The absolute beginner’s guide to film photography: Less common camera types

Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras – along with Yashica and Mamiya TLRs – can still be found in working order on the used market for a fair price. They offer an excellent gateway to medium-format shooting. Image: Chia Ying Yang The number of different types of film cameras can be confusing to a newbie film photographer. In an earlier installment of our Absolute beginner’s guide to film photography, we explored the most common types of film cameras, and in this article, we’ll cover some of the less common types that are still in use. Twin-lens reflex film cameras Twin-lens reflex cameras (TLRs) were common as walk-around cameras before the rise of rangefinders and SLRs. TLRs have two lenses of the same focal length, one for the viewfinder (the viewing lens) and one that focuses an image onto the film (the image-capturing lens). Most have a 45-degree mirror behind the viewing lens which directs the image up to a ground-glass viewfinder; the photographer holds the camera at waist level and looks down to take the image. Though there are 35mm TLRs, the bulk of them use medium-format 120-size roll film. Most have fixed lenses but some offer interchangeable lenses. Older consumer-grade TLRs that takes 120 film can be an inexpensive gateway into medium-format photography Because the mirror doesn’t need to move, TLRs tend to be quieter and less obtrusive than SLRs, and many are nearly vibration-free. However, they can be tricky to use, as left-to-right movements are reversed in the top-down viewfinder. TLRs also can suffer from parallax error, meaning that close-in subjects may not be framed in the photo as they appear on the viewfinder. A 1960's advertisement for the Yashica Mat-124 TLR. Image: Nesster Twin-lens reflex cameras today TLRs don’t always get the love they deserve, particularly among beginner film photographers. Classic twins, particularly those made by Rollei (Rolleiflex), Yashica, and Mamiya, are valued for both their aesthetics and quality. Older consumer-grade TLRs that takes 120 film can be an inexpensive gateway into medium-format photography. View cameras A Sanderson 'Hand' view camera from the late 19th century. Image: Nabokov / Wikipedia You’ve probably seen view cameras on TV or in movies – those old-timey cameras with big bellows and a photographer hiding under a dark cloth. View cameras date back to the 1840s, and nearly two hundred years later their configuration hasn’t changed much. They consist of two flat boards, known as standards, one of which supports the lens and the other supports the viewing screen and film holder, connected by flexible accordion-like bellows. View cameras are primarily made in small quantities, often by hand, and are among the most expensive film cameras View cameras are usually large-format cameras, which means they use film cut into individual sheets (rather than rolls) in sizes from 4 x 5” to 8 x 10” or larger. They require skill to operate but can produce extremely high-quality images that can be enlarged to a massive degree, and the ability to tilt or shift the lens board allows perspective correction. Because of their bulky size and the time it takes to set up a shot, these large-format cameras are best suited to studio or landscape work. View cameras are primarily made in small quantities, often by hand, and are among the most expensive film cameras. View cameras today Though it’s very much a niche form of analog photography, view cameras are still being made, and there are plenty of used examples on the market. 'Antique' box and folder film cameras A Kodak Retina 1 folder camera from the 1930s. Image: Bernt Sønvisen A lot of 35mm SLRs are old enough to be considered antiques, but here we’re talking about cameras from the pre-World-War-II era – primarily box cameras and folders. Box cameras, introduced by Kodak in 1888, are about as simple as can be – a box with a roll of film at one end and a lens at the other. Most have minimal (or no) exposure controls, which require matching film speed to the conditions in which you’ll be shooting. Folding cameras have bellows that allow them to be folded flat when not in use; when opened, they often look like miniature view cameras. Antique cameras today These cameras are commonly found in antique stores, and thanks to their mechanical simplicity, many still work. Some take 120 film, which is still made; others take 620 film, which is 120 wound on a different-sized spool. Film For Classics re-spools 120 film onto 620 rolls, which they sell through several retailers. And the Film Photography Project sells 620-size reels for re-spooling your own film. Folding may suffer from light leaks in their bellows, which are easily repairable. Underwater film cameras The Nikonos V underwater camera debuted in the 1980s. Image: Rama / Wikipedia Just as the name implies, underwater film cameras are made for use while submerged. As with digital cameras, it was possible to buy

The absolute beginner’s guide to film photography: Less common camera types

Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex cameras – along with Yashica and Mamiya TLRs – can still be found in working order on the used market for a fair price. They offer an excellent gateway to medium-format shooting.

Image: Chia Ying Yang

The number of different types of film cameras can be confusing to a newbie film photographer. In an earlier installment of our Absolute beginner’s guide to film photography, we explored the most common types of film cameras, and in this article, we’ll cover some of the less common types that are still in use.

Twin-lens reflex film cameras

Twin-lens reflex cameras (TLRs) were common as walk-around cameras before the rise of rangefinders and SLRs. TLRs have two lenses of the same focal length, one for the viewfinder (the viewing lens) and one that focuses an image onto the film (the image-capturing lens). Most have a 45-degree mirror behind the viewing lens which directs the image up to a ground-glass viewfinder; the photographer holds the camera at waist level and looks down to take the image. Though there are 35mm TLRs, the bulk of them use medium-format 120-size roll film. Most have fixed lenses but some offer interchangeable lenses.

Older consumer-grade TLRs that takes 120 film can be an inexpensive gateway into medium-format photography

Because the mirror doesn’t need to move, TLRs tend to be quieter and less obtrusive than SLRs, and many are nearly vibration-free. However, they can be tricky to use, as left-to-right movements are reversed in the top-down viewfinder. TLRs also can suffer from parallax error, meaning that close-in subjects may not be framed in the photo as they appear on the viewfinder.

A 1960's advertisement for the Yashica Mat-124 TLR.

Image: Nesster

Twin-lens reflex cameras today

TLRs don’t always get the love they deserve, particularly among beginner film photographers. Classic twins, particularly those made by Rollei (Rolleiflex), Yashica, and Mamiya, are valued for both their aesthetics and quality. Older consumer-grade TLRs that takes 120 film can be an inexpensive gateway into medium-format photography.

View cameras

A Sanderson 'Hand' view camera from the late 19th century.

Image: Nabokov / Wikipedia

You’ve probably seen view cameras on TV or in movies – those old-timey cameras with big bellows and a photographer hiding under a dark cloth. View cameras date back to the 1840s, and nearly two hundred years later their configuration hasn’t changed much. They consist of two flat boards, known as standards, one of which supports the lens and the other supports the viewing screen and film holder, connected by flexible accordion-like bellows.

View cameras are primarily made in small quantities, often by hand, and are among the most expensive film cameras

View cameras are usually large-format cameras, which means they use film cut into individual sheets (rather than rolls) in sizes from 4 x 5” to 8 x 10” or larger. They require skill to operate but can produce extremely high-quality images that can be enlarged to a massive degree, and the ability to tilt or shift the lens board allows perspective correction. Because of their bulky size and the time it takes to set up a shot, these large-format cameras are best suited to studio or landscape work. View cameras are primarily made in small quantities, often by hand, and are among the most expensive film cameras.

View cameras today

Though it’s very much a niche form of analog photography, view cameras are still being made, and there are plenty of used examples on the market.

'Antique' box and folder film cameras

A Kodak Retina 1 folder camera from the 1930s.

Image: Bernt Sønvisen

A lot of 35mm SLRs are old enough to be considered antiques, but here we’re talking about cameras from the pre-World-War-II era – primarily box cameras and folders. Box cameras, introduced by Kodak in 1888, are about as simple as can be – a box with a roll of film at one end and a lens at the other. Most have minimal (or no) exposure controls, which require matching film speed to the conditions in which you’ll be shooting. Folding cameras have bellows that allow them to be folded flat when not in use; when opened, they often look like miniature view cameras.

Antique cameras today

These cameras are commonly found in antique stores, and thanks to their mechanical simplicity, many still work. Some take 120 film, which is still made; others take 620 film, which is 120 wound on a different-sized spool. Film For Classics re-spools 120 film onto 620 rolls, which they sell through several retailers. And the Film Photography Project sells 620-size reels for re-spooling your own film. Folding may suffer from light leaks in their bellows, which are easily repairable.

Underwater film cameras

The Nikonos V underwater camera debuted in the 1980s.

Image: Rama / Wikipedia

Just as the name implies, underwater film cameras are made for use while submerged. As with digital cameras, it was possible to buy both water-tight enclosures for film cameras, as well as dedicated underwater shooters. Perhaps the best-known of these was Nikonos, a series of underwater film cameras made by Nikon between 1963 and 2001, but Canon and Minolta made underwater cameras as well.

Underwater cameras today

There are no new underwater film cameras being made – aside from disposables in waterproof housing – but as with other types of 35mm cameras, there are plenty on the used market. Just be aware, waterproof gaskets don't always age well.

Moreover, with the once-in-a-lifetime nature of underwater photography, a moderately-priced digital point-and-shoot is a more sure-fire way to get your pictures.


About Film Fridays

Our 'Absolute beginner’s guide to film photography' is an educational series of articles focused on demystifying the ins and outs of analog photography. Geared toward those discovering (or re-discovering) film, the series will cover everything from gear, to technique and more. View all of the articles in our guide here.