We’ve covered the most popular TLRs out there, however, there are 100′s of other TLRs that are incredibly capable and most are a lot cheaper than their popular-cousins. As already mentioned, while researching, I was astounded by the amount of cameras with ‘flex’ on the end of their names! There is not enough space to cover all of these, so we’ll try and cover some of the most popular and interesting cameras. Some of them are quite rare, but many offer a cheaper alternative to the popular models we covered in part 1 of our guide.
The Yashica A through to the Yashica D series of cameras are great alternatives to their more popular successor, the Yashica Mat and Mat 124G (The Yashica E is a bit different, but we’ll get to that in a minute). Starting out with the Yashica A, the cameras added small features upto the Yashica D. They all featured a great Yashikor 80mm f3.5 lens(although later D models had an even better 4 element Yashinon lens) and all had copal shutters (one of the reasons people chose these over the Mat TLRs). Some of the features that were added from the A to the D were auto-stop film advance(C),and a bright F2.8 Yashinon viewing lens(later D models).
The Yashica E was somewhat different to the other Yashicas. The camera manufacturer wanted to try something completely different, and set about making a simple ‘point n shoot’ camera. The Yashica E had only one shutter speed (set at 1/60) and had automatic aperture selection using the built in selenium meter. The Yashica E even had a built in flash that took replaceable flash bulbs.
Our recommendation is to hunt for a late model Yashica D. The combination of the 2 quality lenses makes it the best choice, however they are all pretty decent cameras and you can pick up a used condition Yashica A for as little as $40! Avoid the Yashica E as the selenium meter will no doubt not work anymore leaving you with a hefty paperweight!
The Yashica 635 is an oddity. Basically the same as the Yashica D, the 635 had different internals to enable the use of 35mm and 120 film. Using an adaptor kit, you could easily add 35mm film to the Yashica 635(in a similar vein the Rolleikin adaptor for the Rolleiflex). The lens used in the 635 was still the reliable Yashikor 80mm f3.5, and Yashica was still using the copal shutters. The 635 is more a camera for collectors than photographers due to the 35mm addition. We recommend going for a Yashica A-D as the price should be less and 35mm in a TLR seems pretty pointless!
The Yashica 44 is a small interesting TLR from the late 1950′s. The 44 takes 127 roll film, and produces 12 4×4 images per roll (instead of the usual 12 6×6 images on 120 rollfilm). The 44 was a direct riff of the ‘baby Rolleiflex’ produced by Rollei a year before Yashica released the 44 (incidentally, they even released it in a grey colour to mimic the colour used in the Baby Rolleiflex). The lens on the 44 was similar to the lenses found on the 44′s bigger brothers(Yashikor f3.5), although at a length of 60mm opposed to 80mm.Featuring automatic spacing via the crank, although not automatic shutter cocking, the 44 was priced higher than the Yashica D! After encouraging sales, Yashica released a cheaper version: The Yashica 44A. The 44A featured a simpler knob advancing system using the red window, and had less available shutter speeds, with the fastest being 1/300.
The final 44 series camera released was the ugly Yashica 44LM(or Auto 44) which featured a selenium cell meter and automatic exposure control, completely ruining the elegant look of the camera in the process.
As 127 film is no longer available, and it’s a PITA trying to cut 120 film down to the correct width, using the 44 can be a somewhat annoying. But if you do have access to 127 film, purchase the original 44, it’s a great looking small camera,and can be had for $50 upwards.
We already covered the magnificant Mamiya C330 and C220 in our first part of the TLR guide. The Mamiyaflex was the precursor to those cameras, but is still an excellent camera in its own rights, containing many of the features that made the C330 and 220 great.
The Mamiyaflex wasn’t simply one camera, there were many different models in the range, starting with the (unsurprisingly) Mamiyaflex I leading upto the final Mamiyaflex C2 before dropping the Mamiyaflex moniker and just calling them ‘Mamiya’ from then on. The early Mamiyaflex cameras were just standard mid range TLRs of no notable exceptions. It was when Mamiya switched to the ‘C’ range of cameras that the Mamiyaflex really started to excel. The real beauty of the C range of cameras was the ability to change the lenses (as outlined when we discussed the Mamiya C330/220 in the first part),and any of the C range can accept the interchangable lenses, even if they are marked as a Mamiyaflex.
We’ve already covered the C range of cameras, but what about the earlier Mamiyaflex cameras? Are they worth it? Mamiya produced a couple of decent TLRs of note before concentrating on the professional market with the C range. The Mamiyaflex Automat B from 1953 is a well made, sturdy camera that is comparable to other TLRs from that era. The Sekor 75mm f3.5 lens is sharp, and the range of shutter speeds from 1to 1/500 was generally good. The Automat B is definitely the Mamiyaflex TLR to go for if you didn’t want the extra bulk of a C series camera.
Lubitel 2 & 166
We had real problems with classifying the Lubitel 2 and 166. Made by the Soviet Lomo company in Leningrad from 1957 to 1979, over two million Lubitel 2s were produced. Our problem stems from the toy camera scene. The Lubitel was never a toy camera, it was a cheap, cheerful TLR which could produce pretty decent results under the right conditions (people say it has good optics, let down by poor construction). As it was produced by Lomo, toy camera fans have taken the Lubitel under their wing as a toy camera, when in actual fact, it’s much better than a toy camera, which led to us being questioned as to why we didn’t put the Lubitel range of cameras in the Toy Camera part of this guide.
The Lubitel 2 and 166B/U are actually great little cameras. Built with a Bakelite/plastic outer shell, but with decent quality 75mm f4.5 lomo lenses, the lubitel can produce some very sharp results. Coupled with a decent bright brilliant viewfinder and an ok range of shutter speeds (1/250 to 1/15 and bulb) the lubitel can equal the quality of its much more expensive Japanese and European relatives.
If you wish to buy one, there isn’t much difference between the Lubitel 2 and the 166U/B, they both have similar optics and look similar too (some people say the lenses in the ’2′ are better than the ’166′). We recommend buying a Lubitel 2 as the prices are a bit cheaper due to the fact that people are buying the 166 as LSI have re-released their version of it (the 166+) therefore bumping up prices of the 166 range.
The Kinaflex is a french made TLR from the early 1950′s. Unremarkable in construction and image quality, there isn’t very much to make it stand out from the crowd apart from that it’s French! Featuring a Berthiot Flor 3.5/ 75mm lens, bakelite construction, and shutter speeds 1-1/300, it’s an ok little TLR. Actually I think I’m doing it a disservice. It’s pretty chic looking too!
Reportedly the first camera in the world with a built in light-meter, the Contaflex is a wonder of mechanical engineering. When it was first introduced in 1932 it was ridiculously expensive, and models in good condition still sell today for around £900. Probably more suited to sitting on a shelf looking stunning than everyday use, due to it’s heavy weight and unreliable shutter.
Perhaps the ultimate spy camera, the Tessina was small enough that it could be worn on the wrist like a watch via a special strap.
Various other accessories were produced for this amazing little swiss camera, which takes standard 35mm film loaded into special cassettes. Uses a clockwork mechanism to advance the film and prime the shutter, special versions were made with nylon gears to make the camera almost silent in operation.
The Welta Superfekta is a strange beast..it’s a folding TLR!
Produced in 1932, the Superfekta is certainly unique! The camera opens up but sliding forward on rails, with the viewfinder linked to the front element of the bellows, and the film sitting at the rear. The reason for these was to combine the control of a TLR with the compactness of a folder, but due to the viewfinder, it’s still pretty bulky, even when fully folded. The rear on the Superfekta could be rotated 90 degrees for landscape shots. The picture size with the TLR was like other 120 folders: 6×9, and the lens is excellent too: a Zeiss Tessar f3.5/105mm with a shutter range of 1 to 1/400.
This and the Zecaflex both are of interest to collectors, so you may have trouble finding one at a decent price.
The Ontoflex is another oddity. It’s a French 6×9 TLR with a rotating black to enable either portrait or landscape photographs on 120 film. Made in the 1930′s, the lens is a Tessar 3.5/75mm with a Compur rapid shutter with speeds ranging from 1 to 1/400. It’s a really interesting TLR that actually worked pretty well with the rotating back. The Ontoflex never sold many for its manufacturer, Cornu, who decided not to pursue the rotating back TLR. As with some of the rarer TLRs listed here, you may struggle to find an Ontoflex due to their desirability with collectors.
Quirky 1960′s offering from Agfa, similar to Agfa’s other 35mm cameras from the this period, only this one has a WLF and a 2nd lens built in. Functions fully as a TLR, with both lenses linked to the same focusing system. Although the WLF is bright and accurate, it proves a little too small when it comes to focusing, meaning the flip-down magnifier is a welcome feature. Unfortunately for Agfa, the Flexilette didn’t prove too popular, meaning it was only produced for a year.
The Omegaflex is the TLR equivalent of the Koni Omega M series of cameras, taking 10 6×7 sized photographs on a roll of 120 film. There are actually many interesting features in the Omegaflex, many of which are not found in other TLRs. The Omegaflex was originally designed as a press camera, and as such had features that would aid a press photographer. The Omegaflex as standard is not a reflex camera(i.e it doesn’t have a mirror, rather a viewing screen behind the viewing lens), but can behave like one with the optional reflex attachment (the Omegaflex is a rangefinder as standard). Another interesting feature with the Omegaflex, not often seen with TLRs (except the Mamiya C range), is the ability to change lenses, with a few available from f5.6/58mm up to f4.5/180mm. All the lenses had an integrated leaf shutter with speeds ranging from 1-1/500 (and bulb). Another feature that shows this camera is a press camera is the replaceable film backs, not usually seen in TLRs, and a rapid film advance lever and grip.
You can find out more about the Omegaflex on Peter Lanczak’s website.
The Ikoflex were Zeiss-Ikon’s range of standard TLRs. Ranging from the Ikoflex I to the Ikoflex Favorit, the Ikoflex showed real progression from their early roots.
The Ikoflex I had a simple f4.5/80mm Novar lens and shutter speeds from 1-1/175 and was released in 1937 to replace the original art-deco styled ‘coffecan’ Zeiss Ikons. The Ikoflex kept improving upto the Ikoflex IC in 1956 (there were about 10 models between the I and the IC)which had a much superior f3.5/75mm Tessar lens and shutter speeds 1-1/300. Another addition to the IC was the cds meter built in which projected the reading onto the viewing screen. The IC is the most popular of all the Ikoflexes due to it’s refinements from earlier models and it’s excellent build quality. Their was one final model after the IC, this was called the Ikoflex Favorit. The Favorit was even more refined than the IC, featuring a LVS meter projected onto the viewing screen, and a cross coupled light value setting for aperture and shutter speed which was set my wheels. The Favorit also had auto shutter cock when winding on the film. The Tessar lens was similar to the IC, but the shutter speeds improved upto 1/500.
It is well worth tracking down a IC or Favorit, as both offer excellent lens quality, and fantastic build quality that should last you a lifetime. The earlier Ikoflexes are not as great, quality wise, but are very nice looking art-deco themed TLRs.
Seagull is the name given to the cameras made by the Shanghai Camera Factory from 1964 onwards. They made many different types of cameras including TLRs, folders and rangefinders. The series of TLRs that Seagull produced were teh series 4 Seagull cameras, ranging from the Seagull-4, through the 4A upto the 4D. The original Seagull TLR was manufactured in 1964, and they are one of the only TLRs that is still being manufactured today. The features on the Seagull hasn’t varied very widely, with most having knob winders, and the 4A having a lever wind.
The lever-winder 4A is the Seagull TLR model that is still being manufactured, using an HAIOU-31 f3.5/75mm lens (incidentally some people do not ‘rate’ this lens, saying it is quite soft). The viewing lens is an unknown f2.8/75mm.The shutter has speeds 1-1/300 and B and uses a 5 bladed leaf shutter.
The Seagull was originally designed as a Rolleiflex rip-off, and that design can still be seen today with a similar rear locking mechanism and name plate location. The aperture and shutter selection switches are clear and easy to use, located around the lens. Some people really like the Seagull TLR (it seems to have built up a following with toy camera fans, although it isn’t a toy camera), however it is closer in construction quality to a Lubitel than a Rolleiflex, and the price, to buy new, is quite high: upwards of $350! We recommend buying a second hand model if you really want one, however there are much better older TLRs out there.
You can buy a new Seagull here:
Ricohflex and Diacord
Let’s get this out the way, The Ricoh Diacord is a great camera, and a very worthy alternative to the more mainstream contenders that have been discussed in other parts to this guide.
Right, let’s get into more details. Ricoh generally produced two sets of TLRs: the Ricohflex and the Diacord (there was a third set called the Ricohmatic, but we’ll ignore them for now). One was designed for the budget-conscious photographer(Ricohflex), the other was a higher end TLR (the Diacord). Both are very useable.
The lenses in the Diacord progressively got better up to the fantastic Tessar-style 4 element Rikenon lens (although the 3 element lenses before that are still very good). The Ricohflex had a budget 3 element lens that was also good, although let down by a limited number of shutter speeds(the fastest being 1/100). All Ricohflexes and most Diacords used knob advancing and a seperate shutter cock, although the later 225 model of the Ricohmatic had a lever and auto-cock. The focussing on the Diacord is slightly different to usual, using sliding levers at the side of the camera.
If you want a decent Diacord, look for the Diacord G or the Diacord L. Both feature an uncoupled light meter and contain that fantastic Rikenon f3.5/80mm lens. The shutter speed range is also excellent with 1-1/400 (or 1/500 on later models) and bulb. Earler Ricohflex cameras are worth tracking down if they are cheap (around $25), but the Diacord G and L are real matches for the best Yashicas and Minoltas.
The Graflex 22 is a slightly updated Ciro-flex. There were four different models, with the best having a 4 element f3.2 lens (the others had 3 element f3.5). User report that the 3 element lens is incredibly bad, and not worth pursuing as a decent camera, however the 4 element is a lot better. The Graflex is a simple TLR using a red window and knob winder,and the best models have shutter speeds upto 1/400. Other problems users report with the Graflex are incredibly dim viewfinders and ‘grindy’ focussing.
Overall the Graflex is probably worth avoiding unless you specifically want one as they can be extremely hit or miss, but if you do want one, ensure you get the model with the Rapax shutter, as that show it has the better lens.
Here’s another folding TLR, this time a strange beast called a Zecaflex. The Zecaflex was made by Zeh-Camera-Fabrik in Dresden. The difference between this and other folding TLRs is that the Zecaflex uses different length lenses for viewing and taking the photo. You can see this in the photo above, where the viewing lens is much shorter, allowing it to sit further back than the taking lens. The lenses were still linked for focussing, but the viewing lens just moved less when the taking lens moved. Due to the smaller viewing lens, it also made the viewfinder smaller allowing a more compact camera when folded away.
The Zecaflex came with varying lenses, but most came with the Xenar f3.5/75mm lens, which is of reasonable quality for its age. The Zecaflex is another one for camera collectors so you will be lucky to find one for under $500!
The Flexaret VII is the final in a long line of Flexaret TLRs made by Meopta, and is arguably their finest. The Flexaret VII has a f3.5/80mm lens made by Meopta themselves and produces rather excellent results (although users complain of it having a soft coating). The fastest shutter speed on the VII is and admirable 1/500.
The Flexaret VII has an interesting feature, similar in function to the Ikoflex Favorit, where you can set a light value which then sets a series of shutter speeds and apertures, so when you want to stop the lens down, you do not need to adjust the shutter speed. Focussing is performed in a similar way to the Minolta Autocord using sliders underneath the lens. You can also get a 35mm for the Flexaret, similar to the Rolleikin attachment.
Overall, the Flexaret VII is a surprise package: if you can find one in good condition, it can equal the results from more ‘famous’ TLRs outlined in this article. One to watch.
The Semflex auto was made in 1949 by the French camera manufacturer SEM. The SEM was another cheaper copy of the Rolleiflex, although the SEM was actually quite good! It was well manufactured and was very sturdy and robust. There were many different Semflexes released but the best versions were the Semflexes with the 4-element f3.5/75mm Angénieux or Berthiot lenses (normally the Semflex Oto). To identify a ‘good’ lens, look out for a f3.5 lens on a crank advance Semflex, this will undoubtedly be the better 4-element lens on a Semflex Oto. The Semflex Oto was the higher quality TLR from SEM, the latest being the Semflex Oto 3.5 which was manufactured from 1959-1965.
SEM set out to rival Rollei (‘become the French Rolleiflex’ has been quoted in a few places), but they didn’t really step up to the quality mark of their German cousins. The Semflex Oto is definitely worth tracking down if in France, as they aren’t very well known anywhere else, but should be reasonably cheap there.
The Olympusflex series of cameras are extremely sought after. They were Olympus’s foray into the TLR market in the 1950′s. Olympus made their TLRs as a direct response to the increased popularity of TLRs in postwar Japan, and directly modelled their camera on the Rolleiflex (like 50% of the cameras here!).
The original Olympusflex I had a a pair of great Zuiko f2.8/75mm lenses and had a shutter ranging from 1-1/400 and bulb. Various models were released thereafter, making minor cosmetic changes, but also lens changes (for example the Flex BII has a 3.5/75 lens).There were three ‘stands’ of the OlympusFlex:
- The standard I series:I. These had two wheels for aperture and shutter speed and a 2.8/75 lens.
- The B series: B,B1,BII. These had changes to the focus and advance knobs, and all had 3.5/75 lenses, plus flash synch changes from X to F.
- The A series:A3.5, A2.8,A3.5II. The A3.5 had a simplified camera, the settings wheel being replaced by standard aperture and shutter speed controls. The A3.5 had 3.5/75 lenses and a decent fast shutter speed of 1/500. The A2.8 was similar but with 2.8/75 lens and a 1/400 Seikosha-Rapid shutter. Finally the A3.5II was the same as the A3.5 but with filter bayonets and a 1/500 top shutter speed (plus x/m flash synch).
So after all that, what does that mean to you, the reader? Basically you can’t go wrong with an Olympusflex. As long as you get a working model, you should be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the camera, in both construction and picture quality. Unfortunately they are mega-rare, so expect to pay a pretty penny.
I have to admit, we only included the Beautyflex range of cameras for their names! Beautyflexes and Beautycords were made by Taiyodo in Japan in the 1950′s. They released about 15 different models under the ‘beauty’ name, all of varying quality from crap (Beautycord S) to pretty decent Rolleiflex copy (Beautyflex 2.8) with everything in between (Beautyflex D being a pretty average TLR).
Beautyflex cameras are pretty rare, and the decent ones are even rarer than a cool man in a beige photography waistcoat(i.e VERY rare). The 2.8 model has a 2.8/80mm lens with a copal 1-1/200 shutter and is the one to go for if you can actually find one.
Stereo cameras are the new TLRs dontcha know? Well, they are meant to be making a comeback and what better way than to combine a stereo camera with a TLR! GOMZ did this back in the 1960′s and created quite a strange camera! A stereo image is created by taking two photos with the two lenses and then using a special viewer to look at the two photos to create one 3d image. The Sputnik, made out of bakelite, and focussing is achieved moving the centre lens, which is geared to the other two lenses. It’s a pretty simple camera, and as it’s designed for a specific job, the lens/shutters aren’t too important. What I will say however, is that stereo cameras actually work very well! It’s well worth having a stereo camera in your collection.
The Samocaflex is a 35mm TLR released in the 1950s, shaped almost like a normal 35mm camera, but with a extra lens and viewfinder inserted on the top. The viewfinder has a condenser for brighter viewing, and also contains a tiny magnifying glass. The shutter speeds vary from 1-1/500 and the lens is a 50mm f2.8 or f3.5 depending on the camera model.
35mm are a footnote to this article, primarily as 35mm TLRs don’t really make much sense as you get all the problems of TLRs(parrallex problems etc) but without any of the benefits of 120 film size.
The Toyoca 35 is another Japanese 35mm TLR. Looking like an old Lecia III rangefinder, but with an extra lens and viewfinder attached.Lens is an Owla Anastigmat 4.5cm f/3.5 in NKS shutter, with speeds of 1-200 & B. I actually really like the Toyoca 35, but again, the extra lens and viewfinder seems a bit pointless on such a small 35mm camera!
Can’t afford a Rolleiflex? Never fear! The Rollieflex digital camera is here!
Here’s the lowdown:
The Rolleiflex Mini Digital Camera proudly continues the Rollei Twin Lens Reflex tradition, pushing the famed camera into beautifully tiny territory! The Rolleiflex TLR film cameras were notable for their compact size, reduced weight, superior optics, durable and simple mechanics and bright viewfinders. The high-quality lenses, manufactured by Zeiss and Schneider, further differentiated the Rolleiflex TLR from many of its competitors. Now, many of the original’s unique features (and all of its charm) can be yours in a retro-miniature package too awesome to believe! A 5 Mega Pixel camera with autofocus technology, the Rollei Mini allows you to shoot from a distance of 4 inches to infinity, saving each image to a Mini SD Card. Included with the camera are: 256 MB Mini SD Card, Leather Strap, CR2 Lithium Batter, and Instructions. Exclusively sold online for $399. [UrbanOutfitters]
Wow..$400, BARGAIN!! (That’s sarcasm by the way!). Do us all a favour and buy a yashica D for $50!