The 126 Instamatic format has never been considered as something aimed to the professional photographers nor evolved photo-amateurs and this has always been except for some rare examples that we talked about a few times ago.
The Rolleiflex SL26 is one of these examples, perhaps the most widespread, if we can talk of true diffusion for these cameras; it is in fact a system, unfortunately remained incomplete, that in addition to the body includes high quality objectives as the tradition by Rollei and Carl Zeiss and that probably should have replicated by extension and for accessories as present in reflex systems For 35mm.
The Rolleiflex SL26 appeared on the market in 1968 and was launched immediately with three Carl Zeiss lenses: a normal 40mm f/2.8, a wide-angle 32mm f/3.2 and a medium tele 80mm F/4, all of them with Tessar scheme therefore able to compensate for the sharpness problems of the 126 cassettes thanks to their great optical quality. Unfortunately what was presented at the beginning was everything and the system remained unchanged and practically ignored by the market until 1974, the year in which production ceased.
HOW IT WORKS
The Rolleiflex SL26 presents itself at first glance like a classic reflex even if you notice immediately its proportions not exactly classic: the camera is narrower than a common 35mm SLR and consequently the height, though contained, is more evident. There is the classic pentaprism as well as the lens mount in the center of the body. While handling the camera you appreciate the small size even if you notice the unusual weight for an object of this size, due to the valuable metal construction.
The back of the camera is dominated by the plastic window that allows you to see the frame counter stamped on the film protective paper. Moreover, given the ease of loading inherent in the 126 Instamatic format that allows you to eliminate all mechanisms of winding and manual rewind, could not be otherwise. After inserting the cartridge and advancing the film through the winding lever on the upper casing until the first frame number, the Rolleiflex SL26 is ready to shoot . The camera operation is really intuitive to anyone who has used a common 35mm SLR and the only thing is to get comfortable with the fact that the controls to adjust the shutter and aperture times are positioned on the front lens barrell, as occurs in all cameras equipped with leaf shutter. The shutter, leaf central type, has a speed range from 1/2 sec to 1/500 sec and includes the Bulb; with the 40mm Tessar optics, aperture range is from f/2.8 to f/22.
The standard kit lens, thanks to its Tessar scheme, allows to obtain decidedly sharp and, above all, astonishing images compared to what was normally produced on 126 film; closed by just one stop maintains uniform sharpness from edge to edge and confirms that the idea was to create an unusual quality system for the format. Focusing is easy thanks to the well defined viewfinder even if the lens focusing ring is a bit small and could create some discomfort to users with large hands. The viewfinder also contains indication from the exposure meter, consisting of a CdS cell powered by a button battery whose compartment is on the side of the camera: the exposure meter is accurate as long as you use the original battery obut, with modern batteries you may incur in some inaccuracy.
The camera has sharp edged and in prolonged use this is felt, especially if it is used without shoulder straps or bags always holding it in hand; nothing dramatic, though. The controls are really reduced to the bone and, in addition to the spedd and aperture rings on the lens barrel there are only the winding lever and the shutter button (with thread) on thetop plate. Then the opening command of the back placed on a side of the Rolleiflex SL26. This minimal commands setup is obviously reflected in an extreme ease of use, which is perfectly in line with the vocation of the 126 Instamatic format: few minutes in your hands and you are perfectly able to master the camera. Focusing as mentioned above is rapid by means of the ring nut on the lens and thanks to the viewfinder which is small but with a light slide that undoubtedly facilitates operations; familiarity with the adjusting rings of time and aperture and there is no more to learn.
The only additional operation that could happen is the replacement of the lens: this is mounted with a proprietary bayonet which is a little different from the classic ones because, once unmounted, if you look to the mount you’ll see another lens instead of the classical mirror: this solution allows to have an extreme compactness of the objectives, because an element remains fixed on the camera and therefore it streamlines the construction of the optics. Unmounting is done by rotating and simultaneously acting on the release button on the body of the lens.
Shown below, as a curiosity, images taken on a very old and poorly preserved film that despite the clear damage to the emulsion, let you guess the good quality of the optics. It still remains a particular camera with almost only collectable value given the format and, unless you are fanatics of the 126, not a tool for everyday use.
The multilingual manual, assuming that there is any need to read it, is available on the always great site of Butkus.
Easy to use
Model: Interchangeable lens reflex camera
Size: 28x28mm on 126 Instamatic film
Optics: Tessar 40mm f/2.8 (supplied as standard)
Shutter: Leaf shutter, speed from 1/2 sec to 1/500 sec, pose B
Exposure Modes: Manual
Viewfinder: Reflex with a split-image slide and light-meter indication. Approximate Coverage 100%
Flash: Flash shoe with hot contacts
Power supply: N. 1 battery type PX625 for Cds cell
Dimensions: 101 x 98 x 68 mm with Tessar 40mm
Weight: 585gr with Tessar 40mm
AVAILABILITY AND PRICES
As said the Rolleiflex SL26 was the most expensive camera built for the 126 Instamatic format and this, combined with its average rarity, makes it a non-easy-to-find model on the used market which often reaches unwarranted quotes. If you are a collector it is worth looking for auctions for the complete set that included the bag and the three optics as well as some extra accessory: every now and then something appears for sale, generally in excellent condition, and with prices from 200 to 450 EUR. For the camera and the Tessar lens prices range should be from 50 to EUR 100-120.