After the excesses of Christmas (still in blissful denial about the cost of a D800!) I decided to limit myself to a more modest birthday present. Meet my new Yashicamat 124G TLR (twin lens reflex camera).
Now I am a big fan of medium format film cameras as they are really fun to use but the film is no more difficult to process than 35mm and they yield vastly superior results when scanning compared to the smaller format. The Yashicamat 124 G is the last in the line of Yashicamat twin lens reflex cameras. Judging by it’s condition mine was produced around the same time I was, although it is based on much older technology than other cameras of the time.
The twin lens reflex (TLR) camera is the reason we refer to most modern cameras a single lens reflex (SLR) even through no-one really makes TLRs anymore. The principle is that there are two lenses, one that you look through and one that exposes the film. No big complicated flappy mirror system means mechanical simplicity and quiet operation. The shutter is housed within the taking lens and means that the rest of the camera is basically just an empty lightproof box. You look down into the top of the camera, through a fixed mirror and out through the viewing lens to compose your shot and focus using the dial on the left hand side of the body which moves both lenses back and forth in sync.
Simplicity itself really. No tricky moving parts or complex optical arrangements. Mine has a built-in light meter, but while the needle does move about a bit, it was generally in disagreement with my handheld meter so best to ignore it (although it does a great job of obscuring your view of the aperture/shutter speed dial).
There are controls for the flash hookup and a clockwork self-timer, but that is about it. Earlier models looked a bit more Hasselblad with lots of chrome, but this version is much more Nikon in it’s shiny black painted metal finish and deep textured leatherette. Very much like the Nikon FE. Looks great with a nice yellow/gold Nikon strap (but then what doesn’t!)
So, whats so good about it then?
Well, as you ask… Lots. Firstly it shoots square 6x6cm format negatives which are the coolest format in the whole wide world. Secondly it is as close to ergonomic perfection as I have yet found for a camera. With it on a strap around your neck, resting on your chest you just look down into the viewfinder and your hands naturally fall to the focus dial and shutter button. Focus, click, wind, job done. I spent all day walking around with it carried thus and it can even be operated while holding a cup of coffee (although this takes a bit more coordination).
So, to the pictures!
The result of a bit of wandering around with the camera while loaded with some Ilford HP5+ film. You get 12 Shots to a roll, which is a nice number for finishing a role off in one sitting.
I like the square format, it’s easy to compose nice balanced geometrical architectural images without having to resort to portrait format to fit everything in. The 80mm lens is equivalent to a normal 50mm lens on 35mm film format but with the benefit of much more depth of field control allowing you to isolate a sharp subject against a softer background.
The lens is remarkably sharp for such an old low-tech design. It has much less glass in it than just about any lens I own, but in some ways this is a good thing as it reduces the risk of reflection, softness and flair. It produced quite contrasty negatives that sharpened up well. I intend to shoot some colour negative film with it to see how that comes out.
So there it is. A cheap old camera producing some nice results.
The square format is suffering a kind of resurgence with the lomography movement and the Instagram epidemic. But the Yashica is not the kind of badly made toy camera that produces that kind of look. I was surprised by it, as it’s a match for my much more high-tech Bronica ETRSi camera for this normal type of photography.
It’s a lot of camera for the cash, shoots well, and looks good on the mantelpiece. what more could you want.