I recently watched the documentary film "Finding Vivian Maier" and was struck by the beautiful black and white shots on display, many of which were captured with a Rolleiflex TLR camera. Now, I've never shot with a TLR and my budget doesn't run to a Rolleiflex, so I went on the hunt for an affordable alternative...
In brief, TLR stands for "Twin Lens Reflex", which means you compose and focus shots through the top lens and the film is exposed via the bottom lens. Rather than the prism style viewfinder we expect from an SLR, a TLR simply has a fixed mirror and a ground glass screen and you look straight down through the top of the camera which is held at waist level.
The cheapest and most abundant TLR out there is the Russian made Lubitel 166 in its various forms. It was originally copied from the Voigtländer Brilliant and went through a number of iterations to arrive at the mostly plastic model 'B', which was manufactured throughout the 1980's.
So, it's a 6x6cm medium format camera that gets 12 shots from a 120 roll of film. Film advance is entirely manual: a little red glass window in the film door lets you read the frame numbers from the backing paper as you wind the knob. The fixed T-22 Triplet lens has a focal length of 75mm and stepless aperture from f/4.5 to f/22. The leaf shutter has speeds from 1/15s to 1/250s and a bulb mode. And that's about it.
Having acquired a fine example of the breed from Ebay, I grabbed a roll of Ilford Delta 400 Professional (only 120 I had in the fridge!) and loaded it up. As the camera has no lightmeter, I borrowed Fynbaar's Weston Euro-Master for the duration of the test. I soon found that ISO400 film and a top shutter speed of just 1/250s was going to be challenge, even in the UK in March! I ended up shooting at f/11 and above for most of the roll. I also found that focussing on this thing, even with a fresnal and a magnifying lens (yes the Lubi has those!), is a challenge at close range.
Having finished the roll, I processed it in Rodinal (not recommended for this film due to heavy graining apparently) and scanned it on an Epson V550. The results are as follows:
Overall, I think I underexposed most of the shots due to inexperience and conservatism with the lightmeter. However, I think I framed most of them pretty well and only really struggled with focus a couple of times close up. The camera also has a light leak that intermitently shows up throughout the roll of film. All in all, I'm fairly pleased with the results and am keen to try another roll of slower film, armed with a little more experience.
A full gallery of shots from this roll can be found here.