By Nuno Pinheiro
In the 1960s Rollei was losing ground to Hasselblad in the professional market. The popular Rolleiflex TLR, produced from the late 1920’s and one of the most copied camera sever, was also looking outdated in an amateur market where the SLR´s reign was beginning.
Rollei´s answers were a 35mm SLR, an amateur compact camera and the SL66. The last of these was a 6 x 6 120-format SLR. After this, Rollei also built an electronic medium format system with the SLX, 6001, 6003, 6006, 6008 and Hy6 (all of which had no compatibility with the SL66).
The SL66 was a mechanical camera, inspired by the Hasselblad. Like the Swedish rival it was a cube with interchangeable lens, backs and finders, however, there was a major difference, the SL66 has a focal plane shutter.
While it had a limited 1/30 flash synchronization, this allowed for a different concept. Its’ lenses were simple with no shutter or focusing mechanism, as both of those are located in camera body. Focusing is made by means of an internal bellows which allows for close focus (1/1 with an 80 mm lens).
The range of lenses was similar to Hasselblads, mostly Zeiss-made (later they were Rollei-made, Rollei having bought the factory from Zeiss). The available lenses ranged from 30mm to 1000 mm. There is an ongoing dispute about relative performance of Rollei/Zeiss vs Hasselblad/Zeiss, but in real life I don’t believe anyone can see the difference.
The camera was big and heavy, but very good for close focus use. The close-focus ability was enhanced by the possibility of reverse mounting the lenses, and tilt, useful to adjust the focus plane in close-up photography using the Scheimpflug principle.
For me it is the ideal medium format camera, I do a lot of close-up photography, and with the normal 80mm lens, I can go to a 1/1 reproduction ratio, without accessories. I have the Macro lens, the S-Planar 120/5.6 (a wonderful lens), but I end up using mostly the 80mm Planar for most of my work.
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I’ve managed to build up a system at a slow pace, this camera was very expensive when released (and newer SL66 E, X, SE and SE edition are even more expensive), and still is today, and the lenses and accessories are also not cheap or easy to come by.
The usual kit is a 50, 80 and 150mm lens, and I have also added 40, 120 macro and 250mm lenses on top of that. For close-up, I use sometimes the magnifier finder, in field work I could use a prism. Latter models may have built in TTL metering, but I am happy just using a handheld meter.
Lugging it around is good exercise, a small system can end up weighing a ton, so it does better to mount on a tripod. The mirror and shutter bounce are strong, but there is a mirror lock-up.
The camera is very easy to operate, focus is made in the camera body with the right hand, and it travels very smoothly to a real close up; the left hand you use to change the shutter speed and to wind the film.
On the lens, the single control is for the aperture. After 12 shots, just change magazine or unload the film. Of course, there are Polaroid and sheet film backs if you want to use those aswell.
Expensive and heavy but with superb handling and image quality, the SL66 is definitely worth a try. My guess is you will want to keep it forever.
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