Rollei 6008 Professional Medium Format SLR Camera Review

Rollei 6008 Professional Medium Format SLR Camera Review

2000 1125 James Tocchio

In 1976, Rollei released the SLX, a fully electronic medium format SLR to compete with Hasselblad’s famous machines. With a built-in light meter, automatic motor advance, and shutter-priority auto-exposure, it was in many ways a far more advanced camera than the ones being produced by Rollei’s Swedish rivals. The photographic world took notice. Rollei had made another incredible camera.

In 1984 a totally new series of Rollei MF SLRs was unveiled; the 6000 series. Advancements in electronics throughout the 1980s and ‘90s meant Rollei’s newest SLRs could be smarter, more durable, and more feature-dense than any medium format SLR that came before them. For the next thirty years the brand would continue to push the range forward, resulting in some of the best medium format SLRs in the world.

But even though the 6000 series cameras were worthy of special attention, they never seemed to achieve the popularity of those by Hasselblad. That’s a shame, so let’s rectify it. With incredible build quality and unmatched optics from some of the world’s best lens makers, the 6000 series should be on any true photo geek’s list of covetous cameras. And of the many 6000 series cameras, the one’s to own may be the ones marked 6008.

The 6008 Professional, 6008 Professional SRC 1000, and 6008 Integral all pack the greatest combination of features, highest modularity, and best build quality of any camera in the 6000 series. While other cameras in the lineup forego certain features (the 6003 loses its interchangeable backs and the 6001 lacks a light meter, for example) the 6008 models do everything (and often much more) than any shooter could ask of a camera. There’s even the intelligently named 6008 AF, for those who want to own the world’s first autofocus 6 x 6 camera.

But what’s so special about a 6008? A lot, actually. For that, let’s dive deeper.

To start with the very basics, all of these cameras are SLR cameras, which may come as a surprise to those not neck-deep in camera culture. Tell even experienced photo geeks that Rollei made medium format SLRs and you’ll more often than not be telling them something they don’t know. The brand has been so closely associated with its classic Rolleiflex TLRs, the iconic cameras with two lenses stacked vertically on the front of the machine, that plenty of shooters fail to realize that they ever made anything else. But they did. What this means, practically speaking, is that the 6008s feature all the benefits of a single lens reflex design – interchangeable film backs, interchangeable lenses, precise framing, intense macro capability, choice of viewfinder types, and more.

Beyond this inherently practical functionality, the 6008s are also stunning in their quality. These are among the most robust cameras I’ve ever laid hands on. They’re dense and solid, with metal everywhere and rubberized coatings to protect vulnerable edges. When considering the Hasselblad and the 6008 side by side, the Rolleis flounce the Hassy. The German camera’s build quality is from the “dense as a stone” school while the Hasselblad (a stunningly built camera in its own right) feels more like a hard cheese.

But what really places the Rollei 6008 into the upper class of medium format SLRs are two simple things – an unmatched spec sheet, and world-class lenses. Let’s start with the specs.

This camera’s feature list reads more like a professional, Japanese 35mm SLR, with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a machine in that segment. And if you’ve shot the usual medium format cameras (TLRs, those basic rangefinder oafs, Mamiyas) prepare for a quantum leap. The 6008’s got multiple metering modes including average, spot, and multi-spot; multiple auto-exposure modes including shutter-priority, aperture-priority, full program, and full manual; an advanced LED display; shutter speeds from 1/500th or 1/1000th of a second down to 30 seconds in 1/3 steps; exposure compensation, depth-of-field preview, mirror lock-up, flash sync at every shutter speed, auto film transport, multiple exposure shooting, AE lock, and so much more. That’s an incredible list. And it’s not even the entire list.

Its lenses come from Rollei, Zeiss, or Schneider, three optical powerhouses whose reputations precede them. Most in-the-know shooters will recognize these names as some of the best in the world of lens-making, and the simple eye test confirms this. Images made with these lenses and a 6008 are simply among the highest quality you’ll find in a medium format film camera. Resolving power, flare and ghost control, contrast and color, were all world-class at the time of their release, and even today they’re incredible performers with real individuality and character.

And there’s no shortage of lenses to choose from. Each contains an electronically controlled leaf shutter and diaphragm, which allows for flash sync at all shutter speeds. There are lenses from Zeiss to span from 40mm to 500mm, and a handful of excellent offerings from Schneider. Macro lenses, teleconverters, and shift lenses add to the versatility, and there are even zoom lenses, something a bit unusual in the medium format world. Fast glass is available, though expect to pay a premium.

All this said, we know we’re dealing with a pinnacle camera. That’s obvious. But what’s not obvious (without spending some time with the camera) is the sheer potency of the Rollei 6008. This is a truly masterful photographic tool, which comes from a combination of intelligent design choices and surprisingly excellent ergonomics.

The 6008 features a detachable hand grip. Which sounds pretty underwhelming on paper. I mean, how exceptional can a hand grip be? But it really does make a world of difference. Where Hasselblad and TLR machines are a bit clumsy in operation, and frankly impossible to securely manage with one hand, the 6008’s handgrip creates a handling methodology that’s secure and sublime. It plugs into the shutter speed selector via a spring-loaded quick-disconnect, and pivots into four secure detents to allow comfortable positioning of the camera at different angles. An anodized release button positioned under the thumb allows incredibly quick adjustment, and a securing strap wraps around the operators knuckles to allow the camera to hang comfortably when not firmly gripped.

When using the handgrip, all of the most important controls fall perfectly under finger and thumb. There’s the on/off switch, which also selects shooting modes (single, continuous, and bracketing mode), the AE lock, shutter speed selector, depth-of-field preview, display on/off switch, and the shutter release. Compared to other medium format SLRs, this functionally effortless design is incredible. Without moving our hand position one bit, we’re able to control nearly everything we need to control to create an image. Our second hand is free to focus and set aperture on the lens.

The metering system is extremely accurate, factoring stray light through the viewfinder, offering choice of spot and average metering systems, and calculating through-the-lens, off-the-film exposures for perfect shots in any light. Set the shutter speed and aperture ring both to “A” and we’re effectively holding an incredibly capable medium format point-and-shoot camera. Of course, those who prefer aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or full manual are all equally well-served.

The ability to mix and match lenses, viewfinder, film (and even digital) backs makes this modular system camera a camera for every shooter. It’s equally capable of portrait sessions in a studio and landscape shooting in the field. Unlike the Hasselblad, which despite its quality has never had a reputation for durability, the Rollei can be lugged up a mountain or tossed on the back seat of a beach cruiser (I’ve done it). It’s no Nikonos, you’ll want to avoid water and serious drops, but the Rollei handles rough work better than most medium format cameras.

What else is there to say? This is one of those rare cameras in which I’ve been unable to find serious fault. It’s just a fantastic camera.

But despite all this glowing praise, there will be people for whom this camera won’t work. For one, it’s electronic. It uses batteries, and if the batteries aren’t charged the camera won’t work. This, for some photo geeks, is a non-starter. The simple solution? Buy a second battery and keep your batteries charged. For those worried about battery life, put those fears to rest – I shot this camera intermittently for sixteen months and never had to recharge the battery once.

And for still more, this camera will simply be too large and heavy. Hasselblads are lighter, even if they’re clumsier in the hand, and for some shooters lightness is a big deal. And TLRs, despite all their drawbacks in usability and versatility, are smaller and lighter still. If ultimate portability is a chief concern, think twice about buying a Rollei 6000 series machine. For shooters who want to expose medium format negatives in a travel size camera, there may be better cameras.

And I suppose there are folk who just can’t get behind the square format image. Although Instagram has helped repopularize this somewhat uncommon aspect ratio, the 6 x 6 frame is not for everyone. It’s also pretty outrageously loud, so street shooters of the timid variety may not take to it, even if I used it on the streets of New York City and Boston without much suffering. Oh, and it’s expensive. No escaping that.

But even if we focus on these small detractions, they’re soon forgotten. Shooting the Rollei 6008 is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience photography. The methodology of its design, the unsurpassed quality of its build, and the beauty of the images it makes would be rare individual traits. To find them all married together in one masterful machine is something really special.

And let’s not overlook the incredible fact that this camera with a couple of lenses would have sold, when new, for more than $10,000. Buyers today can grab a kit for under a grand. And though that is far less money than it used to sell for, the camera is no less amazing today than it was back then. For shooters searching for the very best medium format SLR, this is one camera that should be on the list.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Thanks for the excellent review of a remarkable camera system. I use 6003 and 6008 (integral and AF) cameras and love them for all the reasons you described.

  • Well done!
    It is good to see that the excellence of these tools from Rollei is still recognised.
    I use a 6008AF with a couple of lenses from time to time and can confirm that it is an amazing photograhic experience.
    I would not like to miss it 😉

  • I would love one, but they’re so rare to find

  • Awesome camera and in so many ways superior to Hasselblad. Too bad they never caught on with Commercial Photographers. When they were new, the gear was extremely expensive and since very few camera rental companies supported the system, a photographer wasn’t able to count on renting a backup should your camera have a mechanical failure. Same thing happened to the Hy6 system, incredible gear, but overpriced and not even one camera available as a rental backup in major cities to cover yourself in the event of mechanical failure.

  • So cool. And thanks for posting pics that you can enlarge to see them in their glory.
    What film did u use? Almost looks like Ektar.

  • I remember the Rollei SLX when it was introduced. It was a 35mm camera with interchangeable film backs. It looked like a medium format camera and had built-in waist-level and eye-level viewfinders. I remember a conversation with Wolfgang Sass who told me that Rollei had developed it in response to requests from professional photographers who felt that 35mm film was sufficiently well advanced to be used as an alternative to 120 roll film, but they wanted cameras that looked more ‘professional ‘ and had the same kind of features as medium format SLRs. The technology was very advanced with he use of liner electric motors to drive the aperture and shutter control functions.

  • Some Rollei with some contax (G and S2) and Bessaflex TM are among the cameras I have been drawn by their design… they are so sexy to see, and the photos with the Rollei are quite perfect, but I would be among those users that could not bare the camera to take it everywhere.

  • Thomas J. Schitteck June 14, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    Wow, an excellent script about an excellent (my favorite!) camera! Till now i use a SLX and be happy with it, but if i’m able to find a 6008…

  • Thank you so much for writing this! There’s so little material about the 6008 series online. Stumbled across your interview on the analogtalk podcast and immediately checked out your site. I’ll get a 6008 AF this year, already started financing it. Had to sell a lot of stuff, but this camera is something else. Several times i thought about using the money for a more sensible camera (like in digital with video capabilities), but for that i got a Canon M50, which really is good enough for all the family/holiday shooting and Instagram… The Rolleiflex on the other hand is something i really want to invest in, as i think it’s an all time great – even if not as recognized as many others. Can’t wait to shoot with it. My favourite pictures i made with my Rolleiflex 3.5F TLR, and i hope the 6008 will be a worthy successor.

  • I’m looking for a medium format camera I can keep and enjoy year after year. I keep on discounting this camera because it’s electronic and difficult to repair/get spare parts for. It just feels like a risk – a lot of money but probably not a good long term investment in the way that a 2.8F might be. Then I read your review and I’m pulled right back in. What are your thoughts on the long term reliability of electronic camera?

  • maciejgruszeckicomgmailcom November 18, 2020 at 3:52 am

    The battery problem you mention is actually a massive issue and was the reason I got rid of it.

    I used to own the top 6008i2. It was the best camera I have ever owned for what I need one for (and I owned over 20 of them, I think). There were two reasons I sold it: the cost of lenses and and mainly the battery. I used to have I think 6 batteries and three chargers. And neither of them really worked. There were often times when I was out hiking and the all the batteries died after a few shots, or that they were empty despite of charging the day before. It was frustrating not to be able to trust the camera. All the batteries I bought were obvously used so did not keep their charge, and I thiught this will always be the case, since they will all be 20+ years old which for a battery is a few lifetimes. I miss the Rollei so much and i want to go back to it but will it work? Is there any way around the battery problem? And these are the proprietary battery packs, you cannot buy them new.

    • Thomas J. Schitteck November 18, 2020 at 9:40 am

      It’s no problem to refresh the batterycells inside! I had made it for my SLX 2 times in the last 20 years. 38 Euro per Battery and it will work like new. If I can help you, contact me.

      • Yep … for my 6008AF I changed from NiCd cells to NiMH cells with a new charger included. Works flawless.The oly thing you need is the old/used cartridge, as you cannot buy them new.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio