Rollei made the classic TLR (twin lens reflex) cameras of the 50s and 60s, the 'cord being the budget sibling on the 'flex. Both boast the excellent build quality synonymous with the German manufacturers of the era and budget is perhaps a word that may give the wrong impression. There are some compromises with the 'Cord, such as having a knob to wind on the film rather than a lever and then having to manually cock the shutter rather than this being part of a wind on lever's operation. I also understand the lens to be different, mine Rolleicord has a 75mm f3.5 tessar-type Xenar lens, and if the internet is to be believed this is inferior to the lens on the Rolleiflex, although mainly visible wide open.
So why did I want one? Shooting 6x6 medium format has established itself as my favoured format over the last few years and I wanted something less bulky than my Bronica SQ to take on trips where I cannot justify the bulk of the Bronica. Another feature I was looking for was a fully mechanical camera that had a bulb mode as this was something lacking on the SQ and I want to be able to try some exposures of several minutes. So a TLR fit the bill nicely, and given that the Yashicamat 124G did not pan out for me previously, I decided to stick with the classic Rollei brand.
I must admit I was baffled when first trying to use the camera - I could not work out how to fire the shutter! On the Yashica the wind on lever cocked the shutter so that it could be fired with the shutter release button. The Rolleicord has a knob rather than a lever and no obvious (to me at least) shutter release button. So admitting defeat I found the manual online and realised my oversight - there is a lever just below the lens that you need to slide to cock the shutter and then tap the other way to fire the shutter. The ergonomics of this operation could be better in my opinion, flicking a lever feels quite weird to me rather than using a button when handheld, although most of the time I ended up using a tripod and shutter release so this wasn't a big deal.
The focus knob has good travel and loading the film is easy so no issues there. Using filters was a necessary feature for me and as it doesn't use standard thread mounted filters I had to also consult the manual to find out it uses Bay I mount filters. Whilst you can get old original Rollei ones off eBay you can also get some new ones from B&H it turns out. For $15 I got a red filter made in India by a company called Nisha although I didn't end up using it. Instead I managed to find an adapter for Bay 1 to 52mm thread meaning that I could use my full set of ND and coloured filters. What's really great about a TLR over an SLR for using filters is that they only cover the taking lens and you can frame normally without the filter as the viewing lens has none. This is especially useful for a strong ND like a 10 stop filter which is such a pain on an SLR to screw on and off between shots. One downside of this camera though is the dim focusing screen, which is far worse than the Bronica SQ.
Before heading to the US on a family vacation I thought it would be prudent to check the cameras actually worked so I headed to my local park to get through a roll. I developed it myself and the photos came out reasonably well exposed (so as not to suggest shutter timing issues) and in focus (suggesting the viewing and taking lenses are in alignment, something I'm pretty sure was not the case for the Yashicamat). So confident it was working I ran 2 rolls of TMax 100 and 1 of Ektar with many long exposures on the former. Unfortunately I did not check the shutter speeds less than 1/60s and just as I was finishing my first roll I realised that the shutter had not closed on a 1/2s exposure whilst I was framing up for the next shot. Thats the downside of a leaf shutter I suppose, you can't hear it open and close to notice normal operation. So I reverted to using only bulb mode for some long (20s - 2min) exposures. Note to self: carry some cards with reciprocity failure corrections with you! I must admit forgetting to write these down and then realising your on a beach with no phone signal is annoying, although my best guesses did at least end up with some usable frames.
In conclusion this is a really fun camera to use and I'm glad to get a decent copy unlike my previous Yashicamat TLR where the lens misalignment led to focus woes that drove me mad. I will invest in a CLA I think because this is a camera I'll probably keep on to for many years to come. The form factor to shoot 6x6 medium format is great and such a nice change from the heft of the Bronica. Although it only has the option of the built in 75mm lens available it is somewhat liberating and restrictive. Liberating in that one can focus on getting the best angle with what you have availabe but restrictive that there are just shots you won't be able to get with this camera. Its telling that my most used lenses on the Bronica SQ are typically the wide 50mm and telephoto 150mm and 250mm and there were shots I would've liked to capture that I couldn't really with a fixed 75mm. Although my suitcase appreciated the reduced weight.