Single Lens Reflex Cameras  –  Vintage Camera Type

Typical Single Lens Reflex Camera Traits

Construction: metal / plastic
Lens Quality: medium to high
User Controls: comprehensive

Single Lens Reflex Camera Characteristics

Single Lens Reflex cameras (also commonly known as SLRs) are cameras that use a mirror to allow users to compose photographs directly through the taking lens. After composition is complete, the mirror can then be moved out of the way so that the image can be recorded. Since the vast majority of SLRs belong to systems that offer interchangeable lenses, the quality of available optics can be quite high. In addition, SLRs are commonly marketed towards more advanced shooters which means that the level of control is also fairly extensive.

SLRs were first introduced in the form of large format cameras during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Given their size, however, models like the Auto Graflex and Mentor Reflex were relatively impractical and ungainly. As cameras got smaller, medium format SLRs like the Zeiss Ikon Miroflex and the Ernemann Ernoflex began popping up. In 1935, Leica launched the PLOOT (the precursor to the Leica Visoflex): a mirror attachment which would sit between the body and lens and functionally convert the camera into an SLR. By 1936, the German company Ihagee had taken the technical knowledge gained from making the Exakta A (its medium format SLR from 1933) and introduced the Kine Exakta: the very first commercially available 35mm SLR.

It wasn’t until after World War II, however, that SLRs started really gaining traction. The Swedish company Hasselblad—now world famous for its professional-grade medium format SLRs like the 500 C/M—reverse engineered an aerial reconnaissance camera salvaged from the wreckage of a German warplane and used that knowledge to develop its future models. Meanwhile in booming post-war Japan, the Asahi Optical Company (now known as Pentax) created the country’s first 35mm SLR: the Asahiflex. Later on in 1959, Nippon Kogaku debuted the groundbreaking Nikon F which belonged to Japan’s first modular camera system. With an arsenal of interchangeable parts like viewfinders, backs, and high quality lenses, the Nikon F rapidly gained credibility amongst professional photographers, many of whom abandoned their rangefinders in favor of the SLR. It is widely believed that the success of the Nikon F pretty much single-handedly paved the way for the Japanese camera industry and the popularity of SLRs in general which persists to the present day.

Unusual single lens reflex cameras include the Canon Pellix which features a stationary semi-transparent mirror which reflects a portion of the image into the viewfinder and the rest of it to the film (a concept still used in some cameras like the Sony α99), the Polaroid SX-70 folding instant camera, and the Minolta 110 Zoom which is as tiny as it is strange.

Interested in starting or growing your own collection of single lens reflex cameras?
Check eBay to see what’s available.

McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. (Grantsburg, WI, USA: Centennial Photo Service, 2001), p 67, 129, 194, 255-256, 289, 292, 456, 471, 500, 546, 723.

Vintage Camera Lab