A twin-lens reflex camera ( TLR ) is a type of camera with two objective lenses of the same focal length . One of the lenses is the photographic objective (the lens that takes the picture), while the other is used for the waist-level viewfinder system. In addition to the objective, the viewfinder consists of a 45-degree mirror (the reason for the word reflex in the name), a matte focusing screen at the top of the camera, and a pop-up hood surrounding it. The two objectives are connected, so that the focus shown on the focusing screen will be exactly the same as on the film. However, many inexpensive TLRs are fixed-focus models. Most TLRs use leaf shutters with shutter speeds up to 1/500th sec with a B setting.
Higher-end TLRs may have a pop-up magnifying glass to assist the user in focusing the camera. In addition, many have a "sports finder" consisting of a square hole punched in the back of the pop-up hood, and a knock-out in the front. Photographers can sight through these instead of using the matte screen. This is especially useful in tracking moving subjects such as animals or race cars, since the image on the matte screen is reversed left-to-right. It is nearly impossible to judge composition with such an arrangement, however.
A primary advantage of the TLR is in its mechanical simplicity as compared to the more common single-lens reflex cameras. The SLR must employ some method of blocking light from reaching the film during focusing, either with a focal plane shutter (most common) or with the reflex mirror itself.
TLRs are different from single-lens reflex cameras (SLR) in several respects. First, unlike virtually all SLRs, TLRs provide a continuous image on the finder screen. The view does not black out during exposure.
Since a mirror need not be moved out of the way, the picture can be taken much closer to the time the shutter is actuated by the photographer. This reduced shutter lag is especially advantageous for certain action shots such seen in sports or dance.
Models with leaf shutters within the lens rather than focal-plane shutters can synchronize with flash at higher speeds than can SLRs. The combination of these features are especially advantageous when taking a posed action shot (as, for example, of a martial artist executing a kick or jump) in combination with high intensity electronic flash to freeze the action.
Another advantage of the TLR design can be seen when long exposures are required. During exposure, an SLR's mirror must be retracted, blacking out the image in the viewfinder. A TLR's mirror is fixed and the taking lens remains open throughout the exposure, letting the photographer examine the image while the exposure is in progress. This can ease the creation of special lighting or transparency effects.
Because the photographer views through one lens but takes the photograph through another, parallax error makes the photograph different from the view on the screen. This difference is negligible when the subject is far away, but is critical for nearby subjects. Parallax compensation may be performed by the photographer in adjustment of the sight line while compensating for the framing chage, or for highly repeatable accuracy in tabletop photography (in which the subject might be within a foot (30 cm) of the camera), devices are available that move the camera upwards so that the taking lens goes to the exact position that the viewing lens occupied.