Rollei Legacy

by Andrew Dodson on 15 April 2011

Club Rollei User aims to provide an insight into all things Rollei...  but for how long?  This is the question I have explored over the last couple of months and to find an answer I have delved into the 90 year history of the Rollei brand.  It seems that the desire of the founding members Franke and Heidecke (photo) to create great cameras has seen a legacy which continues to survive even when the company that made it has not.

Franke & Heidecke

Rolleiflex has not had an easy life.  When the company Franke & Heidecke was founded in the 1920's by Paul Franke and Reinhold Heidecke in Braunschweig, Germany, they could not have known about the troubled times ahead.  WWII, aggressive Asian competition, poor company direction; it is surprising that anything of this company remains.  In fact, it did go bankrupt in 2009 where it had already shrunk to a business with just over 130 employees .  Such is the dedication and following to this brand that it has raised from the ashes as a small company called DHW Fototechnik.

Will this company succeed where the other one has failed?  Firstly, it is important to understand why the Franke & Heidecke company was successful in the first place and whether the principles the founders followed have continued.

Reinhold Heidecke had a passion for creating cameras that were technically precise and cutting edge.   He was well connected with the scientific and user community to understand what challenges the end user faced and also to know what scientific improvements had been made.  He was his harshest critic and only by understanding peoples needs could he put in place products that would appeal and sell.

Paul Franke was the commercial director and ultimately the salesman to drive Rollei into the collective consciousness. He believed in it and was the first to get out there and promote it by travelling and showcasing.  After WWII, the world wide appeal of the camera is what spearheaded efforts to resume production despite the near destruction of it's factory.

So does DHW Fototechnik have this combination of technical excellence, business acumen and promotional ability to succeed?  It remains to be seen but ultimately the company is leaner and planning more effectively.  Its 50 employees are mainly from the original F&H company so bring the knowledge and daresay dedication. The brand continues to have world wide appeal and we can only hope that Hans Hartje and his core team of Rollei makers are up to the job.

Club Rollei User

Rollei SL 66 E

Where were you when this brochure was released?

So with F&H only just surviving into the 21st century, it seems appropriate to consider the longevity of Club Rollei User.  The production of the magazine is only possible through the hard work of John Wild and contributions from dedicated members.  His work in pulling together this magazine is linked solely to his passion for the subject.   It begs the question as to when it will stop or is handed over and in what guise.

It would be fair to say that the current crop of members are likely to have more grey hairs than any other colour (assuming hair is still in place) and probably remember when the glossy brochure of the new Rollei SL 66 E came out.   Although the average age of the club member is shrouded in mystery, I have heard of younger fans who are discovering the art of film photography through Rolleiflex and it's ilk.

So the next generation is out there and want to know everything there is to know about Rollei.  Are you in a position to give prospective members advice about a camera that can only be gleaned through years of photography experience?  Could you give insight into why you chose one camera over another? What is the best Rollei camera ever... period?

I am keen to explore questions like these and as Rollei fans continue to evolve, we should aim to make sure the collective knowledge of the club is not lost as our members retire.  This site aims to protect that legacy and give you, the club member, the opportunity to share your experience with more than just our members.

It seems fitting that this club should embrace new means of sharing Rollei stories... as Franke & Heidecke embraced the technology of the time to bring us the Rolleiflex SL 66 E.

What do you think the Legacy of the Club should be? Please Leave a Comment.

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