Twin-lens reflex, or TLR, cameras have been around since the 1870s or ’80s. They were initially developed to make it easier, and faster, to focus a camera between shots. A reflex mirror at the top of the camera allowed the photographer to hold the camera comfortably at waist height, look down, and focus. The only thing that took some getting used to was the effect of the reflex mirror, which caused everything in the viewfinder to appear flopped.

One other curious aspect of the twin-lens reflex camera was that the lenses were positioned in different places on the camera—the viewfinder lens was at the top while the shooting lens was at the bottom. This difference caused no problems when the object to be photographed was far away, but close-ups required compensation strategies or else the images in the viewfinder might not be captured on film.

One of the first commercially available TLRs was the Carlton, produced in the late 1800s by London Stereoscope Co., which also marketed a line of Artist TLRs shortly after the turn of the century.

The Rolleiflex arrived in 1929. Considered the prize catch of all TLRs for collectors and photographers alike, the first Rolleiflexes lacked a crank to advance the film inside the camera until 1931. The Standard 620 from 1932 is easy to spot for the cross on its finder lid, while the Automat from 1937 continued to be produced, with various improvements, until 1956. Rolleiflex twin-lens-reflex cameras are still made to this day.

Other TLRs of interest to collectors from the 1930s are the Optikotechna from Czechoslovakia, the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex and Ikoflex brands, the Welta Perfecta and Superfecta, and the very large Cornu Ontoflex, a French camera whose back rotated so that a photographer could switch from portrait to landscape view.

In the 1940s and after World War II, American companies produced a number of twin-lens-reflex cameras, many of which are quite collectible. The Argus Argoflex E in 1940 came first, followed that same year by the Ciro-Flex A. Other U.S. makers included Graflex, Craftex, and Royce.

The most prominent American TLR maker was Kodak. Its Reflex entered the market in 1946 and was resubmitted in 1948 as the Reflex II. This was the first TLR to feature a Fresnel lens in the viewfinder. But Kodak struggled with foreign and domestic competitors alike and withdrew entirely from the market until the 1950s, when it introduced the DuoFlex, and less expensive, fixed-focus camera marketed to recreational photographers...

Two other TLR makers are of interest to collectors. Japanese camera maker Mamiya offered its Mamiyaflex line of cameras beginning in the late 1940s and eventually gained traction in the United States with its C series cameras. The C, introduced in 1956/57, was produced in very small numbers, so it’s considered quite rare. The C2 replaced the C in 1958, while the C3 followed in 1962.

Finally, Japan’s Yashica made its U.S. debut in the early 1950s. The first Yashicaflex arrived in 1954 but the series never made it out of the 1950s. The Yashica Mat, on the other hand, was manufactured in various incarnations from 1957 until 1986.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Collection D'Appareils Photo

Collection D'Appareils Photo

While we couldn't read everthing - it's mostly in French - the images on this site speak for themselves. Its an ext… [read review or visit site]

Magic Mirror of Life

Magic Mirror of Life

Jack and Beverly Wilgus have put together a great trove of information and images of camera obscura-related photos … [read review or visit site]

Cameras and Co

Cameras and Co

An impressive collection of antique and vintage cameras, this site features high-resolution images of over 120 came… [read review or visit site]

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

Antique Cameras D. Tristram Ludwig

David Tristram Ludwig shares high resolution images of his in-depth personal collection of antique cameras, includi… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Yashica D Tlr Medium Format Camera Yashinon 80mm F3.5 Lens Brown Leather CameraVinatge 1949-51 Rolleiflex Automat 6x6 Model K4 Tlr W/ Tessar 75mm 1:3.5, MoreFugly F&h Rolleiflex Tlr Camera Tessar 3.5/7.5cm Automat Model 2 Compur-rapidRolleiflex 3.5e Camera - Works Great! 120mm Film Vintage Medium FormatMinolta Autocord Camera W/ Chiyoko 75mm 1:3.5 LensRolleiflex 3.5 E Tlr Camera In Case Xenotar 3.5 / 75 LensYashica 635 Medium Format Tlr Camera W Adapter Kit, Case & Manual, Rolleiflex Yashica 12 Dual / Twin Lens Vintage Tlr Medium Format Camera 80mm GoodVintage Rolleiflex 3.5 Standard Tlr Camera K2 622 With Original Case + Access.Rolleicord Camera. Very Old, Bayonet Lenses, Clean Glass, Triotar Shooting LensYashica 635, Vintage 6x6 Tlr Camera, Lens Yashikor 3.5/80mmRolleicord Camera Twin Lens Reflex 75mm W/multiple Accessories & PaperworkRolleicord Vb With Pentaprism Plus A Lot Of AccessoriesYashica D Tlr Medium Format Camera Yashikor 80mm F3.5 Lens Yashica-mat Tlr Camera 1966 W/ 80mm 1:3,5 Lens & Copal-mxv Shutter No Mt 6080330Zeus Ikon Ikoflex (850/16) Original Vintage Ciro-flex Model F F3.2 Four-element Wollensak Raptar 83mm Lens*** Rollei Rolleiflex F&h 1:3.5 75mm Zeiss Lens W/ Extra ***Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex Zeiss 3.5f With Planar Lens Plus ExtrasRollei Rolleiflex Baby Grey 4x4 Tlr Film CameraRolleiflex Tessar 75mm. F/3.5 Medium Format Tlr Camera, Model Rf111a, 1937-1939Yashica-d Vintage CameraRolleiflex Camera Franke & Heidecke Braunschweig 75mm Tessar 1:3,5Vintage Old Yashica-mat Camera Twin Lens 35 Photography Copal-mxv 1:3.5 F=80mmRollei Lens Hood For Rolleiflex Bay Ii 3.5f Made In Germany With Leather CaseVintage Rollei Camera 35 SRolleicord Iv Vintage Twin Lens Reflex Camera 120 Film Dbgm Dbp W/ Original Case Minolta Autocord Rg Parts Rokkor Lens Citizen Shutter Helicoid Focus Lever,moreCentury Graflex 22 Twin Lens Reflex 120 Medium Format Camera W 85mm F3.5 TlrVintage Ricohflex Super Tlr 6x6 Film Camera With Ricoh Anastigmat Lens & CaseVintage Kodak Reflex Camera No.55671 With Kodak Anastar F:3.5 80mm LensArt-deco Voigtlander Brilliant Camera Old Camera 1930's Usable Or Shelf Decor Yashica Mat With Lumaxar 80mm F/3.5 Lens - Tlr Twin Lens Reflex For Parts OnlyVintage Chinese Eastar 120f Camera In Original BoxLubitel 2 Old Photo Camera Lomo Ljubitel 2Rolleicord VMamiya C3 Tlr Film Camera 3.5 105mm Lens Professional W/ CaseEaster Branded Seagull Model 4 Tlr Twin Lens Reflex CameraEastar Twin Reflex Vintage 120 CameraReflekta Tlr Twin Lens Reflex Vintage Camera ** E Ludwig 75mm F3.5 ** Blitz