A few weeks ago, I wrote about my new-to-me, super cheapie antique-store-find Yashica A. Last week, I burned my first 5 rolls of Kodak Tri-X in it as a test drive and man, what a test drive it was!
Every year, my wife hosts a Fall Family Photo session on our friends’ beautifully rustic property in Libertytown. I’m usually working but this year, I tagged along with the Yashica A. Steph photographed 6 families over the course of 4 hours and everyone was freezing in the uncharacteristically cold Maryland November. Needless to say, with all the kids freezing, it was a pretty fast-paced shoot and the perfect proving grounds for a new camera.
I used my Voigtlander VCII meter mounted on the Yashica’s cold shoe, rotating the camera completely sideways to meter, then back to its normal upright to set and shoot. It was quite a workout between this and its magnifier-reliant focus and knob-wind action. I had a blast using the camera rapidly but upon inspection of my images, I found that the A, not surprisingly, requires closer attention and more time on focusing and composing. Nearly every shot that I threw out, it was because of one of these two things.
But to be clear, I was still slow moving due to being busy just readying the Yashica!
Steph would snap away ten or twenty shots on her D600 in the time it took me just to rough compose, expose, focus and fine compose/focus. I’d let Steph know, “have them hold this one for me” and the shoot would slow the hell down, subjects would retrain their eyes to me, looking down through the waist level finder, all for just one meager, nearly inaudible click, frantic knob winding as I impatiently watched the red window for the next frame, not to wind too far, reposition, and click again! I’d fire off one to three shots for each set-up that I liked.
A couple of the kids were interested with the Yashica and marveled at the viewfinder briefly before getting distracted by something else. Some of the parents recalled stories of a relative using “a camera like that” in the distant past. Bringing a TLR to a conventional digital mini-session shoot is a bit like bringing a knife to a gunfight. And similarly, it begs attention with an underdog sort of appreciation.
The last TLR I used, a Yashica 12, had all the bells and whistles; brighter 2.8 viewfinder, crank advance, built-in meter, symmetric thumbwheel aperture/shutter adjustment, double exposure prevention and automatic shutter charging. Any TLR is a “slow down and think camera” but the A is “slow down and think even more.” I found the camera incredibly easy and intuitive to operate (very much the opposite of a Hasselblad) and I felt very “present” for each photo. I burned all 60 potential frames of the 5 rolls between the family session and some of my usual stream of consciousness and I felt like I really remembered each shot and was fully THERE while taking them.
My first problems were with coming up with a pace to advance such that I didn’t wind past the frame, which is very easy to do. The registration between several of my first images was inconsistent until I reigned things in. And it didn’t take long. It may not seem like a big deal to get the frame number dead center in the red window when advancing, but the further you get into the roll, the closer the images are and there is potential for double exposure, which ruins 2 shots on a 12 shot roll. Not good. This unfortunate fate fell upon me a couple times, either due to slightly overlapping frames or because I’d totally forgotten to advance before exposing a second shot, another major pitfall to keep in mind when using a Yashica A.
I also had considered and long ignored buying a Rolleicord due to being unenthused about the lack of a crank advance. For the mere $28 outlay for the A, I didn’t really care about this and I’m really glad that I gave the knob-wind a chance. While it lacks the precise and encouraging rhythm of a crank, the generous diameter, well-milled knobs of the Yashica were fun to operate. It didn’t take long for me to learn the distinction between the focus and advance knobs, which are close to one another on the right side of the body and can easily be confused. Better to get in the habit of advancing before focusing that way, if you make a mistake, you are “advancing” the focus rather than “focusing” the advance and ruining your frame!
Probably the biggest problem I had was the viewfinder. While, in shade, it was a joy to gaze and focus through, in the bright autumn sunlight, the fresnel focusing screen often turned into a big grey mirror as I alarmingly stared at myself instead of my subjects. There’s no real way to overcome this. You just have to hunch down over the camera and try to shade the finder. I don’t recall this being as much of an issue with other TLRs. I will also say that the f3.5 viewing lens results in a pretty dim view compared to the 2.8 I was used to. The viewing image is about on par with the plastic screen MiNT TL70 in terms of brightness. So between its inherent dimness and reflections, there were a few shots that I’m a little regretful about as I had to take them quickly and couldn’t compose properly whilst struggling with these hurtles.
I will say, however, focus on the dimmer screen wasn’t bad. I had some issues when we had subjects placed in front of a wall. Separating the wall from the people, even though they were about a foot out from it, gave me trouble picking the two apart on more than one occasion. I shot around f4/5.6 for many shots and so there was usually enough DoF to keep me covered, even at close range.
And the amateur photographer in me, who used to get frustrated with the reverse viewing of any TLR, just had fun with the wonky approach to composition this go around.
I processed the film in my go-to Kodak HC110b. I had some trouble getting the big 120 film loaded onto my plastic Patterson reels. I recall having better luck using stainless reels for 120 film but went ahead with plastic as I’d already gotten them started. I may try using metal next time.
The negatives come out big and beautiful. I flubbed a few things, of course, using a new-to-me camera at speed, but overall, I am really happy with the shots for a warm-up.
I haven’t shot 120 for more than a casual roll here and there for several years. In addition to shooting with a TLR as fun as the Yashica A, I have really enjoyed handling the big negatives and scanning them. It’s fun to be able to zoom so much further into the image than with 35. And there’s much less trouble with dust because it just doesn’t show. The whole experience makes me want to work 120 into my normal jobs.
We’ll see. All that I know is that this very simple, unassuming Yashica A has inspired me quite a bit. I hope you enjoyed my photos. Thanks to Kodak for their new, improved backing paper and a very special thanks to all the folks who took a beat to allow me to wind this, lever that, flip this and click that to take their photo!
Thanks for reading!
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