Airesflex 1954: A Wonderful Vintage Twin Lens Reflex Camera

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First experience with a Japanese vintage 6x6 Twin Lens Reflex camera, an Airesflex from the year 1954.

I’ve always wanted a 6×6 twin lens reflex camera, but the classic Rolleiflex didn’t really fit my budget for that.

So, I went to a second hand camera shop here in Tokyo and an old Airesflex from the year 1954 caught my eye. At 2600 Yen (about 30 $US), for quite an old camera with moldy lenses, the mechanical parts still seem to work. It’s a technical marvel, made from 300 pieces, Copal leaf shutter ( 1/300-B ) and a Coral 75 mm, f:3.5 lens, but no internal exposure metering.

As I researched later, the name “Aires” comes from the word “eye-rescue”. A typical Japanese early post war camera and there have been many small makers at that time. So, I actually didn’t expect much, cleaned the lenses, which is not that difficult, as those vintage lenses are made of just a few optical elements and got my first test film loaded.

I chose three different film types: A Kodak Ektachrome E100VS, a Lomography Color Negative ISO 100 120 picture film, and an Ilford Pan F. Test pictures taken with those films can be viewed here.

The results… wow… I didn’t expect that from this old and even relatively cheap (at the time of its release) camera. Clear and sharp pictures, and, depending on the film type used and scan quality and resolution applied, it can easily match any modern pro digital camera. The “Diamond Fuji” shot (aperture closed down to f:22 for getting the sunbeams visible) especially blew me away.

I can really recommend not being afraid of purchasing and trying one of those old TLRs; it doesn’t have to be an expensive Rolleiflex at all. Just take note that the mechanisms are still working properly, because repairing a leaf shutter is really something for experienced maniacs and experts. The complexity of the mechanics is comparable to an analog watch.

It’s a good idea to mount an ND filter sometimes. The shutter speed of those old cameras is limited to 1/300 sec (sometimes 1/500 sec), which means, that you can’t get a really shallow depth of field on a sunny day, where an aperture of f:8 or f:16 is needed. Not easy to get ND filters fitting to those old mounts (28.5 cm), but adapter rings help. I mounted an ND8 filter for taking the picture below at 1/300 sec and f:3.5 and it worked fine for me.

My personal conclusion: A surprisingly brilliant camera and fun to use. I will certainly take many more pictures with it!!!

written by berndtotto on 2011-08-19 in #reviews

24 Comments

  1. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    beautiful and sharp pictures indeed! Thanks for the info about this camera I didn't knew... :))

  2. tomkiddo
    tomkiddo ·

    the photos are really sharp and nice!

  3. dearjme
    dearjme ·

    That Mt Fuji shot is definitely amazing!

  4. lee07
    lee07 ·

    Fantastic set :)

  5. arlakze
    arlakze ·

    USD30 for a TLR is really good deal

  6. nilard12
    nilard12 ·

    wow!!!

  7. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    two stunning pictures!

  8. melodamyus
    melodamyus ·

    oh man. super sharp! those do almost look digital.

  9. albon13
    albon13 ·

    I know the feeling, it happened to me when I was traveling in Nepal and I found a Zenit ET

  10. lyndxe
    lyndxe ·

    beautiful photos - congrats on such an awesome find! totally gorgeous!!

  11. feelux
    feelux ·

    Beautiful Photos! :)

  12. berndtotto
    berndtotto ·

    Thank you so much everybody !!! Those old TLRs are indeed underestimated, I think. The lens construction is simple and therefore, the lenses are easy to clean, even the camera is old. Just take care, that the shutter is still working and not stucking.

    Now, as they released "Fritz the Blitz" ( unfortunately not available in Japan yet ), it should be possible to use flash with such an old TLR as well. I definitely wanna try that !!!

    @melodamyus: Not almost digital ... better ;-)) Getting a decent scan, digital sensors can barely match the resolution of a middle format slide film like the Kodak E100VS ... plus ... the mechanical leaf shutter causes those beautiful sunbeams at the top of Mt. Fuji ( if completely stopped down ). I took the exactly same picture with an expensive digital camera at the same time ( same settings as well ). It doesn't look like that ;-)) Also the transition from the brightest point of sunlight to the sky is never as smooth and perfect as on real film.

    Regarding the cherryblossom picture, you would also need a digital middle format sensor ( about 10.000 USD or so ) for getting the same shallow DOF in such a wide angle situation. That's the actual amazing thing about using middle format ... getting a shallow depth of field even at close distances. That looks very good for shooting people or trees and it is still possible to realize much much cheaper on film than on digital.

  13. cherieamour
    cherieamour ·

    your photos are gorgeous! i wish you posted more on this thread besides just giving the link. thanks for showing what a good photographer can do with a cheap camera (:

  14. stouf
    stouf ·

    Convinced with 2 photos ! Bravo !

  15. cocottebleue
    cocottebleue ·

    stunning pictures !!! thanks for sharing

  16. nikkapow
    nikkapow ·

    oh my goodness, that first photo has taken my breath away. phwoar, exquisite.

  17. berndtotto
    berndtotto ·

    @nikkapow: Thanks. Taking this picture is more a spiritual moment, because you only have the chance for a few seconds once a year. I remember the story of a japanese photographer, who wanted to take a picture of the "double diamnond Mt. Fuji". It means, that the mountain is also reflecting in the lake. This only happens in autumn also just one day a year, but the weather is often bad at that time and there is always a little bit wind, causing waves on the lake. It took him 60 years to take the picture, he wanted to take. So, the chance for doing that is probably 3 seconds in your lifetime ... if you are lucky. I want to challenge it this autumn and hope to become old enough for getting my picture of this happening ;-))

  18. gabysalas
    gabysalas ·

    @berndtotto: do you know the name of the photographer? It would make a great article for the magazine.

  19. kiri-girl
    kiri-girl ·

    beautiful pictures!! :)

  20. berndtotto
    berndtotto ·

    @gabysalas: No, I just remember, that his picture was on the cover of one of my first Japanese language textbooks.
    www.sauseschritt.com/buch_bilder/2a_150.jpg
    The story about this picture was written on the back, but I don't own this book anymore.

  21. elletra
    elletra ·

    these photos are just gorgeous!!!

  22. realisticdreamer
    realisticdreamer ·

    The photos are amazing!

  23. adash
    adash ·

    Awesome! Much like my Walzflex e-p1.net/other-cameras/hello-gorgeous!
    The spiral bokeh is basically the same (no sample right now) so I believe they have similar tri-element lenses (75/3.5 on Walzflex).

  24. adi_totp
    adi_totp ·

    AMAZING! I want one now! I'm just speechless! WOW!!

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