Camera design is in a very interesting phase right now, with many modern advances being combined with vintage designs in a number of cameras from Fuji, Olympus and Nikon. However, one classic design that hasn’t been revisited in the last decade is the twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera, made famous by Rollei, but utilized by many film bodies. I’ve been pining for a digital TLR for some time, but was surprised to see that a new instant film version was available from Mint Cameras, called the Instantflex TL70. Seemed like a good option to satisfy my craving for a TLR shooting experience with some instant gratification, so I took a look at one.
The TL70 design looks like a standard TLR, but the body is much lighter than you’d expect. This is great for carrying the TL70, but it does make it a bit harder to keep the camera steady when shooting handheld. You frame your shot looking down at the waist level viewfinder. At first shooting this way can be a bit disconcerting, but it really helps you focus on your composition, and quickly becomes second nature.
One of the best aspects of this camera is that it accepts Fuji Instax Mini film. With the recent explosion in popularity that instant film photography is enjoying, Instax Mini film can be found nearly anywhere. I’ve always thought Instax had the most pleasing colour of any available instant film, and taking a few shots with the TL70 reaffirmed that belief. We’re also seeing some interesting new option to go along with the classic colour film, like the new square format and monochrome film.
The TL70 allows for creative control rarely found in instant cameras. I was thrilled to find manual focus with distance markings, aperture control, and exposure compensation easily accessible on the body. Long exposure shooters will be happy to find a bulb shutter mode available as well. Essentially, the camera operates in Aperture Priority mode, which worked great for me. The maximum aperture of f/5.6 is very fast compared to the majority of instant-film cameras, and it made shooting without using the built-in flash a possibility in most situations. However, while I appreciate that the small dials keep the body size down, I did find them a bit fiddly, and I would have loved to have a more positive-clicking aperture wheel. Having exposure compensation is hugely useful, but only works in a full stop over- or under-exposure. I would love to see finer half- or third-stop adjustments and especially an indicator near the viewfinder to let me know when exposure compensation is engaged!
The lens of the TL70 is quite sharp, and the f/5.6 aperture means you can create some very nice subject isolation with quite shallow depth of field. Out-of-focus rendition is really quite lovely, and the lens is much less prone to flare than many premium instant-film cameras. Also, while hardly a macro lens, the TL70 can focus down to half a metre—much closer than the majority of other film TLRs.
After shooting a few boxes of Instax, I really enjoyed my time with the Mint Insantflex TL70. It was fun to shoot this style of camera again, and it’s also a great option if you just want an instant-film camera with a great lens and some creative control. I won’t stop dreaming of a digital TLR one day, but the TL70 helped ease the pain quite a bit! Check out the Mint Instantflex TL70 at thecamerastore.com or mint-camera.com for more information.