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TLR Cameras from the USA (Mostly)

(Some of these are US-rebadged Japanese TLRs)

The heyday of the American TLR was from 1945 for about seven years. The collapse of Germany and Japan encouraged resurgent American manufacturers to develop several new models for the home market with Kodak, Ansco and Ciroflex leading the way.

Pushed by Kodak and its desire to drive the world to its 620 film, several US makes went down this route. Rick Oleson, a very amiable American with whom I have corresponded, sets out the story rather well in his brief online history of the American TLR:

For the collector, American TLRs benefit (and for the user, they suffer) from another idiosyncrasy: there was a sense of uncertainty on the part of manufacturers as to which type of 2 film their cameras ought to use. Kodak, repeating their previous "Bantam" misjudgement on a (physically) larger scale, overestimated their ability to impose their will upon the marketplace, decided that their unique ‘620’ film size was the wave of the future, and designed all of their 2 format cameras accordingly. A few others followed suit, producing cameras that are virtually worthless today due to the unavailability of 620 film; but the majority took the more traditional 120 route. Not wanting to be caught on the wrong side of the fence, Argus and Universal designed their cameras to accept both types. As easy as this was to do, it’s amazing that everybody didn’t do it (Universal seems a particularly unlikely leader in this respect, as all of their prewar cameras had been intentionally made incompatible with all existing film types in order to create a captive film market).

So effectively there was a period of around five or six years when some in the US went the 620 route and then the wave of German/Japanese 120s engulfed them! As a historical note, a number of British manufacturers also tried to hedge their bets in this period, producing TLRs which could handle both formats.

Of the three major American makes listed above, Kodak went for well-engineered simplicity - geared lenses in a very heavy body. Ansco, as well as some very basic pseudo-TLRs, produced the astonishing - and arguably over-engineered - Ansco Automatic Reflex.

The Ciroflex series is interesting particularly because, although they were the cheapest (and in my opinion generally nastiest) of the three makes, the basic design was sold on to Graflex when Ciroflex cut their losses. Graflex engineered the 22 models, which have a much more robust and quality feel to them. The Ciroflex also spawned the Dejur Reflex, presumably on some kind of licensing deal just prior to the sale to Graflex; this is also a more solid-feeling model, though not in the Graflex' league. Ciroflex fans, please don't send me abusive emails - it's just my opinion!

Sears are a special case, because they bought in and sold so many rebadged German/Japanese cameras under their "Tower" brand. So I have created a separate section all about these at the bottom of this page. They don't really belong under "American", but I think they do need to be together, so here they stay!

On a different note, One unusual camera in my collection is the huge 4"x5" plate Gowlandflex built in tiny numbers by a West Coast glamour photographer. Details of mine are to be found are at my Gowlandflex page.

If you find any errors on this page or have any camera I might be interested in, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. Click on the small "thumbnail" pictures below to go to larger ones..

    


Ansco Anscoflex II

Basic pseudo-TLR, with a geared sliding front which opens top finder.
USA 1954





Ansco Automatic Reflex

A classic, complex TLR produced to compete with Rollei/Ikoflex after WW2. It suffered by comparatively high pricing when the Germans restarted exports from the late 1940s. Great over-engineering!
Lens Ansco Anastigmat 83mm f3.5
Shutter Ansco 1 to 1/400 USA 1948

Argus Argoflex E

A cheap'n'cheerful US TLR built just after WW2 (1946). Nothing special, but functional.
Lens Argus Anastigmat 75mm f4.5
Unnamed shutter 1 to 1/200

Ciro Ciro-flex (Rapax)

Basic focussing TLR from Delaware, 1940s. Rapax shutter to 1/400
Taking lens is Wollensak 85mm f3.5
Rapax shutter 1 to 1/400

Ciro Ciro-flex (Alphax)

Another Ciro-flex variant, this one with Alphax 1/200 shutter
Taking lens is Wollensak 85mm f3.5
Alphax shutter 1 to 1/200

Craftex Hollywood Reflex

AKA Hollywood Sportsman. Cheap US pseudo-TLR on which only the taking lens focuses.
USA c.1947

Dejur-Amsco Dejur Reflex

Basic US TLR based on the Ciro-flex, but looks rather nicer. c.1952
Lens Dejur Chromotar 85mm f3.5
Shutter Synchromatic 1/10 to 1/200

Graflex 22-200

Improved Ciroflex 1953, killed by Eastern competition. 1/200 shutter version
Taking lens Graflex Graftar 85mm f3.5
Shutter Century 1/10 to 1/200

Graflex 22-400

Same body and style as the 22-200 model, but fitted with the superior and pricier 1/400 Graphex shutter
Taking lens Graflex Graftar 85mm f3.5
Shutter Graphex 1 to 1/400

Kodak Reflex

A real heavyweight camera to carry: Kodak's brief try at the TLR market started here around 1950.
Lens Kodak Anastigmat 80mm f3.5
Shutter Flash Kodamatic 1 to 1/200

Kodak Reflex II

Similar to the Reflex, Kodak's brief TLR foray ended in 1951 with this, which feels like carved from solid billet.

Taking lens Kodak Anastar 80mm f3.5
Shutter Flash Kodamatic 1 to 1/300




Koni-Omegaflex

Monster 6x7 offspring of Omega (US) and Konica (Japan). Not a true TLR, but the optional reflex finder fits to rear and makes it behave like one. The thumbnail pic links to my "Japanese" pages, since it was actually manufactured by Konishiroku in Japan.
Taking lens Konica Hexanon 90mm f3.5
Shutter Seiko B 1 to 1/500

Royce Reflex

Basic cast-aluminium TLR, using gear-coupled lenses. Made in Hollywood - Rick Oleson suggests probably around 1946.
Taking lens Wollensak 80mm f4.5
Shutter Wollensak 1/25 to 1/150







US Camera Corp Auto-Forty

Not really American - bought in from Japan - an Accuraflex under the skin. but quite a nice camera, with a "space-age" nameplate. But who made it? I've never satisfied myself on the origins of he Accuraflex and its several siblings under different names. Go to my "Japanese" page and link to "Mystery TLRs" to explore this one.
Taking lens Tritar 80mm f3.5
Shutter "Synchronized" 1/25 - 1/300

US Camera Corp Auto-Fifty

Another USC model bought in from Japan. This one is a Taiyodo Beautyflex under the skin, but looks quite neat. It needs re-covering - it's been patched badly.
Taking lens Biokor 80mm f3.5
Shutter Synchro MX 1 - 1/300

Universal Uniflex I

Basic TLR, few frills, just about functional. However, see Rick Oleson's comments on its grossly overinflated launch pricing!
Lens Universal Anastigmat 75mm f5.6
Shutter Synchromatic 1/25 to 1/200
USA c. 1948

Universal Uniflex II

Pretty similar to the Model I, and presumably similarly overpriced as was the Mk I.
Lens Universal Anastigmat 75mm f4.5 Shutter Flash Chronomatic 1/10 to 1/200
USA c. 1949

Sears "Tower" Twin Lens Cameras

Who made which model when?

All the Tower series TLRs ("Tower" was used for a lot of other Sears-rebadged
cameras too) are rebadged German or Japanese models. The table below sets out
who made what. Most of the original cameras on which the Tower versions were
based are also in my collection and can be found by navigating to the German or
Japanese pages. The Tower models which I have are shown below the table.


CAMERA MODEL
MANUFACTURER/MODEL
YEAR SOLD/FILM
Tower Reflex
Airesflex YIII (Japan)
1952/120
Tower Reflex I
(also "Tower 120 Flash")
Ising Pucky I
(Germany)
1953/120

Tower Reflex II

Bolta Werk Photina I (Germany)
1953/120

Tower Reflex III

Bolta Werk Photina II (Germany)
1953/120

Tower Reflex 25 (also "Tower Automatic Reflex")
Aires Automat
(crank wind)
1955-56/120

Tower Reflex 30
Bolta Werk Photina Reflex IIIb
1955-59/120
Tower Reflex
("Model I"??)
Tougodo
Toyocaflex IB
1957/120
Tower Reflex 64

Walz (often wrongly attributed to Fuji)
1959-60/120

Tower Reflex 65

Walz (often wrongly attributed to Fuji)
1959-60/120

Tower 44

Tougodo (Toyocaflex 44 rebadged)
1960-62/127

Tower 44B
?? Unknown ??
1962(?)/127
For a further discussion on the Tower 44 and 44B models, in the context of the Halma and Prinz 44, go to this page.

Sears Marvel-Flex

Sears never made cameras itself. This basic model from around 1941 is based on the Ciroflex with oversized focus knob (thanks to Per Backman for information).
Lens Wollensak Velostigmat 83mm f3.5
Shutter Alphax 1/10 to 1/200


Sears Tower Reflex I (Aires)

Sears continued to buy in. "Tower" brand named after the sears Tower in Chicago. This one (1952) is an Airesflex YII disguised.
Taking lens "Tower" 75mm f3.5
Shutter unnamed 1 to 1/200
Tower Reflex II

Sears Tower Reflex I (Bolta)

Following the same principle, this is a 1955 Bolta/Photavit Photina in drag. Fairly basic to start with, the finish is even cheaper on this.
Lens Isco-Gottingen Westar 75mm f3.5
Shutter Vero 1/25 to 1/200


Sears Tower Reflex 30 (Bolta)

An evolution, a rebadged Bolta/Photavit Photina Reflex IIIb. Not the greatest of cameras in the original, and not improved.
Lens Isco-Gottingen Westar 75mm f3.5
Shutter Vero 1/25 to 1/200


Sears Tower Reflex 64 (Walz)

This is the lesser - and much cheaper - model of the late 'fifties, made by Walz for Sears - see the Model 65 below for the pricier metered version.

Lens Tri-Lausar Anastigmat 80mm f3.5
Synchronized Shutter 1/25 to 1/300




Sears Tower Reflex 65 (Walz)

More upmarket, this has a Selenium light meter under hinged nameplate and semi-auto film advance. Lens differs from McKeown's version. It is a straight rebadged copy of the metered Walzflex in my collection - see under "Japanese" and follow the link to "Walz". Any further information gratefully received on this!
Lens Walz Walzer 75mm f3.5
Shutter Copal MXV 1 to 1/500

Click here for a picture comparison of the
Tower 25 model and the Aires Automat it was based upon.

Finally, below is a copy of a fifties ad for the Tower 64 and 65
models (both rebadged Walz cameras).