Sears TLS: Black is Back!

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by lou_meluso, Feb 13, 2010.

  1. This is a 1967 Sears TLS camera in black finish. This is, without a doubt, the coolest looking 35mm film camera I own. Whenever I take it out, it always gets plenty of looks and comments. This manual classic is actually a Ricoh Singlex TLS rebranded with the Sears logo. Sears never made cameras but contracted with third parties to supply their stores. It’s the stylized S-R initials (Sears-Roebuck) against the shiny jet-black paint that gives it the cool looks. Some say it looks like an “atomic age butterfly”. Although few people today recognize it, it did have a couple of seconds of screen time in Oliver Stone’s movie J.F.K.
    The Sears TLS is a tank of a camera. Solidly built and heavy, over 2lbs, it offers photographers a precision steel platform that takes commonly found M42 screw mount lenses. It offers shutter speeds from B, 1- 1/1000 of a second from the legendary Copal Metal Square shutter and syncs flash at 1/125 second. The 675 1.3v mercury battery (I have a secret stash) only runs the match-needle CdS meter on this all-mechanical beauty. It has ASA speeds from 25-to-1600.
  2. In the hands, with the standard Sears 55mm f/1.4 lens, the Sears T.L.S. is one hefty SLR. It does feel good and solid and can be swung as a mace if self-defense is ever needed. The design is clean and classic. The shutter dial is located on the front and is surprisingly ergonomic. The film advance lever, however, is not and my thumb doesn’t like this lever much. The focusing screen, while adequate, is not as bright as some other M42 mount cameras I use. Both of these shortcomings were addressed, along with moving the shutter dial to the top deck, in the next model, the Singlex II.
  3. For this camera I have a tidy line up of matched Sears M42 lenses. These are the Sears 55mm f/1.4, 28mm f/2.8, 135mm f/2.8 and 200mm f/3.5. These fine lenses, designed and built by Tomioka Optical Company, represent some of Japan’s best. The finely machined, knurled aluminum barrels encapsulate precision multi-coated glass. Since many of the uninformed are put off by the Sears brand name, these lenses can sometimes be found at bargain prices. The 55mm f/1.4 and the 200mm f/3.5, in particular, are superb. With adapters, they fit every 35mm camera, film or digital, I own. Here are some pictures made with this kit on Fuji Superia 400 film.
  4. #1 Walking the Dog on a Snowy Path 55mm f/1.4
  5. #2 Self Portrait in a Black Hat 55mm f/1.4
    I wanted a new self-portrait for my bio page. I may use this one. This is one-handed at 1/30 sec at f/2.0. Black hat, black coat, black camera. Black is back!
  6. #3 Three figures on a ramp 28mm f/2.8
  7. #4 Old Tubs 28mm f/2.8
    Impressive sharpness and contrast
  8. #5 Log End 200mm f/3.5
    I liked the light raking the end of this log. This 200mm is a cracker jack.
  9. #6 Winter weeds 200mm f/3.5
  10. #7 Portrait of Angela 135mm f/2.8
    The 135mm lacks the biting contrast of the other lenses and makes a wonderful portrait lens-sharp but with smooth skin tones. A flash is bounced off the left side wall here.
  11. #8 White on Red
    For the last two I attached a short extension tube to the 55mm F/1.4 lens and played around with a little club soda in my basement studio. Both are shot at f/16
  12. #9 Pink on Black
    Last one. While not my favorite M42 camera, the Sears T.L.S is a capable performer with solid feel and killer good looks. Black is back!
  13. Oh Jeez Louis,
    You already have me searching ebay for this camera and lenses. You dirty little......
    The portrait of Angela is simple amazing. It is one of the nicest photos I have ever seen. WoW!
  14. What a sensational outfit! And great photographs to match.."Walking the Dog.." and "Three Figures..." I particularly like. Don't know about the dude in the "Black is Back" pic though.....Great presentation and fine photography, and I'm slightly very deep green with envy...
  15. Excellent pics! as always. I recall that Ricoh/Sears was one of the first to be equipped with a Copal metal bladed shutter. Too bad they closed down. Regards, sp.
  16. Louis, "Old Tubs" and "Portrait of Angela" are amazing. They show the quality of lenses, but first of all your excellence as a photographer. What films did you use for these 2 images?
    You said Sears is not your favorite m42 camera. What is, then?
    Thank you for the pictures. Or maybe I should not thank you: I thought my adventure with m42 was over, but now I'm thinking of spending money again!
  17. Great presentation. I had a TLS once.
  18. Very nice indeed.
  19. Louis, I always enjoy your posts, and this one is wonderful. I keep coming back to "White on Red", my favorite among this bunch, and "Old Tubs" is also very nice.
  20. Wow, all were great shots, however, I too enjoyed the *Angela* shot the best as-well.
  21. Beautiful Louis. I love your self portrait too.
  22. Wonderful post! Wonderful images. Now I expect a run on ebay for the Singlex. I was looking through some 1971 Popular Photography issues the other day, and Ricoh had 2-page spreads of their cameras. I think the the Singlex and a 50mm 1.8 went for about $130.
  23. I had a Ricoh Singlex TLS when I was in Vietnam (1969). loved it. It was what got me into photography. I would love to get another one, but the availability (or lack thereof) of the mercury batteries is an issue.
  24. Impressive portfolio! A pleasure to see what you accomplished with equipment others would pass over at a Thrift store. I especially enjoyed your portrait of Angela. I recently got that Sears 135mm 2.8 for $5 in mint condition at a local Thrift store. Looks perfect for portraits. And that one is superb. The colors and her dress look right out of a magazine from 1940. How did you light it?
    Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to get out and play with my Sears 135 on a Spotmatic.
  25. Great camera and beautiful pics, Louis. I cut my SLR teeth on that model Singlex with the 50mm 1.4 lens. It's long gone, but I've got 1000's of Kodachromes to show as its legacy.
  26. If a lens is not marked Tomioka or Yashinon, a claim that it was made or designed by Tomioka needs credible evidence to back it up. There are many urban legends that "everybody knows". Sometimes the same lens that resembles a Tomioka also resembles one made elsewhere (e.g. at the Mamiya or Tokyo Koki = Tokina plant). Many of the older Japanese lens designs are traceable to Zeiss or other German lensmakers.
  27. Wow Great Post and great camera!! I'm very impressed! Like the others I'm green with envy! Did you get the complete outfit all at once? or did you gather the lenses over time. The photo of the camera seems to show an excellent condition! Like many I think the portrait was excellent! I liked the tubs a lot too! I was mystified by the
    flowers with the CO2 bubbles are they done sumbmerged? Very cool! Are all of these models in rock-n-roll black or is this available in chrome too?
  28. Thank you all for the kind comments, questions and contributions.
    Les-Fuji Superia 400 film is used
    Adam- I like the Pentax Spotmatic F, Yashica TL-Super and Ricoh Singlex II
    Gene- Thanks for the link, nice pics!
    Russ- Good score on that lens. Angela was lit by bouncing a strobe on the wall to the left of the subject. I'm glad you picked up on the vintage look, that was what I was going for. She had that beautiful vintage dress and the location was an old library built in the early 1940's. The lens did it's job and I desaturated the image very slightly to enhance the vintage effect.
    Bob- Thanks for your comments
    a claim that it was made or designed by Tomioka needs credible evidence to back it up​
    I cannot provide any physical evidence like optical plans or corporate agreement documents or if any even exist.
    Many of the older Japanese lens designs are traceable to Zeiss or other German lensmakers.​
    I don't doubt it. My understanding is that is most Japanese lens makers started out copying German designs. If you or any other optical historians in the group would like to contribute more information on this subject, please do. It would make an interesting post.
    Chuck- Yes, the flowers are in a small rectagular vase filled with club soda. You have to weight the stems down with something heavy or else they float to the top. I used colored paper for the background. I cleaned up other bubbles and flaws in the glass in post. The Sears TLS came in both chrome and black versions. Some very early ones I've seen are badged SEARS on the front nameplate instead of the stylized initals. To my eye they look like the same camera.
  29. awahlster

    awahlster Moderator

    Louis your younger then I always pictured you!!!
    And while you obviously have a very very well preforming Camera and lens combo there. My first SLR was this same Sears/Ricoh TLS and it was and has continued to be the single biggest POS camera purchase I ever made. And it ended up costing a High School Junior more in repair bills then film over the course of the year I tried to use it. Finally my local camera tech gave up and instead of coming out of his basement with my TLS for the 4th time he came out with a Fujica instead handed it to me and told my I had just upgraded and to never bring him another TLS.....
    that was in 1975 I still use the same tech and I have never once thought about talking him another TLS or any other thing close to one.
    After the Fujica I bought one of the first Canon AE-1's and 34 years later I still shoot Canon FD (yea I know you knew that since I am the FD forum Moderator LOL)
    But I am glad to see that not all TLS's were related to the one a skinny High school Junior wasted a LOT of money on.
    Oh and all the Sears lenses worked on the Fujica so it was a good upgrade. Since I think I had 4 lenses.
  30. Very nice pics, all of them with all the lenses (28, 55, 135 and 200).
    I have the 135 and the 200 inTL mamiya version (1966/7). They are very similar to the vivitar 135 and 200 to exakta (1967).
    My mamiya (focus from 1,80 m) is enough contrast to use as everyday tele, with high tonal range and very pleasant coldest color rendering. I use it only with slides, and from F/3,5 to 11 has a great IQ. I not used wide open but I will. I'm curious about.
    Your portrait with the 135 posted has saturated colors and very good skin color rendition. Very sharp too. I like it as I like mine too.
    can you post more pics taken with the 135? If you can, thanks and if you cannot thanks anyway.
    Regards, Rino
  31. Michael Walter wrote-
    "I had a Ricoh Singlex TLS when I was in Vietnam (1969). loved it. It was what got me into photography. I would love to get another one, but the availability (or lack thereof) of the mercury batteries is an issue."
    If that is all that is holding you back Michael, go right ahead and buy one or more of these cameras and do one of the following:
    1) Buy a CRIS adapter which will allow you to use silver oxide cells in the camera.
    2) Just use zinc/air batteries (available from many camera stores and all of the mail order houses). These last 3-6 months, are a drop in substutute for a mercury battery, and are cheap.
    3) Have the camera recalibrated for silver oxide cells - this is an easy job for a repair shop. Then use silver oxide cells forever.
    I must admit that I'm not much of a fan of Ricoh products. There is much more robust gear available for next to nothing these days (Pentax Spotmatics, for example) but, of course, each to his own taste.
  32. Louis your younger then I always pictured you!!!​
    Mark- Thanks! I guess I write older than I look :eek:). Sorry you had such a bad early experience with the TLS. I actually have two of these Sears black ones and both are clicking along just fine. Because my thumb gets sore about midway through a roll and the focusing screens are rather dim, I don't take them out out much except for occasional exercise. The lenses are another story. I use them a lot.
    And thank you for the fine job you do moderating the FD forum. The depth of your knowledge and experience with the gear has helped me greatly over the years both here and on the Yahoo FD group.
    Juan- Thanks for your comments. I do have other shots made with that lens but they need scanning and processing. I have a very busy week so not much play time. perhaps over the weekend I can get one posted or sent to you off list.
  33. Louis, "Angela" is a beautiful photo and woman. Your other work with this camera is excellent as well, but the lighting and composition and color on Angela really touch me. Great shot!
  34. the lighting and composition and color on Angela really touch me​
    Thank you Doug. It's the nicest compliment a photographer can recieve.
  35. What a talent! Any chance you would send me pink on black for my home office?
  36. Louisa- Thanks Sis, you are too kind.
  37. Wow, Simply fantastic. I will say that I am truly blown away. :)
  38. Excellent portfolio! Very impressed and inspired. Awesome! I need to shake the dust off my old Olympus and focus on my composition and lighting w/o the instant gratification of digital. Thanks for sharing!
  39. Wow, a great thread with some truly beautiful photos Louis.. thanks for sharing them :)

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