Twin Lens Reflex. TLR. Three words you rarely hear anymore in this current world of ever evolving digital cameras with their translucent mirrors, ever rising megapixels and cheap mass-memory cards. The Twin Lens Reflex camera is a technology that dates back to the 1870’s. Since the demise of the consumer film market and the rise of the digital SLR, the TLR camera has become a forgotten and antiquated, albeit enjoyable, approach to taking photographs. If you venture onto the likes of Flickr, or TalkPhotography, you’ll find that it does still support a small and loyal following. After much deliberation – about 30 seconds on eBay – we decided to stump up the cash and purchase a Yashica Mat 124G for a shade under £100.
We had one aim, to use it to improve our photography.
In the current world of cheap, large memory cards and the ability to view images instantaneously, it is has become very easy to snap away and take multiple compositions of a subject in the vain hope that you land a keeper. Invariably, and in our experience, the result is a large number of similar images and no single composition that is satisfying. We can only conclude that this probably stems from a sort of snow blindness setting in after being over saturated with very similar images to choose from. This was something we have found had started to effect our photography. We planned to use our newly purchased TLR to train ourselves to think thoroughly about our composition before we take a photograph; the reason the TLR will help is that it can only shoot 12 frames and is an entirely manual experience. At £6/roll development cost though, things could get expensive very quickly if we weren’t careful.
During our journey with a TLR there are a few things we have learnt whilst owning and regularly shooting with it. We have found that the nature of the cameras operation slows down the whole process of taking a photograph, which in turn makes you think harder. Part of this is because our Yashica Mat 124G does not have a working meter and we have resorted to hand metering with an App on our phone (yeah yeah, we realise the irony of using a modern iPhone to meter for an analogue camera that is close to 40 years old). Once you have metered the scene you have to battle with the ever so slightly disorientating flipped view finder to compose your image. Only then, can you take a photograph. By which point the subject has wandered off with boredom to find a cup of tea and a slice of cake. These factors have meant that the composition of the photograph has started to become second nature to us as we have had to concentrate on other factors of photography – something that has carried out to digital photograph easily.
Furthermore, there is an advantage to this setup that not many people with a dSLR will have considered; you don’t lose the image for that split second during the shutter actuation. This may seem like a simple thing, but you immediately understand the photograph you have just taken.
Secondly, there are only 12 shots. It is very easy to end up with a film of bland shots if you are not careful. With this in mind, and the speed at which it takes to setup a shot, each frame matters and are hopefully well thought out. It is worth it though. The image quality is incredible, and the square format is a pleasing medium to work it.
Finally, we have also found that street photography suddenly became a whole lot easier. Being six and half foot tall we stick out like a sore thumb when we use a camera and have often shied away from street photography because of this. Not anymore, no one realises what a TLR is and often ignore what you are doing as the waist level finder places the camera is out of sight and mind! To add to this, the shutter is completely silent. No loud slaps or bangs when you don’t want them! #stealth
All this combines together into a good user experience and after a little bit of practice, the keep rate from each roll of film becomes very good. We find now that we keep around half of our photographs from a roll of medium format film; initially with digital we probably kept less than a quarter of our images. After using the TLR alongside our digital camera, we have found we probably keep about half of our images.
However, as with everything, nothing is perfect and there are some disadvantages to shooting with a TLR:
- You can’t move fast without a lot of practice. A whole scene can evolve before you have even managed to set the correct shutter speed,
- It is hard to take photographs of fast moving subjects,
- Graduated filters become a guessing game.
I think we can live with that, to be honest.
As part of this post, here are a selection of photographs from our adventures with a TLR; we have tried to pick a single image from each roll we have ever shot with it!