The Reflex was marketed as a big leap forward in American camera design. It featured an automatic film counter, coated lenses, a Newton finder where others had a simple frame finder and a modern appearance.

Automatic frame counter

At the time the Reflex was announced, many roll film cameras used a ruby window to display the frame numbers printed on the film’s paper backing. The window remained popular for quite a while. Some manufacturers added a shutter to the window to decrease the possibility of print through with newer, more sensitive films.

Franke & Heidecke introduced an automatic frame counter to their Rolleiflex line in 1937. It sensed film thickness to count frames.

Ansco’s idea of an automatic frame counter was similar, if a bit more complex. The user was expected to reset the counter himself before loading film. By contrast, the Rolleiflex automatically reset when the back was opened.

If the Ansco user followed very specific loading instructions, the camera would accurately count frames with each crank of the winding arm, reducing the necessity for the ruby window (still present on the Reflex).

Unfortunately, that was the only thing automatic about it. It’s hard to say what prompted the resetting lever. Ansco claimed it was to facilitate multiple exposures. It also reset the winding mechanism/shutter interlock when it jammed. Either way, the automatic part of the Reflex was less than a full success.


Ansco lacked the facilities to manufacture their own shutters and lenses. Prior to their government ownership, shutters and lenses came from Agfa and Wollensak. When they decided to undertake the Reflex, they turned again to Wollensak, located across the state in Rochester, NY.

As described in the Ansconian, the “coated Wollensak anastigmat taking lens has a maximum taking aperture of f3.5, a focal length of 83mm … The matched finder lens also has an aperture of f3.5.” The finder lens, which is also coated, became f3.2 by the time of production.

The Ciro-Flex Model D and E, produced about the same, coincidentally had f3.5 85mm taking and f3.2 finding Wollensak lenses mounted in a Wollensak shutter.

The C surrounding the W logo indicates that the lens is Wocoted, Wollensak’s hard anti-glare treatment.

Set-and-Release Shutter

Wollensak made two very popular shutters at the time: the Alphax and Rapax.

The former was, as Ciro-Flex put it in their advertisements, an “automatic” shutter. The shutter didn’t fire off the stored energy of a wound spring. Instead, it fired as you pushed the shutter release. The fact that you didn’t have to cock the shutter made it “automatic.”

The Rapax, on the other hand, was a set-and-release shutter. You cocked the shutter before you fired it, storing the firing energy in a spring. When you pressed the shutter release, it would release the energy into the speed governing mechanism.

Set-and-release shutters were capable of higher shutter speeds. The Alphax shutter topped out at 1/200th of a second. Given the state of engineering at the time, it was difficult to get a higher speed from that mechanism. The Rapax topped out at 1/400th, which was typical of the design at the time.

Newton finder

The eye-level finder in the Reflex incorporates a lens on the front. Combined with the magnifying lens, it made a reverse Galilean finder, similar to the viewfinder found in smaller cameras. Most TLRs at that point had simple frame finders. Ostensibly, this finder made it easier to compose a shot and was recommended for “fast action” or when the camera had to be used at eye level. In practice, the advantage was arguable.

Flash synchronization

The Reflex was initially designed without a specific flash synch mechanism. This was not uncommon: the 1940s were a transition period for flash synchronization. As many cameras were manufactured without built-in synchronization as those that had it.

Ansco pointed out that the cable release socket was “provision for flash photography.” Photographers were expected to use one of the many cable- release-synched flash guns. Kalart, Mendelsohn and others made aftermarket flash units to work with the many cameras that lacked a flash sync mechanism.

Unfortunately, the camera industry was adopting dedicated flash synchronization at the time. And, the press made it clear that cameras without dedicated flash sync were inferior to similar models and Ansco revised the Reflex to incorporate flash sync. Owners of earlier Reflexes could send theirs in, along with $24.50, to have it retrofitted.

Minor Details

There are a couple of small points worth noting about the Ansco Reflex.

Black focus knob face

Some very early Reflexes came with a black painted focus knob insert. This appears to be limited to the type 1 Reflex.

Shutter speed indicator

On most Reflexes, the shutter speed indicator is a dab of red paint at the top of the taking lens. Some cameras have a neatly filled-in groove while others were just dabbed.

A number of Type 2 Reflexes have a small diamond shape cut into the teeth that’s painted red.

Type 2 parts on Type 1

Some Type 1 cameras that were retrofitted with flash sync also received the new tripod socket. Based on construction, it’s likely the entire back was swapped because replacing the socket would require punching a larger hole and new rivet holes. This wasn’t advertised as part of the upgrade.

Black leather in the wind crank and counter knob

A number of Reflexes are missing the small, black leather circle that covered the screw head in the base of the winding crank and the circle of leather inset in the counter knob.

Inked numbers on inside of back

Many Reflexes have inked numbers stamped on the bottom inside of the back cover. Most are stamped with yellow ink: the numbers are usually outlined by the yellow ink. On at least one Reflex, there’s another set of numbers, in faint black ink, which makes them difficult to read.