Let me begin by saying that Rolleicord V is a fabulous camera. If you're considering getting it - get it. I thought I would start with this to spread the Rolleicord love with more force.
Rolleicord V is a TLR camera that takes 120 roll film and shoots 6x6 ( square format ) photos. And it's lovely! It has a fixed Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 75mm f3.5 lens. Which is also lovely! Version V ( also known as 5 ) was produced between 1933 and 1977. There are other versions of Rolleicord produced in roughly the same period as well. They are all quite similar with some differences like: lenses; shutters; features like user-exchangeable focussing screens. The last version in the Rolleicord line was Rolleicord Vb Model 2. The naming scheme and feature tracking can get confusing.
I have version V. It follows version IV and adds things like self-timer and a control to set the ISO of the loaded film. It doesn't have a light meter so it's there to remember what ISO film is in the camera. Version after V is Va. This version gains ... a focussing knob that is on the left side of the camera instead of the right like it is on V. The crickets go wild!
Rolleicord itself is a cheaper version of Rolleiflex. There are no f2.8 lenses on any Rolleicords but it also doesn't have a price tag fit for a car. You can get a Rolleicord for $250 - $300. There are more expensive versions ( and also cheaper ones ) but a good quality version can be had in that price range. There are some Rolleiflex cameras in that price range as well but they are like Rolleicord cameras from a technical perspective. I thought that it makes more sense to get a newer Rolleicord than an older Rolleiflex.
Even though I don't like SLR cameras that much - I enjoy using TLR cameras. I'm not sure why but the huge focusing screen and waist level viewing might have something to do with it. Rolleicord is not my first TLR camera. I also have a Mamiya C220. On paper it may seem like a better camera: swappable lenses; better focussing screen. My emotions have other thoughts.
I bought my copy not too long ago and I have already shot a bucket-load of rolls through it. And I don't plan to stop. When a roll is finished I want to load the next one straight away. That is good for photography output but not so good for my 120 roll film collection.
My copy comes from Sweden and is in a great visual condition. Optics are are also great. And mechanically it's good with a potential issue that I will mention later. It came with a leather case but I despise leather cases so the first thing was to throw it in the leather case pile. My copy also doesn't have any serial numbers anywhere. I don't know what that means. It could be a Lubitel disguised as a Rolleicord.
It's a beautiful camera. It looks like a small, black box and is very cute. It's black with some chrome parts. Black is the right color for a camera ( and pretty much all things in life ). It's a joy to look at. The C220 is not an ugly camera but it's definitely not as good looking as Rolleicord. I can't say why exactly but if you put them side by side then the winner is clear.
Visual appearance might not matter to some but for me it definitely has a role. My eyes will want to look at cameras that I find more aesthetically pleasing. When I look at them more I want to shoot them more. And, as I have said that many times in the past - wanting to shoot something more is a good thing.
My first thought when picking the Rolleicord up was "Wow, that's a light camera". And it is a super light camera. It doesn't look like it will be as light before picking it up. More often than not light cameras can feel flimsy and generally not great. Rolleicord is different. It feels fantastic and generally amazing!
Before buying this camera I wasn't sure if I would like the build quality. Rolleiflex is well regarded as a well built camera that feels great. Consensus on Rolleicord wasn't as clear. It is a budget version of Rolleiflex after all. This is why I had a hard time choosing between an older Rolleiflex or newer Rolleicord. After doing some superhuman-level-high-IQ research I decided that a newer camera will be better and I'm glad that I did. Well, I haven't used a Rolleiflex and maybe it makes Rolleicord into a garbage box in comparison but so far I'm well pleased.
All the knobs are solid and satisfying to turn. Levers and switches are easy to control and they click into their positions with a heavenly feel. Viewfinder can be opened and closed with very little force whilst keeping its position without error. Pure joy.
The process of opening the back of the camera to load / unload the film is especially nice. You turn a control that extends a piece which allows you to then flick it up which releases the back of the camera. It probably reads weird but trust me that you will want to load and unload film all the time.
The only place where the feel could be improved are the aperture and shutter controls. They are clicky and turn with the right resistance but they rattle too much for my liking. When you rattle the control lever it also moves the control readings which looks cheap.
Ease Of Use
A camera can be built with utmost precision and feel solid but it doesn't mean that it's also easy to use. Luckily after shooting many rolls I can say that it indeed is easy to use. I would not have said that after the first two or so rolls.
It takes some time to get used to the shutter cocking and releasing leaver. It can seem weird and not placed well when starting to use the camera. The control is located at the bottom of the taking lens. You first cock the shutter by turning the control clockwise. The control will then jump back to its initial position. To release the shutter you turn it anti-clockwise. It's this action that felt not right in the beginning. After getting used to it - it feels right. With more use your left hand starts to hold the camera from the bottom. It gives great flexibility in moving the camera to frame your subject. When holding this way the index finger sits near the shutter lever and can release it without problem. I'm not sure how I held the camera in the beginning but I suspect it wasn't like this.
Focussing is done with a wheel on the right side of the camera. To go from infinity to 0.9 meters ( closest focussing distance ) it takes almost a 360 degree turn. It may seem quite a lot but in practice the distance is perfect for the size of the control. Resistance is also spot on and is a joy to turn.
Rolleicord doesn't have the lever arm based film advance. Instead it's a knob you turn which is less "prestige". It feels right in use and stops when the film has been advanced the right distance which is helpful. It stops with a satisfying click. Sadly my copy appears to have an issue with this automation. The advancing knob should release its lock after the shutter has been fired. In my case that doesn't always happen. When it doesn't happen I have to release the shutter a few more times ( with hand over the lens to not take multiple exposures ) and apply strong pressure to the shutter lever and it will usually release the lock. It often comes hand-in-hand with frame spacing issues. Gap can be too big or frames might overlap. It's annoying and it will be something I need to look into. Luckily it doesn't happen too often ... yet. I thought it could be something to do with Lomography Color Negative films. They can sometimes cause issues in some cameras. But it's not the case as I've had the same issue happen with Ilford HP5+.
Exposure and aperture settings are changed with two levers on both sides of the lens. They are easy to use when looking down at the camera - the way it's intended to be held. You can also read the settings from that position. One thing that I'm not sure I like is the way how exposure and aperture settings lock together. Aperture can be changed independently but shutter control will also change the aperture. The settings will be EV locked meaning that if you have f11 at 1/30s and change shutter speed to 1/60s then aperture will automatically change to f8. Light intake will be the same in both settings assuming the same lighting conditions. It can seem useful. And it is useful if your light doesn't change much. If the light changes then you have to get in the habit of setting exposure first and then the aperture which is not what I'm used to.
You can also set the aperture in third stops. That can be useful but it's a bit difficult to tell where exactly the setting sits as there are no markings between the full stops.
I've already written about how satisfying it is to open the back door to load the film. What I didn't mention was that you can easily remove the whole door for an even easier access to everything. This is also what I do when loading film - I remove the back door completely.
All in all the camera is nice and easy to use and it makes you want to use it more and more. All the controls are laid out in good manner and feel good in use. There are a few niggles but they don't take away from the experience of using this camera.
One of the things that worried me about this camera was that the viewfinder is described as dim and hard to use. After using it I can say that I don't agree.
Is the viewfinder as bright as the Mamiya C220 viewfinder? No, but to me it doesn't make it harder to use. It's easier for me to tell what's in focus on Rolleicord than it is on Mamiya. I don't know why as it seems counterintuitive but that's how it is. I have misfocused two, maybe three photos on Rolleicord. On Mamiya it's way more.
The screen is also parallax corrected so you won't chop important bits out of the photo by accident. C220 only has guides for parallax correction. Rolleicord will move the actual visible area.
Viewfinder door is easy and satisfying to open and close. Magnifier is also easy to pull out and use for critical focus. There is a "sports finder" mode where you, in essence, look through a hole. You can't focus and framing is approximate but you don't have to deal with the inverted movement from the projected viewfinder. I haven't found a use for "sports finder".
There are aftermarket focussing screens available for Rolleicord cameras that can make the viewfinder brighter. I may try one someday but for now there is no burning need for it.
Yes, the viewfinder isn't as bright as on some other TLR cameras but in use it doesn't create any problems for me.
Image quality was another thing I was worried about. You can read a lot about how f3.5 is slow. About how the Xenar lens is good closed down but opened up sucks. How it renders well in black and white but colors are awful. Once again after actually using the camera I have found all these issues to be no issue at all.
The viewing lens is a Heidosmat 75mm f3.2 lens. It's a tiny bit brighter than the f3.5 taking lens. Heidosmat works well as a viewing lens and I would actually like to try it for photo taking. It seems to have a nice swirl to it that the taking lens doesn't have to that extreme.
The taking lens used is a Xenar 75mm f3.5. It's a Tessar design lens. It's not a fancy f2.8 Planar that the more expensive Rolleiflex cameras yield but it definitely isn't some slacker that draws ugly images.
Sharpness & Detail
Starting from around f8 the lens is a razor sharp monster lord. Across the whole frame. The detail crammed inside the 6x6 frame is insane. When scanning I seem to extract sharper images from Rolleicord than from C220. I'm not sure why that would be as Mamiya lenses are also good. But using the same scanner and software the Rolleicord images come out sharper and more detailed.
Wide open, some of that "sharpness edge" definitely gets dulled off. But I still wouldn't call it soft. Corners do get some smudging and resolution also drops but for situations where you will use wide apertures it works well. When shooting square format the main subject tends to be framed in the center. Center remains plenty sharp even wide open.
The lens definitely shines brighter when closed down but wide open photos have their own charm and can be used with little issues.
It's a medium contrast lens and there is not much more to say. Wide open has a smidgen less contrast but still not something that can be classified as low contrast.
The lens also handles flare very well. There is a slight loss of contrast around the super bright object ( also known as sun ) but it's not distracting. You can also get hoods for the lens but I don't have one.
Bokeh & Subject Separation
f3.5 won't obliterate backgrounds but it can still do plenty of destruction. It will blur the background just enough to be able to tell what's there. For most photos that's actually what you would want.
The bokeh is smooth and neutral. There is no crazy character so it may seem bland. You can get a slight swirl near the corners but it's small. It's definitely not characterful bokeh.
Subject "pop" is also limited. You get the typical medium format "pop" but not much else. Mamiya 80mm f2.8 TLR lens "pops" the subject out better and with a more interesting character.
Shades & Tones & Colors
Some people seem to think that this lens doesn't render colors in a pleasing manner. Hard disagree. All the color photos have come out splendid. I have no complaints at all. The representation is true to life with no cold or warm shifts. I've also not seen many aberrations or fringing. I see zero issues with shooting color film using this lens. At least color negative film as I've not run a slide film through it yet.
If anything I prefer color shots over black and white ones using this camera / lens. Black and white photos are good but require a bit of a contrast boost to make them more pleasing to me.
Rolleicord is a fabulous camera. I enjoy using it more with every film that I shoot through it. The fact that it's so small also makes it easier for me to use it more often as I can fit it in a small bag. The light weight also allows me to carry it around my body all day. I like Mamiya C220 but it's definitely more of a hassle to bring with you.
There is only one slight negative that is also a positive at the same time. It's the lens rendering. It lacks character and may seem boring. But that is also a benefit as you won't rely on the character crutches to bring life to otherwise boring photos. I like characterful lenses as much as the next person but I have to say that I enjoy this neutral and boring rendering. It makes the content of the photo more impactful. It's might not be the best classic portrait lens / camera, but for environmental portraits it still performs great. It sets the focus on the person not on the lens character. Also the detail you can get when closed down is addicting.
Rolleicord is a fantastic TLR camera that every TLR lover should have. Don't let the bad comments about this camera sway your desire to get it. I almost didn't buy it and it would've been a great loss knowing what I know today.