Kodak Reflex II Review – A Rollei Competitor at a Tenth the Price?

Kodak Reflex II Review – A Rollei Competitor at a Tenth the Price?

2000 1125 Juliet Schwab

There are a lot of reasons for modern film photographers to use twin lens reflex cameras. They are compact, they’re generally easy to use once you get used to the reversed image in the viewfinder, their lenses are often sharp and render beautifully, and they produce a perfectly square image to which we’ve become so accustomed with Instagram. I love Rolleis and have written about mine before, but not everyone can afford a Rolleiflex or wants to spend that much on a camera. The great news is that there are a lot of reasonably priced alternatives to the iconic German TLR. The camera I’m reviewing today can be found for less money than a Rolleiflex, and less even than a Yashica or Minolta TLR. My Kodak Reflex II cost less than $50, and while I can’t promise similar results at a time when prices of desirable film cameras are rising, a careful and patient search should yield a similar bargain.

At the time the Reflex was released in 1946, it was not an inexpensive camera. It had features to rival the Rolleiflex and was priced competitively, but it wasn’t cheap. The original Reflex was $120, and its successor, the Reflex II reviewed here, incorporated a number of upgrades and cost $155. For comparison, a Rolleicord with Triotar lens cost $165 in 1948, and a Rolleiflex between $245 to $275, and of course with inflation all those prices would be the approximate equivalent of another zero at the end today.

While the original Reflex couldn’t compete with the Rolleiflex in terms of design or cachet, it was a solidly constructed cast-aluminum camera with a four-element 80mm f/3.5 lens (usually Anastigmat) that produced images rivaling the quality of those from the Automat’s Xenar and Tessar lenses. The Reflex II offered upgrades including a standard coated Anastar lens with an identical viewing lens that produced a bright, beautiful image in the viewfinder. It also had an automatic frame counter and a higher 1/300 maximum shutter speed, as well as Fresnel lens in the viewfinder, which was superior to the screen in Rolleiflex cameras. It also offered flash synchronization before it was available on the Rolleiflex Automat. In the post-war landscape of TLR cameras, then, Kodak was in some ways an innovator, a fact that’s easy to forget when the field was glutted by manufacturers who quickly caught up and found greater success just a few years later.

There are areas, of course, in which the Reflex falls short, particularly for the modern user. The most obvious is that the Reflex uses 620 film and is finicky about spools. I’ve found it’s not actually that difficult, as someone who already develops film and has a dark bag, to wind 120 film onto 620 spools myself; you just need a space to do it and 620 spools, ideally the old metal ones, and if you have a lab develop your film you’ll want to get them back. The geared focusing is different from the Rollei’s moving front plate focusing and takes a little getting used to, although one advantage is that a depth of field scale is available right on top of the viewing lens. The camera’s shape and design are appealing in their own boxy mid-century American way, but it’s not as beautiful a machine as a Rolleiflex of the same era.

My camera came to me in very nice condition for its age, with clean lenses, acceptably smooth focusing, and a shutter that fires at all speeds. The only immediately recognizable issues were some peeling of the leatherette, which of course is purely cosmetic, and a crack along the right side of the viewing screen, which is a little annoying but doesn’t really make focusing any more difficult.

The layout of the camera is fairly simple. Shutter speed and aperture are set with levers on either side of the taking lens. A lever on the right side of the taking lens as you hold the camera is pulled up to cock the shutter and pressed down to trigger it. On the left side there is a flash bracket mount (my camera actually came with a flash, though I haven’t used it); on the right the winding knob with settings to remind the user of various films that might be loaded, all of course since discontinued, plus the film counter and two smaller knobs, one to set the counter, and the other to release the film for winding. There is a red window on the back, with a lever to open the cover, for setting the first frame of the film.

The viewfinder has a magnifier, and the front can be flipped up for a sports finder. A button on the rear of the viewfinder opens it, and two buttons on either side, pressed toward the center button, open the hinged back to the camera itself. The spool supports bend to accommodate film.  

The taking lens does not have filter threads but takes Kodak Series VI accessories with a press-on filter adapter. I am not sure how many people this would apply to, but this is the same size as the Kodak Ektar 127mm found on many a Crown/Speed Graphic, so I already had the filter adapter and just needed to get a lens hood, which is always advisable for shooting into strong light (not that I always do what is advisable).

One functional issue I found after putting a roll of film through the camera is that the automatic film counter on mine is not reliable, and tends to overwind, resulting in fewer than the standard twelve images per frame. This problem is easily solved by using the red window to wind each frame, and just pushing up the film release knob at whatever point in the wind cycle is necessary to continue. Of course this defeats the purpose of what was one of the camera’s prime features in 1948, but considering a Reflex can be purchased now for much less than its price in 1948 dollars, it’s an issue I can certainly overlook.

Most importantly, the images coming from this camera are really good.

There’s a certain character to Kodak’s higher-end mid-century lenses that I find really appealing. The photos I shot wide open are not especially sharp (which may have as much to do with my eyesight as the lens), but by 5.6 they are certainly crisp and produce pleasing out of focus areas. Despite the lens coating and my sporadic use of a hood, I think it’s advisable to avoid strongly lit situations that would decrease contrast and provoke flare, but I have had to be very cautious about these situations with my Rolleis as well, so that’s hardly a failing of the Reflex alone.

I’m not getting rid of my Rolleis, but I really like the Kodak Reflex II. It was introduced as a competitor to the Rolleiflex seventy years ago, and while it may not have been their equal then or now, it certainly provides comparable image quality, and decent user experience, for a fraction of the price. I like cameras that require just the amount of resourcefulness I can muster to compensate for their quirks – I don’t have the skills for camera repair or the patience for a lot of fiddling, but I can re-roll 620 film and use a red window if I need to.

If you’re looking for a TLR on a limited budget, either because your wallet can’t stretch as far as a Rollei demands or just because you get a kick out of using cheap cameras, the Kodak Reflex is an excellent candidate.

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Juliet Schwab

Juliet Schwab is a freelance photographer and lover of all things ancient, especially history, languages, and cameras. She lives with her husband and three kids in the American capital, which as a Seattle native she considers the other Washington.

All stories by:Juliet Schwab
  • I’ve wanted one of these for years! Ever since longtime photo blogger Mike Connealy reviewed his. https://casualphotophile.com/2021/09/09/kodak-reflex-ii-review-a-rollei-competitor/

    I really ought to set up an eBay search for one!

  • Whaouuu such great reviewer here: James, Sroyon Juliet,… and many others.
    Such great images: bravo
    Such marvelous camera: born in the USA.
    With Amarican gear we can’t go wrong, quality is here, … yes it was not cheap that time, but it still works, … do you think some actual cheap productions with marketing names “a.r.t…” “i.s” “.s.a.n” will dure so long;-) 😉 😉
    By the way the thinng which impress me the most it is how Juliet uses these cameras, she turns them to magic! This is the talent! Of course a good camera is better, like this one, but like JCH, when there is the talent, any camera can make a great photographer: Juliet is the perfect truth. Photography is not the gear, camera is a tool. But this camera is impressive. All my Americans, Swiss, Germans, French, also Japanese gears still work!!! Yesss, they are more expensive, yesss of course!
    I would like to have this camera but it is not serious to have so many.

  • I’ve always wondered what the logic was in introducing 620 film if it was fact exactly the same as 120 film. I know the spool was slightly smaller, so it presumably allowed for a smaller camera, but was this a difference that really made a difference?

  • I happen to have a Reflex I and two of the Reflex II Anastar’s yet only two total are useful. The main problem of this design I feel is the reliance of the focusing systems on teeth around the lenses. These teeth do wear down to a point were they do not consistently engage with each other. They then skip and sometimes a lot no matter how careful you are. One of the II’s has this problem so while gorgeous to look at you can’t use it because of this wear on the teeth. Finding new wheels for the two lenses is like finding hen’s teeth…pun intended. So when looking this is the most important question to know about versus all others.

    • The Ricoh TLRs used a similar gearing method for focusing, and I’ve found that keeping them lubricated correctly goes a long way to ensuring that they don’t jam or skip. Might be the same here.

  • All have been cleaned and re-lubed. One is smooth as silk. One hesitates and if you try to force it past a point like that the wheels will pass each other. Caution needed here. The third one the wheels do not even engage at all. The teeth are much flatter and worn in this example. Have them in front of me now. Yes, the Ricohflex used this system and I happen to have every Ricohflex TLR which used that method. While the grease was frozen in many and needed to be removed, none of the wheels had issues and from the looks of them the teeth are a little more prominent. Maybe the fact that when their grease hardened it was like concrete as you couldn’t budge them a fraction of a millimeter. They all work fine now.

  • Great read-thanks. I’ve long been puzzled by how little attention this camera gets. But there are so many outstanding TLRs that perhaps the extra effort of 620 …

  • Juliet, those are some beautiful shots, thanks for the review! I bought a mint Super Ricohflex with frozen lenses a while back and gave it a good clean and re-lube but haven’t found time to get out with it. Your review has definitely inspired me to take it out for a walk.

    After losing German production during and after WW II, Kodak really found its footing with its lens and shutter production – nothing like necessity I guess…

    The lenses of Kodak’s cameras from the 1950’s really produce some gorgeous pictures, especially their large format lenses.

  • I have a Kodak Reflex II Camera. It looks to be in excellent condition. Anyone interested, make an offer. I’m not out to make a killing so, you give me a fair offer, not only will this camera be yours but I also have some other old Kodak cameras and equipment you may very well be interested in! All and very nice condition. In fact, I might just swing a real nice deal for all of it for you.

  • Great write up. Thanks! I just bought one of the earlier models for the paltry sum of $40, shipped. Of course, w/ the COVID inflation, it may be worth twice that next month. Your camera makes some very impressive photos, almost amazingly good. Can’t wait to see what some Tri-X or Delta 100 negs look like from mine (although I’ve also become a fan of the Foma films), which means buying a new enlarger. When people who only shoot digital see the photos from these old cameras, they can’t believe it.

  • FYI for those who go looking. I just picked up a Kodak Reflex I which has the Anastar f3.5 lens. Unusual, but there it is. At the end of the auction it sold for $31 which will give you an idea of what the true cost is versus those that say a lot more. It does work fine and all the teeth engage and the focus is dead on.

  • I had a Reflex 1 and found that 120 film spools would work fine with a lil modification. Take nail clippers to the round ends of the spools and just a lil sand paper on the flat ends to reduce the footprint of the 120 spool. Compared to rerolling onto a 620 spool in a darkbag it’s a bit faster for me plus you don’t need a darkbag or spare 620 spool. You can do this to prepare many rolls beforehand and they’ll still work fine in 120 cams too. The sandpaper will make a lil dust so you just want to give it a quick wipe before inserting into the camera. Unfortunately this trick doesn’t work for every 620 rig but the Reflex seems to be one of them.

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Juliet Schwab

Juliet Schwab is a freelance photographer and lover of all things ancient, especially history, languages, and cameras. She lives with her husband and three kids in the American capital, which as a Seattle native she considers the other Washington.

All stories by:Juliet Schwab