Camera Reviews

Yashica-12

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 wished for one. 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.

Yashica-12

Recently I bought this Yashica-12. I paid more than I’ve ever paid for a camera in my life: about $135, shipped.

Longtime readers will remember my soft $50 upper limit for any camera. But my motives are changing. 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.

Yashica-12

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.

The one thing I didn’t enjoy much about my Yashica-D was its slow, clunky knob film winder. The 12’s crank is fast and sure. And it cocks the shutter for you; the D has a separate cocking lever.

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.

Yashica-12

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 makes 12 square photos on each roll of 120 film. The better-known Yashica Mat 124G takes both 120 and also 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.

By the way, if you’re into Yashica cameras also check out my reviews of the Electro 35 GSN (here), the MG-1 (here), the Lynx 14e (here), and the T2 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and went shooting. 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.

Please be seated

And here’s that courthouse. It was completed in 1911. The top of the dome, above the clocks, is made of stained glass.

Boone County Courthouse

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.

Wrecks

Later I took the 12 out to make portraits of my sons on Kodak Ektachrome E100G. I like this one best.

Damion

I also took the 12 on a short road trip to Thorntown. This continues the Lafayette Road theme because the road’s original alignment ran through Thorntown, right by where this now-vintage Marathon service station would eventually be built. I shot Kodak Ektar here.

Marathon

I did have some unfortunate fogging and light leaking on this roll. I don’t know why.

Thorntown Police

Concerned that something might be wrong, I loaded some Ilford Pan-F Plus 50 and shot one more roll. It had no difficulties.

Available

I shot this film because I never liked it much and just wanted to burn it testing this camera for leaks. Yet this film really performed behind this Yashica glass. I’ll remember that for the future.

3151

See my entire Yashica-12 gallery here.

Me and Yashica-12

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 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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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47 thoughts on “Yashica-12

  1. Bob Burns says:

    Nice camera. I’ve always been amazed by the difference in enlarged image quality between a 120 negative and a 35mm negative.

    From my days messing with old Canon and Pentax SLRs, the dots between the numbers on the ASA scale are probably 32, 64, 100, 200, ? which correspond to readily available film of the day.

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  2. Andy Umbo says:

    You could spend the rest of your life with this taking pictures…I used to give lectures at colleges for the photo students on professional studios and how to get a job there, etc., and the talk would always work around to doing photography for yourself vs. trying to make a living at it. Even in the digital era, I tell people if they just want to take very nice pictures and work methodically, instead of trying to be a “pro”; they should get a nice used Yashica or Minolta twin-lens (Rollei is they have the money!), a tripod, a light meter, a one-roll 120 stainless steel processing tank, and have at it. They could spend the rest of their lives just working that combination! I tell them to take a look at Irving Penn’s and Avedon’s people pix from the 50’s and 60’s, done on 120 twin-lenses, and let me know when they’ve gotten to that quality…

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  3. I love the Yashica TLRs. I have a well-worn meterless original Mat, and an absolute mint metered 124G. The design of the older ones like the original and your 12 are far better than the more plastic 124Gs, so I think you got yourself a great deal to find one that’s been through Mark Hama’s hands. I’ve never considered using the meter on my 124G but I may take your tip and grab a 625 cell and see how I go. Nice photos!

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  4. Bill Bussell says:

    I should have commented that you have once again done a great job with that new camera. I want to take a drive by that sign, if it still stands. I think the family that owned that wrecking yard was also connected with Atlas Supermarket. Cheers

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  5. Hey a fellow Yashica fan here, I love my Yashica D but also find it a little frustrating shooting without a light meter and having to use Sunny 16, it’s a good thing that the FujiPro I put through it is quite forgiving in terms of exposure. Really interesting post I think you bagged yourself a bargain there.

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  6. I have never regretted investing in a CLA for an old camera I enjoy using. I figure it is the least I can do for an old friend. Did you get the service receipt from Hama with the camera? He has done a few cameras for me and does fine work. Worth keeping with the camera.

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    • My approach so far has been to use the cameras I buy in whatever condition they are in. But as my approach shifts to having a smaller collection, with an inner circle of solid everyday users, I am thinking I will be investing in some CLAs. And yes, I did get the Hama receipt and am keeping it with the camera!

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  7. Hi Jim:

    A fine post — as usual. I too love my Yashica TLRs. I have two — a YashicaMat and, a Yashica C. I also have a Hasselblad, but to be honest, the Yashicas are more fun. Long ago I bought a Gossen Digisix light meter, which is a purchase I’ve never regretted, though I see the appeal of having a built-in meter. BTW — I wouldn’t worry about the battery voltage mismatch. Some cameras have voltage-regulator circuits that lock things in at a specific voltage, so the battery voltage (within reason, of course) isn’t critical. Your Yashica might be one of those. And given the exposure latitude of film, this is unlikely to be an issue.

    Keep up the great posts!

    Gary

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    • Thank you so much, Gary! I don’t know whether my 12 has a bridge circuit or not, but the latitudes of print film make it not matter much anyway. I’m going to try some slide film in the 12 soon and see what I get; if a slightly off voltage is going to matter at all, it’s going to matter on slide film.

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  8. This one looks like a keeper and well worth the price. I look forward to seeing more photos taken with it!

    TLR’s are indeed addictive for some reason, not to mention they are beautiful to look at. I also prefer my focus and wind to be on the same side since that allows you to cradle the camera with one hand while focusing, winding and tripping the shutter with the other. Just seems more intuitive to me.

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  9. ambaker49 says:

    When I was about seven or eight, I asked my mom for a real camera, like her brother had. He had a Rolleiflex, and my parents wisely decided that I did not need a camera like that. Cost was a concept that I was not yet familiar with. However, my fascination with the twin lens beasts never left me. I never bought a Rolleiflex. But the herd now measures six in number, and one is a Rolleicord. Though my favorite is a Yashicamat LM. The selenium light meter still works well enough to get good exposures.

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  10. Excellent post on the Yashica with great pics! I have a whole slew of Yashicas including an EM, 124G, but I have to check if I have this one. You know it’s bad when you can’t remember what you got! :-)

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  11. Peter Paar says:

    Jim, you did it again! Having read your post I ended up with 124G that looks and operates as if it just came from the factory. I don’t know who did the CLA, but whoever it was they did an excellent job.

    However, I do not understand your comment about being limited by a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 and ISO of 400. Unless you camera had a focal plane shutter 1/500 was the top shutter speed available. Yes, Kodak tried for 1/800 with the Chevron with disastrous results. You could push Tri-X if you didn’t mind golf ball sized grain. It wasn’t until late in the film era that high speed film was really practical.
    The limitation, I believe, is in the TLR design. The camera is good for many types of photographs as you have proved. Action pictures are not one of them.

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    • Excellent, Peter; my nefarious plan is working!

      I shoot mostly 35mm SLRs. I’m quite used to moving in very close to a subject, and opening the lens wide and using a fast shutter speed (>= 1/1000). This is something you can’t do very well with a TLR.

      But it’s also generally true that you’re not shooting moving things (e.g., sports) with any camera with a top shutter speed of 1/500.

      Obviously you have to understand the limitations of any camera, and work within them.

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      • I must disagree with your assessment , I got into photography at the age of 7 in 1945. Until I was almost 30 cameras with focal plane shutters (Leica etc.) were very expensive. I was able to use my Retina IIIc to capture sports when I was a photographer for my high school. You might be surprised how much activity is stopped at 1/500th.

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  12. Dave Bokanoski says:

    Jim live just a little north of you here in Jackson, Mich. I have two 12’s I picked up off of EBAY both for less than $50.00 including shipping. Both look like new but, need cld!!! Bad. But one has a serial no.7080442 close to your camera, plus both battery compartments are pristine. Keep up your good work. I luv all old cameras too.

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  13. Great review, Jim and some nice images too! Another metered TLR from Yashica that I enjoy using is the Yashica-Mat EM and the older but cooler Yashica LM (120 version). I’ve had continued great luck with mine so far (these selenium cell meters are getting a bit old). About the only reason I would recommend someone getting a newer Yashica-Mat 124G is that some of the 6-digit serial numbered versions are made in the mid-1980s so you get a “younger” CdS meter and gold contacts. BTW, my ancient nearly all metal and glass LM weighs in at 1075 grams – the 124G – 1040 grams or only about 1 oz difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I used to own a 12 but one by one things failed on it and I am not so taken with TLR’s that I wanted to have it repaired. Apparently the 12 and 24 are pretty rare; predecessors to the more common, highly respected MAT 124 G. Very capable camera. Glad to see this one’s in good hands!

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  15. I guess the point I was trying to make is that in my experience the 124G is every bit as robust and then some over the older models – and with only a one-ounce difference in weight between the LM and the 124G I’m thinking nothing important was skimped on. Just sayin’.

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    • As far as I understand the 124G was supposed to be a cheap pro camera, hence the removal of chrome and higher quality electronics. These are features that an amateur wouldn’t typically care about. I’ve never heard of inferior build quality on 124G’s. The 12 and pre-metered Yashica’s certainly have slight fit/finish issues if you look and feel carefully but I haven’t handled a 124G for comparison. None of these Yashicas were assembled to Rollei standards so I wouldn’t worry about nitpicking what fractional quality differences might exist within the same brand!

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      • This is good to know. I had only read a few comments in the forums about the 124G being made of lesser stuff than the earlier models but have never so much as held one to know for myself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Remember that the “G” stood for gold plated contacts which were not in common use at the time and certainly not in a Yashica TLR. Yashica was a world leader in the development of electronics in cameras and after 45 years of use, my Yashica TL Electro X fleet is still going strong.

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  16. Please keep in mind the period that these 124Gs were being made – the 6-digit serial numbered bodies were produced between 1980 to the end in 1986. The removal of chrome trim pieces and the switch to an all-black finish (with plastic pieces) was consistent with keeping the camera looking fresh while the rest of the world was building sophisticated SLRs like the New F-1, Nikon F3 and others (which were using plenty of plastic by then too).

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