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. Kodak Ektar was inside the 12.

Marathon

I did have some unfortunate fogging and light leaking on this roll.

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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Camera Reviews

Agfa Isolette III

Here it is, Agfa’s highest volume camera of the 1940s and 1950s, the Isolette.

Agfa Isolette III

Actually, this is the 1951-60 Isolette III, one of a range of Isolette cameras, all of which folded and took 120 film. Each Isolette was offered with a couple shutters and lenses. Mine comes with the 85mm f/4.5 Apotar lens set in the Prontor SV shutter, which operates from 1 to 1/300 sec. You could get Isolette IIIs with better lenses and shutters, but this lens/shutter combo is no slouch.

Agfa Isolette III

What set the Isolette III apart from other Isolettes was its uncoupled rangefinder. That’s the knurled knob to the right of the accessory shoe. To use it, look through the viewfinder and turn that knob until the image in the rangefinder patch lines up with the viewfinder image. This is where the “uncoupled” part comes in: you then check the distance on that knob and set the lens to the same distance.

Notice that dot to the upper left of the winding knob? When it’s red, you need to wind the film to the next frame. The shutter won’t fire until you do. My experience has been that it’s unusual to find double-exposure prevention on an old folder like this.

The left button on the top plate opens the camera, by the way; the right button fires the shutter. I love this symmetry!

If you like old folders, I’ve reviewed several others: the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), No. 3A Autographic Kodak (here), Kodak Six-20 (here), Kodak Tourist (here), and Voigtländer Bessa (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

When this Isolette was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, the first thing I did was look for pinhole light leaks in it. And glory be: I found a sturdy, light-tight bellows. That’s nothing short of a miracle, as these Isolette bellows were made of patented Crumble-Away™ material. But while I shot my two test rolls, one corner of the bellows did start to flake a little.

And yes, I said two test rolls. In typical Jim Grey fashion, I leapt before I looked: I loaded no less than Kodak E100G slide film into it before testing its functions. Upon first press of the shutter button, my folly revealed itself: the shutter didn’t fire. I nudged the cocking lever hoping to trigger the shutter. Success! Sort of — the shutter was clearly slow. And slide film needs such precise exposure.

Bell

The shutter loosened up more and more the farther I went through the roll. This shot of my neighbor’s house and car shows some improvement.

Envoy

Still, facepalm. I should know better after all these years to put film into a camera I haven’t checked out first. But figuring that the shutter would loosen way up if I kept firing it, after I finished the E100G I fired the shutter a dozen or so times at each available speed. The shutter sounded pretty good after that. I wondered if I’d blown the cobwebs out of it. So I loaded a roll of Kodak T-Max 400, which is much more forgiving of exposure error than E100G. But strangely, the shutter immediately became a little sluggish again. This was the first shot on the roll, and it was fairly overexposed. Photoshop corrected some of it but as you can see the sky is still blown out.

Focusing in the driveway

I took the Isolette right over to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a favorite photographic haunt, to hurry through the rest of the roll. I feared the shutter would get stickier if I let it rest. It was a good call: the shutter loosened up with each successive shot. This is my favorite shot from this roll.

St. Paul's

A camera like this slows you down. I used a light-meter app on my iPhone to figure out exposure. And the uncoupled rangefinder isn’t as fast as a coupled one. But the Isolette’s learning curve is shallow. That’s not true of some of the other manual-everything cameras I own.

St. Paul's

Pointed arches are a real theme at St. Paul’s. This congregation has roots to 1866, though all of these buildings are much newer. A quiet residential neighborhood borders the church to the west; busy Meridian Street, the city’s north-south main drag, borders it to the west.

St. Paul's

The Isolette III delivered lovely medium contrast and good sharpness. Just what you’d expect from a good old folder.

St. Paul's

To see more from this camera, check out my Agfa Isolette III gallery.

Even as the shutter loosened up with use, the shutter button didn’t always fully move the linkage that fired the shutter. I frequently found myself nudging the cocking lever to finish the job. No doubt about it, my Isolette III needs a good clean, lube, and adjustment. It will also eventually need a new bellows. Unfortunately, and I almost hate to admit it publicly, I’m not sure it will ever get either. Not as long as I own it, anyway. My Isolette curiosity is pretty much satisfied.

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

Summer flowers on Kodak Ektachrome E100G

For my birthday this year my mom bought me a bunch of new flowering plants for my front garden. She did most of the work planting them, too. What a nice gift!

Daisies

I so enjoy walking through my garden for a minute before I get in the car to go to work. I pull off a few dead flowers, take in the scents of the flowers that have them, and generally enjoy a peaceful moment before getting busy.

More pink phlox

Shortly after all the new plants were in the ground and had gotten happy in their new surroundings, I loaded some E100G slide film into my Yashica-D and shot the whole roll in ten minutes. These, by the way, are the same lilies I featured on Monday.

Yellow and purple lilies

These aren’t the finest photographs I’ve ever taken, but I had so much fun shooting them. I love my Yashica-D. It just feels so good and right in my hands. Everything about the camera feels solid, precise, and elegant.

Lobelia

Mom and I — well, mostly Mom — moved a bunch of my existing plants to better locations. These coneflowers and yellow daisies came from Mom’s garden in South Bend before she moved here. They grew too tall where I had them before, so into the main front bed they went where they can be as tall as they want to be.

Coneflowers and yellow daisies

I bought these hosta at Wal-Mart a couple years ago. My next-door neighbor would probably be miffed if he knew, as he’s a master hosta grower and keeps offering me plants from his prodigious growings, which I usually decline. His timing is always terrible — when he offers, it never fails that I’m up to my armpits in alligators and don’t have time to plant anything.

Hosta

Most years I buy a flowering plant in a pot for my front stoop. This year, it was purple petunias. Purple is my favorite color. Kudos to Kodak E100G for rendering the color right. So many films miss the boat on purple.

Potted petunias

Here’s my favorite shot from the roll. It’s not square because I flubbed up the winding a little bit at the beginning of the roll, and it resulted in the last frame being cut off. I cropped it to the usable part of the image.

Yellow and purple lilies, redux
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School arch

This arch, of which I’ve written before, once admitted students to one of the oldest schools in Indianapolis. Students have been educated at this site on the Michigan Road in northwest Marion County, Indiana, since 1837. The building formerly attached to this arch was built in about 1916 and razed in 1983. The school that stands on this ground now, Crooked Creek Elementary School, was built in stages from the 1960s through the 1980s.

On Monday I’m going to share some urban decay photos from this part of Michigan Road. But I wanted to lead with this photo, as the school is a bright spot in this neighborhood — the neighborhood in which I live. I shot it early last year with my Yashica-D on Kodak E100G slide film.

Photography, Preservation

Captured: School arch

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Camera Reviews

Yashica-D

Yashica-D

The Yashica-D is my first medium-format twin-lens reflex camera. I’ve lusted after TLRs for many years, but I’ve always rebuffed them for their high prices. The Rolleicords and Rolleiflexes are the most respected members of the genre and go for hundreds of dollars on the used market. Lots of companies made TLRs in the Rollei idiom, but even the clones can be mighty expensive.

Nobody cloned Rollei TLRs as prolifically as Yashica, which produced them from 1953 to 1986. Collectors broadly group Yashica’s many TLRs by the film advance mechanism: knob or crank. The crank-advance Yashica TLRs, which tend to have been produced later and offer the best lenses and shutters, go for the most money on the used market. The crank-advance Yashica-Mat tends to be the most expensive today because it includes a coupled CdS light meter. Except for a model here and there that flirted with selenium light meters, other Yashica TLRs are meterless.

Of the meterless knob-advance Yashica TLRs, the Yashica-D is the best specified. Its Copal MXV leaf shutter operates from 1/500 to 1 second. Early Yashica-Ds featured three-element, f/3.5 80mm Yashikor viewing and taking lenses. Later Ds came with twin four-element Yashinon lenses, also f/3.5 at 80mm. Even though the Yashikor is a fine lens, collectors favor the Yashinon. That’s probably why I got quite a bargain on my Yashikor-equipped Yashica-D – about $50, shipped.

Yashica-D

When I held my Yashica-D in my hands for the first time, it felt incredibly right. I wanted to shoot with it right now. It was much as how the scent of a delicious meal can make you hungry, or the sight of a beautiful woman can make you …well, you know. I’ve never been so affected by a camera before. I heeded its call, moving it to the front of the line ahead of several other cameras awaiting their test rolls.

All-manual cameras like the Yashica-D slow you way down as you deliberately focus and set exposure. I’m so used to my auto-everything digital cameras that I sometimes forget to set exposure on my manual film cameras! On the least enjoyable of my manual cameras I even resent having to mess with it.

But using the Yashica-D is such a pleasure that I looked forward to it, and enjoyed the process. Not only do all the knobs move smoothly and precisely, but there’s also a sensually pleasing heft to them. It delighted me to find that focusing the camera moves the entire lens assembly in and out. You have to cock the shutter manually, but the lever slides like it’s on silk with a tiny, sure click at the end. Winding the film is even a pleasure, as the winder stops at each frame – there’s no infernal red window and no accidentally winding too far.

To focus, look down into the viewfinder and twist the big knob on the right side until the image is sharp. You can pop a magnifying glass from the lid to help you, or you can pop the center of the lid out and use that square hole as a sports finder. To set aperture and shutter speed, turn the two small dials between the lenses until the values you want appear in the window atop the viewing lens.

By the way, I also own and have reviewed the Yashica-12 (here), which is much like the Yashica-D but offers a light meter and a crank winder. Other medium-format gems in my collection include the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here) and the Kodak Monitor Anastigmat Special (here). You can check out all of my camera reviews here.

It seemed right to shoot black-and-white film in this camera, so I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and took it along when my sons and I drove up to Terre Haute one cloudy afternoon. This jet has sat on the lawn of the Clay County Courthouse in Brazil, Indiana, for as long as I can remember.

Jet

We also stopped by Iron’s Cemetery, which is hidden from view along US 40 west of Plainfield. Check out that delicious bokeh.

Iron's Cemetery

The roll’s 12 shots went by too fast. So I went to the fridge for my last roll of now-discontinued Kodak Ektachrome E100G slide film and kept shooting. My D beautifully rendered the evening sunlight as it fell across my car’s tail.

Matrix Hindquarter

I really miss E100G; I love the color it returns. My back yard is an embarrassing wreck, but E100G makes it look good.

Blooms on the Edge of the Deck

I’ve put several rolls of E100G through this camera. This film just loves the D’s Yashinon lens.

Crown Hill National Cemetery

I sometimes get out my Yashica-D just to enjoy it. I own few cameras that bring me such pleasure. One evening after work I shot an entire roll of E100G on the flowers in my front yard.

Yellow and purple lilies *EXPLORED*

Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros was my go-to black-and-white film for this camera until it was discontinued.

Moore Road

The father of a dear friend gave me another Yashica-D, one he had used for many years. It was in like-new condition and it was older, so I sold my first Yashica-D and kept his. I shot some Kodak Ektar 100 in it.

Charles H. Ackerman

This Yashica-D came with a Spiratone close-up lens kit. It did nice work on the narcissus in my front yard.

Spring flowers from my garden

To see the rest of the photos I took with my two Yashica-Ds, check out my gallery.

My Yashica-D has zoomed right up to the top of my favorite-camera list. I’m still more a 35mm shooter. But when I want to shoot for the pleasure of it, or when I want to put my best medium-format foot forward, this is the camera I reach for first.

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

Kodak Monitor Six-20

I have always had a thing for folding cameras. They sure look impressive to me! But many of them either take film that hasn’t been made in decades, or are low-end cameras with limited capabilities. I wanted a usable, versatile shooter, so I went looking for a folder with a fast and well-regarded lens. I found it in the Kodak Monitor.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

The Monitor is near the pinnacle of Kodak folding cameras, second only to the rare and expensive (even now) Kodak Super Six-20. Produced from 1939 to 1948, versions were made for 616 and 620 film. Regular 620 Monitors came with an f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat lens at 103 or 105 mm and a Kodamatic or Flash Kodamatic shutter that operated from 1/10 to 1/200 sec.

For more money, however, you could get a 101 mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special lens, which is a four-element Tessar design. It was coupled to a Supermatic or Flash Supermatic shutter that operated from 1 to 1/400 sec. My Monitor is one of these. The CAMEROSITY code in the lens’s serial number tells me mine’s from 1946. I gather that Kodak started coating, or Lumenizing in their lingo, this camera’s lens that year, which made them perform better. My Monitor’s lens is marked with a circled L, meaning it’s Lumenized.

Monitors also came with double-exposure prevention and automatic film spacing so you couldn’t wind beyond the next frame, both mighty nice features in those days.

All of these goodies cost, of course. The Monitor Six-20 with the Anastigmat Special lens was $66, which is equivalent to about $1,000 today.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

The Monitor comes with two viewfinders. The first is a brilliant type, attached to the lens assembly. It’s small and reverses the image left to right, making it challenging to use. The other finder flips up on the top plate. It is big and bright, and includes manual parallax compensation.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

To use the Monitor, first cock the shutter with the little lever next to the brilliant viewfinder. Guess the distance to the subject and turn the lens barrel to that number of feet. Then frame the shot and press the shutter button on the top plate.

If you like folding cameras, I’ve reviewed several others, including the Voigtländer Bessa (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Kodak Junior Six-16 Series II (here), and the giant No. 3A Autographic Kodak (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

For my first outing with the Monitor I loaded Kodak Ektachrome E100G slide film. Mind you, I paid through the nose for this film as I bought it pre-respooled onto 620 spools. Nothing like plunging right into the deep end on the first try. I had some challenges learning this camera’s ways on the first roll and buggered several frames. “Why won’t this thing fire? …oh.”

Me, by accident

So I shrugged, loaded more expensive E100G, and kept going. When I worked the Monitor properly, it delivered excellent sharpness and color.

Second Presbyterian Church

I never got used to the winding system. A lever on the top plate has two settings: WIND and 1-8. After you load the film, slide the lever to WIND and, using the red window on the camera back, wind to the first frame. Then move the lever to 1-8. For the rest of the roll, the winder knob is supposed to stop when you’ve wound to the next frame. On my Monitor, during the first roll the winder sometimes stopped before it had moved the film fully to the next frame, leading to overlapping exposures.

Karmann-Ghia

That was frustrating! In playing with the unloaded camera later, I figured out that if I left the WIND/1-8 lever on WIND I could wind freely just like any other folding camera, using the red window on the back to gauge when I’d wound to the next frame. The Monitor’s double-exposure protection keeps you from pressing the shutter button, but fortunately an override lever underneath the pop-up viewfinder neatly skirted that problem.

Hydrant with shadows

So I took the Monitor with me on a photo walk in Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple neighborhood. I was having trouble with the shutter button; something in the linkage between it and the shutter didn’t always connect properly, making me pull the linkage itself to fire the shutter. That made handheld images much more challenging, so I put the Monitor on a tripod. I was quite a sight toting this kit through this neighborhood.

Polka-dotted chair

I had to take the Monitor off the tripod for this photo, which because of its lovely color is my favorite of all the E100G shots I made.

Fence

I put one more roll through the Monitor, this time some expired Kodak Gold 200, probably among the last Kodak made in 620 before discontinuing the format. Unfortunately, the processor goofed and developed it in black-and-white chemistry. I like this shot best, which I cropped square because its native 2:3 ratio was less interesting.

Cross this bridge at a walk

I made one other successful photo at this site, the covered bridge in Bridgeton, Indiana. The whole roll I had to stick my finger in the shutter linkage to fire the shutter, which was annoying and created shake on a couple shots.

Bridgeton covered bridge

See all the photos that turned out at my Monitor Six-20 gallery.

If I had it to do over again, I might not buy this Monitor. The Kodak Vigilant Six-20 used the same body and could be had with the Anastigmat Special lens and the Supermatic shutter – but it lacked the self-stop wind feature that gave me so much trouble. I would think it would be a less complicated camera to use. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.

But the Monitor is a beautiful folding camera. I screwed it to my vintage Kodak Metal Tripod No. 1 and displayed it in my home.

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