I have just recently returned from Barcelona where I’ve been running a street photography workshop. I took with me a Rolleicord VA type 1 which was manufactured in 1958. It has a Schneider Xenar F 3.5 taking lens and a Heidosmat viewing lens, cosmetically it’s quite a nice one too. Rolleicord cameras were aimed at the amateur photographer, while its bigger brother the Rolleiflex was aimed at the professional photographer. The Rolleiflex was better made but came at a much higher cost too, that said the Rolleicord cameras were built to a very high stranded.
This is the first Rolleicord camera I have owned and I was very keen to test it. For me whatever camera I use when it comes down to it, is all about image quality verses cost. That of course is down to the quality of lens you have and on my camera it’s a Schneider Xenar F 3.5. Now Rollei cameras have many differing combinations of lenses and types of bodies and there is much speculation about which are the best body lens combinations. The fact is that each camera was built by one individual technician so how good or not so good each lens is would be dependent on how skilled the technician was.
I can safely say that this particular lens is quite superb. The sharpness and tonality this lens renders is quite beautiful. I know that what film you use and how it is processed can also affect the results greatly too and in this case the film I shot was Ilford HP5+. I’ve shot hundreds of rolls of HP5+ and I’ve owned 2 Rolleiflex before both with F2.8 planer lenses and I really can’t tell the difference, both from the scanned results and darkroom prints, from the Rolleicord to the Rolleiflex. Now I’m not an expert on how lenses are constructed and tested, this is just my personal opinion based on my own results.
Most Rolleicords are smaller and lighter than Rolleiflex which for me is an advantage as I mainly use them for street photography and street portraits. I also own Hassleblads and Mamiyas all are which are great cameras but I would never use these for street photography as they are too weighty and bulky and also noisy when you press the shutter. The Rolliecord VA is a perfect alternative from 35mm if you, like me, love the luxurious bigger size negative that medium format gives you.
The specifications aren’t as good as Rolleiflex either but they are still very well built. There are some small differences between the two types of cameras like how they transport film from one frame to the next, how you cock and release the shutter and how you select aperture and shutter speed but as I said earlier the resulting print is what matters. I will follow this blog with a Youtube video showing the differences in the next week or so.
The one major difference is the cost. A good Rolleicord will set you back around £250.00 where as a good Rolleiflex will set you back around £1000.00. The former is one hell of a camera and much overlooked by many. The quality it delivers is stunning especially for the price. My Rolleicord VA is 57 years old and still works beautifully and if I look after it well will outlast me, of that I have no doubt.