Rollei
- Rolleicord I Art Deco
- Rolleicord IIe
- Rolleicord Va
- Rolleiflex Original
- Rolleiflex Standard
- Rolleiflex 2.8E
- Rolleiflex 3.5F
Lustre Echoflex
Richter Reflecta
Montanus Rocca Super
Lipca Rollop 2.8 Automatic
Lipca Flexora
Meopta Flexaret IVa
Yashica D
Argus Argoflex EF

<-back

TLR cameras

Here are the various TLR cameras in my collection. Other types can be found on other pages:
SLR cameras
focal plane shutters
folding cameras

TLR stands for twin lens reflex, cameras that show the subject through a viewing lens which is focus-coupled to the taking lens and the image is projected by a mirror onto a viewing screen. TLRs are an iconic style of camera and my collection is slowly expanding. It started with a Photavit Photina, a Halina AI and a few Rolleicords, but now includes several Rolleiflexes and a randon collection of other models.
The Rolleicord series was a simpler and cheaper version of the iconic Rolleiflex range. I like the 'Cords' because they are affordable (compared to the Rolleiflex) and it is a pleasure to see the scene you are photographing on a 6x6 viewfinder (even though the image is mirrored!). Because one tends to hold them at chest or waist level the viewing perspective is also different then what you typically get from standard view and rangefinder cameras. Last but not least there is something very appealing about the square image format. If you want to try medium format photography, this is the type of camera I would recommend.

Rollei

Rolleicord I Model 1 Art Deco

The first Rolleicord model, the Rolleicord I Model 1 "Art Deco" introduced late 1933, was also one of the most visually stunning with an intricate Art Deco pattern covering the whole camera body, including the wind knobs. Apparently a version with regular leather covering was also produced although I have never been able to find one.
All Rolleicord had their own film advance system and a frame counter, so there was no need to use the red spy window to look at the frame indicators on the rollfilm backing paper. Like most later models, the Art Deco had the focus knob as well as wind knob on the right-hand side of the camera, but the frame counter was on the opposite side. The main drawback of this early model was probably the rather slow viewing lens, which made the focussing screen rather dim.

Rolleicord I Art Deco photo

A 1934 Rolleicord I Art Deco with uncoated CZJ Triotar 75mm f/4.5 lens in a Compur shutter. The Art Deco covering is still in pretty good condition, despite being about 80 years old. This example has a flash sync socket next to the viewing lens, but that is clearly a later modification.

There appears to be a wide-spread belief on the internet that the Art Deco model had body serial# between 05001 - 37508 while another version with normal leather covering had body # 00001 - 05000. However, a quick search revealed several Art Deco models with serial# <5000. These serial# matched with the lens serial #, which were all lower than 1,465,000, so less than 5,000 from the first Art Deco with lens serial # 1,460,000. Moreover, there appears to be a gap in the lens serial# of the Art Deco between 1,465,000 and 1,470,000. This gap of about 5,000 lenses could very well represent the leather-clad first Rolleicord model, but I have not been able to find a single one of these to prove this. Nevertheless, it would appear that the Art Deco was the first Rolleicord model to be build, not the leather version.
A few Art Deco with much higher lens serial# also exist (ca. 1,600,000 and 1,740,000). These were quite likely build after the Rolleicord I model 2 was introduced in December 1934, as these have lens serial# starting with 1,590,000. So it appears that a few small batches were produced after the main production of the Art Deco, or perhaps these represented old stock that were fitted with newer lenses.


Rolleicord IIe

Changes in the Rolleicord line-up were mostly incremental. From the Art Deco above to the last version of the Rolleicord II, the frame counter moved to the same side as the wind knob and the filter mount changed from a screw mount to a bayonet mount. The focussing screen received a mask for parallax correction. Also, faster taking and viewing lenses were mounted. The wind knob gained a wind lock, so one didn't even need to keep an eye on the counter while advancing the film. The last version, the IIe introduced in 1949, was the first to have coated lenses and had a flash sync socket as standard.

Rolleicord IIe photo

A 1950 Rolleicord IIe with coated CZJ Triotar 75mm f/3.5 lens in a Compur-Rapid shutter. Some paint loss and brassing but in excellent working condition after a good clean, some photo samples can be seen here.


Rolleicord IIe photo

Side view of the Rolleicord with fully extended lens base for closest focus (2 2/3 feet). Viewing and taking lens moved in unison.

Rolleicord Va

The Rolleicord Va was introduced in 1957 and featured several improvements over the IIe above. It had an interchangeable frame counter which made it very easy to adapt for different frame formats such as 6x4 cm or 35mm film. The focussing screen featured parallax control and in addition it had a frame finder. It featured an improved four-element Xenar taking lens. The shutter had LV markings and aperture and speed scales were coupled. The shutter also had a self timer. A little confusing is that the focussing knob was moved to the opposite side of the camera body. At the back it featured a somewhat hard to interpret exposure guide.
The later Vb was the last Rolleicord to be built and featured an interchangeable focussing screen.

Rolleicord Va photo

A 1957 Rolleicord Va with coated Xenar 75mm f/3.5 lens in a Synchro-Compur shutter.


Rolleicord Va photo

Rolleicord Va from different viewpoints. Note that the focus knob is on the left. The frame counter was replaced with an interchangeable version that could be swapped when using masks for different film frame formats (on the same 120 film).


Rolleicord Va photo

Rolleicord I Art Deco, IIe and Va next to each other. Although they gained more bells and whistles, the basic concept of the later models was very much the same as that of the very first model.


Rolleiflex Original

The Rolleiflex was first introduced in 1929 (before the Rolleicord) and it caused quite a stir. At the time, 35mm cameras were still in their infancy and so were rangefinders. The most common cameras were folding and box cameras, neither of which had great viewfinders, so framing and focussing were not that accurate. Of course there were plate cameras but these were large and cumbersome. The Rolleiflex allowed accurate focussing and framing in a camera which was portable and convenient to use. Hence, it was an immediate success.
The first Rolleiflex model is nowadays known as the 'Original'. Although Rolleiflex are well-known for their lever-wind film transport, the first few versions still had a wind knob. In addition, one had to use a red spy window at the back during film transport, whereas only later versions had automatic film transport stops and frame counters. One of my favourite features of these early Rolleiflex was a little bubble spirit level which was molded onto the focusing screen, a lovely piece of glassmaking which shows the attention to detail which the Rollei cameras became known for, one of the reasons why Rolleiflex have been in production nearly continuously until very recently.

Rolleiflex Original K1 614 photo

Late version (model K1 614 for purists, made in 1930) of the original Rolleiflex, distinguishable amongst others by its hinged back and wind knob with distance indicators. It has a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 75mm f/3.8 lens in Compur shutter. Note the little cable release holder next to the viewing lens and the cable release itself, making it easier to fire the shutter whilst holding the camera steady. This example has been updated to use 620 film instead of 117 film it was originally designed to use. 117 film was one of many similar rollfilms produced by Kodak, it was nearly the same size as 620 film but with a thick core like 120 film.

Rolleiflex Original K1 614 photo

The Rolleiflex Original with its original case. The camera is shown with its accessory Proxar lenses, used for close-up photography. The case had convenient holders for these lenses build in its hood, but nevertheless these lenses have often been lost. A yellow filter was also provided, this was the age of black and white photography after all.

Rolleiflex Standard

The first Rolleiflex model with lever-wind film transport was introduced in 1932 and started to get the familiar Rolleiflex look. It received a film transport lever instead of a wind knob, which improved the speed with which the camera could be used, and therefore the focus knob had to be moved to the opposite side of the camera body. Furthermore, like all later Rolleiflex, the lens board had round top and bottom edges instead of the rectangular look of the Original. A frame finder was integrated in the viewfinder hood. The shutter still had to be cocked by hand, however.
A feature that confused me at first is a red window at the bottom of the camera that says 6x9. Could this be used as a 6x9 camera? But of course not, how would that be possible with a 6x6 frame? It dawned on me that at the time some roll films might not have had 6x6 markings yet, only 6x9 ones. Either window was for finding the first frame only, as further film advance was automatic.
This model was in 1939 replaced with the New Standard. The changes were largely cosmetic but defined the look of all the Rolleiflex models following, including the ones below.

Rolleiflex Standard K2 621 photo

Comparison of the Rolleiflex Standard (left) and the Rolleiflex Original (right). Both examples used the same Tessar f/3.8 lens and Compur shutter.


Rolleiflex 2.8E

I finally succumbed and got a Rolleiflex, just to see how different it is from the Rolleicords I have and if the extra expense is worth it. I'd say probably not, but it is a fantastic camera and I am tempted to keep it (update: or the 3.5F below). After being first introduced in the late 1920s (see 'Rolleiflex Original' above), a number of different Rolleiflex variants were produced, including the 'T' and the 'Automat', but the main production were the 2.8 and 3.5 A-F ranges. The number stood for the taking lens aperture, so the 2.8A would have a Zeiss Tessar f/2.8 lens, whereas the 3.5A would have a f/3.5 lens. They also had slightly different focal lenghts, 80 mm vs. 75mm.

Rolleiflex 2.8E photo

The Rolleiflex 2.8E was introduced in late 1956, so is from about the same time as the Rolleicord Va above. So what are the differences? Well, of course there is the taking lens. The f/2.8 Planar is a five-element lens of great reputation, although of course the four-element Schneider Xenar on the Rolleicord is no slouch. The Rolleiflex was also available with a Schneider lens, the Xenotar, which was similar to the Planar. Coincidentally, the f/3.5 Planar was also a five-element lens, but if the drawing in the instruction manuals are accurate, it had a different design than the f/2.8 version. Both were later replaced with six-element versions, although the exact difference in optical design is debated.
Then there is the light meter. The 2.8E was the first model with an (optional) uncoupled light meter, with the light meter cell mounted below the Rolleiflex nameplate at the front of the camera, whereas the light meter was integrated into the distance knob. It would indicate a light value, which could then be transferred to the exposure system.

Of course, another difference is the wind lever, which makes winding the film a lot faster than using the wind knob on the Rolleicord. Another useful feature on the Rolleiflex is the rangefinder prism integrated in the centre of the focussing screen, which makes focussing more accurate, and easier in dim light. Furthermore, the viewfinder has an extra mirror which can be pushed down, which allows focussing and viewing at eye level instead of at waist level.
All in all the Rolleiflex definitely has many advantages over the Rolleicord. If it is worth the 4-8x price depends of course on what you want of the camera. The 3.5 models are somewhere in-between in price, but one could argue that in that case the differences are mostly in camera handling and not so much optical. The good thing is, there is never a bad choice!

Rolleiflex 2.8E photoRolleiflex 2.8E photoRolleiflex 2.8E photo

A 1959 Rolleiflex 2.8E with Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 taking lens in Synchro-Compur shutter and a Heidosmat taking lens of identical speed and focal length, from three different angles. This is the version with light meter. The 2.8E was the first model with a 35mm frame counter (top right behind the focus knob) for use with a 35mm adapter, which was dropped again on later models.


Rolleicord vs Rolleiflex photo

Rolleicord Va and Rolleiflex 2.8E next to each other.


Rolleiflex 3.5F

Much what I said above about the Rolleiflex 2.8E applies to the 3.5F, but it had several important improvements. First of all, it came with a (still optional) coupled lightmeter, so one would adjust the exposure by changing aperture or shutter speed until the lightmeter indicator would match the needle. Second, it had an interchangeable viewing hood, which could be taken off very easily by pressing two push buttons, and allowed a eye-level prism to be mounted. It must be noted that this lead to a size difference of the frosted screen, so one cannot swap the one in a 3.5F (or 2.8F) with previous models or vice versa.

Rolleiflex 3.5F photo

A 1961 Rolleiflex 3.5F Model 3 with Schneider Xenotar 75mm f/3.5 taking lens in Synchro-Compur shutter. The question which was the best lens, the Xenotar or Planar, has led to heated discussions on the internet without a clear winner. I'd say the difference was probably small and nowadays depends more on how well the lens and camera have been treated and serviced than on any perceived original difference in quality.

The 3.5F and the 2.8F where the final 'classic' models in the Rolleiflex range, so what happened next? Well, first of all these models stayed in production till 1979. After that the company went through a financial rough patch, but started building TLRs again in 1987 with the introduction of the 2.8GX, which featured TTL (through the lens) metering. Early this century it introduced new wide angle and telelens models, the 4/0 FW and FT, respectively. The company changed owners and name a few times, but still exists as Rollei and is still in German hands, although unrelated to the original Franke & Heidecke company. However, it appears any TLR production seized following the last take-over in 2014.

A better view of the controls of the Rolleiflex 3.5F, showing the coupled lightmeter unit integrated into the focus knob as well as the aperture and shutter speed read-outs on top of the viewing lens. Note that the viewing lens had a f/2.8 aperture, so there was no difference in viewing screen brightness between the 3.5 and 2.8 models.

Rolleiflex 3.5F photo

Echoflex Semi-Automat

The popularity of the Rolleis resulted of course in a great variety of copies being made. One of those was the Echoflex, which was a Japanese Rolleicord copy from ca. 1955, which is around the time the Rolleicord IV was in production. As is the case for many Japanese cameras (and lenses), it is not always easy to find out which company made what, as many cameras were rebranded under various names or build to order by a different factory than the company that sold it. The Echoflex is no different. There were two different models, most likely made by different companies, the first one a manual model, the second a semi-automatic model, i.e., with an automatic wind stop (no red window) but not with a self-cocking shutter. The second model is shown here and was purportedly made by Lustre, as the accessory shoe on some examples (including mine) show the letters LKK, from Lustre Koki Kogaku. The manual indicates 'Transvision Trading Co. Ltd., Tokyo Japan' as the sole distributor for the Echoflex.

Lustre Echoflex Semi-Automat photo

A Lustre Echoflex Semi-Automat with coated 75mm f/3.5 Echor Anastigmat lens in Synchro-Super shutter, which is similar to the Prontor-SV. Comparing it to the Rolleicord IIe above you won't spot many differences, except for the shutter release and aperture and shutter speed controls.

Lustre also made the Lustreflex, some versions of which did look virtually identical to the Echoflex, but were equipped with Tri-Lausar lenses and Chy-FB shutters instead. Then there was the identical Chelicoflex, which also has an Echor lens and Synchro-Super shutter, and even matching serial number ranges. Then there was the Beautycord, some version of which are identical to the Echoflex and had Tri-Lausar lenses and Synchro-Super shutters. The confusing thing is that the Beautycord was made by Taiyodo Koki, not Lustre, and they made a whole series of other copies, like the Wardflex, Gen-Flex, Photoflex and Fodorflex.
Lustre Echoflex Semi-Automat photo

It did not stop there. Next I found a Toyocaflex, made by Tougodo. Again, nearly identical to the Echoflex, although now I managed to find a few small differences: the strap lugs, the position of the flash sync, the film speed dial integrated in the wind knob. Other than that, all controls look the same and work the same. Again, many variants including the Hacoflex, Crownflex, and so on. By that time I gave up! There must be at least 20-30 nearly identical cameras made by at least three different companies within a span of five years or so.


I could only find a poor resolution scan of the manual online, so I made an exact copy of it (including typos!) using my own photos. You can be find it here.


Richter Reflecta

The Richter Reflecta was a TLR camera initially developed by Merkel (from the Metharette, see elsewhere on this page), which company was taken over by the Richter family in the early 1930s. It was a simple camera, but remember, these were the early days of TLRs and the Reflecta had several interesting features, including a helical focus mount on which both the taking and viewing lens were fixed, and which had a focus lever at the bottom of the shutter. This design was later adapted in modified form by Minolta and Flexaret TLRs. The film-loading assembly had to be taken out of the back of the camera for film loading, unusual for a TLR camera but similar to many box cameras at the time.
The Reflecta later changed its name to Reflekta (and the company to Tharandt). Around 1950 the company was taken over by Welta, who updated the camera to the Reflekta II,
Richter Reflecta  photo

still without much actual change other than a double-exposure prevention, and eventually replaced it in 1955 with the Weltaflex, which did away with the focus lever. It longevity was a clear testament to the quality of its original design.


A Richter Reflecta with Anastigmat "Triolar" 75mm f/4.5 lens in unspecified Art Deco style shutter. I tried to figure out what the shutter was and which company made it, but without much luck. There is a small logo that looks like the letters SB (or BS) . The shutter looks a lot like the Stelo shutters found on the other Reflecta examples, but those have the GW logo from the Gebr Werner (incidentally based in Tharandt, just like the Richter company). I have seen the same SB logo on a different, but again unspecified shutter on a Wirgin-branded Reflecta copy. Now the trail has gone cold. If you know more, please help!


Montanus Rocca Super Reflex

Montanus is probably not a company you will have heard of. It was a plastics manufacturer based in Solingen, former West Germany, which also produced a range of cameras in the 1950s. Their first TLR was the rather unremarkable 1952 Plascaflex, a camera with bakelite body and no outstanding features, not unlike the Argoflex above in fact. Therefore, it is a bit of a surprise that not long after, Montanus came out with the Rocca Automatic and Super Reflex, rather modern looking TLRs with several impressive features better known from the Rolleiflex line, including a film advance crank for automatic film transport, automatic shutter cocking, removable viewing hood and fast f/2.8 lenses. Admittedly, it did not have the build quality of the Rolleiflex and the taking lens was a triplet, not the magnificent Planar or Xenotar, but nevertheless, this was essentially a poor man's Rollei. I haven't found much price information, but in the USA it was for sale in 1956 for $100 (rather curiously, rebranded as Edixa 6x6 and sold by Wirgin), about a quarter of what a Rolleiflex would have cost, and still cheaper than a Rolleicord. It appears though, that these cameras did not sell that well, probably not helped by the manufacturer having little reputation in the camera market, and these TLRs are rare to find these days.

Montanus Rocca Super Reflex photo

A Montanus Rocca Super Reflex with two Rodenstock Trinar 80mm f/2.8 lenses. Focussing was done with a slider with a fold-up handle (just visible to the right of the taking lens), which allowed for a fast focus action.


Lipca Rollop 2.8 Automatic

After coming into possession of the above Montanus Rocca Super Reflex with f/2.8 lenses I started wondering how many other TLRs had similarly fast lenses, as before I had only been aware of the Rolleiflex 2.8 and Mamiya C range. Lo and behold, I came across a Rollop 2.8 by Lipca. Again, a fairly unknown camera maker, although arguably a little better known than Montanus. Lipca was founded just after WWII in Barntrup, West Germany, and traces its origins to Kamera-Werk Richter Tharand, which took over Merkel, the company behind the Reflecta TLR. Lipca only build TLR cameras, first the Flexo and Flexora, later the Rollop I, II and Automatic, which were all fairly successful. The Rollop II was the first Lipca TLR to feature a wind crank, whereas on the Rollop Automatic this crank did not just transport the film but also cocked the shutter (hence the name). The camera did not have a lightmeter, but did have LV markings on its shutter and the exposure could be locked to a set LV value
Lipca Rollop 2.8 Automatic photo

by a little switch, so that changing the shutter speed would also change the aperture and vice versa. Arguable the most exciting feature of the Automatic was the four-element Enna Ennit 80mm f/2.8 lens, a lens also found on other highly-rated cameras such as the Balda Super Baldax, and in terms of quality somewhere in-between the Planar and Xenotar on the Rolleis on the one hand and the Trinar on the Rocca Super Reflex above on the other hand. It was produced from 1956 to 1961.



Early version of the Lipca Rollop 2.8 Automatic with two four-element Enna Ennit 80mm f/2.8 lenses. This version did not yet have the name 'Automatic' beneath its name badge. It is also missing the accessory shoe and shutter release lock found on later production.

Lipca Rollop 2.8 Automatic photo

Several more views of the Lipca Rollop 2.8 Automatic.


Lipca Flexora

The Lipca Flexora was a much simpler camera than the Rollop from the same company (see above). Due to the name and the fact it has a focussing lever at the bottom of the camera, I initially thought it was made by Meopta (see Flexaret below). It had a wind knob and the traditional red window for film advance, with no double exposure prevention.

Lipca Flexora  photo Lipca Flexora  photo

A Lipca Flexora with Enna Ennar 75mm f/4.5 lens in Vario shutter. The three-speed shutter is nothing special, but the Enna lenses had a good reputation - the same lens can also be found on the Balda Mess Baldix. Note the metal bar just beneath the Flexora name plate, this was actually the top part of a frame finder which could be pulled up.


Meopta Flexaret IVa

Meopta is not a brand I know much about but it is actually a company that still exists. It is an optical company that was founded in former Czechoslovakia in the 1930s which made several high-quality camera lines, including Leica style rangefinders (the Opema), large format technical cameras and a range of TLRs, the Flexaret, as well as photo enlargers. One of the interesting features of the Flexarets was that many of the models were designed to be quite adaptable in terms of film type or frame size. The Flexaret IVa is a good example of that.
Meopta Flexaret IVa photo

It was introduced in 1956 and has a film transport feeler spool that also had sprocket wheels for 35mm film, which would give telephoto shots in portrait mode. The film counter could be adjusted to 35mm film also, albeit it manually. Unfortunately, this was all a little confusing if one used the camera in its regular 6x6 120 film mode. As Meopta was first and foremost an optical company, its cameras were equipped with its own lenses, which have a great reputation.



(left) A Meopta Flexaret IVa with coated four-element Belar 80mm f/3.5 lens in Prontor-SVS shutter. The small silver insert in the viewing hood with the Meopta logo can be folded away, which turns the hood into a 35mm direct viewfinder.

Another interesting feature was the focus mechanism, which consisted of a lever beneath the lens which would turn the focus helicoid on which the viewing and taking lens were mounted. This is similar to the mechanism on most Minolta TLRs, but Meopta introduced it earlier, although they did not invent it, as a similar construction can be found on older TLRs such as the Richter Reflecta.


The construction of the Flexaret was quite different from most other TLRs - it came apart in two main pieces: the film compartment with wind mechanism and the lens board-focus mechanism-viewing hood. With most other TLRs you can remove the viewing hood separately but access to the focus mechanism is often difficult.

Meopta Flexaret IVa photo


Yashica-D

Besides producing rangefinders and half frame cameras that you can find elsewhere on this site, Yashica had a great reputation as a maker of TLR cameras. However, there's such a large range of them that I've always been somewhat reluctant to look at them closely, until one showed up on my doorstep as a repair job: the Yashica-D below.
It appears that TLRs were in fact the first type of cameras made by Yashica, starting in 1953 with the Yashimaflex, soon after to be followed by the Yashicaflex, which was available in quite a few variants, such as the Yashicaflex A, B, C, S and AS. These were all knob-wind TLRs, so more comparable to Rolleicord than to the Rolleiflex, but it is interesting to point out that some of these were equipped with light meters. At some point around 1957 or 1958 (even the experts disagree) the Yashica A, B, C and D were introduced. These all had the same lenses but the higher 'letters' had better shutters and some additional features. Then there were the Yashica 635 and LM, which were a D with 35mm option and C with light meter, respectively. If you are starting to get confused, so am I!

Yashica-D photo

A Yashica-D with Yashikor 80mm f/3.5 lens in Copal MXV shutter from around 1969. In addition to making many models, Yashica also kept building them all for a long time. The Yashica-D had a life span of no less than 14 years!
This example had a sticky shutter with greasy blades but was other than that in great condition, as the picture shows.

Of course it didn't stop here. Soon followed the Yashica-Mat with wind crank, also available in LM and EM versions, the fully automatic Yashica E, then the Yashica 24, 12, both replaced by the Yashica Mat-124 (we're in the late 60s now) and the final model, the 124G. If you're getting cranky, so am I (pun intended).
All the mumbo jumbo aside, Yashica build their TLRs in large numbers as they were well-featured with highly respected lenses for a reasonable price. Perhaps they weren't as robust as the Rolleis, but good enough for amateur enthusiast, i.e., the people who could afford these, but not the Rolleis.
The Yashica-D is a good example. First of all, it looks like a Rollei, it has the same bayonet filter mount and similar shutter controls, the materials look of good quality, in fact it comes across as a Rolleiflex, just with knob wind, and it certainly compares well with the Rolleicord Va from the same time. All in all, the same counts today as all those years ago, if you want a TLR that does the job but doesn't break the bank, try a Yashica! If you want to know more, check out the Yashica TLR site.

Yashica-D photo

Two top views of the Yashica-D. All rather familiar looking, but that's a good thing in this case.

Argus Argoflex EM

Argus was an American camera company that produced its own cameras as well as licensed cameras build by other companies (e.g., the Argus V-100 by Iloca). Its most famous cameras were the Argus A and Argus C ranges (latter a.k.a. 'the Brick'), which made 35mm photography affordable nearly for everyone.
The TLR cameras made by Argus, the Argoflex range, are relatively unknown, certainly on this (non-US) side of the Atlantic and I only got one by accident in a lot with other cameras. The Argoflex E series, which my example is part of, differed considerably from the Rolleicords above, as the Argoflex took 620 roll film, had a front cell focussing taking lens which was coupled to the viewing lens by a gear system and had a self-cocking shutter. It did not have a wind lock mechanism so film winding had to be monitored using the customary 'red window'. The frosted focussing screen was a little smaller than the 6x6 Rolleicord ones, but did include a magnifier and sports finder. Only a few models were produced, the earliest had a plastic body, later models had metal bodies and the last version, the EF, had a flash sync with accessory shoe at the side of the body.
Later Argoflex models had plastic bodies but were pseudo-TLRs, lacking focus-coupling of the taking lens.

Argus Argoflex EF photo

An Argoflex EF from the late 1940s with coated 75mm f/4.5 Varex lens.


SLR cameras

SLR stands for single lens reflex, cameras that show the subject through the camera lens by means of a mirror and pentaprism or waist-level viewfinder. I tend not to collect these, at least not systematically as I prefer the range- and viewfinders of earlier days (and one has to draw a line somewhere!), but I do have several scattered on this site, including a Retina Reflex and some Exa/Exaktas. I also still own a Minolta 9xi from my pre-digital days and a Sony A77, which technically is called an SLT as it has a semi-transparent mirror. My other SLRs (only one so far!) follow here.

KW Praktica

The KW Praktica was one of the first SLR cameras on the market and sort of a poor man's Exakta. It was a further development by Kamera Werkstatten (KW) if its first SLR, the Praktiflex. KW was based in Dresden and had developed some innovative cameras in the early 1930s, including the Pilot Reflex, a small handsome TLR camera. After WWII KW resumed production fairly quickly and introduced the Praktica with M42 screw mount, which mount had only recently been introduced with the Zeiss Ikon Contax S. The Practica was a great succes and soon after followed a whole range of Praktica SLRs, which lasted until well in the 1990s (as part of VEB Pentacon).
The 1949 Practica was a fairly simple SLR camera with a non-interchangeable waist-level viewfinder, a wind knob and a fastest speed of 1/500s. It was relatively cheap and reliable. A separate pentaprism viewfinder which could be mounted on top of the waist-level viewfinder was available as an option.

KW Praktica Tessar photo

An early version of the KW Praktica, recognisable by its integrated strap lugs, with coated CZJ Tessar 50mm f3.5 lens. The waist-level viewfinder could also function as a so-called sportsfinder by opening the flap with the KW logo on it.

KW Praktica Tessar  photo

Detailed view of the top of the KW Praktica showing the waist-level viewfinder unit with magnifier. Also note the shutter speed dial, the top dial of which functioned as the slow and fast speed selector. If it pointed to the black triangle, the black numbers applied, and if it pointed to the red triangle, the (slow) red numbers applied. The speed itself was indicated by a small red dot on the lower ring.

KW Praktina

The 1954 Praktina was a more advanced model of Kamera Werkstatten's Practica, described above. It was highly adaptable, having interchangeable viewfinder, focussing screen and camera back, as well as a provision to mount a motor wind. In addition, the Praktina had a revolutionary feature: automatic aperture control, which allowed to focus at maximum aperture but would automatically stop down to the selected aperture upon firing the shutter. Of course this was also available on the Ihagee Exakta Varex, but there it was done on the lens whereas on the Praktina it was implemented in the body. Moreover, the Praktina took it a step further. On early models (the Praktina FX) one still had to open the aperture manually after shooting, but on the 1958 Praktina IIA the aperture would be opened during film winding (on lenses that allowed this feature), so one never had to worry about it anymore.
A peculiar feature of the Praktina was the presence of a direct viewfinder in addition to the through-the-lens viewfinder. It was brighter so useful in low light, and would not blank out during shutter release, one of the drawbacks of SLR cameras without automatic mirror return.

KW Praktina FX Tessar  photo

A KW Praktina FX with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2 lens with semi-automatic aperture control. I believe this to be a Praktina FX-SA3 version 2 according the praktina.com website, as it has a film reminder dial with both DIN and ASA film speed settings.

KW Praktina IIA Flexon  photo

A KW Praktina IIA with Carl Zeiss Jena Flexon 50mm f/2 lens with fully automatic aperture control. This is a Praktina IIA-A version 2 according the praktina.com website.

KW Praktina IIA Flexon  photo

Two KW Praktinas with various lenses, including a wide-angle 35mm f/2.8 Flektogon . The one on the right is quite curious. It's marked Jena T, which is what the original East German Carl Zeiss factory called their Tessars after they lost the trademark in a dispute over the rights of the name with Zeiss Ikon, the new West German branch. I removed the front ring from this lens in an attempt to clean the front cell, only to find out there was a second ring beneath it marked Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar and sporting a different serial number. So the ring looks like a quick patch after Carl Zeiss Jena lost the rights to their name. Curiously, the Flektogon has a later serial# but still carries the name C.Z. Jena.


Pentacon F

The Pentacon SLRs were made by the former Zeiss Ikon factories in Dresden, which in the late 1950s merged with several other companies and was renamed VEB Pentacon due to legal disputed with the new Zeiss Ikon company in West Germany. One successful range of cameras produced was the Contax SLR range, which soon after was renamed Pentacon for the same legal reasons.
The Pentacon F was first introduced in 1957 and had a semi-automatic aperture which was set while cocking the shutter.

Pentacon F photo

A Pentacon F displayed with a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 lens. The Pentacon logo om the front can also be found on the Pentona II elsewhere on this site.


Kalimar Reflex

The 1957 Kalimar Reflex was built by Fujita and was an improved version of the earlier Fujita 66 and Soligor 66. Although technically an SLR, it handled very much like the TLR cameras above, the main difference being the mirror which was not fixed (to a viewing lens), but retractable and therefore could use the taking lens as viewing lens. The system is best known from the Hasselblads. A focal plane shutter was used to make this setup possible (as a leaf shutter would block the view). Other than that, one would wind the film with a knob on the side and view the image from the top through a hood with a frosted glass, very much like most TLRs. The Kalimar Reflex also featured an instant return mirror, making the experience even more similar to a TLR.
One important difference was the ability to change lenses, which is simpler to implement on a system like this than on TLRs, as one didn't have to worry about different viewing and taking lenses. In fact, the Kalimar had a 52mm wide angle lens available, one of the few medium format SLR systems to do so. The lens mount was a 46mm screw mount.

Fujita Kalimar Reflex photo

A Kalimar Reflex with Kaligar 150mm f/4 lens. This is not the standard lens for this system, as that would be the 80mm f/3.5, which I do not have.

Zenit 3M

The Zenit line of SLR cameras was introduced in the early 1950s by KMZ, the maker of the Zorki Leica copies, and started in fact off as a Zorki II which had been converted to an SLR model by adding a groundglass screen and a mirror. It kept the same L39 screw mount but the flange distance increased to make room for the mirror, so lenses are not interchangeable between the two mounts. In 1960 the Zenit-3 came out, which featured a film advance lever instead of a wind knob. It was still bottom loading (like most Leica copies), this was however changed to a hinged back on the Zenit-3M, like the one shown below. The next model received a lightmeter in 1967 the lens mount was changed to the more practical m42 mount. Many more generations were to follow; the Zenits were a great succes with a production in the tens of millions, and as recently as the early 2000s.

Zenit 3M photo

An Zenit 3M from 1966, assuming the serial# starts with the year of production. It is fitted with an Industar-50 50mm f/3.5 lens. It is not a particular advanced camera for its time, lacking slow shutter speeds and having a top 1/500s speed, no lightmeter or automatic diaphragm, etc. But that also means not much can go wrong with it, and indeed it still works quite smoothly.

Zenit 3M photo Zenit 3M photo

Top and rear views of the Zenit 3M, showing off its unassuming and functional design. One neat feature of this otherwise fairly low-spec model was the mirror lock-up button in-between the wind-lever and speed dial: push it once and the mirror would lock up, push it twice and the shutter would fire. A similar way of avoiding mirror shake could be achieved with the time delay button, as it would lock up the mirror several seconds before opening the shutter.

Polaroid SLR 680

Polaroid is one of the most recognisable names in photography, but perhaps more so due to those iconic instant photographs with thick white borders which used to cover people's refrigerators and pin boards than as a brand of cameras. The instant camera was developed in the 1940 by Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, hence the name Land cameras for the early Polaroid models. The concept caught on quickly and Polaroid sold many millions of their cameras. Although with the advance of digital cameras and photo printers the concept is less popular now, the Polaroid company still exists.
The Polaroid SLR 680 camera was introduced in the early 1980s and was based on the SX-70, the first fully automatic instant folding camera. The Polaroid 600 series used a film cassette which also included the battery to run the camera. Unfortunately Polaroid recently stopped making these, but a new company, the Impossible Project, has developed an equivalent film. Ironically, Polaroid still advertises a camera that uses this film, as well as the film itself.
Most 600 series cameras were simple point and shoots, but there were some more advanced models, including the SLR 680, a professional quality camera which featured auto-exposure, auto-focussing, automatic electronic flash, through-the-lens viewing and an excellent lens. In addition it folded down to a flat but fairly large package. It was discontinued after about five years, but was reintroduced in 1996 as the SLR 690 with only minor (internal electronic) modifications. Both models are still sought after these days.

Polaroid SLR 680 photo

A Polaroid SLR 680 camera with 4-element lens 116 mm f/8 lens which (auto)focusses from 26 cm to infinity. What looked like a little gold-coloured speaker on the camera was indeed just that: an ultrasound generator that the camera used to calculate the distance to the nearest object and to autofocus the lens, i.e., a sonar system. The flash angle would also be automatically adjusted.


Other SLRs

The following SLR cameras can be found elsewhere on this site. Please click the photo to go there.

Ihagee Exakta photo Ihagee Exa

Ihagee Exakta

Ihagee Exa

Wirgin Edixa-Mat Reflex photo Canon AT-1photo

Wirgin Edixa-Mat Reflex

Canon AT-1

Olympus OM10 photo

Olympus OM10 / OM2