The Kodak Duaflex II is the first cheap pseudo-TLR I’ve actually tested. My mother gave it to me as a gift after finding it at an antique or thrift store (she learned from me. Probably.).
It was also my first test of Lomography’s Color Negative 100 film, which does a pretty nice job. It’s got a little saturation boost, but it’s not ridiculous, and it seems pretty sharp and fine-grained.
Over the last 35 years, my mom has always supported me in just about everything I’ve done. Hollywood would have us believe that’s the normal state of affairs, but it’s not always the case. My mom was great, though, and I’m glad she’s mine.
Part of that support has often been getting into whatever I was obsessing about at the time. She started with Star Wars action figures, sheets, towels, lunchboxes; continued through Beatles memorabilia and trips to Mountain Man rendezvous; and found muscle car models, rock band posters and Warcraft T-shirts as I grew older.
And so, of course, when I started collecting cameras, she started asking questions and getting ideas. I knew what was coming. A couple Xmases ago, the gift cameras started up and the Duaflex II was the first.
Hint for the future, Mom: I like this
“We Recommend Kodak Film” sign (SOLD), the film cases from Japan Camera Hunter (35mm version and 120 version both), this Kodak pin (SOLD OUT), and this “Oh Snap” T-shirt (Got one!). Of course, a couple boxes of 4×5 Ektar film would not go unnoticed.
The Kodak Duaflex series lasted from 1947 to 1960, and the Duaflex II was produced from 1950 to 1954. In those five years, two different versions of the Duaflex II were available.
One version had a single-element, fixed-focus meniscus lens — the Kodet. The other featured a three-element Kodar lens with a three-position Waterhouse stop set and zone focusing. The Kodar version also included double-exposure prevention. My example is the fixed-focus type.
The shutter, a simple leaf, has two settings: Bulb and Instant. In Instant (snapshot) mode, the shutter speed is 1/30 or 1/40 or 1/50 sec. and is X-synced to the flash. Sources disagree about exactly how fast the shutter is, though at least one blogger indicates that it tested at 1/30 sec.
Even if the shutters were originally manufactured to be faster, which some sources speculate they may have been, it’s conceivable that the springs could’ve slowed down after 60-65 years. Nearly all my snapshot cameras of this vintage have a shutter speed somewhere between 1/30 sec. and 1/60 sec., though.
The Kodet lens has a fixed aperture at f/11 (one source says f/15), which might contribute to its being a little sharper a little closer to the edges than some of its f/8 fixed brethren. The Kodar version’s Waterhouse stop set lets you choose from three apertures (f/8, f/11 and f/16) by means of a sliding lever below the lens.
The Duaflex II improved on the first Duaflex in one really major way: it added a cover for the viewfinder that swings up to double as a hood, which makes it much easier to see what you’re framing in bright light. The rest of the improvements, at least in the single-element lens version, are cosmetic.
The viewing and the taking lenses aren’t physically connected like they are in a real twin-lens reflex camera, even in the version with the zone-focusing Kodar lens. The viewing lens seems fairly accurate when used correctly, and the viewfinder is big and bright.
The film advance knob is really, really good. It’s big enough to get even meatier fingers around, knurled enough to get an adequate grip but not enough that your fingers will hurt by the end of the roll, tight enough to prevent accidental movement but loose enough to make winding a breeze. The ubiquitous red window gracing the back cover is easy to read numbers through.
The Kodak Duaflex II (all the Duaflex models, actually) takes 620 film, which meant another round of respooling before I could test it.
When the Duaflex II was introduced in 1950 it listed for $22.00, according to Kodak. That’s nearly $220 in 2014 dollars — more than some of today’s better compact digital cameras.
Not TTL, TTV
The bright viewfinder and widespread availability of the entire Duaflex line make them extremely popular for TTV photography.
TTV, or Through The Viewfinder, photography uses old TLR or pseudo-TLR cameras’ viewfinders as a sort of filter for a digital (or film) camera. Anything with a big, square, waist-level finder is a good candidate for the viewfinder camera in a TTV setup.
TTV photographers often build tube-like contraptions to hold the viewfinder camera a suitable distance below the taking camera for the lens (sometimes a macro; often any normal lens) to focus sharply, and to block out light that might cause unwanted glare on the viewfinder screen.
If you’re considering giving TTV a try and would like some inspiration, there are lots of good examples in the Through the Viewfinder Flickr pool. Russ Morris has an excellent tutorial based on the Duaflex II that takes you from cleaning it up all the way through building your contraption and on to cleaning up your shots in Photoshop.
The Test Roll
I tested the Kodak Duaflex II with a roll of Lomography Color Negative 100 film, supplies of which appear slim lately. As color negative films go, it’s not bad at all. You definitely can’t beat the price — at less than $4 a roll it’s about 20% cheaper than my beloved Kodak Ektar 100.
The test shots are mostly exposed well. The daytime shots were taken in moderate cloudy conditions, so Sunny 16 would dictate 1/25 sec. at f/11 using ASA 100 film. If the shutter fired at 1/50th, I’d expect a full stop of underexposure in the first few frames above, but I think they’re just about right. This leads me to believe this guy’s shutter is probably operating right around the oft-quoted 1/30 sec.
Contrast on the Lomography 100 film is good but not spectacular, so some detail is lost in the highlights on these shots. Shadow detail, though, is pretty good — especially in some of the very dark frames made around sunset.
The Duaflex II, mine at least, suffers pretty horrendous pincushion distortion. It’s visible throughout the vertical axis of these test shots. The distortion is relatively subtle in the center of the frame, but as you can see, particularly in the photo of the white cast-iron fence and yard, it suddenly shifts and becomes much more pronounced closer to the edge of the frame. It seems slightly worse on the bottoms of the frames than the tops.
This is par for the course, especially with the single-element Kodet lens, but it’s exceptionally bad compared to some other similar-vintage box cameras I have tested. I have not experimented with TTV photography using this camera, but I would worry the viewing lens might suffer the same kind of distortion given the very similar design. I would expect much better performance from the three-element Kodar version, but don’t have one to test.
As for TTV, the Kodar lens is the taking lens — not the viewing lens. I wouldn’t expect significantly different results from any of the Duaflex line.
I was surprised to see almost no vignetting from the Duaflex II. Less, even, than the Imperial Satellite 127. I didn’t notice any significant chromatic aberration, though toward the edges where I would expect to find aberration the strongest, the soft focus makes it difficult to detect since chromatic aberration is strongest on sharp, high-contrast lines (edges of buildings against the sky and whatnot).
For ease of use, the Duaflex II scores quite high. For starters, the size is just right for my hands (admittedly not small, but not scary big, either).
The shutter button is solid and feels dependable without being too difficult to actuate, and its placement is convenient for use in either hand. The flip-up hood for the viewfinder really works well to make it easy to see what you’re framing even in fairly bright conditions.
The super simple viewing lens and mirror, however, mean that you really need to be looking straight down at the viewfinder to get a good idea of your composition. Off to either side, the round viewing lens comes into view through the finder and your framing will be off. Looking straight down will obviously be required for good-looking TTV frames, too.
The distance from the viewfinder to your eyes could have a slight impact on what you see versus what the camera sees, also. I suspect Kodak would’ve taken that into account and designed the viewfinder to be at its most accurate around actual waist level — probably in the neighborhood of 18-24 inches from your face.
I removed the detachable flash assembly while I was carrying the Duaflex II around to shoot my test frames and found it to be comfortably lightweight. It’s not without enough heft to reassure you of its solid construction, but it’s quite a bit less fatiguing to hold at waist level than my much heavier Yashica D (a true TLR).
I also removed the plastic strap that originally came with the camera. After 60 years it was stiff and getting brittle, so it wasn’t very usable.
The camera’s body is mostly aluminum and plastic, and the sides have nice leatherette coverings. Though some reviews I found through Google complained (or gushed) about light leaks, I found mine to be quite light-tight. Given the construction, though, I suppose that it wouldn’t take too much damage or misalignment for the Duaflex II to spring a few leaks.
Loading and unloading were a breeze thanks to very springy steel springs to hold the film rolls. You will have to respool film, though — 120 spools definitely do not fit without binding up and preventing the film from advancing.
Some recommend filing and trimming 120 spools, but I wouldn’t risk damaging the film or filling the camera with plastic dust. You could start with an empty spool and clean it thoroughly after sanding, but then you’re still respooling — and you might as well use a 620 spool if you’re respooling anyway, right? Hit me up if you’re desperate, I might have a few spares.
By chance, I happen to have two identical Duaflex IIs. A second one came to me in a lot of several vintage Kodak cameras and is available for purchase. The second one has a different flash attachment — it is made of Bakelite and seems identical to the flash for the fabulous Brownie Hawkeye — but it does have a flash.
It’s in pretty good shape and ready for TTV or snapshots. I’d like to get $25 for it, but I’ll include shipping (in the U.S.!) for that price. Make me an offer, though. Tweet me @schneidan or use the contact form if you’re interested. I will be sure it includes a 620 film spool in good condition so you, too, can learn the pleasures of respooling!