Rolleiflex K1 - the OG Twin-Lens Reflex

August 12, 2020

The Rolleiflex K1 is easily the oldest camera I own. This puppy is circa 1928-29 if my research is correct, and one of the very first cameras of its type. This is the only model run that Rolleiflex created before rounding the top of the camera - making it all the more rare and identifiable.

History Lesson!

Doctor Krieger demonstrating proper use of a TLR Camera

Rollei is the name-brand when it comes to TLR's - Twin Lens Reflex cameras. While they certainly didn't invent the concept, they quickly established themselves as a top-tier player. They were never the biggest camera company, but they did one thing and they did it well. The Rolleiflex took medium-format roll film instead of the old clunky photographic plates, was small enough to be shot handheld, and could be viewed from eye height OR from above for maximum stability and flexibility of use. The top lens, used for viewing, is mechanically paired to the bottom lens, which actually forms the image. Whatever you do to the main lens is parroted by the viewer lens. That means an even smoother user experience than a rangefinder (in theory). Except for the whole left-is-right reversal (see video below for more on that).

Repairs and Restoration

Frank Marshman, antique camera expert, defines Repair and Restoration as follows:

1. Repair usually means the cleaning, lubricating and adjustment of a camera to make it serviceable for the good working of taking pictures. This may include the disassembly and replacement of parts as well as rebuilding any mechanisms as is necessary. The sole purpose is to make a camera workable where it wasn’t before.

2. Restoration means to bring the camera to a condition that reflects the original manufactures intent. This may or may not include the repair to operational condition of the mechanism.

After some discussion with my dad, I elected to repair but not restore the Rolleiflex. The wear and the aging are part of the history of the camera, and to paint over them would be to downgrade it from a family heirloom to a collectors item.

So repair it is. Unlike the Leica, this camera needs a lot of love and attention. I don't think it will be fully operational until I can afford to mail it off to a certified Rollei guru for the ol' CLA (Clean, Lube, Adjust). For now, I just focus on knocking items off the to-do list one at a time as I feel comfortable.

The first thing I did was to clean off the lenses. They're attached very solidly to the front panel of the camera, which just pops right off if you loosen two or three screws. Give it a gentle clean, and the difference is astounding.

There should be a knob there....


Sadly, this camera is not operational yet. It is certainly possible to experiment and play around, but 'normal' shooting conditions won't be possible until I can run some real film through there. 

[update] 35mm film can be adapted with the wonders of 3D Printing!

The top viewfinder is really dim, which is bad news for anything that isn't a fairly optimal shooting situation. The 45-degree mirror is all fogged up, so you can't shoot while holding it to your face like an SLR. Top-down is the only way to go. 

I wouldn't personally feel comfortable shooting this at any less than 1/100th handheld, because it's really hard to trip the shutter without shaking the camera a bit. 

Put that all together, and this is a camera I would really only want to break out in ideal conditions, either bright daylight or a controlled studio-type environment. 

Next came the side panels. The knobs had become rusty, the leatherette was peeling, and the whole affair was a mess. I removed the knobs and soaked them in PB Blaster, a penetrating grease similar to WD-40 and whose smell will never leave you. Amazingly, it really loosened up all of the crud. Knobs? Clean.

But also broken.

Somehow, I managed to knock the threaded socket in the focus knob free of its housing. The stupid thing can't be re-attached to the camera body in its current state. Mistake #1.

The leatherette was a much easier fix. Once I had the knobs detached, it had a clear path off of the body. Add some Elmer's white glue and re-attach for a quick patch. We'll see if it hold up over time, but it's been a few months without issue so I think we'll be OK. In Antique Cameras Tags German, Camera, Rolleiflex, Rollei, TLR, Twin, Lens, Reflex, fim, 620, camera