Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica-12

Marathon

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.

Yashica-12

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.

Thorntown

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.

Available

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.

Entrances

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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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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Photography, Stories Told

Photo essay: Pleasant suburban shopping

Please don’t revoke my man card, but I like to shop. Even a weekly trip to the grocery store delivers a dopamine rush. And when my weekly trip takes me to the big-box store — ohhh yes, I can spend an hour just wandering the aisles looking at things I didn’t come to buy.

Meijer

The big-box groceries are squeezing the local players out. Marsh is the last local chain standing. I seldom do my weekly shopping here, as the big boxes offer compelling prices. But I’m suspicious of the big-box meat. Hamburger shaped into a rectangle? Pork chops shot full of “15% of a solution?” No thanks. I prefer to buy my meat at a butcher shop, but it’s a special trip. Marsh’s meat counter is convenient and respectable, and so gets a lot of my business.

Marsh Hometown Market

But I wonder how much longer that Marsh will be open now that Walmart’s Neighborhood Market is in the area. It became my main grocery store the minute it opened last summer. It’s just around the corner from my home! And their prices are just too good to ignore. Marsh feels that pinch — since Walmart opened, I get a lot of direct mail from Marsh, sometimes with coupons for $10 off the total bill.

Walmart Neighborhood Market

My routine shopping is about more than groceries, of course. I fill my prescriptions at a CVS across the street from Marsh. That’s pretty much all I do at CVS — for the non-pharmacy items they carry, pretty much any other store beats their prices. I used to have my color film processed here, but they took out their 1-hour lab a couple years ago. What a sad day.

CVS/pharmacy

I’m not as crazy about shopping for hardware and home-improvement items. Maybe it’s because I’m usually trying to quickly pick up one or two things so I can finish a project. The little Ace Hardware near my home closed ten years ago, so I switched to a smallish Menards that was only a little farther away until it, too, closed. I’m left with Lowe’s and Home Depot, both longish drives from home, both enormous and bewildering. Woe betide me when I need something small, as I did this day. Three different employees scratched their heads over where I might find the thing I sought. I ended up searching for a half hour. In a big store, small items might as well be invisible.

Lowe's

I choose Lowe’s over Home Depot because this Goodwill Store is next door. Sometimes they have an interesting old camera for a few dollars. Believe it or not, I bought my favorite suit here for $8.

Goodwill Store

This Walmart Supercenter is around the corner from Lowe’s and Goodwill. When I went through my divorce, I lived on next to nothing and this Walmart’s prices let me afford to feed my family. In those days, this store was filled with rude staff and angry customers. I hated shopping here. But then Walmart built a new Supercenter nearer my home, and overnight this Walmart became orders of magnitude more pleasant. I can’t explain it. It’s like all of the problems migrated to the newer Supercenter. It’s a war zone over there.

Walmart

When the shopping is over, I sometimes treat my car to a wash. Works Wash please, and no, I don’t want the extra-cost tire shine. This gives me a few weeks’ respite from a super annoying body squeak my car has developed. It was a tip from my mechanic, who said that an underbody wash is a good, cheap lube job.

Crew Carwash

It feels good to drive a clean car. And it feels good to wrap up the routine weekly shopping.

Photographed July 14-28, 2015 with my Agfa Clack on Ilford Pan F Plus 50 film.

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Signage

Old signs
Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D, Ilford Pan F Plus 50
2014

Photography
Image
Camera Reviews

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D

I am impressed! This 100-year-old box camera is remarkably capable and can really deliver wonderful photographs. Meet the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D

Kodak made the No. 2 Brownie from 1901 to 1935. Improvements over the years led to letter designations. The Model D was first issued in 1914. These were inexpensive cameras, costing between $2 and $3 when new. Of course, that was a lot more money in the early 20th century than it is now! Two 1914 dollars are worth in the neighborhood of $50 now.

A fellow named Eric who I follow on Flickr (see his stream here) has shared several eye-popping photos from his No. 2 Model D. His best photos are on T-Max 400, but he’s gotten solid results from all sorts of expired color slide and print film.

When Eric mentioned that this Brownie takes readily available 120 film, I marched right onto eBay and bought one. I love the simplicity of box cameras, but the used market is flooded with ones that take defunct film sizes like 116, 122, and 620. But 120 is still made. As a matter of fact, the Brownie No. 2 was the first camera to take 120 film. It astonishes me that this film size has been in production for more than a century!

Because Kodak made bajillions of No. 2 Brownies, they’re plentiful and inexpensive today. I bought mine from a trusted vendor and paid a little extra for the privilege, about $30 shipped. If you like the work I’m about to share, go get one of these.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D

The No. 2 Model D is a cardboard box with a meniscus lens and a rotary shutter. It also offers a couple features that many box cameras don’t have: a choice of three apertures and a “bulb” setting that holds the shutter open as long as you like so you can take photos in low light. Pull-up tabs atop the camera at its front control both settings. The tab in front of the carry strap sets aperture and the narrower tab next to it enables timed exposures. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days.

To take a picture, slide the shutter lever. It doesn’t spring back, so for the next photo you slide it in the opposite direction. If you pull up the bulb tab, you slide the lever once to open the shutter and again to close it.

Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D

The innards have a nice feature: a flap that holds the film flat. When you load film, be sure the flap covers the backing paper. I gather that later Model Ds did away with this flap and also changed the sliding latch that holds the camera closed to a spring catch.

If you like box cameras, by the way, also check out my review of the No. 2 Brownie, Model F (here), the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Also see these glorified boxes: the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here), the Agfa Clack (here), and the Kodak Duaflex II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I happened to have a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in the fridge, so I spooled it into the Brownie. I was out and about in suburbia with it and shot a bunch of colorful commercial buildings. And holy wow, look at what this camera and film did! The exposures are perfect, helped I’m sure by Ektar’s good exposure latitude. The color is wonderful even if the reds are oversaturated. The corners are soft, which is typical for this class of camera. But look at that sharpness in the center! It about pokes your eye out.

Bob Evans

That sharpness isn’t quite as good when you look at these photos at full scan size. But this camera’s 1914 mission was to provide snapshot-sized prints often no bigger than the negatives themselves. When you put Aunt Martha in the middle of the viewfinder and pushed the shutter button, the print would let you see right into her eyes. But I don’t have an Aunt Martha, and I was looking for colorful suburban scenes, so I kept shooting storefronts.

IHOP

I next tried T-Max 400 in the No. 2 Model D to see if I could replicate Eric’s good results. I didn’t have the stellar luck Eric routinely gets on this film, but a tiny bit of Photoshop tweaking of exposure and contrast brought out good detail.

Wrecks Inc

That wonderful center sharpness was still plenty in evidence, however. This, by the way, is the same Boston Market as in this post in which I considered the rapidly changing suburban built environment.

Boston Market

My No. 2 Model D does have a slight light leak that occasionally shows up in the bottom left corner. You can see it in this shot of Lafayette Road in northwest Indianapolis. It was built in the 1830s as part of Indiana’s early “state road” system, connecting Indianapolis to Lafayette. It became part of US 52 in 1927 and was upgraded to four lanes during the 1930s. But by the 1960s, US 52 was rerouted along the new I-465 beltway around the city, and Lafayette Road was turned over to the county. Today it’s just a lightly traveled road in a part of Indianapolis that still feels rural.

Lafayette Road / Old US 52

I was having a lot of fun with the Brownie and wanted to keep shooting, so I loaded a roll of Ilford Pan F Plus 50. I figured such a slow film would be just right given that films of the Brownie’s day were probably similarly slow. Unfortunately, all of the images were underexposed and required some Photoshop surgery to breathe life into them. This shot is from a little road trip to Terre Haute that my sons and I took along US 40 (the old National Road) one evening. I was shooting probably 20 degrees from directly into the setting sun, which did this photo no favors. Clabber Girl baking powder is made in Terre Haute. This sign has been welcoming visitors to town for many decades. I first saw it in 1984 when I visited the college I ultimately attended.

Clabber Girl billboard

We had dinner at a rib joint right on the National Road, which is Terre Haute’s main drag and is better known there as Wabash Avenue. This photo of their catering van turned out the best of all of my shots on the Ilford film, with rich blacks and good detail.

Rick's Van

If you enjoyed these photos, check out my entire Kodak No.2 Brownie Model D gallery.

I’m glad I shot the Ektar first. This centenarian camera was born to shoot this modern film. If I had shot the Ilford first, I might not have had such excited feelings about this camera. But now I know: keep plenty of Ektar in the fridge just for this great little box camera.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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