Looking for a first TLR

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by charlesf, Oct 7, 2020.

  1. Hello everyone,

    I am looking for a first TLR, with a budget of up to £200 or $250. I have looked at Rolleicords and Yashicas in particular, but is there any which you would recommend, or perhaps any more obscure cameras? Any tips or hints?

    Thank you very much in advance.
  2. Try photrio if you haven't already. You might also research accessible/affordable repair resources for brands/models you're considering. These are old cameras that frequently need work, so they're not especially smart buys now if service is unavailable or likely to exceed their purchase price.
  3. I inherited a Yashicamat from my uncle, who bought it in 1959 - he kept the receipt! That camera is still working with no more attention needed than working the slow shutter speeds a few times and carefully cleaning the lens.

    OTOH I bought a much more recent Yashi'mat 635G, which IMO was much less well made and gave less sharp pictures. The built-in meter was nearly useless, due to having far too wide an acceptance angle. Waving my hand about 1ft directly above the meter window varied its reading by about a stop!

    So if you're going to get a Yashicamat; get an old one.
  4. +1 on old Yashicamats. I like the first edition of the 124 better than the 124G. The D is good if you want something simple and have a meter. The Minolta Autocords are great, as are the Rolleicords and Rolleiflexes. Unfortunately, TLRs of any quality have become collectable and the prices are sometimes more than makes sense. I also like the Mamiyas but they're large clunky things that only appeal to a certain type. The lenses are also problematic as they're prone to fungus and shutter problems. There are all manner of more primitive TLRs with simple lenses that I wouldn't bother with, unless you can pick them up at a flea market for $10 or so.
  5. You will likely regret getting a Rolleicord. While it is quite capable of making good images, the usability leaves a lot to be desired.
    A Rolleiflex T is a reasonable compromise if you are attracted to Rollei, otherwise Yashica and Minolta are great values.
  6. May I ask what the usability problems with Rolleicords are? I've definitely been interested in a few as the affordable alternative to Rolleiflex, all of which seem to be a bit out of my budget.
  7. Thank you very much everyone. In terms of 'bargains', the Russian or Chinese TLRs are the cheapest, but not something which interests me. Does anyone know much about earlier Yashicas mostly branded Yashicaflex? They are more affordable but I'm thinking if they are vastly inferior, probably not worth looking at. I have my eye on a Yashica 635 and also a Yashica D, both of which are in budget, although I've heard their triplet lenses might not be the best. I think the same is true about the Rollei Triotar lenses.

    What I'm really looking for is a step up from 35mm, I'm not expecting the best Hasselblad or Rolleiflex 2.8 quality, but like the idea of bigger and more detailed/sharper negatives.
  8. The shutter is not user friendly IMO. To me, it invites more problems with the design. The shutter in mine stuck after I tried the timer, and it left a bad taste. Optics were fine though. I'd get a good Rolleiflex, an automat can be had for your budget. Ive also heard good things about YashicaMat, and they are right in your price point.
  9. You really need to find one with a Tessar type 4 element lens, like the Yashicamat's Yashinon rather than the 3 element Yashikor fitted to the 635 and similar. Another very nice TLR , with a bright viewing screen is the Minolta Autocord, which is probably within your budget - but watch out for ones with stiff or broken off focusing levers. If you are in the UK, the M.P.P Microcord, with a Ross Express lens, is another option but avoid the more complex lever wind Microflex, which has a monumentally unreliable mechanism.

    A late model Rolleicord, that is a Va or Vb, is probably a safe choice. Yes there is the need to separately cock the shutter, but so what? No-one is using these cameras for rapid fire work nowadays. The later model TLR's also generally have light baffles in the body which are effective in reducing the flare the older models with smooth interiors are prone to.
  10. Avoid triplets. They are soft and not satisfying unless you stop all the way down. Yashica/mat and Minolta Autocord gives you an experience closer to a Rolleiflex than Rolleicord which feels like a discount camera (which in all fairness, it was).
  11. SCL


    An often overlooked Ricoh Diacord can sometimes be had for a song, I actually sold my Rolleicord and Yashicamat and kept my Diacord. Meter was off, but I use sunny 16 or a handheld anyway.
  12. My thing,. Mamiya TLRs This is my red lizard skin one C33. P9211064.JPG
  13. Thanks very much for the suggestions everyone. If I was to go for a triplet lens (obviously for a reasonable price), how likely am I to see a huge reduction in quality? A lot of the cameras suggested here run a bit over my £200 budget, at least here in the UK. The few that fall under that seem to be in a rough state (lens separation, fungus, haze etc.) So it may be more sensible to buy one in a better condition.

    I've heard that triplets stopped down to f8 or f11 perform pretty well. I'm not really looking for optical perfection, I still would like the pictures to look shot on film!

    My favourites so far are the Yashica Mats and the Minolta Autocord, although normally looking on that online marketplace, they start in the lower 200s+. If a CLA is in order, how much could I expect to budget for that?
  14. You can buy a Mamiya C3 with a lens on Ebay UK for under £200. My 2 C33s (Red one included) with 4 lenses (65 I05 I35 & I80) stand me £300 in total. Granted, a bit of horse trading and a bit of repair work. Note You can up the values of these cameras by fitting new seals. Learn how to do it..
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
  15. This one I paid £70 for with a I35mm lens. Lens needed a shutter cell, parts lens was fairly cheap @ £40 (a I80mm with bad glass) easy fix too. I35mm lenses are more desirable than others worth £I50 on their own. Pictured with I05mm lens on. P9211066.JPG
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
  16. I have used a triplet with outstanding results for fifty years wide open and stopped down, a LEITZ 50MM 2.8 ELMAR.
  17. Do not discount the ZEISS/IKON IKOFLEX which is very well built, some say over engineered that will have either a CARL ZEISS NOVAR or TESSAR. Check the NATIONAL CAMERA website, they often have IKOFLEX cameras for as little as $70.00. You can phone them and request that someone pull the camera from stock and give you a description of it. You can find free manuals at butkus.org. I say free, all that he asks is a small contribution of about @3.00.
  18. Another TLR camera which often gets overlooked due to the 620 film format is the Kodak Reflex II. It's a 40s-50s era camera, but has very sharp 80mm Anastar lenses and the overall construction of the camera is great. Very solid! I believe it was also the first TLR to use a fresnel viewing screen and its quite bright! I don't bother respooling the film onto 620 spools, I just trim the plastic flanges of the 120 roll down so they are flush and then smooth them out a bit and they fit perfectly in the camera. It's a very minor inconvenience IMO to be able to use this gem of a camera. Just grab yourself some metal 620 take up spools and you're in business.

    Kodak Reflex II - Matt's Classic Cameras

    Kodak Reflex II
  19. there was a time i was considering for a while buying one of the Mamiya or a Yashica. My interest in TLR is for the small size and mostly dumb design, relatively to Hasselblad-like modular designs. But I spend already too much time with my Bronicas, Kiev-6, Salyut and Moskva-5, plus once in a while some 35mm cameras, so no point in parting with much money for an occasional TLR. Also my experience/results with old Zorki-1 rangefinder has convinced me that german classical stuff can be overpriced a lot, so it's totally out of the question that I will buy a Rolleiflex, not even a Rolleicord.

    So in order to play with TLR, I got a Flexaret, one with the Mirar-II 80mm f3.5 and Prontor-SVS (1s to 1/300s), for an equivalent 60£. Did cleaning of the viewing area (very easy), and replaced the focusing screen with one from a Kiev-6s I had around. Very nice dumb camera (no mechanisms but the shutter around the lens) and good optic. Easy with little tinkering to adapt a Salyut/Kiev-88 prism.
    Otherwise i had bought a Mamiya, an old one like C22, for the interchangeable lenses capability.

    as for triplet lenses, even a Lubitel can be good enough for playing, at least from f8. Last month I got a Lubitel-2 with yellow filter and case for ~16 GBP, for curiosity's sake, put in a Lomography-400 roll. Colors are more or less wonky because I used chemicals nearing end of life and there's some vignetting. Not too bad:


    200% zoom on the street name:


    couple mores:



    that said, the Lubitel is a horror for framing and focusing, don't get one, you don't see s**t inside the tunneled finder over the luminous focusing blob. I will use it again only after I have time to replace the "focusing" loupe with a Kiev-6 screen (have to mount it somehow at the right distance to get correct focus).
    Just to show there's not much required in order to play with TLR.

    but the Flexaret is very nice, I have pictures burried somewhere in an archived disk on some shelf, it has been a while since last time i took it out. I'd say it will get someone started into TRL and provide much joy. But then it seems they are getting overpriced too...
  20. The 50mm Elmar is a 4 element design. There is a 90/4 Elmar triplet but I haven’t heard anyone praise that for sharpness.

Share This Page