In the first part of my TLR guide we covered the benefits of TLRs and the heavy-hitters in the TLR market. We were originally going to cover Pseudo, Toy and other TLRs in this article, but it ended up growing into a behemoth of an article, so we’ve split it down into a few separate ones. It’s still pretty huge, so grab a cup of tea, put your feet up and enjoy part 2..
I have to admit that I’m not such a fan of the term ‘pseudo TLR’. It normally is related to TLRs that have two lenses(one for framing, one for taking the photo), but unlike other TLRs, you cannot focus through the viewing lens. The viewing lens can be used for framing(although inaccurately due to parallax!), with focussing normally being reliant on a zone/guess focus system. The reason I’m not a fan of the term ‘pseudo TLR’ is that there is nothing in the name ‘Twin Lens Reflex’ that suggests the second lens has to be for focussing; the ‘reflex’ part only means that the viewing lens uses a mirror, which most pseudo TLRs do. We’ll stick with the term for now though as it offers a handy category to introduce you to some cameras you many not have heard of before! Another consideration is that a lot of these pseudo-TLRs are evolutions of models of box camera. Many were pretty much same as the manufacturer’s box camera, but with an added lens and viewfinder. It could be said that the earliest TLRs were modelled in this way, back in the 1870s.
Below are some interesting pseudo-TLRs, unfortunately, there are just too many to write about here!
The Voigtlander Brillant is a zone focus camera. The later models were true TLRs called Focusing Brillant. It got termed brillant cause the viewer was brighter than the dim viewer of the TLRs of that time. It came out around the 1930s. It is also the camera Gordon Parks started out with. The Brillant is surprisingly capable for its age. Sure it’s simple, but it’s quite sturdy and the shutter mechanism is quite reliable compared with many other cameras from that age. Look out for a full review in Part 5(!) of our guide.
The Dualflex series of cameras by Kodak used 620 rollfilm, which is no longer produced. But never fear! All you need is some spare 620 spools, and you can easily re-spool 120 film onto a 620 spool. The Duaflex series (ranging from the Duaflex 1 to the Duaflex IV) were quite a long running range for Kodak(1947-1960), during a time they were releasing new cameras at a incredible rate. There were two versions of each model of the Duaflex made: the standard model and the ‘focussing model’, which had a bubble lens for focussing using the viewfinder(which I guess puts those models into the ‘proper’ TLR category!).
If you wish to purchase a Duaflex, buy one with a ‘Kodar’ lens used on the focussing models, due to the three selectable apertures, and the addition of a bulb shutter speed. The ‘Kodet’ lens on the non-focussing version is a simple f/15 lens, with no real adjust-ability. If you want to go for a beyond basic holga style, look for a non-focussing model.
The Olbia is another pseudo TLR with a brilliant finder. Made of bakelite, the Olbia is the same as the Omega Eikon, but due to the Swiss watch manufacturer objecting to the use of ‘Omega’, it was changed to Olbia (the Olbia badge on the viewfinder covers up the omega brand embossed into the bakelite!). As with a few other cameras here, the Olbia takes the unavailable 620 rollfilm. The Olbia was produced from 1947 to 1952 and there were a few variational changes such as shutter speeds and lens manufacturer(the lens always was 75mm f/4.5). As the models progressed, the shutter speeds gained faster settings, finally finishing with an array of 400 down to B. The aperture range is pretty good for this camera too, ranging from the aforementioned 4.5 upto 16. It may look rather primative, but the Olbea is a pretty capable camera due to its range of shutter speeds and apertures, especially on later models. The lens on the Olbia is also very capable, as shown in some ausphoto’s photos here.
It doesn’t get much simpler than the Ensign Ful-Vue. Released in 1939, the Ful-Vue has a 1/30 shutter speed, and bulb. And that’s it. Focus was also pretty simple with the only option having ‘closer’ focusing by pulling out the lens. The original Ful-Vue is the most fun (but difficult to get results with) of the Ful-Vues due to the lack of control over your photo. It was succeeded by the originally titled Ful-Vue II, which added a flash attachment and…count them…THREE focus distances instead of the original two! The ‘II’ was eventually followed up by the Ful-Vue Super which had a collapsible hood for the viewfinder, and a few other minor adjustments(it also took 620 film instead of 120 that the other ful-vues did).
Our recommendation? Get the original Ful-Vue! It’s quite fun and liberating having pretty much no adjustment at all(except closer focus and bulb mode). The original also takes 120 rollfilm instead, although modern-day spools are a bit too large for the Ful-Vue to handle, so you might have to track down some metal ones(or get your file out!).
The Hollywood Reflex TLR (also known as the Holywood Sportsman) was made by the company Craftex in 1947. Incredibly simple,as usual, with these TLRs, the all-metal body was probably the highlight of the package, featuring an attractive art-deco frontage. There was a later ‘model E’ Hollywood, that had a coupled viewfinder, however this first model has the usual ‘lens only’ focussing, although the ground glass was so dark that focussing would be difficult anyway! Depending on the model, the lens was either 75mm or 80mm, and had an approximate shutter speed of 1/30.
Doh! Can’t find any photo examples…anyone?
I have to admit, this is probably my favourite pseudo-TLR, in the looks department anyway! Made by Ansco from 1954, the Anscoflex was designed by Raymond Loewy (an industrial designer known for producing some the best known product designs of the 20th century). The green, cream and white just remind me of 1950′s Americana! On with the technical details: The Anscoflex was incredibly simple again, having one f/11 aperture and one shutter speed. There are a number of great design features in this, including the lens cover slides up to act as the front of the viewfinder box, and in the Anscoflex II: the dials for closer focussing and filter. Unlike many other pseudo-TLRs at the time, the viewfinder is incredibly bright, although that probably doesn’t mean much as you can’t use it to focus! Recently the price has risen on these cameras due to a new user-base wanting to take digital photos through the viewfinder (‘through the viewfinder’ is a big thing now supposedly!).
If anyone has one of these for sale, email me(firstname.lastname@example.org) as I’d definitely be interesting in getting my grubby mitts on one to have a play about with!
Ok, I admit it, I chose to include this camera for it’s name alone (and that it’s probably the only Welsh camera we will talk about in this entire guide!). After researching it a bit further, I wish I hadn’t bothered! It’s another one of those TLRs that were just old box cameras with an extra lens thrown in for ease-of-use. The precursor to the Pixie-flex, was the Pixie! Both are similar to each other, with only one shutter speed of 1/50 (and bulb), and one aperture.
Doh! Can’t find any photo examples…anyone?
The Trumpf Reflex is a German TLR, and quite similar in style and features to the Voigtlander Brillant. It has all the features you’d want from pseudo-TLR: focus control, a range of shutter speeds(B,T 1/25,1/100) and a decent 73/4.5 lens. It was also known as the Reflecta, but I prefer the Trumpf name . The Trumpf Reflex is quite rare, so it may be harder to find one over, say, a Brillant. But if you can get one cheap, it should work just as well.
You may have noticed a trend with the last few camera descriptions: I’ve chosen them for looks,for name, and now again, this camera is probably only included for looks! Look at it! Its glorious. Bask in it’s beautiful-yet-clashing cream and red colour scheme, marvel at its raised texture(for extra grip dontcha-know), absorb yourself in its long list of features. Actually, ok, that last one is a lie. The Color-flex is a pretty simple 127-film-swallowing pseudo-TLR. Released by Monroe Sales Co in 1947, it certainly stands out from the crowd! With only the option of ‘Inst’ or ‘Time’ shutter times, no focus control, no aperture selection, and just a knob to wind the film and shutter release switch, the color-flex certainly is simple.
The strange thing is, the Color-Flex may be simple, but it’s RARE! This is definitely one for collectors, with prices hitting $200 on good condition models. It’s a shame, as I’d sure like to try shooting with this camera.
We had to include an Argus camera in this article. An American company, Argus released a fair few different TLRs and the Argoflex is their pseudo-TLR, with models such as the ‘forty’ or the ‘seventy five’. There were a few different models, most plastic or bakelite bodied. The ‘Seventy-five’ had a f/13 75mm lens, much not much in the way of control at all (another one of those ‘box cameras with extra lenses’), the ‘forty’ version had an f/4.5 75mm lens and selectable shutter speeds.
Pucky/Bolsey-Flex/Tower 120 Flash
As you can see, this TLR had loads of different names. The original was the ‘Ising Pucky’, released in Germany in the 1950s. The original model had a fixed focus, but later models had a switch above the lens for guess-focussing. The American chain of stores ‘Sears’ brought the Pucky over to America and renamed it as the ‘Tower Flash’ (as seen above). All models had three aperture selections: 7.7,11, and 16. Interestingly, Sears didn’t seem to think people wanted to know about apertures so renamed the switch ‘dull, average, bright’ for American consumers! The Pucky was also released in a far more fetching ‘sick-green’ color as the Bolsey-Flex for Bolsey of New York. Recommendations? Grab a later model for the extra focus control, and try to get the green Bolsey for its unique colour!
These cameras seem to fall into two categories:
- They are pseudo TLRs due to their age. These TLRS are evolutions of the very basic box camera model.
- They are pseudo TLRs due to the price. Companies wanted a TLR-alike in their product range, but one that could be modestly priced for the average consumer.
Are there any worth buying? YES! The Voigtlander, although simple, still can take great images today. The fantastic thing about all these pseudo TLRs, is that they are cheap. Expect to pay no more than $10 for a Voigtlander Brillant. Another great use for these cameras is to use them for pinholes. If the camera eventually breaks, you have a perfect medium format pinhole camera just waiting to be re-engineered. The Kodak Duaflex cameras, again, are very cheap, yet produce great ‘toy camera’ style photos due to vignetting and soft focussing around the edges of the frame. The Anscoflex is also worth having for its aesthetics, which I’m sure will go down well when taking photos of people!
We have mainly just covered 6×6 medium format TLRs here, but there are many others out there to hunt for, including a surprising number of Japanese 3×4 and 4×4 pseudo TLRs!
In the next part of the TLR guide, we’ll be taking a closer look at burgeoning Toy TLR market.
Did we miss any pseudo TLRs you would have like to have seen featured? Did we make any mistakes? Was the article boring? Which TLR would you buy? Do you own any of the above? enjoy them? Care to share any photos from them? Leave a comment!