I am a Medium Format guy who can’t afford a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex, so I have several working TLRs which I use regularly. My favorites are a Yashica LM, similar to the Mat124, and a Ricoh Diacord. I also have two Argus TLRs and a Ciro-Flex F. The Argus cameras and Ciroflex are American made and considered second rate. So how bad, or good are they, really? None have light meters or double exposure prevention and all use the “ruby window” for frame counting.

The Argus Argoflex E was a geared-lens TLR made from 1940 to 1948, with a pause in production for WWII. It’s a bakelite and metal camera with 3-element Argus Varex 75mm f4.5 lenses and a Wollensak shutter. In the postwar version, which this is, the lenses were coated. Shutter speeds top out at 1/200th second and some models use 620 film. This one has a property sticker on it, so it may have been a school camera. Price: $30 at an antique shop in Florida. More reading on camera-wiki here

The Ciro-flex Model F was the highest-spec Ciro-flex, made in the late ’50s with a coated, f/3.2, four-element Wollensak Raptar 83mm lens and maximum shutter speed of 1/400th second. Mine has a Graflex lens cap because I couldn’t find a proper Ciro lenscap. Graflex bought out Ciro and continued production as the Graflex 22 into the 1950s. Focusing is with a side mounted knob. The focusing screen is bright for the time. Uses 120 film only. This one cost me $37 at a charity thrift shop outside of Phoenix, Arizona. More reading on camera-wiki here.

The Super Ricohflex, from around 1957 is like my first medium format camera, a Ricohflex Holiday, which I bought at a local camera shop in St. Petersburg, Florida around 1984. That one tragically crossed the Kodachrome Bridge when I dropped it on New Years Eve, 1985. The one being tested is a Super Ricohflex utilizing a pair of fully coated, anastigmat triplet 80mm/f3.5 lenses with 1/200th Sec. max shutter speeds. Uses 120 film only. Like the Argoflex, it uses geared lenses and it cost me $40 + shipping from an on-line charity site. More reading on camerapedia here

All three have had recent professional servicing and work without issue. I planned to use fresh, economical Arista.edu 200 iso 120 film and shoot the same scenes, with one camera after the other at the same aperture and shutter speeds. I made adapters from some step-up rings so that the same orange filter could be used on each and made plans to process the film rolls together in the same batch of developer.

I have a multiple roll Patterson Universal Developing Tank and chose to use Rodinal, 1:100, semi-stand because Rodinal is economical and I had 250ml of 1:25 to use up. So I diluted it with tap water for sufficient volume to fill the large tank. This was to cause a problem, because particulate matter which had accumulated in the container, manifested by black spots on the lowest roll of film in the tank.

And that wasn’t the only problem. Carrying three weighty TLR cameras around my neck, and shooting them in (alphabetical) order led to mistakes. Since none of these economical cameras have double exposure prevention, I did have some double exposures and missed photos due to curious passers-by interrupting my thoughts. A few shots had what looks like an adjacent camera strap in a corner of the frame. And someone called the cops. Soon a patrol officer came to check things out. He accepted my story and before going on his way opined that I ought to get a digital camera. “I have one,” I said.

I scanned the negatives on my Epson V-600 and grouped the photos into three frames for comparison. As you can see, the Argoflex has lower contrast than the others, and is generally not as sharp, though it still makes pretty darn good photos.

Comparing three TLR cameras

The Ciro-Flex and the Super Ricohflex have similar contrast and sharpness and are a good value for the impoverished medium format photographer. The Richoflex has a tinny feel and a less durable looking film door latch, but is easier to load with film relating to a removable film carrier similar to some MF SLRs. Because the Ciro-Flex has a 1/400th sec. top shutter speed, I’m declaring it the Best Value. It’s no Rolleiflex,but can be had for $37-$150. The almost-as-good Ricoh will run $50-$125.

If you find a clean, working Argoflex for under $35, go ahead and buy it. They take acceptable photos and will make a good backup for your Ricoh or Ciro TLR in case of accidental destruction.

Jim Hanes


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