Classic Vs Retro

I like classic old cameras. I like retro modern cameras. But which is better? There is only one way to find out…

…by taking some pictures and looking at them. What were you expecting, this isn’t Robot Wars.

So, to business. In the classic corner, the Yashica Mat 124G 6×6 medium format TLR with a fixed 80mm f3.5 lens. In the Retro corner the Fuji X100 APS-C format digital camera with a fixed 23mm f2.0 lens. Both of these are great cameras that I like using very much, they both have that solid direct feel of something that has been engineered to be the best it can be.

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I wanted to shoot appropriately to era of each camera to compare them, so the Yashica was loaded with Ilford FP4+ which is a slow fine grained monochrome film, and the Fuji X100 was loaded with, well, a memory card, that I shot colour raw images on to. The film was processed (badly – see my previous post ‘Agitated? I was Livid!) and scanned and then both sets of images were processed in Lightroom to appropriate but differing styles. I’ve written about both cameras before, so this isn’t about technical specifications or lens sharpness, it’s about the experience of using the cameras and the images they can produce. Both these cameras were a genuine joy to use, happy days at the beach indeed! The Yashica is a big box, but it’s hollow so it hangs quite nicely on a neck strap, even with the X100 slung over the top I could work both cameras and a handheld light meter without any problem.

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I lead with the Yashica and limited myself to taking a second single shot with the X100 from the same spot straight afterwards. By a happy coincidence cropping the sides of the image from the X100 to square it up gave roughly the same angle of view as the square negative produced by the Yashica, so with only minor adjustment I had a set of 12 matching images from each camera.

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I have to give the handling vote to the Yashica. Wanting to shoot more with it was the reason I dreamt up this whole comparison idea in the first place. Operating it is like pulling levers in a Victorian signal box – satisfyingly analogue with a feel that comes only from mechanical actions instead of haptic engineering. The X100 is not far behind and it certainly feels solid and is a joy to use.

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What about the images? You’ll notice that I’ve tried to frame the same image each time (apart form when a gull distracted me!) but my aim was to process each in isolation of the other to produce a striking image. The subject matter was my usual kind of semi-abstract views taken on a day out on the coast around North Berwick. I’m still in my experimenting-with-colour-to-find-a-style-I-like phase so a degree of hamfistedness took place with the Lightroom adjustment sliders, but then I’d rather be memorable than boring! The monochrome shots were more of a challenge as my hamfistedness was all expended processing the film so I had to be subtle in Lightroom to avoid ruining the images further.

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An interesting question – does the medium you are shooting in affect the what you shoot?

All else being even I’d probably take a monochrome image over a colour one and with this experiment I thought the colour images would be inferior to their monochrome counterparts. But, actually, I think I prefer them. Sure they are a bit over-bold in some cases, but a couple of them look genuinely better than their monochrome counterparts – colour actually adding to an image, imagine that. So the image vote goes to the X100. The Yashica gets an honourable mention for it’s ability to create a shallow depth of field that let me isolate a close up subject clearly from the background in a way that the X100 can’t quite do.

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So which is one is better overall? On this day I give that honour to the Fuji X100. Despite my love of the Yashica the Fuji is a fantastic camera. It produces nice colour images that continue to impress me. The Yashica takes time and effort to use, but it’s worth it because I know i’ll get 10 or 12 images per roll i’d happily hang on my wall. The Fuji is easy to use, maybe too easy, which often stops me trying as hard and so my resulting images suffer. But here I’ve shown that if I think film and then shoot digital I can get the good results and the reduced effort.

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Ultimately the Fuji X100 gives the kind of images I thought I had to shoot film to achieve. And for a luddite like me that is high praise indeed.

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