Rolleimarin, an underwater housing that had been developed for series production in collaboration with the diving pioneer Dr. Hans Hass. The heavy housing, weighing 5.3 kg, satisfied the increased requirements of underwater photography and allowed pictures to be taken with the Rolleiflex Automat 3.5 camera at depths of up to 100 m under water.
The death of the two founders of the company, Paul Franke (1950) and Reinhold Heidecke (1960), cast a shadow over these successful years. They left a vacuum that posed immense challenges to the company. The firm was also had to rise to the demands of devising new innovations to counter the gradual market saturation in the sector of the twin—lens medium format camera and the ever-growing significance of the 35 mm camera.
In spite of the difficult situation, the company Franke & Heidecke succeeded, under its new management, in presenting two promising new products in 1966 - the first single-lens roll film reflex camera SL 66 and the Rollei 35, the most compact 35 mm viewfinder camera of its day. Being the first 35 mm camera from a German manufacturer, it constantly ensured high turnover figures, with sales already increasing from 1966 to 1967 from DM 30 to 45 million. In the three decades that followed, some 3 million Rollei 35 cameras were sold worldwide. It offered many amateurs the perfect entry-level camera for 35 mm photography.
During this period, amateur photography became the driving force of the photo industry. At the same time, photography as an art form became increasingly accepted. The MoMA photo exhibitions by Edward Steichen (“The Family of man”, 1955) and John Szarkowski (1960s) were decisive in ensuring widely acceptance of photography as an art form. This also coincided with the trend towards commercial art.
Years of transformation
In 1966, the Franke family acquired all of the Heidecke family’s company shares. In the wake of growing pressure due to competition from Japanese camera manufacturers, the company decided to launch a counteroffensive and moved its own production to Asia. In 1968, it managed to win Norddeutsche Landesbank as the majority shareholder (97%) in an effort to secure the high level of funding required for the expansion.
From the launch of Rollei Singapore (P.T.E.) Ltd. in 1971, cameras were produced in the Far East, whilst research and development activities remained in Braunschweig, Germany. Given the excessively high costs, low production numbers and obligations towards the Singapore government that could not be met, this project was ultimately doomed to failure. [more...]