The Rollei start-up
In 1920, Reinhold Heidecke and Paul Franke founded "Franke und Heidecke Werkstatt für Feinmechanik und Optik" (F & H Workshop for fine mechanics and optics) in Braunschweig, Germany. Short version of the company name: "Franke & Heidecke".
The very first cameras: Heidoskop & Rolleidoscop
The company rapidly became very successful with their very first product, a stereo camera named "Heidoscop", later followed by the "Rolleidoskop".
Birth of a legend: "Rolleiflex"
In 1928, the first medium format roll film camera was presented: the Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex camera. This camera was the cornerstone that lifted the company to it's present international fame and glory. In the course of following years, the company constantly improved the line of Rolleiflex and Rolleicord Twin Lens Reflex cameras.
In 1960 Dr. Heidecke passed away.
The name of the company was changed to "Rollei Werke Franke & Heidecke" in 1962, and the development of a medium format SLR was slowly revived. In 1964, Dr. Heinrich Peesel, the company's new general manager, was decided to have the new camera ready for the important 1966 Photokina fair in Cologne. The Rollei developers team headed by engineers Richard Weiss and Claus Prochnow worked on the project.
First single lens 6x6 camera: the SL66
They conceived a camera based on the construction elements of a studio camera, with the focusing rail on the left side. This was done so photographers accustomed to Rollei Twin Lens Reflex cameras would feel comfortable to find all operating elements in the same places: focusing on the left side, film advance and shutter release on the right side. Weiss and Prochnow had the camera ready, in time for the 1966 Photokina photographic fair in Cologne. Hence the name of the camera, SL66 for 1966 and 6x6, the size of the negatives.
At the time, development of the camera had cost Rollei about 3.5 million German Marks, which, at today's value, would be more than $ 10 million. A very large amount of money for a small company like Rollei this is, and shows how dedicated Rollei was to this new 'super Rolleiflex'.
The SL 66 consists of almost 1,000 single parts, all metal with the exception of only about 10 plastic parts (apart from the leatherette covers).
The legendary Rollei 35
At the same time, Rollei introduced the legendary "Rollei 35" camera, which was successfully sold in millions of pieces around the world and which still holds a cult status.
In the 1970s, Rollei expanded into Singapore and started a very successful parallel production of 35mm cameras and lenses, 35mm slide projectors and amateur flash equipment in Singapore. Millions of projectors and cameras were produced in Singapore in following years. The total number of employees at the time was 1,964 in Germany & 5,696 in Singapore, all together 7,660 combined.
A unique camera with new features: SLX to 6000 system
After the introduction of the successful SL66, Rollei had started developing a sister model with different features. The engineers and the marketing department agreed, that there would be a larger demand for an electronically controlled, motorized medium format cameras with a leaf shutter lens construction.
In 1970 already, Rollei engineers had developed a linear driven motor to operate the lens shutter and diaphragm lenses, eventually resulting in the fastest and most accurate medium format shutter and aperture system with shutter times as short as 1/1000 second.
The revolutionary SLX was presented in 1973, and in later years, this camera system evolved into the Rollei 6000 system, which is still in production today.
The setup for production in Singapore eventually turned out to be too grand and because the world market could not absorb all the products produced, in order to sell their prices fell sharply and the dwindling revenues resulted in the disastrous bankruptcy of Rollei in 1981. With the help of private investors, the company resumed its development and production with a far smaller range of items with a new name: "Rollei Fototechnik" in 1982.
The new Rollei Fototechnik
Following the resurrection, Rollei Fototechnik concentrated on the development and production of expensive, high tech professional cameras in Germany. The product range was mainly focused on 6x6 cameras: TLR, SL66 and SLX cameras, and a small line of exclusive SL3000 series for 35mm film.
Rollei Fototechnik also introduced a line of binoculars and refined two lines of dissolve and 6x6 slide projectors. The SLX camera line was continuously improved and resulted in the latest high tech medium format Rollei 6008 AF, the worlds first full size 6x6 auto focus camera.
After having been taken over by Schneider Kreuznach in 1987, Rollei Fototechnik changes hands to become property of Samsung, South Korea in the 1990s.
Samsung sold the company back to the management after a short period of co-operation.
The plunge into digital consumer land
In 2002, Rollei Fototechnik was taken over by a group of Scandinavian investors with the purpose of injecting a considerable amount of funds and technology to direct Rollei Fototechnik more towards the consumer market. New digital consumer cameras are being released, instead of focusing on expensive niche products.
Employee take over
In 2005 2006 the professional Rolleicameras are now under direct management of Franke & Heidecke ( again ) . Some top employees of the ailing Rollei Fototechnic in Braunschweig took the inititive to run the company under a new management , scaled down but young of heart they are heading for a new future , wth the Hy6 hybrid film/digital camera as the new flagship.