Reaching adulthood: 

the Rolleiflex Automat Original

The Rolleiflex Automat is a major milestone in the development of the Rolleiflex line, and its appearance is already very close to the mature models of the golden period of the 50s and 60s. It is the first of the long series of 3.5 Automat models that would last to the very end of the Rollei TLR production in 1976

The major advance of the Automat was the automatic film advance and shutter winding, which no longer required the use of red window to position the first frame. Rolleicords however would keep the red window, as well as the Rolleiflex (New) Standard. Automatism, at that stage of development of photographic cameras, meant only this film advance feature with coupled shutter tensioning and double-exposure lock, a considerable technical improvement in the 1930s. There were yet no dreams of auto exposure or autofocus, and even the use of light meters was very rare, coupled or uncoupled – this explains the exposure tables in the cameras. An exception was the 35mm TLR Zeiss Ikon Contaflex made in 1935, perhaps the most advanced TLR of all times and the first camera in the world to have an inbuilt exposure meter, and the first TLR with interchangeable lenses, but that proved commercially unviable due its bulky body and especially its very high cost.

 

Several other features that we link to the mature Rolleiflex also appeared with the Automat in 1937, such as the control of speed and aperture via 2 dials located between the lenses, selftimer, and the more robust viewing hood when compared to the previous Rolleiflex Standard. The Automat Original also saw the introduction of coating in Rolleiflex lenses, namely the Schneider of 1949. Some of these features, such as the modified viewing hood, had been developing progressively in the Rolleicord series, the economic line of cameras that contributed much to the development of the Rolleiflex. But the Automat 1 looks already very similar to the mature models of Rolleiflex golden years of the 1950s and early 1960s. Claus Prochnow (1993) is obviously the most complete source of data for this camera, and John Phillips (2010) further describes the cameras in his excellent 2010 book and discusses in detail the advancements it brought to the Rolleiflex camera series. 

The first two types of the Automat (1937 and 1938) are the only 6x6 Rolleiflexes that have double bayonet on taking lens only, shared with the 1938 Rolleiflex 4x4 Sports, and the Rolleicords II 2/3. The former Standard had no double bayonets, and all the subsequent models would have both lenses equipped with double bayonet, included the downgraded New Standard from 1939. After two cameras with only one double bayonet, a third type of the Automat appeared in 1939 with double bayonets on both lenses, everything else exactly the same as the previous model.

There are idiosyncrasies in what concerns naming of the models of the Rolleiflex Automat Original (see table). In my view the cameras are too similar to separate in different structural models, and thus tend to agree with Prochnow and consider them as models/types of the Rolleiflex Automat (Original). I see the point of Phillips though, that groups the first two models as the Rolleiflex Automat (1937) and the third as the Rolleiflex Automat Original (1939), as structurally the third model is more different than the other two. But I do not totally agree with naming the third model as the ‘Original’; although Phillips considered as a major advance the inclusion of double bayonet on viewing lens, it is obvious that the non-double bayoneted are already Automats and very similar, and if they are previous at least should be also named ‘Original’.

 

Not wishing to create any further idiosyncratic confusion (but I am sure I do…), I consider all these models as Rolleiflex Automat (Original), and further split them into 2 main groups (Models 1 and 2) based on the major structural contrasting feature: the double bayonet on viewing lens. The Model 1 can be split (following Prochnow) on Types 1 and 2 based on absence or presence of safety lock for shutter release. Model 2 is split based on ‘old’ character (Type 1 - grey inlay on dials, shutter mark below taking lens) and ‘new’ character (Type 2), a split also made by Parker. This is in my view the most logical way of classification, but obviously do not expect any changes in the way the cameras are referenced, even if already done so in different ways. 

Model 2 with double bayonet on the viewing lens (Model 3 of Prochnow, Models 2 and 3 of Parker and Original of Phillips) is the most variable within these early Automat models. It stayed stable until the end of the war, but in 1945 it emerged with a number of differences – the marks on the front were interchanged, Compur-Rapid now between both lenses and below the taking lens the camera brand. The aperture and shutter control dials had a black inlay instead of the previous grey. Note that in Ian Parkers Collector’s Guide the figures on pages 86 and 88 are swapped, this model is figured under Automat X and vice-versa. Parker is the only source that considers this 1945 model as the start of the new model 3. Prochnow on the other hand separates the formal variants of the Model 3 according to the brand of the lens, respectively Carl Zeiss Jena (East Germany), Carl Zeiss Opton (West Germany) and Schneider. According to Prochnow the factory reference for all these variants is K.4 Model 632, while Parker further refers a factory separation of B (1939-1945) and B2 (1945-1949). 

Rolleiflex Automat Original

Model I type 1

Model

Factory name:: K.4 Model 630

Parker: Automat 6x6 Model 1

Prochnow: Automat Model 1 (PR 070)

Phillips: Automat (1937) type 1

Serial numbers

568,516 – 610,645 (according to Prochnow, but see below)

Production dates

August 1937 - February 1938

Production: 7900

Serial no.: 599296

Date: 1937

Viewing lens: Heidoscop-Anastigmat (Optische Anstalt Saalfeld) Triplet 7.5cm 1:2.8 (no serial no.) – bayonet 28.5mm

Taking lens: Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 7.5cm 1:3.5 (serial no. 1991375) – double bayonet 1

Notes: Exposure table on back in English. Focusing knob not covered marked ‘’Made in Germany’’ (export camera)

As in most early Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords the name of the company (Franke & Heidecke) is displayed between both lenses, and ‘Compur-Rapid’ below the taking lens. The back has an exposure table in English.

On the left side, the focusing knob accomplishes all distances from 0.8m to infinity. On the opposite side there is the crank wind, and above you find the small window of the frame counter, which resets to 0.

(A-D) View of the four sides of the viewing hood in position for waiste level view. The viewing hood is similar to the earlier Rolleicords, with angle mirror for eye-level view, set by lever.

 

(E-F) The viewing hood from top, closed and opened, showing the magnifying loupe.

(G) Bottom of the camera.

 A

 B

 C

 D

 E

 F

 F

G

The whole front plate is movable by focus as in any other Rolleiflex. The lens mount encases the Compur-Rapid shutter, and speeds and apertures are operated by wheels located between both lenses. Note the grey inlays. Values are displayed in the small window on the top of the viewing lens. The viewing lens, a triplet Heidoscop-Anastigmat (7.5cm 1:2.8), has single 28.5 bayonet. The taking lens is a four-element Tessar from Carl Zeiss Jena (7.5cm 1:3.5) fitted with double bayonet 1. Apertures are within the range 3.5 to 22 in a normal scale. Note the release button without safety lock. See the seftimer button at the top. Note the cable release socket opposite to the shutter release button, only in this position in the Automat Original models.

(A) The taking chamber, and the upper uptake spool chamber.

 

(B) The lower spool chamber. Note the lever/catch mechanism, as well as the double rollers.

(C) The back is hinged and detachable. The tripod mount is 3/8-16’ fitted with conversion to 1/4-20’. Note on the inside the roller and the absence of red window.

B

 A

C

Rolleiflex Automat Original

Model I type 2

Model

Factory name:: K.4 Model 631

Parker: Automat 6x6 Model 1

Prochnow: Automat Model 2 (PR 071)

Phillips: Automat (1937) type 2

Serial numbers

610,646 – 804,999 (according to Prochnow, but see below)

Production dates

February 1938 - March 1939

Production: 12500

Serial no.: 610374

Date: 1938

Viewing lens: Heidoscop-Anastigmat (Optische Anstalt Saalfeld) Triplet 7.5cm 1:2.8 (no serial no.) – bayonet 28.5mm

Taking lens: Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 7.5cm 1:3.5 (serial no. 2084383) – double bayonet 1

Notes: Shutter release with lock to prevent accidental trigger. Exposure table on back in German (camera for domestic market). Focusing knob leather covered.

The four main views show a very similar camera to the previous model.

(A-D) View of the four sides of the viewing hood in position for waiste level view. 

 

(E-F) The viewing hood from top, closed and opened, showing the magnifying loupe.

(G) Bottom of the camera.

 A

 B

 C

 D

 E

 F

 F

G

The front plate is very similar, but here we find the only difference to the previous model: the release button with safety lock

(A) The taking chamber, and the upper uptake spool chamber.

 

(B) The lower spool chamber. 

(C) The back.

B

 A

C

Rolleiflex Automat Original

Model II type 1

Model

Factory name:: K.4 Model 632

Parker: Automat 6x6 Model 2

Prochnow: Automat Model 3 (PR 072 variant 1)

Phillips: 3.5 Automat Original (1939)

Serial numbers

805,000 –1,049,999 

Production dates

March 1939 - 1945

Production: ? (38000 with CZJ Tessar, including Model 2 type 2)

Serial no.: 873676

Date: 1939

Viewing lens: Heidoscop-Anastigmat (Optische Anstalt Saalfeld) Triplet 7.5cm 1:2.8 (no serial no.) – double bayonet 1

Taking lens: Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 7.5cm 1:3.5 (serial no. 2490008) – double bayonet 1

Notes: Exposure table on back in German (camera for domestic market). Focusing knob leather covered.

The four main views show a very similar camera to the previous models, except for the viewing lens bayonet.

(A-D) View of the four sides of the viewing hood in position for waiste level view. 

 

(E-F) The viewing hood from top, closed and opened, showing the magnifying loupe.

(G) Bottom of the camera.

 A

 B

 C

 D

 E

 F

 F

G

The front plate is very similar. Note the viewing lens with double bayonet 1. 

(A) The taking chamber, and the upper uptake spool chamber.

 

(B) The lower spool chamber. 

(C) The back. Note the smooth painting instead of the crackle paint of the previous two models.

B

 A

C

Bibliography

Claus Prochnow (1993) Rollei Report 1

Ian Parker (1993) Complete Rollei TLR: collector’s guide

Ian Parker (1996) Rollei TLR: The History

John Phillips (2010) The classic Rollei: a definitive guide

Web pages

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