1. Rollei Art Deco
In 1933, Rollei introduced the Rolleicord I as a less expensive alternative to the more professionally oriented Rolleiflex. The Rolleicord series proved very successful, and was only discontinued decades later in 1976. It is the Rolleicord I however, with its beautiful checkered metallic faceplate, which tops this list of most stylish TLR’s. I give this Rolleicord top marks for beautifully adopting the stylistic motifs of the Art Deco era and for democratizing the elegant Rolleiflex design.
The Fujicaflex was introduced in 1954, a year which straddles that inflection point in camera history when the classic German manufacturers reached a pinnacle of camera design and owned the market, but would soon begin to relinquish that position to their Japanese competitors. Essentially a low-cost copy of the long and well established Rolleiflex design, the Fujicaflex is on the left-side of this inflection point and represents an earlier era of Japanese camera manufacture which was based on cheaply copying Western designs. The Fujicaflex does stand out for its beauty however. The curved gleaming nameplate with Art Deco lettering and the molded chrome faceplate and chrome knobs give this camera the particularly elegant yet robust appearance that lands it on this list. Image source: camera-wiki.org
3. Ansco Automatic Reflex
Ansco was a Binghamton, New York-based camera manufacturer that had roots in photography going back to the early 1840’s when it operated a Daguerreotype gallery. By 1870, the company had begun to manufacture cameras and was also the first to patent roll-film holders that could be loaded in daytime. Anso’s Automatic Reflex was introduced in 1947 as a competitor to the Rolleiflex and had some unique, nifty features like multiple focusing knobs and uncoupled shutter cocking and film advance functions. The Automatic Reflex would be short-lived however, due to a faulty film transport mechanism.
The style and finish of the camera on the other hand were first-class, and this model has been dubbed the “Cadillac of TLR’s
” by one admirer. This beautiful camera looks similar to the Fujicaflex, but more masculine. Its design also strikes me as being very American, particularly the robust post-war America that produced other icons like the Chevy Bel Air. Image source: Rick Oleson
4. Welta Perfecta
Introduced by Welta in 1934, the Perfekta was a unique but ultimately unsuccessful experiment in developing a folding TLR that could fit in ones pocket. Folding architecture had been very successfully applied to single-lens medium format cameras by Welta as well as other manufacturers like Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander to produce cameras that were genuinely compact and profitable. Neither was the case with the folding TLR. However, the Welta Perfekta is a very handsome camera and a genuine mechanical and aesthetic oddity, earning it its place on this list. Image source: lumowerkx
The 1954 Anscoflex was designed by Raymond Loewy, the first industrial engineer ever to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine. He also designed the logos for BP, Shell and Greyhound. The Anscoflex is essentially a medium format “idiot camera” with a fixed aperture and shutter speed. Everything from its green enameled metal casing to the sliding lens cover cum focusing hood made this camera different from any TLR seen before or since. The Anscoflex looks like it was made by an Italian design studio to be used by the Jetsons. Image source: Camerapedia