Defective Right Out of the Box

Serious Quality Control Failings with New Rolleiflex and Leica Film Cameras

Leica M-A and Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod2

I have never been able to afford high end German cameras, but I always wanted one. Almost all the cameras I have owned were from Japanese companies like Nikon, Minolta, and Mamiya.

Finally, in October 2020, being retired and having some cash available, I purchased a new Rolleiflex Hy6 Mod2 system from the US distributor and a new Leica MP and lens from Camera West. Since 1966, I have purchased many cameras, new and used, but these two recent purchases were the first time I ever bought a camera that was defective right out of the box. The Rolleiflex wouldn’t focus correctly and the Leica MP meter wouldn’t automatically turn off after the time-out. These were also the first cameras I purchased that included little cards, signed by hand, letting me know how committed the manufacturer was to reliability.

Personally signed quality control assurance cards

Long Story Short: Rolleiflex Hy6

Rolleiflex Hy6 with 80mm, 50mm, and 40mm lenses

Seven days after receiving it, I sent the Hy6 to DW Photo in Germany and, within 3 hours of Fedex delivering it to them, they sent me an email declaring that I had an incorrect menu setting on the camera. After arguing with them for a few weeks, I paid the bill of 320 € to get it back. After receiving it back, I confirmed that the camera still wouldn’t focus, but it turned out that someone much smarter than me on the Photrio forums had the identical Hy6 focusing issue and corrected it by adjusting the film pressure plate position. In fact, the serial number on my film back differed from his by a single count, so they were likely assembled at the factory on the same day. Thanks to him, I was able to repair my Hy6 the same way.

Rolleiflex Hy6 6×6 Film Back

Think about it: If not for “that guy on the internet”, I would be stuck with a very expensive paper weight. Since then, myself and others have discovered other issues in common with our Hy6 cameras. These include light leaks, film transport issues, scratching of film (which defies solution to this day), and the interesting claim from Rolleiflex that 6000 series and Hy6 lenses are not designed to focus out to infinity, but only as far as the hyperfocal distance. As far as I know, Rolleiflex is the only high end camera manufacturer that lays claim to that unique feature (or bug, depending on whether you want distant objects to be sharp in your images). One recent Hy6 seller on ebay noted in the description that the focus “is soft at infinity at any aperture wider than f/11ish” and that’s after having had the pressure plate adjusted at the factory soon after buying it in late 2020.

Long Story Short: Leica M-A

Leica with 50mm Sumilux and 28mm Elmarit

I sent the Leica MP back to Camera West for a refund and bought a new Leica M-A through B&H Photo. Later, after more thorough testing at wide apertures, I discovered that that the new 50mm Summilux has a case of front focus. A 28mm Elmarit, purchased shortly thereafter, works fine. By this time, having read all the horror stories of people having had to send their Leicas back to Leica (New Jersey or Germany) multiple times to get them properly repaired under warranty, I decided to adjust the range finder to accommodate the defective 50mm lens out to about 70 feet which is about as far out as it will focus. While that means the rangefinder is not accurate for the 28mm f2.8 lens, the depth of field will cover the error for my purposes. For distances beyond 70 feet, the rangefinder is useless. Close focusing (1-10 meters) for the 50mm is now quite accurate wide open and is also fine for the 28mm. At apertures of 4.8 and above, the 50mm lens works reasonably well at all distances if you’re aware of the quirks of the maladjusted rangefinder.

The End of an Era

Nikon F6, Leica M-A, and Rolleiflex Hy6 — How much longer can they last?

I don’t dispute that there are many happy Leica and Hy6 owners, but I don’t think I am alone in being frustrated by problems with new cameras and atrocious customer service. I don’t believe there is sufficient sales volume anymore to support the manufacturing cost of high end film cameras. The companies that have remained in production this long most likely had to cut costs resulting in a diminished level of quality control during factory assembly and service.

Leica and Rolleiflex have a long history of turning out top notch film cameras and their optics are unsurpassed. You cannot hold these cameras in your hands and not marvel at the caliber of engineering they embody, but the production defects and poor customer service I’ve encountered have completely knocked the shine off the joy of owning and using them. I baby them because I don’t have much confidence that they can be properly repaired by the manufacturers without it becoming an ordeal and I don’t plan to invest anymore money in them for additional lenses or other accessories. Hy6 film backs, which seem to be where the bulk of their problems lie, are as common as unicorns used and outrageously expensive new.

Before buying the Leica and Hy6, I took it for granted that new cameras worked right out of the box because that had been my experience for over 50 years. No camera company is perfect, but I got a new Nikon F6 in 2019 at half the cost of a Leica or Hy6. It has no problems or quirks. The F6 was discontinued in late 2020, but I just bought a new lens for it and never worried that it wouldn’t work fine right out of the box. I wasn’t disappointed. I will never have that level of confidence in Rolleiflex or Leica, despite their little hand-signed inspection/test cards. My reason for buying new was to avoid the risks and “surprises” of buying used, so if I knew a year ago what I know now, I would not have purchased either of them.  Both cameras, if they work properly, are a pleasure to use, but the experiences I’ve had are not something I would ever care to repeat.

For Potential Buyers

It’s human nature to want to feel good about something you already own or are about to buy, making it easy to reject contrary views. Most product reviews available on the internet are little more than a thinly disguised sales pitches, describing features and telling you what you want to hear. If you are thinking about buying a new Leica or Hy6 film camera, I hope things go well for you, but I have a few suggestions to offer:

  1. Above all, buy only from a seller that has a written policy of accepting returns if you’re not satisfied. Don’t assume that they are as customer-friendly as reputable retailers like B&H Photo, Amazon, and Adorama.  Even ebay provides more buyer protection than merchants who simply claim, “Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of you.”
  2. If you buy pricy equipment direct from any merchant, I recommend you check that merchant’s feedback from buyers on ebay. If they don’t sell through ebay, it may be because they’re unwilling to comply with ebay’s customer protection policies.
  3. Insist on a written warranty that tells you where you have to send the camera for repairs and under what circumstances you’re required to pay for shipping and service costs within the warranty period.
  4. After you get your new camera, check it out completely, including functions you’ll rarely use. Check the focusing accuracy by shooting a roll or two of film with the lens at maximum aperture, both at close distances and at infinity. In the case of the Hy6, be sure to have the lens at maximum aperture when you do the lens offset determination.
  5. Shine an LED flashlight through any any lens you buy that was advertised as new. It should be virtually free of haze, dust, and fungus, particularly on inner surfaces. Compare it with other lenses you have.
  6. Finally, if you want more detail on Hy6 issues that I and others have been contending with, you can scan through comprehensive discussion threads here and here.

My Test Data

Three sets of test data follow, each described in PDF form with links to full size negative scans. This may not be meaningful to anyone who doesn’t have a Hy6, but may be useful for someone with a Hy6 who is experiencing similar focusing errors.

  1. The first set is the test pictures and data sent to the factory with the camera to illustrate the auto focusing problem as well as pictures to show that the camera wouldn’t even manually focus at infinity with all three lenses (80mm, 50mm, and 40mm) even with the lens manually set to infinity.

Hy6 Focusing Tests Sent To Factory

  1. The second set of tests was conducted after the Hy6 was returned from the factory, showing that the focusing problems remain exactly as they were before the camera was sent to the factory. In other words, they did nothing to fix it and, to add insult to injury, charged me 320 € to get it back.

Hy6 Focus Tests after return from factory

  1. The third set of tests was conducted after adjusting the pressure plate gap from 0.70 mm to 0.30 mm, showing that adjustment fixed the auto and manual focus problems. It should be noted that the adjustment also fixed the infinity focus as expected. The narrowing of the pressure plate gap to 0.30mm has never caused an issue with uneven frame spacing or stalling of the motor drive, problems which I suspect are more likely related to the binding of the spool hubs on the film insert.

Hy6 Focus Tests after I adjusted pressure plate


I do not recommend attempting to fix camera problems yourself.  It could damage the camera and/or void the warranty.  On the other hand, some people are quite comfortable repairing their own cameras.  I am not one of those people but, with the Hy6, I was left with little choice. With regard to the Leica, there was a lot of information on the web about rangefinder adjustments because rangefinder problems are a common complaint on Leica analog and digital cameras. Also, there is no disassembly required to access the basic adjustments.

6 thoughts on “Defective Right Out of the Box

  1. Wow, thats truly nuts. Such high end dream cameras too. In 20 years i had the same dreams of buying all the film cameras Ive ever wanted when I retire. So disheartening, but glad you fixed the pressure plate on the rollei.

    Ive always wanted an Rollei FX TLR but it seems no one will work on them and im not shipping to Europe. Much simpler than the hy6 camera but maybe these late model film cameras will always be problematic like you suggested.

    For the Leica MPs RF to be off is just infuriating. You seem to be be a much calmer person than me:)

  2. Welcome, JJ.

    Haha! I wasn’t very calm when the factory said there was nothing wrong with the camera, especially since the factory was the only place you could get the Hy6 repaired. Once I was able to get the camera to focus, I relaxed. This experience has given me a whole new appreciation for sellers like Amazon, B&H, Adorama, etc. who have a customer satisfaction guaranty.

    That Rollei FX would be a real prize to own. I have an old 3.5E that I bought used in 1969 and have had it repaired by Harry Fleenor a few times. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t repair an FX. I can say I will never again buy anything that has to go back to Germany for repairs. You might have a look at this post on Photrio. It suggests Steve’s Camera Repair in Culver City, CA.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you pursue the FX if you can find a domestic repair shop. TLRs are definitely simpler. The only problem I’ve ever had with mine is that the shutter starts to get sticky if I don’t use it often enough.

  3. A hell of a story! Are you still using the Hy6, how do you feel about it at this point? Would you consider selling it?

  4. Hi, Eric.

    I do use the Hy6. There are simple work-arounds for the remaining defects and it does not leave scratches on the film if I use TMax-100, which I assume is because that film has an unusually glossy emulsion side. I have no wish to sell it because it’s been working quite well since I adjusted the film pressure plate and I don’t have any other medium format SLR system to fall back on.

  5. I had the same issue just like you! The leak problem and the film advancing problem. I bought the hy6 mod2 also from Rolleiflex USA last summer. But my 6060 back cannot advance the film after a few shots. Then I just send the film back for warranty days after I just got it (a brand new one). Now its been half an year and I finally got the back from Germany. But the back is still having bugs that’s not listed in your blog. It cannot communicate with my camera after someshots. Sometimes I knew the low temperature must be the reason but today after recovering indoors for over 2 hours it still fails. Do you have any clue to this problem?

    This is making me crazy because I can’t shoot freely. I just bought a new 4560 after a month of waiting and then I encountered the advancing distance problem. I don’t know what else to do. Just spend to much on this.

  6. Hello, Jiawei.

    I am sorry to hear about your experiences with the Hy6 camera and frustration with Rolleiflex customer service. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options for getting the Hy6 repaired.

    With regard to the light leak in the film back, if it’s the same as the one discussed on the photrio forum, I just apply a small piece of black electrical tape on each side near the hinge. Not very elegant, but it works. Not something anyone should have to contend with on a new camera, much less one that costs as much as a Hy6.

    The film advance issue could be caused by a number of things. The first thing I would check is the film insert. On my film insert, there is a metal washer on the geared end of one side, but not the other side.

    Metal Washer on Hy6 Film Insert

    For some reason, the film spool on the side with the washer turns easily in both directions, while the spool on the side without the metal washer turns easily in one direction, but turns quite hard in the other direction. Because of that, I always load the film into the film back on the side without the metal washer so the spool on that side never has to rotate in the direction where is it hard to turn which could potentially cause the film to not advance properly. Of course, you may not have the same problem, but it’s something to check. You can check it easily with the insert removed from the film back by simply turning the take-up spool by hand in both directions to see if it turns easily both ways. Then move the spool to the other side and do the same.

    Another possible cause is if the film pressure plate on the film insert is misadjusted in a way that it pinches the film against the film rails in the film gate too much, causing the film to drag enough to prevent it from advancing all the way. This is a more delicate issue that would require adjusting the four adjustment screws on the insert. Doing so yourself could adversely affect the focusing and void the warranty. If you go that route, I would read through the posts on that topic here. The film advance issue could, of course, be due to something completely different like a faulty drive motor…

    I have not personally had any electrical or communications problems with the Hy6, but I am in Alabama, so it has never been exposed to cold temperatures. One thing that kind of scares me about the Hy6 is that changing the position of the handle often enough might eventually result in a broken connection in the wiring between handle and the camera. That seems unlikely in a camera as new as yours, though. Nonetheless, I practically never rotate the handle on my camera.

    Despite my long-winded reply, I doubt that I have said much that will be helpful to you. I appreciate your posting about your issues. Maybe someone with similar Hy6 issues will post some helpful advice, but the best place to get answers would be to post about your experiences on the photrio forums. Very few people read my blog, but many people read the photrio forums.

    In any case, you’re always welcome to come back and continue the conversation or post an update.

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