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    

A British-made Microcord Mkii 120 Rollfilm Tlr With Case - Boxed Complete !Vintage Rolleiflex Model K8t3 Tlr Twin Lens Reflex Camera Works W/ Leather CaseVintage Rolleiflex Synchro Compur Franke & Heidecke 75 Mm Lens Serial 1711864Rolleiflex Dbp Dbgm Carl Zeiss Planar 1:3.5 F=75mm Franke Heidecke Synchro CompuRolleicordRollei Rolleicord V K3c Tlr Camera With Schneider-kreuznach 75mm F/3.5 LensYashica D 120 Tlr Medium Format CameraYashica Mat Em 6x6 120 Film Tlr Camera Working Meter Needs Re-leatherRolleiflex Rollei Magic Ii 120 Film 6x6 Tlr Camera W/schneider 75mm F/3.5 Xenar Rolleiflex 3.5 Tessar With AccessoriesVintage Rolleicord V Xenar 3.5 Tlr Film Camera W/ Case In Box ~ Very CleanRolleiflex Tlr Medium Format CameraRolleiflex Tessar 1:3.5 Camera Franke & Heidecke Zeiss Optics Drp DrgmYashica Mat124g Excellent Condition *updateVintage Ricohflex Tlr Camera With Case Lens Cap 68417Yashica 635 TlrMinolta Autocord Optiper-mxs Reflex Twin Lens CameraRare Vintage Ansco Childs Panda 620 Film Tlr Box Camera 120 Film 1950sYashica 635 Tlr Camera With 35mm Adapter And Original CaseVintage Mamiya C3 Professional Sekor 1:2.8 80mm Tlr Camera & 180mm LensYashica Mat Em Copal Mxv Camera No ReserveLomo Lubitel 166b, 6x6, 120 Roll Film Tlr Camera. Made In UssrFlexaret Old Photo Camera Vintage Wittnette Reflex Tlr Camera Mfg. By Wittnauer Instruments DivisionFlektar Camera Vintage CameraVintage Rolleicord Drp Drgm 6x6 Tlr Camera For Parts 834233Mamiya C3 Tlr Film Camera 2.8/80mm Lens Professional TlrYashica-a CameraVintage Rolleicord Franke & Heidecke Schneider 3.5/75 Mm 1940636 Camera1956 Mamiyaflex C 120 Roll Film Camera. Twin Lens Reflex Tlr For Parts RepairRolleiflex Tlr, Bay Iii Shade And Case For 2.8 CamerasRollei Magic Tlr Camera W/ Manual And New CoverVintage Tower Reflex Twin Lens Film Camera 75mm For Parts 100078 Tlr 120 FilmYashica - A Twin Lens Reflex Camera 3.5 Lens, Leather Case, Manual, Shade, Mint