Lens Mounts: Rollei QBM

Pekka Buttler, 1/2023

Rollei QBM mount specifications

Mount type: Bayonet, male-type.
Flange focal distance: 44,46 mm
Film format: 36mm x 24mm (‘Full frame’)
In use: 1970–1994
Versions: four, backwards compatible (difference insignificant if used adapted)
Mount communication:
Aperture stop-down pin (body-to-lens communication) [versions I–IV];
• Aperture indicator lever (lens-to-body communication) [versions II–IV];
• Indicator furrow/step to communicate maximum aperture to camera [version IV]
Other names: The mount is sometimes also referred to as the [Rollei(flex)] SL35 mount

Adapting Rollei QBM lenses:

First: Should you be interested in adapting QBM lenses? Absolutely.
While the Rollei 35 mm SLR range was commercially not a big success (making these lenses relatively scarce), the quality of these lenses is generally high. In fact, when you consider that – notwithstanding the customary crowd of third-party manufacturers – the primary manufacturers of Rollei QBM lenses were none other than Carl Zeiss (West Germany), Schneider-Kreuznach and Mamiya, you can generally expect these lenses to be of high quality. Furthermore, keeping in mind that 1970s Zeiss lenses are today very sought-after, one can often find these lenses more competitively priced for the QBM mount.

Assuming you want to adapt, how do you do that? Again, this depends on whether you intend to adapt to a SLR or mirroless:
dSLR: Given there QBM mount’s rather limiting flange focal distance, the only dSLR mounts that allows you to mount a QBM lens without an adapter using optics to allow infinity focus are the Canon EOS mount and the Olympus Four Thirds mount (but the latter incurs a 2x crop factor). Adapting to other dSLR’s (Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony A (Minolta A)) is possible, but will require an adapter with corrective optics to attain anything close to infinity focus.
SLR: Some film SLR mounts theoretically allow mounting Rollei QBM lenses (especially Konica AR, Canon FD), but I have found no suitable adapters.

Mirrorless: Problem-free as usual, as the difference in flange focal distances is highly permissive, and QBM mount lenses place no special demands on the adapter – any dumb adapter will do.

Identifying the Rollei QBM mount?

See details here.

Information on the Rollei QBM mount:

Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is surely one of the most well known epic sagas ever, and while later movies have cemented LOTR in the public perception as a trilogy, Tolkien originally conceived LOTR as a single volume. One common definition of trilogy is a set of three distinct works that are connected and can be seen either as a single work or as three individual works.

What’s the relevance of this literature lesson? This article gives a quick summary of the history of development of the Rollei QBM mount, and that is not a disconnected story. On the contrary, it makes sense to see the Rollei QBM saga in connection with two intimately connected others: That of the earlier Icarex Bayonet mount, and that of the (partially overlapping) Contax/Yashica mount. So if this piece of the trilogy seems to make no sense, I recommend having a look at those connected stories.

Background to Rollei:
Rollei, originally Werkstatt für Feinmechanik und Optik, Franke & Heidecke, was founded in Braunschweig, Germany in 1920. In 1927 Franke & Heidecke launched the Rolleiflex TLR, which was a great commercial success and remains today one of the most Iconic TLRs. Production of the Rolleiflex and its budget-friendlier version the Rolleicord continued well into the 1960s. Importantly, Rollei was mainly a camera manufacturer, and systematically sourced lenses from other German optics companies (Carl Zeiss, Schneider-Kreuznach, others).

But in the 50s and 60s Rollei became increasingly aware that their cash-cow – the medium format TLR – was nearing retirement age. This sent Rollei on a search for new product segments, which produced a lot of duds but also three noteworthy developments: Firstly, in 1966 Rollei launched the Rollei 35 – a 35 mm (standard) film microcamera that held the title of smallest 35 mm camera for many years to come, and proved financially successful. Second, in the same year, Rollei launched the Rollei SL66 Single-lens reflex medium format camera. Third, in 1970, Rollei launched the SL35, a single lens reflex 35 mm camera with its attendant bayonet mount (the QBM mount).

Enter the SL35, the QBM mount and a closer collaboration with Carl Zeiss.
With the SL35, Rollei wanted to succeed in doing what other West-German camera manufacturers (Voigtländer, Zeiss Ikon, others) had already tried, and failed. Moreover, compared to e.g. Zeiss Ikon, Rollei was entering the market at a relatively late date. Rollei understandably had significant confidence in their camera manufacturing abilities, and – given that Zeiss’ in house cameras were failing spectacularly – also had in Zeiss a partner who’d likely want the new SLR to succeed in order to be able to sell a lot of lenses. Thus an alliance (of sorts) was formed, and it seemed that the new system might actually have some potential…

Moreover, Rollei made a bold (and – in Germany –criticised) move by – starting 1972 – shifting production of the SLR cameras to Singapore – a move undoubtedly motivated mainly by seeking cheaper labour. Problematically – and partially associated with that move – the SL35 got a reputation for insufficient quality control. Sales were better than feared, but significantly short of hopes.

At the same time, Zeiss Ikon had shuttered its camera manufacture entirely, and was instead banking on collaborating with Yashica. As a result, the Voigtländer – which Zeiss had bought in 1956 – had become surplus to Zeiss’ requirements. Voigtländer was another Braunschweig -based company that had both a distinguished history, and – in many markets – better name recognition than Rollei. Buying Voigtländer seemed a veritable coup for Rollei.

Rollei-Voigtländer confusion
As a result of Rollei buying Voigtländer, and starting the global juggling of two brands, lot of confusion ensued.

Firstly, to be able to capitalise on the Voigtländer brand, both Rollei and Voigtländer cameras were offered. Rollei SL35x and Voigtländer VSL-x did not look similar, nor were they. While the Rollei SL35 looked decidedly modern (which, internally, it was not), the Voigtländer VSL-1 looked like a Zeiss Ikon brick with a new coat of paint (which it fundamentally was). Only after Rollei de-facto ended developing the SL35 line further and instead adopted the Voigtländer design, were there some commonality.

Second, whereas Rollei cameras were offered using only the QBM mount, some of the Voigtländer VSL cameras also offered m42 thread mounts. As a result, also some of those lenses offered in QBM mount started to be available in m42 variants, and – just to confuse the situation further, many of the same lenses would be offered as either ‘Zeiss’ or ‘Rollei’ lenses (depending on the regional details of Rollei’s licensing agreement with Zeiss) or even Voigtländer lenses.

Third, the final confusion came when – in the hope of cutting costs further – Rollei started sourcing lenses from Mamiya in Japan and started selling those under the name ‘Rolleinar’ alongside ‘Rollei’ lenses. To add insult to injury, hose same ‘Rolleinar’ lenses would in other markets turn up using Voigtländer-type naming.

To give one illustrating example: the 35 mm f/2.8 standard wide angle:
The lens that was based on Carl Zeiss design sold as:
Carl Zeiss Distagon 2,8/35 [HFT] (Manufactured by Zeiss)
Rollei-HFT Distagon 2,8/35 (Manufactured by Rollei at Voigtländer works under license from Zeiss)
Voigtländer Color-Skoparex 2,8/35 (Manufactured by Rollei at Voigtländer works under license from Zeiss)
The Mamiya lens (identical to the Auto-Mamiya/Sekor SX 35mm F/2,8) was sold as:
Rolleinar-MC 1:2.8 f=35mm
Voigtländer Color-Skoparex 2,8/35 AR
(n.B! Any ‘Voigtländer’ branded lens that has ‘AR’ in its name is a Mamiya lens).

QBM Reboot
Less than 10 years after (then) lucrative Rollei had graciously taken over Voigtländer from the haemorrhaging Carl Zeiss, Rollei themselves had to in 1981 seek restructuring via bankruptcy. While this can by no means be entirely blamed on the Rollei SL35 system, the system’s lack of financial success did contribute.

What rose out of the ashes of that restructuring was a company that had not lost its faith in making money from 35 mm SLR,s but wanted to approach it differently. The result was the Rollei SL2000F (and its successors) – a 35 mm SLR very much reminiscent of the professional medium format cameras, including interchangeable film cassettes. While commercial success remained elusive, this move bought the QBM mount some further years before final discontinuation.

Rollei redux
From ca. 1981 onwards, the trajectory of Rollei (the company) is reminiscent of what you would get if you’d merge a rollercoaster with a tragicomic telenovela, with some teletubbies as an added bonus. The company went through at least 6 total ownership changes (including two occasions of German industrialists swooping in for the rescue – once for the princely sum of 1 German Mark), two more bankruptcies, one management buy-out, several partitionings/divestments. Even I have trouble following the tribulations.

Simultaneously, several companies have – at various times – held licenses allowing them to use the Rollei name for some category of photographic products (Those films today available under the Rollei brand share no corporate DNA with the original Rollei).

Would I be into the practice of anthropomorphising corporate entities, I could say some things about ‘an ignominious end to a proud legacy’ but such speak is balderdash.

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