Teach me photography!
October 3, 2008 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I just bought an old Meopta Flexaret TLR camera. Tell me what to do with it.

I know very little about TLR cameras; my main camera is an old Pentax Super ME which has served me quite well. I know the basics of how to use this beast, but it at least has a light meter on it. I'm pretty sure my flexaret does not.

So I suppose that my questions are as follows.

First of all, what would be good beginners advice to someone having just bought a TLR camera? What do you wish that you knew when you started shooting with one of these? What are some good ideas to practice with this?

Secondly, is there a manual available somewhere that isn't in Czech? I think that I've figured out the aperture/shutter speed and focus on this thing, but what about some of the other doodads and whirligigs?

Also, I'm completely new to medium format film. What are some pitfalls I might want to avoid? How, other than the size of the film, is it different than 35 mm film?
posted by vernondalhart to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've used a Yashica TLR and a Seagull (surprisingly good Chinese made camera, still being made, I believe.)

Get a hand-held light meter. An old one will be very inexpensive and work just fine. I have one that was made in the 50s and works great. Until you get a meter, you can use the "sunny f16 rule."

Keep in mind that there may be some parallax at close range, since you are looking through the top lens but shooting with the bottom one. Give your subject a little extra room to avoid accidentally cutting anything off.

Also be sure to keep your fingers out of the way of the taking lens. It's easy to hold the camera and have your finger in the way, but not notice since you are looking through the top lens.

Old cameras sometimes have inaccurate slower shutter speeds (slower than about 1/8). In fact, some older cameras will jam up totally when firing at slower speeds. Use caution. If it does work, do some accuracy testing prior to shooting anything important at slower speeds.

Some TLRs are picky about what order you set the aperture and shutter speed. Do some Google research for this model.

I'm not familiar with this specific model, but many TLRs have a "sport finder" functionality. The Wikipedia entry explains it, briefly.

A tripod comes in very handy for a TLR, but is not necessary. One trick to keep the camera steady during shooting is to have a strap around your neck and apply some downward pressure during exposure. Make the strap pretty short, though, so the camera is about chest level. Despite the use of the term "waist level viewfinder," you really don't want to shoot standing people from waist level. It can look a little odd, as if all your photos were taken via crotch-cam. The further away you are, the less it matters, but closer photos of people can definitely show the subjects looking down at the lens.

Have fun!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:36 AM on October 3, 2008

Here's the Camerapedia entry on a Flexaret. Yours may be a bit different.

TLRs can allow you to capture more candid photos because your subjects don't quite realize you're taking pictures of them.
posted by jdfan at 11:47 AM on October 3, 2008

TLRs can allow you to capture more candid photos because your subjects don't quite realize you're taking pictures of them.

Excellent point. And to be more stealthy, you can turn the camera 90 degrees to the way you are facing as you look down into the finder.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:25 PM on October 3, 2008

One difference with the TLR vs SLR is that is uses a leaf shutter. An advantage of the leaf shutter is that it can sync with a flash at any speed, whereas a SLR with a focal plane shutter has a maximum sync speed. Not a huge advantage, but it does allow a little flexibility when it comes to exposure.

If you take the camera to a local camera repair shop, the technician there will probably be able to test the shutter on your camera for about $10. In my experience, some old cameras can be inaccurate by more than a stop. If you're shooting chromes, you don't want 1/15 sec to actually be 1/8. For $10, they won't fix anything, they'll just give you a sheet of paper that tells you how much error there is at each setting.
posted by mintymike at 12:32 PM on October 3, 2008

One thing I've noticed with TLRs is that you photograph from a different perspective since the camera is held lower than an SLR. It can make for a unique point of view, but as Fuzzy Skinner mentions, it's not good for portraits.

If it matters, cameras with leaf shutters can usually sync flash at all speeds but are usually limited in top speed. That's not much of a limitation with a TLR as it's not really suited for following action anyway.

Since they lack pentaprisms, TLRs present a right-left reversal in the viewfinder. I find myself moving the wrong way to frame a shot, but I don't use mine exclusively. Experience will make this a non-issue.

Most emulsions that are available in 35mm are also available in 120, but not all. Most film manufacturers seem to consider 120 "professional film", so your favorite "consumer film" might not be available. Ilford and Fuji are still actively making film so you'll have them even when Kodak is completely gone. There are plenty of smaller companies still around, too. If you're into printing, you'll see significantly less grain (with similar emulsions) than with 35mm. If you like larger prints, this is a big plus.

Just keep in mind that you get 12 exposures per roll (at 6x6), not 24 or 36. I have found that I think more about each shot versus my DSLR and more of my 120 shots are "keepers". Loading is also a little more complicated, but not overly so. If you don't have one, an owner's manual is always a good bet for this. You might be able to find a scanned one via Google or on eBay.

One nice thing with the separate taking and viewing lenses is that you can use opaque or near-opaque filters (like an R72) for infrared work and still be able to frame and focus normally.

The most important thing: have fun! I shoot lots of film with cameras older than I am and it always puts a smile on my face.
posted by tommasz at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2008

Just want to chime in and say that the sunny 16 rule is good forever, not just until you get a light meter. I use my Yashica TLR almost exclusively, and do not own a functioning light meter. Yeah, every few rolls I get my exposure off by a bit, but no more than when I was using a 35mm SLR with a light meter, and only a smidge more than with autoexposure.
posted by piedmont at 1:21 PM on October 3, 2008

« Older In search of something strange.... in NYC   |   help me manage my contacts Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.