My Blackbird Fly TLR Camera Review

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Here’s what else we got for our £99 ($127) plus postage:

  • 1x Blackbird Fly TLR camera (available with a front plate in various colours like black, blue, orange, pink, yellow)
  • 1x display case
  • 1x User Manual in Japanese and English
  • 1x lens cap, covering both lenses
  • 1x strap to attach that lens cap to the body (it’s tough to find this information, so it’s a good thing I told you about it)
  • 1x neck strap (it’s rubbish though – only use in emergencies)

What’s under The Hood?

The Blackbird Fly is a clunky piece of plastic, measuring 2.5” x 2.5” x 5” (7x7x14cm) – almost the size of two Rubik’s Cubes put together. There’s a small switch at the bottom which opens it up lengthwise, with a separate film compartment on the inside. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a plastic camera!

Overall it has a very sturdy feel to it. I never got the impression it would break, it’s certainly build to last.

BBF- (3 of 5)Before we put a film in, let’s talk about the manual film counter… it doesn’t know when you put a new roll in, like other 35mm cameras. You have to align the white line with the black one before you start a new roll. Let’s do that first, shall we? In case you forget, you can’t do it afterwards… you have been warned!

Next comes the fiddly bit: getting a new roll ready for action. BBF- (4 of 5)It takes a few times to get this right, so don’t lose your patience here. The film is wound out of its own compartment, over the length of the camera, then over a sprocket onto the take-up spool. It’ll take about 4 full frames to do this. It’s all very well explained in the manual.

Once the film is in, pop in the gate of your choice, close the camera and get ready to take some pictures.

The Outside

The shutter button is located next to the bottom lens, a small metal lever that makes a gratifying “clunk-ping” noise when you press it. You can adjust the focus on either lens (they’re interlocked by sprockets), and you can see your current focus value on the top lens.

Blackbird, Fly!
Blackbird, Fly! shot on Ilford HP5 at 3200 ASA

Like other cameras of this calibre, you have to guestimate the distance of your subjects. It works pretty well though, but takes getting used to because you can turn the lenses almost an entire 360 degrees (from 0.8m to infinity).

In the package you get a neck strap, which considering the weight of the Blackbird Fly (210g without a film) feels a bit thin to me. I recommend using one though, but see if you can find a wider one. I buy mine from Geoff’s Camera’s on eBay at unbeatable value for money.

On the right hand side, you’ve got your film advance knob, underneath which you can see the film counter. Hard to believe that you’ve just seen this in a different place, isn’t it? On the left hand side, you’ve got the flash hot shoe and the rewind crank (handily stashed away in a little hole, even though you may have to convince it at times to stay there).

While we’re on the subject, there’s also a button you have to hold down to rewind the film on this side. I recommend doing this with the help of something you can press the button with: a leaf helped me out last time, but a screwdriver or pen will do fine too. Doing this with your thumb only (which I believe was the inventor’s idea) leaves a sharp pain and a red ring.

I’ve already mentioned the pop-up viewfinder, and I bet you’ll get as much pleasure out of opening it as I do. It’s made up of four spring loaded flaps that make a great noise when they spring into position. Take some time to familiarise yourself with framing up a picture – it’s an experience!

Let’s see some pictures

I’ve shot a variety of pictures in the following galleries, a mixture of all three formats.

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15 thoughts on “My Blackbird Fly TLR Camera Review”

  1. I think you mean the image in the viewfinder is flipped horizontally not vertically 😉 That would make them really tough to use lol. Surprisingly I just found out about these today (I've got a mean collection of TLRs) so I had to pick one up (orange btw). Anyway nice review, can't wait to get mine in the mail.

  2. Blackbird Camera. I am very tempted to go to film with something a bit clunky. Used to use a Mamiya at art college and quite like it’s (mine) unpredictable shots. You can purchase the Blackbird at Ikon Gallery (its in Google) for about £70. They also do something called a Holga. Check out the Ikon, I have a bit of an interest as I used to work there and was connected with the last exhibition This Could Happen to You. Some pics on my website. Regards RS

    • Thanks for the tip Richard, I’ve head of the Ikon Gallery but I’ve never been there. I didn’t know they had a little camera shop – very good to know. Especially now that the Photographer’s Gallery is closed for refurbishment until 2011.

      Here’s the link:

    • Hi Martin,

      yes that’s true – the viewfinder is only for framing purposes but doesn’t actually show you what you’re focussing on. In the viewfinder, everything appears in focus. It’s not a “real” TLR in that respect.

  3. Hi Jay,

    Thanks for the reply!

    Bit if a shame really, i read that the Gakkenflex (the kit tlr) does allow focus but it looks nowhere near as well made as the blackbird.

    Still i’ve seen the Blackbird drop in price on a few online stores these last few months so maybe i’ll bight when it gets to £50 (currently at £60 with one Amazon seller)

    Thanks again!

  4. Pingback: Camera tlr used
  5. 33mm F7 – F11!?!

    Not much should be out of focus then!

    I noticed you did some indoor shots… were they with floodlighting?

    I wish they’d offer a version at double the price with an F4 lens and visual focus ability.

    A modern 135 TLR is such a good premise…

    Thanks for the best review I’ve seen on it.

    • Thanks Fred!

      You’re right about the focus range: only things very close to the camera – at the right distance setting – produce a blurred background. Other than that, it’s more of a “framing exercise” than a proper TLR I guess.

      If you’d like the focussing ability too, how about a Lubitel 166? You can shoot both 120 and 35mm with it (however it’s a bit heavier and of course more expensive).

    • Yep, that’s no problem: all you need to do is turn the camera by 90 degrees. You’ll have to frame up using the sports finder rather than the top-down viewfinder. It’s not as accurate but will give you a guide of what will be in the picture.

      Hope this helps 😉


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