Camera Reviews

Yashica-D

Yashica-D

The Yashica-D was my first twin-lens reflex camera. I had lusted after TLRs for many years, but I always rebuffed them for their high prices. The Rolleicords and Rolleiflexes are the most respected members of the genre and go for big bucks 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 stayed in production longer 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 offer no onboard metering.

The Yashica-D was a screaming bargain among used TLRs when I bought this one in 2013. I paid about $50 for it, shipped, and that was a typical price. Now good ones start at $75 and go up to about $200. That’s still a good price when you look at what a Rollei TLR costs.

Yashica made the Yashica-D for a whopping 16 years starting in 1957. Of the meterless knob-advance Yashica TLRs, the Yashica-D is the best specified. It used a Copal MXV leaf shutter, which operates from 1 to 1/500 second. Until sometime in 1970, the taking and viewing lenses were both 80mm f/3.5 Yashikors of triplet design. The Yashinon lenses that Yashica used in the D starting in 1970 were four-element, three-group Tessar designs. Those later Yashica-Ds are sought after by collectors. Fortunately, the Yashikors are no slouches.

Yashica-D

When I held this 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.

The Yashica-D is a real pleasure in your hands. 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. The winding knob is large enough to grip easily and it works smoothly. Tip: you have to press the button in the center of the knob first, or the film won’t wind.

But before any of that, you have to load film. This is awkward at best in any TLR as the form factor doesn’t lend itself to easy handling. But in the D’s case, after you hook the film backing end into the takeup spool you wind until the big arrow on the film backing paper lines up with a red triangle on the body. Then you close the back and wind until the film stops. From there, as you take photos and wind the camera stops at the next frame for you. It’s so much nicer than using the infernal red windows you’ll find on so many other medium-format cameras. A frame counter is on the side of the camera next to the winding knob.

When you open the hood, the viewing box erects on its own. When you press the Y logo in the lid, a magnifying glass pops out. Is it just my middle-aged eyes, or is this glass necessary for accurate focus? It is for me, anyway. I’m glad it’s there. Either way, be prepared: the viewfinder image is reversed. This takes time to get used to. You can also press the Y logo in the lid until it swings entirely out of the way, and use the lid as a sports viewfinder.

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. Then cock the shutter, frame your subject, press the shutter button, and wind on to the next frame.

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), the Kodak Monitor Anastigmat Special (here), the Agfa Isolette III (here), the Ansco Standard Speedex (here), the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), and the Voigtländer Bessa (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 a 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’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*

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.

Yashica-D

According to this site which lists the history of Yashica TLRs, this D was made sometime between 1963 and 1965. It came with a plastic lens cap; earlier models had a metal cap. And it has the “cowboy” Y logo on the hood; later models had a plainer, wider Y logo. My earlier D has that wide-Y logo, so it’s from after 1965.

To start, I shot some Kodak Ektar 100 in it. I took it to Crown Hill Cemetery, home of one of the nation’s largest military cemeteries.

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

Along the way I bought a Yashica-12, which features not only the Yashinon lenses and crank wind, but also an onboard light meter. The meter makes the 12 a little nicer to shoot than the D. But I still get my Yashica-D out once in a while because I enjoy its simplicity. I shot Kosmo Foto 100 on one outing.

Black Dog Books

I shot Kodak Gold 200 while my wife and our granddaughter were planting flowers in pots out front.

Grandma and Granddaughter

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

The Yashica-D just feels great in the hands. You wouldn’t think so; this is, after all, a large brick of metal. Yet its weight and size feel just fabulous as you carry it around. And then everything about it feels and sounds precise and luxurious, from winding to cocking the shutter to pressing the button. The Yashica-D is a sensual joy, roll after roll.

It’s why I keep mine within arm’s reach. There are just times when I feel like a little medium-format fun and the D is always a marvelous choice. I’ve been known to shoot a roll of 120 in twenty minutes in my D! Moreover, Ds go for far less on the used market than the better-known Yashica-Mat 124-G with its crank winder and integrated meter. While I very much enjoy the crank-wound, metered Yashica-12 I own, I think that if I could keep only one TLR, it would be the Yashica-D.

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Amazon.com. Get yours here.

The Deluxe Edition, on premium paper and ink, is $24.99 at MagCloud.com. Get yours here.

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Film Photography

My new book, Square Photographs, is available!

My new book, Square Photographs, is available!
Get the Standard Edition (left) now on Amazon
Get the Deluxe Edition (right) now on MagCloud

My first cameras as a kid made square photographs. The first was a Kodak Brownie that took 127 film. The second was a cheap Instamatic knockoff that took 126 film cartridges.

Even though cameras for 126 film were hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s, most cameras make rectangular photographs. The 3×2 aspect ratio is standard for 35mm cameras and DSLRs, while 4×3 is standard for digital point-and-shoots. Remember the 110 film format? It made images in the weird 10×7 ratio!

Me and Yashica-12

Since I cut my photographic teeth on the 1×1 ratio, shooting on the square feels like coming home. I’ve moved far past those basic cameras, however. I own two twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras from the 1960s made by Yashica: the Yashica-D and the Yashica-12. These are well-built cameras with wonderful lenses that make images on medium-format film.

As you can see from the photo of me holding my Yashica-12, a TLR is a large brick. It’s hefty! It’s also sturdy. You could knock a sucka out with one if you swung it at their head. (But don’t do that.)

Up top you see the viewfinder cover flipped up. You peer down into it to frame your image, which renders backwards on the ground glass. It’s disorienting until you get used to it!

I’ve collected 40 of my favorite photographs I made with these two TLRs into a book. I titled it Square Photographs so that, as the British say, “it does what it says on the tin.” Next to each photograph I’ve written a short essay, meditation, or history. Here’s a look inside:

I made two editions of Square Photographs, a Standard Edition and a Deluxe Edition. I did it as an experiment. Let me explain.

When I published my previous photo book, Vinyl Village (info and where to buy here), I used Amazon Kindle Publishing for the first time. I wanted that book’s price to be easy to afford, and Amazon made it possible.

But I heard from a number of readers that they were very disappointed with the book’s image quality. I had chosen Amazon’s entry-level paper and ink, and it led to images of low contrast with blacks that looked dark gray. I thought it worked with the subject matter, but I heard it loud and clear: you expected better.

I still wanted an affordable edition of this book, so once again I turned to Amazon Kindle Publishing. This time I chose Amazon’s best paper and ink — and it turned out very well, with good color saturation, deep blacks, and good contrast. This is the Standard Edition, it’s 8½”x8½”, and it’s $15.99. It’s priced similarly at Amazon sites worldwide.

I published the Deluxe Edition through MagCloud, which specializes in printing top-quality photo books. The paper and ink are both a cut above. The colors are richer and the blacks are blacker. That costs extra, of course. The Deluxe Edition is $24.99 plus shipping. It’s also slightly smaller at 8″x8″, because that’s the square size that MagCloud offered.

Square Photographs. 86 pages, available worldwide on Amazon and MagCloud.

My new book, Square Photographs, is available now!

The Standard Edition is $15.99 at Amazon.com. Get yours here.

The Deluxe Edition, on premium paper and ink, is $24.99 at MagCloud.com. Get yours here.

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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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Film Photography

More from the Yashica-D

Yashica-D

I love my Yashica-D. It is a genuine pleasure to shoot.

Which surprises me, because it has no built-in light meter. Using an external meter isn’t hard, but I vastly prefer having one built in so I can assess exposure right in the viewfinder. So much so, that a dozen other meterless cameras with sweet lenses lie about my house in disuse.

But not the Yashica-D. I keep returning to it. I had a weekend afternoon free right after Christmas last year, so I spooled in a roll of Kodak E100G slide film and went out for a drive, stopping to photograph whatever felt good.

My drive led me to South Broad Ripple. My brother works for a software-development consultancy there, and I know one of the partners, so I felt like I could park in their lot and walk around from there. The defunct Monon Fitness Center is next door. The building isn’t much but the faded sign is cool.

Monon Fitness Center

Around the corner, Locally Grown Gardens is year-round fruit and vegetable stand in a former gas station. They also have a small menu; you can have lunch there. The property has been in my lens a number of times, as there’s usually something interesting to capture there.

Benches

I also made yet another visit to Crown Hill Cemetery. I couldn’t get enough of the joint late last year.

Cemetery gate

Crown Hill contains a National Cemetery. I find it challenging to shoot because of the tiny gravestones, which I suppose is why I keep shooting it.

Crown Hill National Cemetery

It’s too bad that Kodak has discontinued E100G. (Fortunately, I have four more rolls in the fridge.) To my eye, it captures reality. These colors are very much as the day was: nature was muted and undersaturated, which made the man-made colors stand out.

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