A year or two back I was given a box of old cameras, four in total. These included a Voigtlander Vito B. a couple of Soviet-era rangefinders, and a Lipca Rollop TLR.

I tested the Vito B with a roll of film not long after receiving it, but not a single shot was even close to being in focus, and I suspect someone had attempted to repair it at some point but then not correctly aligned the zone-focus lens when putting it back together. Both the rangefinders had aperture rings that were locked solid, so I passed those on to people who might hopefully be able to repair them and make use of the cameras.

The Lipca though, while a little dirty, looked ok — the only issue that stood out was some rotted light-seals in the film chamber — so I decided to hold onto it and give it a test. In the end, it remained in a drawer for the best part of two years until, a couple of weeks ago, when I finally decided to try it out. But before I go into detail on that, here’s a little pen portrait of the camera…

According to Camera-Wiki.org, the Lipca company (short for Lippische Camerafabrik Richter & Fischer) was formed in Bartrup, West Germany, in 1947. The owners, Fritz and Charlotte Richter, and Karl Fischer had moved some of their equipment and employees from Tharandt, near Dresden, which was in the Soviet zone, as they feared the factory would be expropriated. The new company was fully founded the following year.

The company was a small organisation with around 50 employees working in a close-knit family atmosphere. Their peak output was around 1,000 cameras per month.

They produced a number of TLR models, starting with the Flexo in 1948. This was to be re-named the Flexora following a trademark dispute with Franke & Heidecke. There were three variants of the Flexora before a new camera, the Rollop, was introduced – this model using an injection molded aluminium body rather than the sheet metal of the earlier cameras. Three versions were produced between 1954 and 1962. The main difference between models was probably the film transport which started as a knob winder on the Rollop I. A crank winder was introduced on the Rollop II, and this crank was upgraded to also cock the shutter on the Rollop Automatic, the final variant. The Rollop Automatic also featured an Enna Lithagon taking lens, replacing the Enna Ennagon on the previous versions.

When the demand for TLR cameras fell into decline in the early 60s, Lipca tried to gain a foothold on the emerging 35mm market by selling re-branded cameras from King, and Franka. Lipca also manufactured other equipment such as binoculars,slide-viewers, and they carried out some production work in conjunction with Plaubel. After a move to a new site in Bad Nauheim in 1961, all camera production ceased in 1962, and the Lipca name was dissolved in 1972.

The model I have is the Rollop II, a Twin Lens Reflex camera with a 75mm f/3.5 Enna Ennagon taking lens (replicated in the viewing lens). Both lenses have a filter thread. Shutter speeds range from 1 sec to 1/300 sec with a bulb setting for long exposures. Apertures cover f/3.5 through to f/22. Shutter speed is selected by rotating a toothed wheel mounted around the taking lens, aligning the required speed with a red arrow at the 12 o’clock position on the lens barrel. Aperture is chosen with a lever that rotates around the lower right section of the lens barrel, this needs to be pulled out slightly to change the setting as it latches into the teeth on the shutter speed dial. This latching mechanism means the camera has a simple but effective shutter-priority function. For instance, if the shutter speed is set to 1/125 sec and the aperture to f/8, then rotating the shutter speed to 1/300 sec will simultaneously change the aperture to f/5.6. Changing shutter speed to 1/60 sec would change the aperture to f/11 and so on. The aperture can still be manually set if required.

The shutter cocking mechanism is a lever on the upper-right of the lens barrel, and the shutter lever resides on the lower-right. There is a threaded cable release point just above the shutter lever.

Also on the front of the camera is a sync socket. M and X flash synchronisation settings are available from a small switch on the upper left of the lens barrel.

Film is advanced by a crank mechanism on the right of the camera. This operates in a forward / return action, rather than a full rotation. The handle of the crank is hinged and can be latched to prevent the accidental advancement of the film.

The camera viewfinder is a standard ground-glass affair, but with a horizontal split-prism in the centre. A magnifying lens hinges out from the front of the viewfinder housing for fine focusing, and the housing also features a sports-finder.

The left side of the camera houses the focus knob with a distance scale, the film reel release knobs, and a small screw that holds the film compartment closed. When partially unscrewed, this is pushed in to pop open the back of the camera. There is also a cold shoe bracket on this side of the camera.

There are a couple of latches for a camera strap on either side of the body, and the base of the camera has a tripod mounting socket and four small metal feet.

The first thing I did with my Rollop II was to give it a clean. The bodywork is in pretty nice condition, the leatherette is all intact and there are no significant marks anywhere, but it was a little scruffy. A soft cloth and some rubbing alcohol removed most of the surface dust and dirt without trouble. I removed the focus screen housing to give it a better clean and to allow the mirror and inside of the viewing lens to be cleaned with a dust blower and (for the lens) some lens cleaner. Both lenses were cleaned on the outside, and I then cleaned the inside of the taking lens while the camera was in bulb mode.

While the light seals looked in a bit of a state, I decided to leave them alone for the time being (they are partially covered by the film tension plate, and I could see no easy way to remove it to allow access) and just see how the camera would fare with a test roll of film – some Fomapan 100 Classic.

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In operation, the camera was straightforward to use and gave no unexpected surprises. My only issue being that the focus screen didn’t have a lot of contrast and it was quite difficult to see depending on the light. Using the built-in magnifyer helped though. I found the shutter release to be easy to use and think that this lever-type release is perhaps better for keeping the camera steady than the push-button release on something like a Yashica Mat 124.

I went for a walk around a local nature reserve and shot the full roll. I noticed with some surprise that the camera would still fire even after winding on from the twelfth frame, so took another shot for good luck, not really expecting anything from it. I would be surprised…

I developed the roll of film in my usual Ilfotec DD-X and was pleased to see the negatives appear. One instant plus was that my extra shot had given me a thirteenth frame! It was right at the very end of the roll, and I ended up having to crop it afterward because of marks caused when drying the film, but still – a bonus! This pleasant surprise was, sadly, marred a little by the unfortunate fact that around half the frames had very noticeable light leaks.

While some of the light leaks looked normal given the state of the light seals, many of the affected frames had an odd arc of brightness across the centre of the frame, as can be seen in the three photos below.

Based on these findings I decided to do what I could to replace the seals. With some degree of fiddliness, I was able to replace the ones that were partially obscured by the film plate, along with the rest of the more accessible foam.

A few days later I took the camera out again, hopeful that my replacement seals would resolve the problems.

This time, when loading the film, instead of winding the crank four times as stated in the manual, I just wound it on three times hoping I would again be able to squeeze an extra frame from the roll.

I again shot all (thirteen!) frames on a single outing, albeit the final bonus frame being a shot of a mug on the kitchen counter taken when I got home.

This time, most of the frames were free from light leaks – all except one, again showing the odd arc-shaped mark.

There was also one completely blank frame where I think I accidentally wound the film on without firing the shutter!

I decided to look at the camera more closely, and wondered if the light might be coming from the lens, rather than the film compartment. I shone a bright light at the front of the camera and opened the film compartment. This revealed a faint glow coming from the edge of the taking lens. Further investigation also revealed that the front standard had a very small gap when focused closely (so that it was racked out as far as it would go). This explained why the leak only appeared on certain frames — those where the camera was focussed at or closer to infinity were unaffected, as the lens standard was racked back to the body of the camera, closing the gap. Only the shots where I had focussed on closer subjects had the problem.

I don’t have the necessary technical ability to repair this properly, at least not without risking more significant problems or breaking it completely and, as the camera was a freebie (and I already have a working TLR in the form of my Yashica Mat 124G) I don’t really want to pay the price of a professional repair.

I think I will give it another test though — I have an idea to attach a skirt of black felt around the racking mechanism using some tape which ought to block the light from getting in where it’s not wanted. Maybe not elegant, but hopefully it will work. I guess I’ll find out before too long! 🙂

~ Nigel

Ps. If you’re interested in an update on this review, I featured a few frames of Fomapan 100 Classic developed in ILFORD DD-X on my blog, along with an update on the light leak issue. Please do check them out!

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