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]

George Eastman House

George Eastman House

This showcase of vintage cameras and photography is plainly designed, but the camera collection and related referen… [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    

F&h Rolleiflex 3.5f Tlr Camera 75mm Zeiss Planar Lens Meter Rollie Vintage 1960Vintage Minolta Autocord 6x6 Camera, Twin Lens Reflex 75mm Rokkor ~ Self Timer! Vintage Camera Lot Kodak Retina Iia Rolleicord & Rolleiflex W/ ExtrasRolleiflex With Very Clean Carl Zeiss Planar 2,8 80mm And Fine Working ShutterMamiya Pro-c-3 Camera + Mamiya Sekor Lens, W/boxesGorgeous Vintage 1954 Braunschweig Rolleicord V 35mm Camera W/ Flash &manual *nrRollei/rolleiflex 3.5f Xenotar Lens. Parts Camera. No Reserve!Vintage Camera Yashica Mat-124g Bundle With Leather CaseC1946 Rolleiflex Iii, Compur Rapid 6x6 Camera & Case - Zeiss Heidosmat 75mm LensVintage Yashica Mat 124 Twin-lens Reflex Film CameraYashica Mat-124 Tlr Vintage Medium Format Camera With Extra Lens & Instr BookletC1952 Rolleicord Iii, Compur Rapid 6x6 Camera & Case - Zeiss Heidosmat 75mm LensRolleiflex Bay 1 (28.5) Rolleinar 1 And 2, Plus 5 Filters In Old Rollei CaseVintage Yashica Mat-124g Tlr Medium Format Camera With Carrying Case & Lens CapVintage Rolleiflex Tlr Camera With Carl Zeiss Tessar 75mm F/4.5 Lens -circa 1928Excellent Yashica Mat-124 G Tlr Camera Yashinon 80 Mm F 3.5 Lens Vintage JapanJ Vtg 1950s Ricohflex Tlr Twin Lens Reflex Camera W'leather CaseRollei Leather Case With Strap For Rolleiflex 2.8f, 2.8e, 3.5f EtcAntique Ciro-flex Box Camera Alphax Wollensak Lens With Case And InstructionsRolliflex Tesser T W/matching Rollei Flash, Plus Cases. Zeiss 1:3.5, 75mm Lens.Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex I, #850-16, W/ Tessar 75mm F/3.5. Twin Lens ReflexLot Of 10 Box And / Vintage Deco Cameras From Usa, Uk & Germany Estate Find Baco Press Club Model B Medium Format Camera Zeiss Ikon TelmaVintage Rolleiflex K7c 2,8 C Vintage Tlr Camera Xenotar Schneider-kreuznach LensRolleiflex 3.5 E Xenotar 1:3.5/75 Schneider-kreuzrachKodak Reflex, 80/3.5 Kodak Anastigmat, Uses 620 With CaseGwo Kodak Art Deco 620 Model C W. Compur Shutter Uk Freepost 8x Hasselblad Waist Level Finders Wlf For Parts Or RepairExport Flexaret Vi Automat Czech Meopta Camera Rolleiflex Type MetaxRare Antique Vintage Camera Rolleicord Franke & Heidecke Braunschweig GermanyVintage Flexaret Vii Automat With Leather Case1953 Olympus Kogaku Japan Olympusflex Bii2.8 6x6cm Rollei Cord Copy!Lot Of 8 Box And Other Vintage Eastman Kodak Cameras Estate Find Rolleicord Camera With Lens Filter Rolleicord Reflex C WorkingRolleiflex Franke & Heidecke Carl Zeiss 1:3.5 F=75mm Camera Inc' Leather CaseLomography Lubitel 166b Universal Medium Format Tlr Film CameraCamera Zeiss Ikon, Ikoflex Lla (85516) 75 Mm- Very Good ConditionVintage Ciro- Flex CameraLomography Lubitel 166b Universal Medium Format Tlr Film CameraVintage Rollei Lens Shade Riii For Rolleiflex Xenotar 2.8/80 Lens With Case Vintage Pearl River Tlr CameraVintage Flexaret Iii Automat With Leather CaseRollei Antique Vintage Camera Rolleicord Franke & Heidecke Braunschweig GermanyYashica B GreyAnsco Panda, Bakelite Tlr (620 Film) Vintage CameraGenuine Rollei Bay Iii Lens Cap 3 Rolleiflex 2.8f, 2.8e, 2.8d, 2.8c, 2.8b, 2.8gx