Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

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

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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 guess there are photographers out there for whom that’s no problem, but I’m not one of them. 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-12Recently 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 have changed. 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 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.

Yashica-12The 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.

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 takes only 120 film, by the way, and makes 12 square photos on a roll. The better-known Yashica Mat 124G takes both 120 and 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.

I loaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X into my Yashica-12 and went shooting. My next-door neighbor finally had all his dead ash trees cut down. The emerald ash borer has ravaged my neighborhood. He decided to keep the wood, which is stacked right next to our mutual property line.

Logs

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

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 suppose I’ll 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.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

 

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