Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica-12


As a frugal film photographer with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), I buy well-used cameras. Scuffs, dings, and even minor faults are part of that game. Every now and again I enjoy a camera so much I want to include it in my regular-use rotation. That’s when I invest in repairs, or even in buying another one in near-mint condition. That’s what led me to buy this Yashica-12 which had been serviced by premier Yashica repairman Mark Hama. To own it I forked over the most I’ve ever paid for an old camera. It’s not like it sent me to the poor house at just $135. But I’m used to paying under $50.


I loaded Kodak Tri-X 400 and took it on a road trip. The camera performed well and returned flawless images, such as of this little cafe on the square in Lebanon, Indiana.

Please be seated

For this outing I loaded my last roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100G and brimmed with confidence that I’d get twelve colorful, sharp, and perfectly exposed images. What I got was a light leak. What the what?

Garrett & Damion

The seals can’t be bad, can they? That Mark Hama overhaul happened only a few years ago. Was I careless in spooling the roll into the camera? Was the roll a little loose after it came out of the camera? All I know is that the shots at the beginning of the roll were most affected, and the shots at the end (like the one below) very little.

Thorntown Carnegie Library

I shot this roll over my birthday weekend. My sons came to visit. We hiked some trails in a nearby nature park and I took one son up to Thorntown and told him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket there. (Read it here; it’s kind of funny.) That’s the Carnegie library above and the main drag below.


I had such a nice time with the 12 that as I sent the E100G off for processing I loaded some Ilford Pan F Plus and kept going. I bought several rolls of this stuff thinking that at ISO 50 it would be a good match for my old box cameras. It wasn’t. It turns out this film needs precise exposure — not exactly the bailiwick for a camera with one aperture and shutter speed. The 12 was going to be a much better match.


The 12 handled just as clumsily as I remembered. But I say so in the most affectionate way possible, as I just love the TLR experience. It feels deeply satisfying when an image comes into focus in that big ground-glass viewfinder. All of the 12’s controls feel great to use, full of heft and precision.


My only gripe with the 12 is that you have to juggle the camera from hand to hand as you use it — the winding crank and the focusing knob are on opposite sides of the camera. I have yet to grow used to it. My Yashica-D places the winding and focusing knobs on the same side of the camera, which avoids the juggling. But the D’s winding knob isn’t as quick and easy as the 12’s winding crank, and the camera lacks a light meter. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.

Carpentry Hall

I suppose another gripe with the 12 — with any TLR, really — is that it’s ungainly to carry. At the nature park I had forgotten to clip on a strap so I just held it in my hands. That got old fast, and I constantly risked dropping it. I clipped on a strap before we left for Thorntown and left it on for this trip to the old Central State Hospital grounds, but the 12’s form factor and weight made it ungainly even at my hip.

Ruins at Central State

The Pan F Plus turned out great. Look, no light leak! I don’t know what the deal was with the roll of E100G. It’s a shame that’s how my last roll of the stuff turned out.

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Yashica-12 gallery.

I wrote most of this review in August, but am just now getting around to posting it because I could not decide whether to keep this camera or not. I really need only one TLR in my life. My Yashica-D is so brilliant that I know I’m keeping it. (Though I might give it a turn in Operation Thin the Herd anyway, because autumn color is just around the corner and I have some Velvia in the freezer…) Yet the 12’s onboard light meter is such a convenience. I’ve decided is to defer this decision, which is a defacto decision to keep this camera. The 12 survives to fight another day.

Verdict: Keep

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23 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica-12

  1. Good choice to keep that camera. I don’t use mine much either, but when I get around to it I’m always astounded by the quality of the images. A good accessory grip can sometimes help with the juggling.

  2. Roger Meade says:

    As to the clumsiness of the TLR’s, I fully agree. I once did a 20 mile hike with a friend on a RR branch line in Michigan carrying my Minolta Autocord. I had a leather case for it, but I still can’t believe I did that! I took a full roll of Plus-X that day, so I know I had the camera with me on the walk.

  3. Joshua Fast says:

    That light leak is most certainly loose paper backing that let in some light during loading. I have a Fuji GW690 that’s famous for doing the same thing due to the enormous distance the leader travels across. I have honestly never seen a yashica or rolleiflex with a light leak. It’s almost always film loading or unloading. Make sure you drag the film roll with your thumb as your loading the leader into the spool and winding it. This will keep the backing paper tight and the film flat.

  4. Joshua Fast says:

    I’ll also add that a TLR is probably the lightest form of MF you can shoot. I carry a Rolleiflex around with me a lot. Just get a good strap and it will distribute the weight evenly. I’m a fan of Peak Design systems, makes carrying any camera comfortable.

  5. Pingback: Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica-12 — Down the Road – „Ingerii sunt spirite inaripate, prietene cu spiritul tau inaripat.“

  6. analogphotobug says:

    I’m glad it survived. I think Everyone ought to have one TLR camera. Working with one will teach you a lot.

  7. jon campo says:

    Hi Jim,
    You got a good deal, That is a little less than Hama charged to service mine, less shipping. If it weren’t for my Great-Uncles Ikoflex, this would be my favorite camera. I also have a 124G and the difference in quality is pretty shocking. For some reason I always get a lot more pictures I’m happy with with TLR’s than SLR’s even though I enjoy using the SLR’s more.

    • I’ve almost always been seriously wowed by my TLRs’ output in ways I seldom am from my 35mm SLRs — but I’m with you, I prefer shooting the SLRs!

  8. SilverFox says:

    Ahhh Jim, I small part of me wanted you to let this one go… so I could have it :) I already have a Yashica 44 and a Mamiya and my Voigtländer Superb and so really really don’t need it; but I’m a sucker for a TLR and have a soft spot for Yashica.
    Really though I am glad you kept it as it is obvious that despite it’s little foibles you enjoy using it and it takes excellent pictures indeed :)

  9. I sold my Yashica 12 just last year on eBay as it had several things wrong with it that I no longer had the appetite for repairing as I never really clicked with TLR but I do respect them.

    I hope that my 12 went to as good as home as this one has found!

    It’s a somewhat rare but very good, very practical model that can still see regular use today if desired.

    Yashica’s TLR’s are certainly built better than Seagull but nowhere near the cost of a proper/comparably equipped Rollei; a great treasure for the square format or TLR fan.

    These are some of the finer images I’ve seen in your blog, Jim. It’s clear that you’ve really hooked with this camera and I hope that you continue to crank away on it!

    • I find these earlier Yashica TLRs to be so solidly built, I can only imagine how luxury a Rolleiflex must feel. Thanks for saying such a nice thing about my work here!

  10. My only gripe with the 12 is that you have to juggle the camera from hand to hand as you use it — the winding crank and the focusing knob are on opposite sides of the camera.

    Perhaps the use of a tripod is warranted.

    • I have done that. I really am very much a handheld photographer though. My Yashica-D lacks the meter of the -12, but has the winder and focuser on the same side of the camera for easier usage.

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