On my short list, in my inner circle, of favorite cameras is my Yashica-D, a medium-format twin-lens-reflex camera. It is such a joy to shoot! And it delivers excellent sharpness and contrast with buttery bokeh. What’s not to like?
Except that it offers no onboard light meter. I guess there are photographers out there for whom that’s no problem, but I’m not one of them. I like the Yashica-D so much I shoot it often anyway, but I’ve always wished I didn’t have to guess at Sunny 16 or fumble with an external meter while doing so. So I’ve had my eye on metered Yashica TLRs.
Longtime readers will remember my soft $50 upper limit for any camera. But my motives have changed. I want to have a handful of go-to cameras that deliver great results — and are mechanically reliable over the long haul. I’m now willing to pay more for a camera in that select group.
So why this Yashica-12 when there are so many fine Yashica Mat 124Gs out there? Two reasons: (1) I like to be different, and (2) this one had already undergone a CLA (cleaning, lube, and adjustment) by Mark Hama, the well-known Yashica repairman who long ago built Yashica TLRs at the factory in Nagano. That CLA probably cost as much as I paid for this Yashica-12 — which made this camera a real bargain. I love a bargain! So there’s a third reason.
The Yashica-12 offers an 80mm f/3.5 Yashinon taking lens and an 80mm f/2.8 Yashinon viewing lens. These are said to be four-element lenses of Tessar design. The taking lens stops down to an itty-bitty f/32 and is set in a Copal SV shutter that operates from 1/500 to 1 second. The camera takes film from ISO 25 to 400. Those relatively low top ISO and shutter settings do limit what this camera can comfortably shoot to things that aren’t moving. But it’s not like you’d want to photograph racing cars or running quarterbacks with a heavy TLR.
Using the coupled light meter is a breeze. It’s match-needle all the way. Opening the lid turns it on. It takes a dreaded, banned 625 mercury battery, but I just dropped in an alkaline 625 cell. Everybody says that messes with your exposures but that’s never been my experience.
The meter needles are just north of the viewfinder on the top of the “Yashica-12” plate, which is perfect because as you prepare to take a photo you’re already looking in that direction. To set exposure, first turn the dial on the camera’s upper front corner, on the right as you peer down into the viewfinder, until your film’s ISO appears in the window. Then twist the aperture and shutter-speed knobs (on either side of the lenses) until the needles match.
Like any Yashica TLR, if you press in the plate in the middle of the lid, a magnifying lens pops out. It’s indispensable for my middle-aged eyes. That lid section also locks in place so you can use the square in the lid as a viewfinder.
The Yashica-12 takes only 120 film, by the way, and makes 12 square photos on a roll. The better-known Yashica Mat 124G takes both 120 and 220, which is the same film as 120, but there’s twice as much of it on a roll. I don’t think I’m missing out by not being able to shoot 220.
I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and went shooting. My next-door neighbor finally had all his dead ash trees cut down. The emerald ash borer has ravaged my neighborhood. He decided to keep the wood, which is stacked right next to our mutual property line.
My favorite thing to do with a new-to-me old camera is take it on a road trip. Margaret and I explored the Lafayette Road while the 12 still had shots left on this roll, so it came along. This photo is in Lebanon, Indiana, across from the Boone County Courthouse.
And here’s that courthouse. It was completed in 1911. The top of the dome, above the clocks, is made of stained glass.
And what would a trip up the Lafayette Road be without at least one photo of this great sign? This junkyard has been out of business for many years now, but I had one adventure buying parts for an old car here before it closed.
See my entire Yashica-12 gallery here.
I loved shooting this camera. I look forward to many, many years of enjoyment with it. But it did have a couple quirks, a couple things I wish were better.
First, I sort of miss the winding and focusing controls being on the same side of the camera, as with my Yashica-D.
Second, the ASA (ISO) scale is odd: 25, 40, 80, 160, 320, 400, with dots between the settings. For ISO 100 film, such as Ektar, I suppose I’ll set it one dot right of 80, but I wish this were more sure. Or maybe I should just shoot Portra 160 in it!
Finally, the f-stop scale is labeled with yellow numbers, which my middle-aged eyes struggle to see in dim light.
I can adapt to the first two quirks. The last one…well, it’s not the only thing my eyes don’t see as well anymore. Soon I’ll need to carry cheaters with me everywhere I go. At least the Yashica-12’s viewfinder magnifier lets me focus with ease.
And I’ll do a lot of focusing with this delightful camera. I look forward to many years of pleasure and great results with it.
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