Everything You Need to Know about Reflex, a Brand New 35mm Film Camera – Plus We Talk With its Founder Laurence Von Thomas

Everything You Need to Know about Reflex, a Brand New 35mm Film Camera – Plus We Talk With its Founder Laurence Von Thomas

1296 478 James Tocchio

Laurence Von Thomas smiles from a FaceTime window on my computer screen, his excitement masking the weariness he’s surely feeling just days before the launch of his company’s Kickstarter campaign. This campaign aims to fund and launch the production of Reflex, an entirely new and modular 35mm film SLR camera. No small task, and one that we’re both itching to talk about.

“Shall I show you the camera?” he grins, reaching off-frame. When his hand comes back into view, it’s holding a silver SLR that looks much like the hundreds of classic 35mm SLRs we’ve all enjoyed for years. As he begins talking about lens mounts, interchangeable backs, and the difficulty of producing such a prototype, I’m gawking distractedly at this new machine, and it doesn’t take me long to realize that I’ve never seen a camera quite like this.

And then things get really interesting.

He points out that the Reflex he’s holding is equipped with an M42 mount lens, like those we’d find on a classic Pentax camera. In a few moments, he’s removed the lens. No big deal; this is something SLR shooters have done millions of times over the past seventy years. What happens next is far less common and almost without precedent. He removes the lens mount itself. Done via a button release and sliding mechanism, the entire lens mount panel (called the I-Plate) slides away from the bottom of the Reflex body. He reaches off-camera to grab a new mount panel (this one equipped with a Nikon F mount and Nikkor lens), and just as effortlessly slides this assembly onto the Reflex body. In the same amount of time we’d need to change a lens on any standard SLR, Laurence has converted his camera from M42 mount to Nikon F mount.

The immediate implications of this action are encouraging – we’ll be able to pair Reflex with the legacy lenses we already own, which could save money, and we’ll be able to mix and match our favorite lenses from multiple manufacturers, which could open artistic possibilities. Imagine a film camera that can use Nikon’s legendary Nikkor 105 and Pentax’s equally legendary Super Takumars. And imagine this same camera working with lenses from Olympus, Canon, and universal screw mount lenses from Zeiss and others.

But as exciting as this lens juggling is, it’s not even close to being the only reason to pay attention to Reflex. After chatting with Laurence for more than an hour it’s clear that what this prototype demonstrates in broad terms is the possibility that Reflex could combine all the best features of many classic, top-of-the-line 35mm film cameras with modern technology and the wider concepts of modularity and accessibility.

“I tried to build my dream camera.” Laurence says, specifically referencing the front-mounted shutter release button and the inclusion of his preferred AE mode. Wondering if his dream camera might be similar to the one that populates my REM sleep, I ask for more details. What he describes is pretty damn close.

At its core, Reflex is a brand new SLR film camera that distinguishes itself as the first newly-designed SLR system in over 25 years. It’s a 35mm, manual focus camera offering manual and aperture-priority shooting modes, multiple metering modes (including average and spot), a 5 volt lithium-ion battery rechargeable via USB-C, Bluetooth connectivity, a built-in flash and continuous-light-source LED, modular film backs, and the previously mentioned modular lens mount offering compatibility with Pentax K mount, Canon FD mount, Nikon F mount, Olympus OM mount, and M42 USM mount lenses.

The shutter is a vertically-traveling, metal-bladed, electronically-actuated shutter capable of speeds from 1 second to a very respectable 1/4000th of a second, plus B and T modes for long exposure work. The chassis of the production model will be made of magnesium alloy, as will its top and bottom plates. Reflex weighs approximately 490 grams (50 grams lighter than Nikon’s FM2), and with dimensions of 134mm x 74.5mm x 34mm, it’s smaller than most classic SLRs.

That’s an impressive spec sheet that essentially packs everything we love about our favorite individual classic cameras into one machine, along with impressive new tech that the makers of yesteryear could only dream of. There will naturally be those who compare this camera to older SLRs or the only major SLR still being produced, Nikon’s F6. This is fair, and I asked Laurence about it.

“We can’t compete with something like an old FM2 on price. But that we can include all of the best parts of all our favorite cameras into one camera really validated the entire product for us. We didn’t want to just take a K1000 and put new technology into it.” He says, adding offhandedly that the F6 is prohibitively expensive for most shooters, at over $2,000. Reflex is a camera for enthusiasts, and priced accordingly.

Laurence’s camera will cost £350 for “early birds” and £399 standard (approximately $460 and $525), will ship with the USM lens mount, and additional mounts will cost £35 (approximately $50). When asked why Laurence chose to ship the Reflex with the M42 mount, his answer is pragmatic. “Because it was the first universal lens, and they’re cheap. And for me the biggest joy would be if a young person would pick it up, and be able to shoot with the most accessible lenses out there.”

The mentioned modular film back system resembles those often seen in medium format cameras. These allow swapping of film mid-roll and easier loading of film, conveniences that shouldn’t be overlooked. At the time of the Kickstarter campaign’s launch, we’ve only seen a prototype of the 35mm film back. But that doesn’t mean the idea of additional format film backs isn’t being explored. “Half-frame could become something very interesting. I’d love to do this, and maybe at some point, but at the moment it’s not ready. It was in my original specs.”

His apologetic tone as he explains the failure to develop a prototype half-frame film back in time for the launch of the Kickstarter makes me laugh. Here’s a guy who’s put together a tiny team of dedicated and brilliant designers and engineers that have combined to launch a product that most of us never expected to see again. A real SLR film camera capable of pro-spec performance being developed in 2017? Someone pinch me.

So many Kickstarter projects (even those that get fully funded) seem to stall in the production phase, so the question of delivery time needs to be asked. I put it to him, “If someone backs Reflex on Wednesday, when can they expect a camera to be on their doorstep?”

Laurence answers without hesitation, and his confidence is reassuring. “August, 2018. This fits in with the overall strategy of Reflex. I think the Kickstarter that we’re presenting is an honest one.”

The idea that production cameras could be less than a year away is a fact that only further whets my appetite for what is, on paper, a truly enticing camera. The true test will come when production models are released, and you can be sure we’ll be among the first to get hands-on. Until then, I’m optimistic and impressed.

In my time talking to Laurence, he’s struck me as one of the most thoughtful and contemplative people I’ve met in business. The reverent way that he talks about the film photography community and his vision of what Reflex could and should be shows uncommon clarity. He’s taking on an incredibly daunting project, but he and his team are up to the challenge.

“There have been times where I’m like, okay, the whole project is ruined because of this one tiny thing. And there have been a few times when it’s been like, we’re stuck. We just hit a wall and I think the whole thing is over. But here we are. I think we’re on our way.”

The team have pushed, and the story of Reflex has only just begun. The promise of a new 35mm film camera is there, and the prototype I’ve seen and the specifications that Laurence has outlined hint at a camera that could be everything I want in an SLR. Time, and whether or not the project gets funded, will tell.

For more info and the chance to get your own Reflex as early as possible, check out the Kickstarter page here.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Cheyenne Morrison November 7, 2017 at 4:23 am

    Great article James, well for the first time in ages I am impressed! M42 mount plus, plus. I see a lot of styling from Topcon, again plus. The Bessaflex also adopted the styling. I can see Zeiss Jena design in the front shutter button, and the film backs like those on the Zeiss Ikon Contarex. Best of all the changeable mount is something totally new.

    • Fantastic eye, Cheyenne. During our conversation Laurence mentioned every one of these cameras at one point or another, as inspiration or reference.

  • If in due course, they offer a Contax CX/Y or Leica R mount to use various legacy lenses I have sitting around, I could well be interested although I am much more of a rangefinder user. The camera price is reasonable and maybe less than I might have to pay for a decent Leica R or late Contax body, without of course any warranty that the S/H cameras will work the second day after you purchased.

    • Totally on board with this. Leica R glass would be very nice. The way Laurence talked to me about encouraging an “open source” ecosystem points to the idea that additional lens mounts could easily be made, even if not directly by the Reflex team.

  • I spotted a potential problem: I see the winder and rewind crank are on the removable back, and precisely on top of it. Now if I rewind the film I’ll have to take the back off I guess. What happens to my film when It’s rewound past the film gate…. the mother of all light leaks?

    Hope they addressed this! Otherwise it looks gorgeous and I just hope the quality will be on par with my Spotmatic…. or nit?

  • Looks great, but a bit pricey compared to refurbished classic SLRs. Still want one, though.

  • I am super excited for this! All the features look great and the price point is really surprising, I was expecting $1000+. I’ll definitely be backing.

  • Wow, that looks amazing! The only thing I’m not so sure about is putting the shutter release button on the front but that’s largely because I’ve been using ones on the top for so long. I’m interested to see if I like it.

  • Hard to tell from the video, but I’m assuming they’ve accounted for all the different flange distances in these various lens mounts? And since there’s aperture priority mode, I assume any lens’ aperture will be communicated to the camera body through every lens mount, in order to be able to use the built-in meter? And hoping the Spot meter on the left side of the body isn’t too easily blocked by your left hand, either while adjusting focus or holding the camera on the left side…
    This looks super cool, especially swappable film backs!

    • No communication or linkages between lens and body. Metering/moment of taking the pic – you will need to manually set the aperture to the shooting aperture.
      Or more simply put, focus with aperture wide open, then set aperture to shooting setting.
      Seems like this would be fine as it is an AE camera, so not too much of a hassle. The price one has to pay for multiple mounts. Digital cameras are the same way when you adapt legacy lenses.

  • This looks fantastic but I won’t be backing it. Why? To my mind the big problem we have with film cameras is not only that no-one is making them any more, but that the infrastructure needed to maintain them is slowly but surely fading away. So while it would be great to get a brand new film camera made with modern techniques and materials, if the company that builds it isn’t around in a couple of years you’re essentially in the same situation as you’d be in with a £200 classic body that goes wrong.

    I wish thee guys well and I desperately want them to succeed, but I can’t justify buying in until they’ve been around for a couple of years and an infrastructure of spare parts and engineers is in evidence.

    • I understand. For what it’s worth, and per my conversation with Laurence, this camera is just the first piece in what is planned to be an entirely new ecosystem to handle film shooting from start to finish. What that means, exactly, is as yet in the air. But at least it hints at the people at Reflex being cognizant of your point of view.

  • This is so cool. As the Flying Spaghetti Monster is my witness, I’m buying one!

    But puhleeze ask them to make a mount plate for Minolta lenses. They are amongst the best, and I have lots of them. I’d love a new film SLR that can use them. I’ve got plenty of ‘new’ SLR cameras in the Nikon realm

    • They’ve said that more lens mounts are coming either as stretch goals, products down the road, or via an “open source” ecosystem in which additional lens mounts could be made, even if not directly by the Reflex team.

  • Looking at the kickstarter, I can’t tell if the 350 UK pound kit comes with a film back. Just says camera body and standard mount. Is this accurate? Need to buy the film back separately?

  • Couldn’t you simply negotiate with Nikon for the rights to remanufacture the old F3 body and do a redesign for interchangeable backs. Look at what Leica did with the design for the R9. It had a digital back designed for it.

    • How does that allow you to use different lens mounts? Or have the 1/4000sec shutter? Or the led light and flash?
      And the F3 cost over $1000 when it was last sold new almost 20 years ago.
      This isn’t about rehashing an existing film camera, this is about bringing new and very cool ideas to the table at an affordable price.

  • Is it August yet?

    • Seriously. With about $13,000 to go ’till it’s fully funded, looks like we’ll have good news tomorrow. And then stretch goals. Give me those Minolta and Contax mounts.

  • I’m still confused on the removable film backs. Can you take it out mid-roll and not get a light leak? And if so, how does that work?

    • Yes. There’s a dark slide similar to the type medium format cameras have used for decades. Basically seals the film gate.

  • For those concerned about light leaks, please Google Zeiss Contarex. It has the film canister in a removable back, and a metal dark slide that goes between the film and the light path, so in 40 years of using this dark slide on my Contarex, I’ve not had a single light leak. It’s a proven design and Laurence and the team are cleverly bringing it back.jim

  • 15 UK pounds away from reaching the stretch goal with 19 days to go. C’mon, baby needs a new pair of shoes I mean Minolta SR/MD mount plate!

  • Well I just got that update email saying they will not meet the target release date. And it may not happen in 2018 at all. But they are now focusing on three other products, I guess to raise capital.
    Not a good sign developing other products instead of the one promised. No matter the reasoning.

    • Missed the delivery date. And to make things even worse, they did not even have a prototype to show at Photokina a few days ago.
      But they are now going to launch a series of lenses on Kickstarter.

      Flip this with a spatula, the dream of a new SLR film camera is done. There goes my backing money…

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio