Through the Viewfinder – ttv

ttvCuriosityCardI’ve never been strictly a film or digital guy. It’s hard to deny the benefits of digital like instant feedback, instant results and free unlimited bracketing. But I’ve always loved the look and old school feel of film and the low tech imperfect vibe you can get from toy cameras. As digital evolves it’s becoming obvious that others feel the same and are finding ways to get some of those old school and low tech looks with digital.

My current favorite technique for merging these worlds is Through the Viewfinder or ttv. Ttv is basically using your digital camera to shoot through the viewfinder of an old twin lens box camera. These old twin lens box cameras would normally be held at waist level and have large viewfinders that you would look down through to compose the image. The viewfinders’ mirrors and composing lenses are made of plastic or glass that is pretty low quality so you get focus and light fall off at the edges similar to old or toy cameras. Often, since they’re over 30 or 40 years old (or more), they’ll also have a lot of dirt on the lenses or mirrors that give an old vibe to the results too. The old twin lens box cameras can usually be found cheap (less than 20 bucks) on ebay, garage sales, swap meets and in your grandmother’s closet. There are a lot of them to choose from and they’ll all work fine. My personal fav is the argus 75.

ttvRigGet one of the twin lens box cameras, point it at something cool, point your digital at it’s viewfinder and take the pic. It’s that easy… on the simple end of the range. Of course, like most things, you can get as complicated as you want. The next logical step is a shade between the 2 cameras. The viewfinders on the twin lens box cameras are usually convex so they tend to reflect everything. So many ttv-ers build shaders to eliminate reflection. I usually just use black construction paper rolled into a tube and taped then cut to length (or something like that). I’m also a huge tripod guy so I also take another step away from simple side and mount the whole thing to a rigid frame so I can connect it to my tripod.

Personally… I’m addicted to ttv. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that it’s a bit off the mainstream, the squares, the frames, the imperfections hiding my lack of skill, the fact that it’s limitations kind of force you back to basics maybe it’s just a just a coincidence but I think that my photography has improved greatly since I started shooting ttv and I’m getting more and more happy with my results.

I’ve got a handful of old cameras I use to shoot through but most of the clean and slightly dirty stuff you see on this site is taken with an Argus 75 and most of the really dirty stuff is shot with a Brownie Reflex Synchro or a Brownie Hawkeye.

More info available on request or visit the ttv group on flickr for tutes and samples.

My ttv history (WARNING – What follows is mostly the rambling of an obsessive gear collector… CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK!)

One day I was shooting with my Yashicamat 124 and chatting with a friend about how beautiful everything looked in the viewfinder and said “I wish I could just get a picture of that”. He said “yeah that’s a thing, go check it out”. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I had a Kodak Duaflex sitting on the shelf that I played with a little but I got an Argus 75 from ebay almost right away because of pics I had seen in the flickr ttv group.

525ttvBC1Since then I’ve gotten…

  • 2 more Argus 75s (for a total of 3) – 2 clean, 1 kind of dirty. This is really my goto, all around, quality bottom camera. Also, I like to shoot wide and I’ve got a wide angle adapter that fits perfectly on them.
  • 2 Ansco Rediflexes – I got these because of the large viewfinders and killer edge distortion but ended up not liking how round the corners are.
  • 2 Brownie Reflex Synchros – I got these because I saw that one of my ttv heros was using one. The first one I love because it’s supper dirty. These are cool, nice and sharp with tight corners but they have that Kodak mirror thing that causes ghosting sometimes which I don’t really like.
  • 1 Anscoflex – It’s clean. I just got this and it requires some work to get a rig going for it but I’m really looking forward to playing with. It’s got the big viewfinder and cool edge distortion but the corners aren’t as round as the Rediflex.

All from ebay and all for less than 20 bucks (some way less than 20 bucks).

In addition to the Yashica and the Duaflex I also already had 2 Brownie Hawkeyes (one is nice and dirty) that I’ve used for ttv and a Lubitel that I suppose could be used but I haven’t tried it.

2 Responses to “Through the Viewfinder – ttv”

  1. Don Henderson Says:

    Cool article! I’m a big fan of the Argus 75 as well, mostly because it was my mother’s camera and I just love the edges. I have a Kodak Duaflex that I like a lot too, it’s go a nice chip a that the top of the viewfinder that shows up as a dark spot. It’s ironic the cheaper the TLR, the better the results. I have a Mamiya C22 Professional, but the TtV images I’ve shot with it are as cool as the the 75 or the Duaflex.
    -Don

  2. 525 Says:

    Thanks Don. Sounds like you’ll have more old twin lens cameras soon if you’re not careful.

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