Ansco had never produced a camera quite as complex as the Reflex. Earlier consumer cameras ranged from the simplest of box cameras to moderately sophisticated viewfinder models. In the latter, the shutters and lenses were manufactured by others, notably Wollensak.

In building a twin-lens camera, designers faced a decision about how to focus the lenses. One method, favored by Franke & Heidecke in their Rolleiflex and Rolleicord cameras, mounted the taking and viewing lenses on a board that moved both away from the film plane at the same time. The other, used by Kodak on its Reflex, employed a fixed lens board with a geared connection between both lenses. The lenses rotated in tandem to focus the image.

Both mechanisms required precision engineering. Lenses had to be collimated to ensure accurate focus. Even a millimeter of difference in focal plane distance could result in out of focus photos.

The moving lens board mechanism had certain advantages. The lens assembly was less complex because there was no physical coupling between the lenses. The focusing mechanism itself was relatively simple: a geared wheel, attached to the focusing knob, moved the lens board by rotating against a geared rod. With the exception of the geared parts (which are machine cut), most parts of a lens board mechanism can be cast or stamped, which are relatively inexpensive manufacturing processes.

Gear-coupled lens TLRs required far fewer parts. Instead of knobs, internal rack-and-pinion gears and bearing surfaces, the focusing and taking lenses are coupled in matched helicoid mounts. Interlocking gears, one on each lens, transfer the focus of one lens to another. The most expensive parts are the helicoid lens mount and carrier. Both are cut from tubing by a machine driven from a pattern.

Ansco went to lengths to point out the engineering of the parallel linear bearings behind the lens board in the Reflex. This was because it was a potential Achille’s heel of the design: the lens board had to move perfectly parallel to the film plane. Any deviation, any flex in the mechanism would translate to poor photos. It had to be, and was, rigid, consistent, smooth and low friction.

Similarly, Ansco highlighted the engineering of their film winding and frame counting mechanism (the source of the “Automatic” in the name). Twin-lens cameras at the time advanced film with a crank arm, like the Rolleiflex, or with a knob, like the Rolleicord. The latter required no gears: the knob connected directly to the spool to wind the film. Photographers used a little red window on the back of the camera to know which frame they were on.

Crank arms, however, were usually set in the middle of the camera body and required several gears to couple to the film spool. Counting frames accurately in a TLR was a tricky business. Unlike 35mm film, there are no sprockets on roll film to advance a counter. Ansco used a sharp geared wheel, along with a little friction, to measure the movement of film inside the camera and drive the counter wheel.

All of these engineering feats added up: they drove the price beyond what the board ever imagined. Kodak, on the other hand, took a far less expensive route with their Reflex. It had almost no internal gearing. Even when they added a difficult-to-use film counter to the Reflex II, it didn’t add appreciably to the final cost of the camera.