Twin Lens Reflex Love

No, I am not talking about the Miller twins…

I am going to talk about this little darling:

Armitagebesotted smoothly slid into my DMs e-mail to ask me a few questions about this photo, posted by Richard with his Stay Close wrap announcement. So if you are interested in photography, read on; all others, sorry, nothing to see here 😉.

What kind of camera is this? Vintage camera or current? Do you think it’s one his character used in Stay Close? If yes, does that give you any clues about the plot, or what kind of photographer his character is? Can you tell what the reflections in the two lenses are?

Here we go. So, what Richard is holding there, is what is known as a Twin Lens Reflex camera, or short: TLR. You may be familiar with the term “SLR” or “Single Lens Reflex” – those are the commonly used “proper” cameras today. The TLR is a bit like a forerunner of the SLR. Although the idea of the TLR was already developed in the late 19th century, it wasn’t until after WW1 that the technology as you see it in the Mamiyaflex above, was properly invented and finally had a commercial breakthrough in the late 1920s. The big name in the development was the Rolleiflex (and the suffix -flex was basically taken on by many other manufacturers’ models).

Just briefly on the useability of these cameras: The name “Twin Lens Reflex” derives from the two main characteristics of these cameras, the twin lenses and the reflex. “Twin lens” means that unlike the cameras that we know (or even the early forerunners of the TLR) the camera comes with two lenses, obviously and as you can see in the picture that Richard posted. The reason the camera has two lenses is that the upper lens is the viewfinder (i.e. the lens that the photographer looks through in order to frame a picture) and the lower lens is actually the aperture that the film is exposed through. This also accounts for the difference in appearance of the two lenses: The lower lens is where the adjustments in terms of focus, aperture and shutter speed are made – hence the metal ring around the lens. The viewfinder lens, however, needs no such adjustments. – “Reflex” comes from “to reflect” and refers to the mirror that is behind the viewfinder lens. This already tells us how these cameras were used: Unlike modern cameras, you had to hold the TLR in front of you at waist or chest height and look down onto it. The actual viewfinder window is on the top of the camera body and only visible when you pop up the foldable hood on top. (In Richard’s photo, the viewfinder is in its closed position.) The image you see through the viewfinder is reversed, i.e. left-to-right. The film used in TLRs is generally medium-format: The 120mm film (the older fans among us remember our own film cameras which typically used 35mm film) gives you square images that are 6×6 cm in size.

Which brings me to the next questions Besotted posed. Yes, this is a vintage camera (although not as old as 1920s, more likely 1950s or later). And it is entirely possible that RA’s character in Stay Close used it – but probably only for “artistic purposes”, [potential SPOILER] based on what I have heard about Ray’s past as a promising photographer. He may have had art photography ambitions or dream projects. (In my experience, almost all photographers that I know at some stage or other experimented with the formats and processes of yesteryear – from wet plate photography to pin-hole to medium format film. Returning to these old formats and processes allows you to slow down your own process, concentrating on the technical side of photography, making deliberate and considered decisions on which aperture and shutter speed to use, in short: *making* a picture, rather than *taking* a picture. The old technology also allows for more interesting aesthetics, sometimes caused by errors, sometimes deliberate.) The reason for my guess about whether this is Ray’s camera or not, however, is basically what I wrote above about how you use a TLR: Based on Ray’s work as an ex-documentary photographer-turned-pap, it’s unlikely he used it for his day-to-day work. Holding it at waist level may on the one hand make you less conspicuous as a documentary photographer (because you do not appear to be obviously pointing your camera at a scene when your actual gaze is directed *down*), however, it is harder to hold the camera steady and expose images very quickly (as you might need to when shooting documentary). The modern SLRs solved that problem, and for a late 20th century/early 21st century photographer, whether shooting as a documentary photographer or a paparazzo, speed is of essence. A TLR would have been too slow, too unwieldy and too unreliable for those purposes. Also, most TLRs do not come with interchangeable lenses, i.e. they have only one focal length (which determines how close you can photograph what you are seeing), so is not as versatile as a modern SLR. Then there are some more technical issues that I won’t bore you of the details with. It’s called “parallax error”, caused by the use of two different lenses for framing and exposing. Whoever uses TLRs in our day and age, does so because they enjoy the process of photography or like the feel of a actual film photography. They may do so privately for a passion project or commercially in a studio environment where time is not an issue, or for aesthetic reasons when in the field, but most probably not when “snapping” event guests or documenting a situation.

Ray with his modern DSLR

“Does the camera give us any clues about the plot or what kind of photographer Ray is” – I haven’t read the book, so I can’t really see a plot clue in this camera. As for “kind of photographer”, see above: Someone who has ambitions of creating artful imagery, someone who *loves* photography and the process of creating a photograph (rather than just sees a camera as a meaningless tool). *If* this is Ray’s camera, then it tells me that he has not entirely sold out but is passionate about photography. I can’t really see this being RA’s own private camera, though, because we have never really heard from him that he is big into photography as a hobby. (Although who knows, he may have kept that hidden from us, or it’s a new hobby. It would be rare, though, that someone starts on a TLR – more difficult to create with than any modern digital SLR.)

Lastly, the reflections on the lenses. RA is balancing the camera on his lap. You can see clouds and sky reflected in the viewfinder lens, and a shirt (?) as well as a hand (holding a smartphone?) in the lower lens. He is photographing down onto his lap, hence the sky visible as a reflection. Or that is what I see 😉.

Proper camera porn courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London. A couple of early TLRs are visible in the top row

My personal reaction to the photo: Shot with a b/w setting, this is proper camera porn 😁. So much so that it reminded me that I still have three rolls of unused 120mm film stored in my fridge, back from my college days. (I shot with a Mamiya as well, but a much different model, a Mamiya 645). Maybe I should invest in Somethingflex and get my art photography hat back on… And well, with this picture clue now on my radar, I can’t wait to see what Ray is doing as a photographer.



25 thoughts on “Twin Lens Reflex Love

  1. Thanks, Guylty – that’s really interesting. I never knew what the reflex in SLR meant.

    How is Mr Guylty? Is he home? I’m sorry I’m so silent, I’m wrestling with similar issues myself. However I’m just as curious and excited about the auction as everyone else 😀


    • Oh Helen (((((🤗))))) Hope things are improving. Thinking of you!!!!
      Yep, the reflex refers to the mirror in SLRs, too – which differ from the TLR in that there is only one lens that acts as viewfinder AND aperture, so the mirror that allows you to see what the lens sees, sits in front of the film and needs to be moved out of the way in order for the exposure to be made. It’s technically much more advanced than a TLR.


  2. Thanks a lot for this, it´s really interesting. I really like the picture, something about it moves me and I can´t say why… It´s good that your husband is back home 💗.


  3. My mom had one like that and now I’ve got it. I think it still works but I haven’t tried it, I’m not even sure if there’s film available for it in the whole of Finland.


    • If you can’t get it in a camera shop, you can definitely order it online. It’s a bit pricy, and I think you only get 12 exposures per roll. Operating the camera is probably manual, i.e. you have to determine shutter speed and aperture yourself. But there are even apps for that. Could be fun to try it out 😉


  4. Guylty is too kind in protecting her sources/friends. To explain to others what a reliable pal she is, I will reveal the last line of my email, which she deleted, to show how she protected me from appearing pathetic. It was: “Shall I shut up now?”


  5. That was really interesting. Brought back some memories for me. I once did translating for an optics manufacturer.

    Would love to know if it was just a prop or something personal.


    • 😬 Oh-oh, I don’t envy you that translation. That would’ve been a very technical one…
      Yep, I’d like to know whether it was a prop, too. Or whether it NOW has become personal 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting! Thank you! We know how meticulous is Richard with his characters plus his wish to stay behind the camera, both could develop a deep interest in photography or hobby in his ever inquisitive self ❤️


    • That’s definitely a possibility. And add to that his interest in producing… Understanding stills photography is definitely a first step into a deeper understanding of motion photography. (No doubt he already knows about the latter, just from observing.)


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