The Gakkenflex TLR is a great little 35mm plastic camera that takes dreamy shots – and that you get to build! Bonus!!
The Gakkenflex TLR is a camera kit from the Japanese magazine Otona no Kagaku (Science for Adults), vol. 25, published by Gakken – they call them mooks. Each volume has a different kit and this is Gakken’s third camera (the other two were pinhole cams) and their most advanced. The instructions are in Japanese but it’s mostly easy to follow the pictures (if you’ve been to Ikea, you know the drill). The Gakken website has extra information and even has a video on the shutter mechanism that’s very helpful. It takes about 1.5 hours to build. Just don’t lose a spring in the carpet! (Yeah, I did!) I found the design of the camera fascinating. I learned quite a lot about camera design, which is the point. But that’s just where the fun begins!
The camera itself surprised me from the very first use! It’s a true twin lens reflex, so as you focus through the pop-up viewfinder, the taking lens is automatically focused. What I love about TLRs is that you have to slow down a bit. My viewfinder is bright but slightly blurry – that’s OK because it gives a great representation of the shots I’ve been getting. And what shots! I’ve heard each Gakkenflex lenses can vary widely but, from what I’ve seen on the web, they tend to have a focus sweet-spot near the center and get dreamy very quickly. Think the Diana Telephoto lens and you’ll get the idea. That’s what mine does and I love it. I find I even get a fake tilt-shift effect in my landscapes because of this. But, the most surprising thing about the camera for me was that it can focus up to 1 foot (30cm) away! This camera loves color and black and white equally. My black and white shots were 400iso and the color shots were 200iso and I think they worked very well in mostly cloudy conditions. Per the mook, aperture and shutter speed are fixed at F11 and 1/150, respectively. Excellent vignetting can be achieved if you watch your film speed.
On the downside, there’s no bulb setting. But you can mount it on a tripod and trip the shutter a few times to get a long exposure effect. There’s also no hot shoe. Lastly, there’s no real counter, just a notched disc that you move 180 degrees to advance the film – it’s up to you to keep track of your shots. None of these are deal-breakers, in my opinion.
Bottom line: the Gakkenflex TLR is an excellent toy camera! You should know: these are fairly limited in production. They’re still widely available as of January 2010 but are very popular. If you want one act now!