeable battery from the late 70s or early 80s. Hell, half of our phones can't even hold a decent charge after a few years. How do you think some extremely old school battery tech has held up? Not too good.
So finding an original battery that still holds a reasonable charge has likely been a big fat CON for this camera for a long time. But we now live in the age of the Internet, and people who have figured out how to bring the batteries back to life have shared their knowledge and services.
The first method that people have done is to remove the original cells from the battery and repack the battery with some modern, higher capacity cells.
I have not done this, so I cannot comment on the specifics on how long these repacked battery packs can go between recharging.
The method I went with to bring the battery back to life in my Rollei SLX, was to buy a newly build battery pack off eBay from the user mignon1. This battery differs in that it operates via three 3.7V 14500 series rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
Now, I'm not sure if there is some flaw in my specific SLX body or something, but it does seem that even if I have the camera stored with the power off, it still manages to drain the fully charged batteries in a few days. Not a huge deal as I usually remember to plug in the battery pack every morning as I take a shower. But even on the days that I forget, if I test the battery in the field and they've run out of a juice, I keep a bunch of spare 14500 batteries in my bag and swap them out.
I'm generally photographing beaten automobiles and discarded food with this camera. So I don't expect to lose many decisive moments if I need to swap the batteries.
However, If street photography and the decisive moment is your jam, you'll probably want to skip the battery thing altogether and get a different camera as the SLX is loud AF when it takes an exposure.
Battery Update 2019
I've also since had the original battery pack rebuilt by Key Camera located in Longmont, Colorado. Exactly like the replacement battery pack from eBay, if I leave it in the camera it will drain to the point that the camera won't fire after a day or two. So I guess battery drain might just be a deisgn issue, or bug in my body.
So the general SLX lore is that the electronics in the very first model were highly prone to failure. The electronics were updated for the second version and are much more reliable. The way to distinguish between the first and second version is that the first version had chrome around the two shutter release buttons, and the second is matte black.
I bought the black buttoned second version of the camera, because who wants to deal with bad electronics? Me apparently, because the electronics in my SLX arrived with a little flaw.
The first thing I do when I acquire a new film camera is to take a sacrificial roll of film and run it through the camera over and over while assessing if everything seems to be working alright. Better to find any glitches when it doesn't matter as opposed to in the field.
First I dry fired the SLX without any film in it, and everything seemed just fine. Each shutter speed sounded proper. The aperture was moving to the correct size, etc. It wasn't until I started testing with a roll of film that I noticed it had a flaw. The camera would shoot the first nine frames just fine, but then after shooting the tenth frame, it would skip frames eleven and twelve and fully advance the film for removal.
I was a little sad as I didn't want to waste two frames of film per roll, and also because it rattled the trust I had in electronics.
I did some research and learned that the frame counting is handled by the film back of the camera, and not the body. Three options presented itself.
- A) Just return the camera.
- B) Spend a little more money on purchasing a different film back and hope for the best.
- C) Tinker.
I didn't want to give up on the camera just yet, so I decided not to return the camera. Option C it was! If I break it more, then I would buy a new back.
I opened up the back and spent around two hours just moving things, watching how stuff interacts, and figuring out what bits controlled each function of the camera. Something that is surprisingly easy to do given how primitive, yet ingenious these old electronics are.
If you look at the photo of the electronics within the SLX camera back, the white disc in the center is activated and rotates after each exposure. The three "fingers" (A) drag along the circuit telling the camera body how far it needs to keep advancing. After each exposure, it will make the camera advance one frame length if it is exposure 1-11, or to the end of the roll if it is the last exposure.
The outer notched ring is the part of the circuit that tells the camera how to advance between every exposure. What is hard to see in this pic is that the fingers all connect under the chrome wing-like piece into the same piece of metal. (B)
What isn't visible in this picture is how the metal that the fingers connect too seems to have lost some of its springiness over the decades. So what was happening is that it was sagging away from the wing and making contact with the outer ring on the circuit board. When the outer finger would move between the 10th and 11th notches is right when the leading, sagging metal would cross the gap in the outer ring and connect with the next circuit (C), shorting it out and making the body advance the film to the end of the roll.
I used a little piece of clear packaging tape to reconnect the contact metal to the chrome "wing," and the camera has properly fired off all twelve frames before taking up the roll ever since.
Tinkering for the win!
Additional Observations on the Rolleiflex SLX
Compared to my other most used 6x6 cameras with waist level
the Yashicamat 124G TLR and Bronica SQ-a SLR, the shape of the Rollei SLX sort of like the missing link between those two cameras. Comparing the cameras with an 80mm lens attached, the SLX is about as tall as the Yashicamat but longer. But not as long as the Bronica.
Here is my SLX chilling next to Louis R. Zurn's Hasselblad 500 C/M
It has a shutter release on both sides of the body. Lefties rejoice!
The focus on both lenses that I own, the 80mm Planar f/2.8 HFT and 120mm S-Planar f/5.6 HFT, is very smooth and precise. Although, sometimes I feel that the slow precision focus is a little slower than I'd like in a lot of cases. I expect I'll end up getting an extension arm for the camera to speed of the focus.
Compared to my other 6x6 cameras, the Rolleiflex SLX has a larger focusing screen. A nice feature that is kind of offset by the screen in my camera being heavily marred by cleaning marks. I've also noticed that the larger glass also makes it easier for sunlight to reach the focusing screen when shooting without the pop-up magnifier. The factory screen in my SLX does not handle this as well as the good screens I have in my Yashicamat and Bronica. Where the sun touches, the image completely goes away. Whereas on the other two cameras, the image is still somewhat visible through the sunlight. Perhaps someday I'll splurge and pop a Maxwell screen into it.
If you ever need to shoot an entire roll of 120 film as quick as possible, this is what it sounds like with the SLX.
Thanks all I got for now. I've only had this camera for a few months, but so far I am enjoying it in slower subject situations. If any of that changes, I'll try to remember to come back and update this page more.