I am not new to twin lens reflex cameras (TLRs) or cameras with waist level view finders such as the KMZ Start, as well as various Praktica and Praktina models. I accept that they are not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but once upon a time, the Rolleiflex was the camera to own, especially amongst professional photographers. Rolleiflexs are not that cheap today despite TLRs not being as fashionable as they once were.
I would like to talk about a specific twin lens camera today, the Flexaret VI. It is not my first TLR as I also have a Mamiya C330 Professional as well as the budget Lubitel 166 Universal. I mentioned the word fashion in the previous paragraph. I could have used the word style which might be more appropriate. I am particularly fond of things relating to the ‘Art Deco’ period. There are many cameras that were produced in the art deco style. The Flexaret Automat is one of them in my opinion.
I watched a YouTube video Simon Utak’s channel called ‘The most beautiful cameras ever made. From the earliest box cameras to today.’ (If you are into vintage cameras, I highly recommend both the channel and in particular, this video. I watched this video avidly and when it got to the Flexaret Automat and it immediately struck as a beautiful looking camera. Indeed, I frequently refer to it as being ‘pretty!
The Meopta Flexaret VI, was produced between 1961 and 1967 by Meopta in Prerov, then Czechoslovakia. I haven’t worked out how to date my model. If anyone knows how, please let me know! My one bears the serial number 2365. Both the viewing and taking lenses are Meopta Belar 80mm f/3.5. The camera primarily shoots medium format 120 film but will also shoot 35mm film, using an adapter. I suspect that this adaptor was an optional extra. My camera did not come with one but I sourced one from the same dealer that is in excellent condition.
The shutter release is on the camera front which is not difficult to get used to. The film is advanced by turning a winding knob on the right side of the camera. This automatically cocks the shutter for the next frame. Overall, my impression is that this is a very solid camera without being over heavy.
Whereas most, if not all standard TLRs, use a focusing knob on the side, the Flexaret uses a double-headed lever below the taking lens that swings from left to right like a pendulum. This is both quick and very precise, You can operate it with two fingers of the same hand you use for holding the camera. Most of the supporting of the camera is done by the neck strap!
As with all twin lens reflex cameras and indeed any camera with a waist level viewfinder, is the way in which you compose your photographs. You look down into the waist-level finder to frame and compose your image. Focussing can be very accurate using a small pop-up magnifying glass. Anyone familiar with TLRs will be aware that the image seen through the viewfinder is reversed from left-to-right. This can be particularly challenging when trying to photograph this moving horizontally.
I have to say that if I had a criticism of my particular Flexaret, it is the viewfinder. It is not particularly easy to use in bright sunlight which we tend to have in Greece – particularly during summer! I find it a little dull. However, in fairness, this might just be my camera as I don’t have access to another to compare it with. I have read other articles where the viewfinder has been described as ‘bright’.
I have mentioned the 35mm adaptor that I purchased in an earlier paragraph. I have yet to use it but will write a further article when I do as it introduces a new technique for using this camera. I also have a 35mm viewfinder on order which will allow me to shoot 35mm film both in portrait and landscape formats. The only thing that I would like to source for the Flexaret is a lens hood/shade as flare seems to be a bit of an issue!
That’s it for now. All in all, I think that is a great, good looking camera, which has yet to reach some of the extortionate prices being commanded by other TLRs. Watch out for more Flexaret related posts!