One of the best articles on the history of TLR
Medium Format Twin Lens Reflex
Not the best of photos, sorry; but I couldn’t leave this camera out, even though it’s no longer in my collection. The Rolleiflex of 1929 was not the first TLR, but it was the camera that married the TLR layout with the 6×6 cm roll film format to create one of the great camera types of the 20th century.
Another poor photo of a great camera: the Rolleiflex Standard of 1935 added the rapid film wind crank and the mechanical frame counter and pointed the way to the “modern” Rolleiflex.
…and here IS the “modern” Rolleiflex (at least by my standards) – two of them in fact. On the left is one of the very first f/2.8 Rolleis, the 196th camera made, from 1950. One of the things I like about it is the fact that it’s a West German camera made with an East German Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens in the post-Berlin-Airlift Cold War years. On the right is its more mainstream stablemate, a 1951 MX Automat with the West German f/3.5 Zeiss-Opton Tessar. Back at that time, it was the East German branch of the company that owned the rights to the Carl Zeiss name, and the West Germans who had to choose another. The power of the Western courts and financial power would change that over the coming years.
The MX Rollei is one of the great bargains in medium format: solid construction and excellent lenses combine with prices competitive with the better Japanese copies in this model.
Zeiss Ikon could not let the challenge from an upstart like Rolleiflex go unanswered, but their answer was tentative and uncertain. The Zeiss Ikoflex began as a distinctly unprofessional camera, virtually a twin lensed box camera. They followed quickly with a succession of more sophisticated models to compete with the Rollei, although they never managed to match its combination of advanced features and reliability: the more sophisticated the Ikoflexes became, the more reliability problems they seemed to have. The Ikoflex returned after WWII with a new design, but with knob wind, Novar and Tessar lenses, fussy handling and sub-Rollei levels of reliability, the Ikoflexes were, at best, competitors for the Rolleicord rather than the Rolleiflex. This is the second-to-last model, a mid-1950s IIa with Opton-Tessar lens in Synchro-Compur shutter – about as good as the Ikoflex ever got.
The TLR format was taken up by manufacturers all over the world. One of my favorites is the Meopta Flexaret of Prague, Czechoslovakia. This was the model from which the Minolta Autocord evolved.
The first medium format TLR made in the United States was the Argoflex E, introduced about four years after Argus had popularized 35mm over here with the Model A.
Not long after the Argoflex, the Ciro-Flex came out with a faster f/3.5 lens and Rollei-style focusing panel. The best were the C (shown here), the E and the F. These 3 models all had the better Rapax shutter, with speeds from 1 to 1/400 second. The C even had parallax correction in the viewfinder, which was dropped in favor of a brighter Fresnel finder in the E. The F was the top of the line, with a 4-element, f/3.2 lens.
The original Argoflex, like the Model A, had a body made of Bakelite phenolic plastic. Toward the end of the 1940s, though, Argus upgraded the camera with an all-metal body. Unfortunately, they didn’t upgrade anything else; the lens, shutter, focusing system and red-window frame counter were all the same as the original, and to make matters worse, the later cameras no longer accepted 120 film. This is the last model, the Argoflex EF, synchronized for flash.
In the early 1950s, Graflex bought Ciro and the Ciro-Flex became the Graflex 22. The camera is the same, but the Graflex name and grey leatherette lend a little more style…..
Yet another variant of the Ciro-Flex, the DeJur as in many ways a nicer and more ambitious job than the Graflex 22. The DeJur nameplate is a die casting attached on top of the Ciro nameplate, and they also substituted a die cast front focusing panel for the stamped piece that was used by both Ciro and Graflex. The focusing hood featured a Rollei-like latch instead of the Ciro’s inelegant lever, and a full-coverage magnifier panel popped up at the press of a button. Unfortunately, the DeJur was made only with the Alphax shutter – with a Rapax, this would have been a very nice camera. It had a short market life, being introduced just as Ciro was taken over by Graflex and disappearing again within about a year.
One of the better American TLRs was the Kodak Reflex (and the nearly identical Reflex II, pictured). Kodak designed an unusual 4-element lens for this camera, and the II was the first TLR to feature a Fresnel field lens to brighten the viewfinder. Unfortunately, like the late Argoflexes, the Kodak Reflexes accept only 620 film.
Without question the finest of American TLRs was the Ansco Automatic Reflex. Introduced in 1947, it sold for nearly the same price as a Rolleiflex… if it sold at all. It was a beautiful camera, but it wasn’t a Rollei. (For more on this and other American TLRs, go to The Official Diatribe.)
Well, wouldn’t you know it; they were making TLRs in Japan too. This is the oldest Japanese TLR in my collection, and one of the most sophisticated made in that country. The Mamiyaflex A had a fully automatic frame counter, like the Rolleiflex…. and unlike the Rollei, in the Mamiya you didn’t even have to thread the film leader through rollers to make the system work. The camera also featured an optical sports finder, equalled only by the similar one in the Ansco, and this example shows off its Olympus Zuiko taking and viewing lenses. Mamiya never followed up with anything on this level; it may have just been too expensive to build.
Generally recognized as the best of all Japanese TLRs, the Minolta Autocord evolved from the Minoltacord, which in turn was a direct copy of the Meopta Flexaret. The Autocord’s film wind system is robust and smooth, and its Rokkor lens is an exceptional performer for a Tessar type. The Meopta-inspired focusing system is convenient but also the camera’s Achilles’ heel, the most likely part to break.
The most Rollei-like and probably the best known of the Japanese TLRs was the Yashica Mat, which evolved through 6 different models, all but the first having built-in light meters. It was probably not the best of the Japanese TLRs, but it was quite good; and the metering system in the Mat-124 line was surely the best in any TLR of its era. The final Mat-124G model was little changed from this Mat-124 except for a very nice coat of black paint.
Toward the end of the 1950s, the term “Medium Format” expanded downward a bit to include 4×4 cm frames on 127 film. This format produced Ektachrome “Super Slides” that could be projected in a regular 35mm projector and gave an image of about twice the area on the screen. Yashica came out with a whole line of 4×4 cameras to parallel their 6×6 line, including budget-level, crank-advance, and metered models. This 44LM was the top of the line, with a built-in meter and a Yashinon lens.
The Mamiya Flex name was used for a series of fixed lens twin-lens reflex cameras built from 1948 to about 1956. These had ‘A’ and ‘B’ designations, hence the ‘C’ in the interchangeable lens models. Refer to the Mamiya web page (Section 13) for details. The dates of manufacture are very difficult to confirm. Some references quote the date of announcement, others the date of first availability in a particular country. Further more, older models would still be available new for a period. The basic C220/C330 design, with minor modifications, lasted some 26 of the 38 year production history.
TLRgraphy: Mamiya TLR has a very very unique feature…. they are very very well-built, which means they are very very heavy!!
Many great TLRs are made in Japan. the famous yashica family, autocord family and so on. so you must be wondering where to find some second-hand camera store in Japan?
here you go. Just compiled some info about where to find these precious vintage babies in Hot Japan!.
Tokyo is not exactly short of good used camera stores but Cross Point in Omori, Shinagawa-ku, has some amazing bargains especially on film and especially medium-format cameras. We take a look to see what is on offer at this suburban alladin’s cave of cameras.Omori might not be the trendiest or glitziest of Tokyo’s suburbs or even the most well-known. But it’s easy to get to [just ten minutes from Shinagawa Station on the Keihin-Tohoku or Keiky Lines] and it has one of the best used camera shops in town.
Cross Point Cameras is about five minutes walk from Omori Station and about ten minutes from our office, which is pretty dangerous it must be said; the impulse-purchase dial reads ‘maximum’ at all times, and for good reason.
Japan and especially Tokyo has some superb used camera stores, feeding off the national obsession for the camera and – more particularly – the national obsession for all things new and shiny or, more specifically, the desire to turn in the old in preference for the new.
Some Japanese camera-buffs are utterly obsessive about having either the newest gear or having gear that is immaculate. The tiniest blemish on a piece of equipment can often tempt cameraphiles to trade in old for new as much as their desire to have the latest lens, body or accessory. This means that the place is literally awash with good quality used equipment. Great for those who relish quality over trends and for those seeking a more retro approach to their photography; i.e. film cameras rather than digital.
It’s in the film and particularly the medium-format film end of the film department that Cross Point offers its most stunning bargains. Currently in the window [see the photogallery below] is, for example, a Mamiya RZ67 that doesn’t look too long out of its box, complete with 120 film-back, 110mm lens and AE metering head. All this for just 37,000Yen. Alongside it are a bunch of RB67 cameras, all ready to shoot, ranging from just 10,000Yen.
Cross Point is not for the Hasselblad fan as, like other very sought-after items, Blads tend to get bought from the owner of the shop by many of the other used camera stores in Tokyo. But you can find them here occasionally and it is worth leaving the owner of the shop your details so he can keep an eye out for you and let you know if he finds what you are looking for.
This lack of Swedish camera gear is a minor shortcoming though and I would dare any serious camera fan to not find something at Cross Point to tempt their wallet out to play. Taking our visit there just last Saturday as an example – and bearing in mind that the owner is about to do one of his buying runs around Japan, picking up new stock – Cross Point had a good selection of mediumn format cameras, including the following:
- Mamiya RB67 – priced from 10,000Yen to 40,000Yen
- Mamiya RZ67 – priced from 28,000Yen to 60,000Yen
- Pentax 67
- Pentax 645
- Bronica EC
- Bronica GS1
- Bronica ETRS and ETRSi
- Fuji 6×9
- Graphlex 6×7
- Mamiya 645
- Fuji GSX680
On the 35mm side of life Cross Point also stocks an excellent selection of gear, from classic Nikon and Canon rangefinders, some excellent quality and reasonably priced Leica M3, M4, and M5 rangefinders. To more recent Canon AE and F1, Nikon F Series, Olympus OM series and various other SLR cameras.
The lens selection is not comprehensive but there are always plenty of Nikon Ai, AiS, AF D and both newer and older lenses. In the Canon section Cross Point carries a good range of older FD and the newer EF-mount lenses.
Like any good used camera shop there are also a number of eccentric oddities in stock at any one time. Current highlights would have to include….
- 1200mm lens with Bronica medium format mount [you can’t miss it, it’s the lens near the counter that looks like it could be a pillar supporting the shop’s roof]
- Nikkor 600mm af ED
- Sinar P2 monorail camera
- Horsemann 6×9 and Polaroid rotating back
- Nikonos flash gear, wide angle lenses
- …and a few more besides.
Chief amongst reasons to visit Cross Point is the friendly owner, who speaks a little English and who can be very generous on the discounts and items he throws-in for free.
This weekend a friend of mine [a genuine vintage camera-holic] came down to the shop for the first time and left with a mint-condition Mamiya RZ67, complete with a 110mm lens that looked like it had just come out of the box, its 120 film-back, a Polaroid back, camera bag, fresh battery, authentic Mamiya RZ strap and a roll of film to test the whole lot out….. all for 22,000Yen.
I defy anyone to find a better bargain in Tokyo than that!
Photo gallery: a few shots of Cross Point Cameras in Omori
- Five-minutes walk from Omori Station [Keihin Tohoku Line]
- Ten minutes walk from Omori-kaigan Station [Keikyu Line]
- Co-ordinates, to put into Google Maps or similar: 35.59148,139.731315. Click this link to see these co-ordinates in Google Maps. StreetView is available and shows the shop quite clearly.
One last thing to remember; print this article out, take it into the shop and at least the guy will know you found about his place through Alfie and Japanorama. It can’t hurt and it might help you get an even better deal than the price tags already suggest.
Happy shopping and happy shooting!
Tokyo Used Camera Stores (Source: http://tonymcnicol.com/2009/05/24/secon-hand-camera-shops/):
Pictured above: Canon 7 Black w/50mm f1.2 screw mount. Shot by Bellamy Hunt
Eric’s Note: For this blog post I am excited to present this article written by Bellamy Hunt (aka Japancamerahunter). Not only is he a skilled street photographer, but he is a professional camera hunter. If you are looking for a vintage or classic camera, he is your man. Knowing nothing about classic cameras myself, I asked him some tips that you may need to know when looking to buy one. Read what he has to say below!
So, you have decided to take the plunge and buy a classic camera, well hold on to your horses, this is something that you shouldn’t run headlong into with wild abandon.
Obviously if you are buying a $20 camera most of this will be completely irrelevant to you, but if you are thinking of getting something a bit nicer, then there are a few things you should consider.
First up, and perhaps most importantly, know what you are looking for. Don’t have a vague idea that you want a film camera and just buy the first one you see; you will just be disappointed.
Here is a little list of things that you should be looking for when you are buying a classic camera.
1. What sort of camera do you want? A rangefinder? An SLR? A large format aerial camera?
Give this some thought. The internet is your friend, go and do some research and find out what you think you would like. Perhaps you have a friend who has a camera you like, if so, blag it off them and try it out.
2. How much money do you want to spend?
Be realistic about this, these things can get expensive. Just because it is old does not mean it is worth less than the new gear. Research prices online, set yourself a budget and you will find something. Don’t be cheap though, you are not going to get that Leica for $400. Not. Ever.
3. Research. Research. Research.
I cannot stress this enough, I am super serial. No really, the amount of people that have bought a $2000 camera from me and then asked me how it works simply staggers me. Download a manual, read forums, stalk photographers, whatever it takes.
4. Don’t be fooled.
If you are looking to buy a classic camera and you find one for an amazing bargain, there is always a reason why….always. Be skeptical of cheap prices or super wonderful deals. Is there a problem with the camera? Or worse, is it stolen? Be careful.
5. Check the functions.
Ok, so you have found the camera, the price is right, it looks pretty enough, but does it work? Check the shutter speeds, all of them. How does 1 second sound? Like 3 seconds? Skip it. Check the power, the film door, the meter (if it has one), check everything.
6. Mold is your worst enemy.
Check the inside of the camera, is there any mold anywhere? If there is, just walk away. Unless, of course, you like throwing your money away. Same goes for lenses.
7. What battery does it use?
This may sound silly, but some cameras (Leica M5 being a shining example) only use mercury cells, which are now outlawed in many places. Make sure you can get the batteries for your new toy. Some cameras now take adapters, so you can bypass this, but not all of them do.
8. What sort of condition is it in?
This may sound obvious, but if it says mint, then it really should be mint. How was it stored? One careful lady owner? Lovely, I shall take it. In a bucket full of spiders? No thanks.
9. Where is it?
Again, may sound silly, but it you are having it sent to you, you have to factor in the postage and if is from abroad, the import taxes. Trust me, most people forget this, but it can be a fair chunk of your budget.
10. Where are you going to keep it?
Really, where? On the shelf next to your mother’s heirlooms, gathering dust? Be sensible, if you are buying something expensive make sure you have somewhere to store it. A humidity cabinet is best, but expensive. Get a plastic storage box with a whole load of silica gel packets and you would do yourself a favor.
So, that should cover it. Obviously if you are buying from the internet then you cannot physically check over the camera yourself, which is where the trust thing comes into play. Check your sellers, see if they have a good reputation, see what people are saying about them and you should be grand.
Most of all, good luck, with the right amount of research you should end up with something really cool.