I just recently, within the last 4 months or so, got into medium format photographer using TLR's. My camera of choice is a Rolleiflex MX-EVS from the mid 50's. It was a little expensive to purchase and get CLA'd, but the photos that come out of it are beautiful. I also use a nice mint Yashica-D, from the 60's, that I found at an antique market for $42. It came with the black leather case and lens cap. I don't think anybody ever used it.
Rolliflexes are beautiful cameras, but they had a selection of lenses available from Zeiss and Schneider and some are better than others; which lens does yours have? Yashica Ds had two lens options; does your D have the Yashicor or Yashinon lens?
My Rollei has the f/3.5 Zeiss Sonnar. I wish it had one of the brighter f/2.8 lenses, but it doesn't. I'm just lucky to have a Rolleiflex at all, I guess. Have you seen the prices on Rolleis lately? Even used Rolleicord prices have just about tripled over the last five years. Obamanomics in action, I guess.
Yashicor lenses, in Yashica TLRs, are pretty sharp, but only if you shoot with the aperture set permanently on f/11. They are not too bad on f/8 or f/16, but you can forget about using anything else. Yashinon lenses let you use your aperture control more and they are a little bit sharper. My D and my EM both have Yashinon lenses and my two As both have Yashicors.
I've been searching for an f/2.8, but they go for so much money, it's not easy to find a good deal. Plus, one will most likely need to get it fixed up and lubricated. Many folks selling them say that they don't know much about the cameras.
I've seen people ask a lot of $ for 3.5's (as is and not fixed up for use). One that I came across was priced at $1500.
The camera that I bought was $375, the leather case was $75, I have a few filters and Bay I lens hoods too totalling another $150 or so. CLA'ing it at Camera Central, Chicago cost $180. It's nice, so I am not worried about the cost.
Speaking of Rolleicords, a few months back, I bought one for $225 (w/shutter release cord and flash bracket) not knowing anything about them. Not sure if I got a good deal or not. Buyer's remorse could set it because I don't use it as much as I thought I would.
Thanks for the info on the lenses, it's nice to chat about old TLRs.
Never buy a camera from someone who says he doesn't know anything about cameras. That is the biggest red flag of them all. It isn't hard to see if a camera works and most of the people who say they don't know anything about cameras know enough to know it doesn't work but they don't want to say so. That doesn't mean you can't buy the camera, but you have to be careful. If the camera has a winding knob, I'll just coach them through firing the shutter and ask if they saw a flash of light before buying the thing. If it has a crank or a lever film advance, I'll coach them through winding it and firing it three or four times.
I don't really remember what I paid for mine, but I have a vague idea of $199 plus shipping. Mine was a mess though, with a stuck shutter. I got it working again, did my own CLA, put new leather on it, painted it, polished it up and it is almost presentable now. It works fine, but it is nothing I'd ever show off. I got it over ten years ago and I wasn't that good at painting them back then. In fact, this was my first paint job. I made the mistake of using Tester model paint and a brush. It needs a new paint job with better paint. One of these days, when I'm not too busy...
I've got mine in a modified Yashica case that cost about $20. Again, one of these days when I get around to it, I'll get a better case.
I do my own work, but if I were going to send something out I'd send it to either Mark Hama (TLRs and Yashica rangefinders) or to Essex Camera Services, in New Jersey.
I've never bought a Rolleicord, mostly because I think some of the Yashicas are better and cost less. I think the days of picking up cheap stuff on ebay may be coming to and end though. I've seen some of those Yashica As that I used to buy for $20 and less going for $125 lately -- and people are buying them.
Yashica TLRs are pretty good cameras, but they came with two lens options: Yashicor lenses and Yashinon lenses. Make sure that, if you get one, it has Yashinon lenses. The Yashicor lenses are sharp, but only at f/11. The Yashinons are just a little sharper at f/11 and there is much less of a drop-off in sharpness at the other apertures.
The problem with the model E is that the thing has an f/4.5 lens. It is hard to focus a dim lens like that unless you are in full sunlight. It can be used in dim light, but then you have to measure the distance or shoot at the hyperfocal distance. It's just a cheap camera that was never intended to be serious competition for the Rolleis, Mamiyas, Autocords and Yashicas (or even Flexarets). It was competing in a different market, against things like the Spartus Ful-view and the Kodak Reflex Synchro.
I have a Mamiya C330 that has a stuck shutter release. I’ll get it fixed one of these days, if for no other reason than I absolutely love the rail focusing that lets me focus to within about 6 inches of the lens. I also have an old Voigtlander Brillant that still more or less works, but is almost as primitive as my ca. 1934 box Brownie, so I don’t use it.
Is the Brilliant one of the early metal bodied ones, is it bakelite or is it plastic? They came with Voigtar lenses, so there were a lot worse around back then. It was certainly better than any box camera you could get at the time -- well, unless you consider that the top lens didn't focus, and so the Brilliant might actually be better classified as a box camera than a TLR.
I think it’s mostly metal, with bakelite inserts textured to look like fine-grained leather. It’s also got a compartment on the side for something (filters, maybe?), and the compartment door is either bakelite or some sort of plastic. I’ll take a shot of it for you if I get a chance today.
The compartment is indeed for filters. A yellow one came with it. Yeah, I'd like to see it, because I have never heard of one put together quite that way. Maybe someone put two or more wrecks together to make one good camera? That's how I got my Ciroflex (it's made from three wrecks).
Yeah, that's bakelite. Bakelite can be polished, to an extent, with metal polish or automotive polising compound. That will smooth out most of those "scuffed" areas. Have you cleaned, or at least flushed out, the shutter? Mine is an old metal model and the top is riveted on. Are there screws or rivets holding the metal top on yours?
I haven’t messed with the shutter, but it does work. I shot a roll of Scala in it before they went and discontinued it (I’m still bitter about that, since that was my absolute favourite B&W film), but then I took the front lens element off to clean it and I think I screwed it up when I put it back on because the focus is out now.
On mine, the front element assembly of the lens has a pointer that shows the distance and it rotates between two pins. As long as you don't take that assembly apart and put it back together with the pointer between the two pins, you can't get it out of register. Both of the other elements just screw down tight, so as long as you screw them both all the way down, you can't screw that up either. When you cleaned the shutter did you clean both of the other elements? I'm thinking that you might have just gotten some oil or other crud between them.
Oh, BTW, that f/4.5 lens is pretty dim and is almost impossible to focus in anything but full sunlight on a clear day. It will focus a little easier if you change out the crappy focusing screen for a fresnel lens. You can get one that you can cut down from a junked Yashica A.
Yes, I do. [link] There's not much to that particular camera. It has the two lenses connected by gears, so the front lens elements are the only parts that move to focus. It's better if the lenses are mounted on a plate that moves to focus, so all of the elements in both lenses move. That gives you sharper photos. The model E with the metal body is the most desirable version, but there are several types of Model E. I assume you just took the film cradle (or cradles, depending on what version you have) out? You can do the same thing with some other cameras, like the Kodak Tourist II, Agfa PB20 and so on. With the Tourist IIs, you might also have to grind a couple of studs that get into the way (they hold the film cradles). Taking out the film cradles works, but it is best to replace the winding lugs too, so they will better fit the 120 spools. On the Model E, sometimes you have to clip the rim of the takeup spool (and sometimes you don't, depending on which type of E you got).
My favorite TLRs are the Yashicas and Rolleiflexes. Minolta made a couple of good TLRs too, with interchangable lenses, but I have not acquired one of those yet. Yashicas are a lot easier to work on and the older cameras I get always need work when I get them, so I'll go with the Yashica TLRs as favorites. Just make sure they have Yashinon lenses, if you want the best. [link] If you want to customize them, Yashica As are good: [link][link] They don't cost much and there are lots of them around, so you are not butchering a priceless rarity.
Right now I am working on a Ciroflex and an early metal-bodied Voigtlander Brilliant. I am having difficulties with a defective leather kit that I got for the Ciroflex and the shutter plate on the Brilliant is giving me fits. The Ciroflex is going to be easy; I'm just waiting on a replacement sheet of leather. The engraved lettering on the Brilliant is so shallow that I am having problems in filling the recesses with paint (I repainted the camera). I can put white paint in there fine, but when I try to scrape it off, so it is ONLY in the recesses, it comes out of the recesses too. It doesn't help that it was pretty corroded and I had to use 800 grit sandpaper and some crocus cloth to get the pits and corrosion out of it (it's even shallower now, but it's down to good brass). I am starting to think the only way to handle this is to just paint the whole plate black and make up a decal for the lettering. I'm not sure whether the Brilliant really qualifies as a TLR anyway, since the top lens doesn't focus. It's more like a box camera with a really big viewfinder and a bottom lens that focuses. What do you think? Does this qualify as a TLR? [link]
Thanks so much for sharing! Yes, I did remove the spool cradle in order to be able to use the 120 spools properly. Sounds like you went to a lot of trouble for that little thing... Do you have any shots uploaded where you've used the Brilliant? As far as whether it qualifies, I see two lenses. I'd say so.
I am still working on the Brilliant and I have not taken any photos with it yet. When I do, and if they are worth while, I will post them. First I have to finish the camera and shoot a photo of it for my gallery though.
Now about whether the Brilliant is really a TLR, this has two lenses too [link] and it's definitely a box camera. I'm not sure what to call it. Some kind of transitional camera maybe?
I would think so. Other TLRs have focusing screens that help you get it into focus; this just shows you where the camera is pointed. It does help with framing substantially better than the viewfinder on a box camera or a folding camera does though. I think it is something between a TLR and a box camera. It isn't really a box camera either, because box cameras don't focus.