The Rolleiflex SL 66 is a medium format Single Lens Reflex camera line made by the Rollei factory between 1966 and 1982. These pages describe the cameras, film magazines, lenses and system features.
The SLR concept is quite old. It dates back to large format cameras of the 1880s. Huge, bulky cameras. The Ihagee Camera Works of Dresden, Germany, showed the first Exakta single lens reflex camera for 127 size roll film in 1933. It was followed by the first Exakta for 35 mm film in 1936. The cameras still had waist level finders. It was the Dresden Zeiss-Ikon works that introduced the pentaprism finder in their Contax S SLR in 1949. Victor Hasselblad made his Hasselblad 1600 F medium format SLR in 1948.
The SLR, the single lens reflex camera, was moving in. It showed several advantages: exchangeable lenses, exchangeable film magazines, extension tubes for macro-photography. The twin lens reflex (TLR) of the Rollei factory could only focus to short object distances with close focus lenses, the Rolleinars. The power of the Rolleinars was limited to 3 for image quality reasons. That limitation did not exist for extension tubes.
Early attempts 1953 - 1957
The advance of the SLR, especially the Hasselblad, had not gone unnoticed in Brunswick, the home of the Rolleiflex TLR. In 1953 Mr Heidecke, the technical director, ordered a team of his construction bureau lead by Richard Weiss to design and develop a medium format SLR camera. The Rolleiflex SLR should avoid a known problem of the SLR. The mirror has to clear the back of the lens when swinging up and that means a mirror limited in size. Too short for long lenses and using lenses with long focal lengths was the whole point of opting for the SLR design. Richard Weiss invented a mirror that folded down in two parts instead of swinging up. The design was innovative but complex. Another problem was that a mirror on the bottom of a camera does not close the finder. An additional blind was needed. Eventually this idea was dropped.
The Tele-Rolleiflex and the Wide-Angle Rolleiflex
In the mean time TLR sales were still doing well and Rollei management lost interest in the costly SLR project. It was abandoned in 1957. Other solutions were considered. A TLR with exchangeable lenses for instance. It was developed and prototypes were built but the design was too complicated and too expensive to build. The exchangeable lenses for the TLR were dropped in favour of the Tele-Rolleiflex (1959) and the Wide-Angle Rolleiflex (1961).
Next steps 1962 - 1966
In 1962 a second attempt was made to design a medium format SRL. Sales of the TLRs had gone down and the Tele and Wide were not successful. The same construction team lead by Richard Weiss was assigned to the job. When new management was appointed in the mid Sixties the work was accelerated and the single lens reflex camera Rolleiflex SL 66 was introduced in 1966. Rollei had developed the SL66 to be a studio camera. It still had a focal plane shutter while Hasselblad had replaced its focal plane shutter for a leaf shutter in 1959.
Rolleiflex SL 66
Camera body (October 1966 - March 1986)
From the outset the new Rolleiflex SLR was meant to have higher specifications than its main competitor, the Hasselblad 500 C. Some specifications are similar. The completely mechanical design and the lack of a built-in exposure meter. Both use a similar lines of lenses made by Carl Zeiss of Oberkochen, (West-)Germany.
The SL 66 scores higher notes at the following points:
- The camera shows elements of a flat bed large format camera. The ‘flat bed’ is turned 90° and the camera received a bellows for macro-photography.
- The lens mount has the same Bay VI bayonet as the filter mount. This way the lens can be retro mounted for close-up and macro photography without accessories.
- The tilting lensboard provides for extended depth of field, even at wide apertures.
The SL 66 scores lower notes at these points:
- The SL 66 has a focal plane shutter although a small number of lenses with leaf shutters are available. A leaf shutter is more suitable for flash exposures.
- When it came to the market the SL 66 was much more expensive than a Hasselblad.
Some elements of the TLR remained: the focusing knob on the left side of the camera, the film transport crank on the right side and the shutter release button at front right. The film magazine is detachable and has the well-known Rollei feeler mechanism for automatic film transport, just like the TLR.
Standard Lens (1966 - 1973)
The standard lens of the SL 66 is a single coated seven elements Carl Zeiss Planar 2.8/80 mm lens in Bayonet VI mount. Engravings are close to the front lens from 1966 until 1973.
Standard Lens (1974 - 1982)
The Carl Zeiss Planar 2.8/80 mm bares engravings close the filter mount from 1974. It is HFT multi-coated. In the same year the Rollei factory began offering Planars with HFT coating from their own production under licence from Zeiss labeled ‘Made by Rollei’. More information about lens names and coating is written on a separate page.
Standard Lens (1982 - 1992)
The Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating in Bay VI has an upgraded lens mount, fit for ‘open-aperture-metering’. Rollei service offered to upgrade the lens mounts of earlier lenses.
Exchangeable lenses are described on a separate page.
SL 66 cameras were sequentially numbered from 2,900,000 - 2,927,800 between 1966 - 1982. Coded numbers from 7xxxxxxxx were used since 1982. Therefore there is no point in providing a separate numbers list. An explanation of the coding system for serial numbers is given on a separate page. The film inserts bare the same numbers as the magazines. Inserts are not interchangeable. In order to make checking easy the number is printed on the outside of the magazine and also inside on the magazine door near the hinges. Most inserts bare the number on the grip. Early inserts have the number engraved on the side.
Rolleiflex SL 66 E
Camera body (October 1982 - September 1992)
In 1982 the need for an exposure meter became apparent. The solution was relatively simple. The Rollei factory also produced the mainly electronic SLX with an exposure meter for reflected light and flash. That one could be used for the SL 66 too. The factory considered replacing the mechanical shutter timing for electronic timing. That idea was dropped because it would have eliminated the key feature of the SL66 as a fully mechanical camera. Another reason was, the SL 66 E was meant to be equipped with a small non-rechargeable battery that was not really fit to power substantial electronics.
The electronic light-meter did have consequences. Certain camera parts had to be electrically isolated from other parts. The contact surfaces from body to film magazine needed to be made of plastic instead of metal. Another reason to revert to plastics was production costs. In 1966 high quality plastics were not yet readily available, so nearly all parts of the original SL 66 were made of metal. In those days any form of metalworking needed a specific tool. A piece of metal that had to be cut, moulded, bended four times, and had three holes, needed nine tools to be finished. A piece of plastic could be made in one job with only the holes to be drilled.
The SL 66 E has a completely black finish. It is capable of ‘open-aperture-metering’ with suitable lenses. Coded camera numbers begin with 7xxxxxxxx. Film inserts bare the same number and are not interchangeable.
Standard Lens (1982 - 1992)
The Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating in Bay VI has an upgraded lens mount fit for ‘open-aperture-metering’. The lens mounts of earlier lenses could be upgraded by Rollei service.
Rolleiflex SL 66 X
Camera body (April 1986 - October 1992)
The SL 66 X is basically a SL 66 with flash metering and the black outer shell of the SL 66 E. Coded numbers starting with 1xxxxxxxx. From April 1986 until October 1986 the camera was delivered with film magazines of the SL 66 E. From October 1986 it was equipped with the new magazines of the third type with interchangeable film inserts without serial numbers.
Standard Lens (1982 - 1992)
The SL 66 X was equipped with a Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating, bayonet size VI and a lens mount fit for ‘open-aperture-metering’.
Rolleiflex SL 66 SE
Camera body (October 1986 - October 1992)
The exposure meter of the SL 66 SE was upgraded with spot-metering. The film feeler mechanism was dropped. The German DIN roll film specifications required a minimal hight for film + paper back + tape in order to make a feeler mechanism possible. Rollei was the only producer to offer such a feature and quite a number of modern (non-German) films did not comply, so the feeler might fail. Feeler equipped magazines can be used on the SL 66 SE although the exposure meter will only work with magazines with DIN/ASA setting. Interchangeable film inserts. Black finish. The SL 66 SE has ‘open-aperture-metering’ with suitable lenses. The lens mounts of earlier lenses could be upgraded by Rollei service. Coded serial numbers from 1xxxxxxxx.
Standard Lens (1982 - 1992)
Rollei made Planar 2.8/80 mm with HFT coating in Bay VI. The lens mount is fit for ‘open-aperture-metering’.
Rolleiflex SL 66 SE Exclusive Professional
Camera body (October 1986 - Early 1993)
Special Edition with additional engravings 1 - 188.
- Rollei Report 2, Rollei-Werke Rollfilmkameras 1946-1981, Prochnow, Claus, ISBN 3-89506-118-2, Lindemans, (2000).