Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rolleiflex MiniDigi

Rolleiflex MiniDigi taken with Nikon D90 w/ micro-nikkor 105mm f/2.8G VR

The Rollei MiniDigi is cool little digital camera that's styled after the Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR medium format film camera. Although the MiniDigi is designed to look like an original Rollei, the similarities pretty much end there. This camera is tiny, it's actually shorter than a roll of 120 film! It comes in two colors, vivid red or coal black.

First and foremost, this is a toy camera. Although the camera is quite expensive as far as toy cameras go, this is by no means a professional camera and the image quality isn't up to par with even the lowliest compact point and shoot camera. So if you're a pixel peeper this isn't the camera for you. I paid $329 for mine at Precision Camera, my local camera shop. The going rate is about $300. Stay away from Urban Outfitters who are selling this camera for $400, what a rip-off!

The newest version of this camera is the MiniDigi AF 5.0. The camera claims to give you a 5 megapixel image, but in reality the Rollei MiniDigi has a 3 megapixel sensor (doing the math it actually works out to less than 2.4 MGP). The 5 MGP image size comes from image interpolation. Basically, the camera upsizes your images to give you higher resolution. There are actually 3 image size settings, L - 5MGP, M - 3MGP, S - 0.6MGP. My advice is to use the M setting for the sensors native resolution and upsize in Photoshop if necessary. Photoshop can upsize your image with better interpolation algorithms than the camera can.

The Rollei MiniDigi has a 4.9mm f/2.8 lens which is the equivalent of an 80mm lens on a full-size Rollei which gives the camera a crop factor of 16X!!! Not that this really matters. The cool thing about this lens is that it allows you to focus as close as 10cm. You can get close-up enough to get some degree of shallow depth of field which is almost impossible for a camera with a sensor this small.

Everything on the Rollei MiniDigi is automatic. The ISO, White Balance, and exposure settings are all calcualted by the camera. There's no using creative exposure settings on this camera, it's literally point & shoot.

Just like the original Rollei TLRs to view the image you look down into the cameras waist-level viewfinder from above. Also like the original the MiniDigi has a pop-up viewfinder hood to block stray light making it easier to see the viewfinder when in bright situations. The image is displayed in a small 1X1 inch color LCD. Due to the simple design of the mirror in everything in the original TLR camera's viewfinder was reversed left to right which could make it difficult for composing without a lot of practice.Fortunately, unlike the original, the image on the MiniDigi is flipped the right way so what you see is what you get. I will say that in bright sunlight seeing the screen is almost impossible.

The autofocus on the Rollei MiniDigi is frightfully slow even in broad daylight so shooting any type of action is not impossible, but difficult. This camera is best suited to shooting relatively stationary subjects. As a throw-back to the film camera era after the shutter release button is pressed you must crank the film advance lever forward to reset the shutter release button. This a neat little novelty that doesn't bother me in the least. It's hard to figure out exactly what the camera wants to focus on as well. Even when trying to shoot close-up the camera's AF seems to like to focus on the background, so it can take a few tries to get your shot right.

The Rollei MiniDigi stores images on Mini SD cards and included with the camera is a 256 MB card along with an adaptor so you can use a standard SD card reader to download your images. This is a nice feature since I didn't have a Mini SD card. I would have preferred a standard SD card sice I have a few of those.

As far as image quality goes, as long as you shoot with ample lighting the image quality is pretty good. When shooting in direct sunlight the images are sharp with good contrast. The MiniDigi uses an averaging meter which doesn't always give the best exposures resulting in a lot of blown -out highlights. When shooting in low-light the image quality falls dramatically. The images are plagued by excessive noise and I've noticed horizontal banding in quite a few of the images. I've also noticed quite a bit a moiré in some of the images, the Rollei MiniDigi probably doesn't have an anti-aliasing filter. The MiniDigi also lacks an infrared (IR) hot mirror so by holding an IR filter like the Hoya R72 in front of the lens you can do IR photography pretty easily. So far my IR results have been less than spectacular, but I've only had the camera for a couple of days and there isn't an abundance of good IR reflecting plant life around this time of year.

In conclusion, this camera is a fun little novelty. It's all about making concessions. The only real control you have over this camera is in composition. Most of the images will need post-processing work to make them usable. I prefer to convert to black and white or to simulate cross-processing to add some interesting effects to the pictures. For what this camera lacks in image quality and control it makes up for with a coolness factor. It looks great and it's a real conversation starter.

The Rollei MiniDigi is sort of like a digital Holga. You never know what you might get.

You can get yours here:

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