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    

Rolleiflex Automat Mx Tlr 1951-54 NiceRolleicord V Tlr With Leather Case & StrapRolleiflex 2.8e Twin Lens Reflex 80mm F2.8 Zeiss Planar Shutter Not WorkMinolta Autocord 120 Film Camera - Rokkor F3.5 Lens - Please Read CarefullyRolleiflex 2.8e With Carl Zeiss 80mm F/2.8 Planar Lens, Lens Cap & CaseRolleicord Va Type Ii Tlr With Leather Case & StrapYashica 635 120 Film Camera - Yashinon F3.5 Lens - Please Read CarefullyVintage Leitz Minolta Cl W/ M Rokkor 40mm F2 Lens - Made In JapanRolleiflex 2.8 Minolta Autocord Twin Lens Camera, Leather Case, Manual, Very Good CondRolleiflex 3.5f Model 1 Tlr Camera W/ Xenotar F3.5 & Heidosmat F2.8Ikoflex Iii 853/16 1939-40 Tlr Camera Huge Albada Finder Tessar 80mm F2.8 LensRolleiflex 3.5 E Type 2 Tlr CameraYashica Mat-124g Camera With Leather Case Vintage Yashica-d Camera Yashikor Lens 80mm 1: 3.5 Rolleicord Vintage Camera Dbp Dbgm Franke & Heidecke/synchro Compur/with CaseVintage Yashica-mat Lm 120 Tlr Camera Reactive Light MeterVintage Rolleicord Tlr Camera W/3.5 75mm Schneider Lens & Case - Medium FormatVintage Pentacon Six Tl Slr Med Format Camera Carl Zeiss Jena F2.8 120mm LensVintage Yashica Tlr Medium Format Camera Yashinon 80mm LensRollei Rolleiflex Sl66 + Carl Zeiss Distagon F/4 50mm Lens | Excellent | C:1991.Minoltacord As-is From JapanPeerflekta V Tlr Camers - Ussr Occupied - Please Read CarefullyVintage Yashicaflex 635 With Film AdapterRolleiflex Dbp Dbgm Baby Rollei Gray Tlr Camera, Nice, No Reserve, 99 Cent Minolta Vintage Autocord CameraRolleicord Iii Tlr Film Camera Schneider-kreuznach Xenar Lens Cap Hood Org CaseYashica-mat Lm Made In Japan 120 Film FormatMamiya C330 Professional Film Camera 105 Mm Seiko Lens, Strap, 5 Color FiltersRollei Rolleiflex Sl66 Prism Viewfinder | C:1990 | Clean Optics | Camera Ready..Rolleicord Franke Heidecke Carl Zeiss Jena Lens Triotar F3.5 Vintage Tlr Camera Rolleicord Ii Type 3 Tlr In Good Working OrderRolleicord Camera, Franke Heidecke, Compur Rapid,1321801, Dbp/dbgm 1:3.5/75Vintage Tlr Yashica 44 Medium Format Film Camera Body Twin Lens 60mm 3.5 Yashica Lm Tlr Camera WorkingRolleiflex Automat K4a Not Working For Parts Only 1951-1954 Vintage CameraVtg-antique-ciro-flex-camera-wollensak Lens-lens Cover-original Leather CaseRolleiflex Tlr Camera No Resrv With Accessories And Very Rare Flash (zeiss Lens)Rollei Rolleiflex Baby Grey Tlr 4x4 W/schneider Xenar 60mm F3.5, CaseRolleicord Iii, C1950-53, Medium Format Tlr CameraZeiss Ikon Ikoflex -coffee Can 120/620 Camera W/novar Anistigm 1:4.5 F=8cm Vintage Tower Reflex Iii Twin Lens Camera #9659 + Accessories & Camera BagVintage Voigtlander Superb Tlr 120 Film German Camera 7.5cm F/3.5 LensRolleicord *tested* Twin Lens Carl Zeiss Franke & Heidecke Triotar 1:3.5 F=7.5Seagull 4b-1 Twin Lens Reflex CameraElixa Reflex Wirgin Camera And Case Pre 1957 Germany With ManualVintage Tlr Film Camera Twin Lens Reflex – Argoflex ArgoWonderflex No.152 127 Tlr Plastic Camera, Box, Instr,cap #354833 ToyTower Reflex Iii Tlr Medium Format Camera, Westar 1:3.5/75 Lens #354866