Discovering the Yashica A

The Yashica A is like the VW Beetle or Converse All-Stars of the Twin Lens Reflex world.

But like these cheap, low tech and timeless cars and shoes, the Yashica A is simple, fun and effective.

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A few days ago, my charming wife and I found ourselves with the day off work and nothing pressing to do.  So we relived the early adventures of our courtship by getting ice cream and stopping by the local antique mall, Old Glory.

After years of chancing upon fascinating, inspiring though often beat or overpriced classic cameras at flea markets, antique and thrift stores, and buying anything I’d never seen before, I pretty much have bought and owned and tried everything I’d care to.  In this stage of my photography career, I am squarely focussed on making best use of the bodies and lenses I currently have and investing my time and money in actual shooting and sharing of my work.

But my wife and I have missed owning a proper 120 TLR since the demise of our Yashica 12, whose numerous features, one by one, failed.  Being only a casual TLR shooter, I have since been unable to justify the cost of repair or another quality TLR (if you don’t count the MiNT TL70 we purchased for our daughter).  I sold the 12 recently as a parts camera and cut my ties.

But then, in a case at Old Glory, we found three of those telltale vertical rectangular leather cases clustered among numerous common consumer grade or non-functional, over-complicated German cameras.  If I’d been alone, I wouldn’t have even asked to have the case opened.  All we could see was that one was a Rollei, and two were Yashica.  But Stephanie hasn’t been hardened by a decade of ubiquitous junk classics paraded around by non-camera retailers and so, ambitiously, she asked to see the TLR’s.

With some help from an employee who, from our conversation, realised our intention and surprisingly asked “Oh, you actually want to use these things?!” we looked over the Rolleicord (I don’t know which model), Yashica Mat and Yashica A.

The ‘Cord was marked $125 and was jammed and was some missing controls like they had been removed for use with a more hopeful repair.  The Yashica Mat worked but the shutter was very sluggish and covered in oil.  I liked that it had a crank advance and I enjoyed working it around a few times but it was easy to see that the effort was pointless.

I had just about had my fill of the usual, endlessly depressing antique store camera BS when I reluctantly chose to look at the Yashica A while the cabinet was being held open.  It was only marked at $28 so I briefly imagined a small list of issues I could live with or self-repair for the small outlay.

I unbuttoned the tattered, musty old leather case to reveal beautifully unmarred, clean black enamel and perfectly adhered pebble grain leatherette.  The chrome and polished metal controls and body accents shone and glinted in the fluorescents as if smiling at me.

Minor patches of dust lay across a few surfaces, but the dust was the same tan color of the interior of the fitted case and brushed off effortlessly by simple handling, as if nobody had actually liberated this late 1950’s twin lens from its case for the decades required to decay leather.

I removed the thick bakelite double lens cap and two super clean glass circles with blue highlights looked up at me as if yawning and being woken up after full night’s sleep, eager to see the world again.

The somewhat substandard, folding camera-style shutter cocking lever and speed/aperture controls stumped me for a moment as I’d never seen a TLR that wasn’t auto-cocking and controlled by between lens thumbwheels.

But sure enough, each of the speeds from 25 to 300 and bulb worked appropriately.  The nearly inaudible leaf shutter happily flicked open and shut beneath the glass as if recently cleaned and calibrated.

The aperture control ran smoothly from 3.5 to 22, which encouraged me to open the film compartment to have a look at the aperture blades.  The rear element was as flawless as the front elements, without a spec of dust around it.  The aperture blades were oil and wear-free, opening and closing precisely as requested.

And what’s this?  An exposed roll of vintage Kodacolor.  This third generation roll probably dates back to the 1950’s, when the Yashica A was still new.

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So here we have a leather fitted case which displays the wear I typically see from mid-century cameras but a body inside that has all the earmarks of having been used a handful of times before being retired to a not too humid, not too hot closet for 60 years.  Usually when I find a camera, particularly consumer grade, that looks this nice, it doesn’t work in some critical way, which is probably its excuse for having been cased and discarded for so long.  But for some impossible-to-conceive reason, this Yashica A seems to have been retired before it ever got started.

In order to shed some more light on the Yashica’s mysteriously short life, I’m mailing the Kodacolor out to Film Rescue International.  This Montana-based lab is dedicated to the skilled and careful processing of unique, expired vintage films.  They will know best how to safely get any images that are on this roll developed correctly.

While the Kodacolor is out for processing, I took the A for a test drive, with a fresh box of Tri-X for fall family photos.

I’ll review my use of the A and show off its images in my next blog.

So there’s a lesson in all this.  Beyond the simple lesson that continues to elude me, that I should always just listen to my wife, there’s more.  It’s often the less desired, more simple classic camera that survives.  And for that, these underdog cameras deserve our respect, and use!

Thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “Discovering the Yashica A

  1. I was very pleasantly surprised by the A which I bought on a whim from an Etsy seller. My big brag in life is that I have many film cameras, all but a few functional, and I’ve paid no more $15 for any of them (well that’s a lie, I did shell out a bit more for a Nikon F2). So when I paid $50 for the Yashica A, I had big-time buyer’s remorse until it arrived. Like yours, it was in it’s original case and beautiful. The first roll through was amazing!! Yashica…they did photography right! I own quite a few and love them. Good luck with yours, I will check back to see how they came out!

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    1. WOW, $15 is quite a low watermark, even if it’s been raised for a few special cameras (and the F2 is a great example.) When I first got into classic cameras, I’d buy pretty every camera that interested me that was under $100. Probably like you, I was just deeply fascinated with learning about how each one worked and marveled at the great variety in design there used to be in cameras. Over the last several years though, I am trying to curb my habit and concentrate on taking more and better photos. This often requires buying better lenses and of course investing more in film and processing. Which is why this find was so unusual for me.

      Thanks so much for reading. If you have shots from your A, feel free to share a link, I’d love to see them. I am a bit backlogged on wedding/concert photos right now but will try to get my A photos up soon too.

      Thanks again!

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  2. I know how you feel about the ‘A’. I have a 635 and a Mat LM, and although the ‘Mat is supposedly superior, there is something very satisfying about my 635 with it’s knob wind. It was also in mint condition with no signs of wear for the bargain price of £36 off eBay. Takes a great photo too…

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  3. My wife bought me a Yashica A for our anniversary this past summer (3rd is leather and it came with a leather case lol). I have shot two rolls of film with it but haven’t picked them up from the developer yet but from what I can tell the camera works great. The guy we got it from (I had to check it out before she bought it) was the original owner and he bought it brand new in the early sixties, she paid $40 CDN for it. I love the experience of shooting with it, that it makes me slow down and think about exposure, settings and composure. I can’t wait to see the photos I took with it.

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