This is an article I wrote a while ago for another site that never got published, in fact I’d almost forgotten I’d written it. Think it’s about time it saw the light of day as it’s about one of my favourite cameras and the one that I used for all the Medium Format images you see on the sight at the moment. Enjoy.
I’m sure like many of my fellow photo geek’s out there one of the main reasons I fell into film photography wasn’t because I like the way film looks (although that is very helpful), or because I wanted to jump on the hipster bandwagon (despite a few people telling me otherwise), it’s because of the rich history of photography before the digital age. Why would you want to limit yourself to only shooting digital and taking the same bog standard images as everyone else on the same bog standard equipment as everyone else? There’s a veritable treasure trove of goodies that are a little bit different to your common or garden camera or lens just waiting out there in the land of the internet for you to try. And that is what I’m going to talk about today, something a little different, something a little special, the Yashica D TLR.
We all know how to take a photograph, we all know the basic ins and outs of getting a camera to do what we want it to do and getting the result we want. But that wasn’t enough for me anymore, yes I still love to shoot 35mm but I’d reached a point where I wanted to move onto something else, something bigger, older, a little bit more fiddly to use I guess. And what better place to go than to the world of medium format?
Introducing the Yashica D TLR, for those of you in the know I apologise for perhaps dumbing this down but for those of you not in the know a TLR is a little different to the standard SLR we all know and, I assume, love. First off all it’s got two lenses, the viewing and taking lens respectively, you can probably guess what the difference is between the two. In the days before the SLR and the idea of using a flip up mirror to be able to actually see what the camera saw you’d have to rely on a lens for looking through and a second lens for taking the picture with. This can take a little getting used to, especially if you’re taking images at a relatively close distance and have to compensate for parallax but is not too hard once you get the hang of it. Secondly it has a few interesting features that make you slow down and concentrate on what you’re doing, the fact you have to cock the shutter before firing it for example. I’ll spare you the list of technical specifications as they can be easily found online, isn’t the internet awesome? And also because this article is more about what it’s like to shoot with, not about what part of your camera is better than mine.
So let’s run through the basics of how to set this baby up;
Firstly you want to twist the dial on the base plate to pop open the back and load it up with some film, I use Fuji Pro 400H or 160S 120mm film but that’s just because I’m a Fuji freak. You have to slide the roll itself into the bottom, stretch the sheet all the way up to the take up spool on the top and wind away until the little red arrow lines up with the “start here”. Close the back or the camera, twist the dial until it locks and then wind on the film until the wind on dial goes from the letter “S” to the number “1”. Got it? Phew that’s just the loading of a roll of film, I told you this thing slowed you down.
Now you’re all set to take your first image, First thing’s first you’ll need to pop up the beautiful top, mine makes a noise I can’t even describe as anything but, satisfying. Under the top you’ll find a bright, clear and beautiful viewfinder, but wait the image doesn’t look right. Yep you guessed it, the image is backwards, this is the time before prisms so what you see is a literal mirrored image. Once again it we’re slowed down as we try to compose an image backwards, this is probably the fiddliest part of the whole process in truth. Luckily the viewfinder, other than being huge and clear, has line’s intersecting across to help with composing, how thoughtful of Yashica.
Next up you’ll need to focus, this is down with a knob next to the film wind on and is a joy to use, there’s something very nice about seeing the whole front of the camera move slowly in and out of the body as you wind the knob to focus. That done it’s time to set the exposure, ah you thought there’d be some help at this point? Sorry but no luck there either, this baby doesn’t have a built in light meter so you’re going to have to do it the old fashioned way. Either get yourself a hand held meter or like me just use the Sunny 16 Rule, that’s one great thing about shooting medium format, the negatives are huge so shooting this way really is fine, you can get away with photographic murder and come up smelling of beautifully exposed roses. Now setting the exposure is again a relatively time consuming exercise, not because it’s hard but because it involves doing thing’s you take for granted on a newer model of camera. First up you’ll need to set the aperture, using Sunny 16 I tend to shoot the majority of the time at f16 or f8 but the lens on the model I have can g down to a relatively speedy (for the time) f3.5 if need’s be. Then you’ll need to set the speed, again using Sunny 16 and considering I usually shoot Fuji 160S through this a shutter speed of 1/250th or 1/125th sec will usually be fine (although the camera can shoot anywhere between 1 second and 1/500th and also has a bulb mode). Now comes the part a lot of us, including me, are not used to, cocking the shutter. There’s a small lever just to the right and under the shutter speed dial, when this is depressed downwards it cocks the shutter, and very satisfying it is to use as well. One big thing to mention is this, once the shutters cocked you can’t change the shutter speed, well actually you can but it damages the mechanism so really that should say you shouldn’t. After all of this it’s time to take the picture, the shutter fire button is a lovely looking little button on the bottom front of the camera below the cocking lever, it’s relatively silent when pressed and the shutter fires with a rather nice click. That done, it’s time to wind on the roll until the number “2” show’s next to the wind on knob and start all over again.
Now can you see what I mean about a camera like this forcing you to slow down, compose, think and then compose again? It’s not the sort of camera you would shoot street photography with let’s just say that. I’ve used this mostly for landscape and for a few portrait’s, there’s something very nice about a square image and it makes you re-think your whole approach to composure, especially I’ve found with taking landscape images. There’s also the aesthetic value of using a TLR, I’m sure many of you guys have had someone come up to you and talk to you about your camera when you’re out and about, I can honestly say this is the one that draw’s the biggest attention for me. It’s just different, if someone see’s you with a standard 35mm camera they can be forgiven for thinking it may be just a normal digital camera, after all most digital camera’s (Olympus for example) are heavily modelled design-wise on the classic SLR look. A TLR isn’t like that, a lot of people have never seen anything like this before and the people who have, have very fond memories of them.
Of course it’s not all fun and games, there are a few issue’s as you’d expect with any old piece of equipment, fungus for example since this was first manufactured in the 50’s, so I’ll mention the one’s that I have personally experienced myself. First up it is “relatively” easy to load film into, and I say that because that doesn’t mean it’s super easy. Loading 120mm is not like 35mm, there’s no canister with a leader that you pull across the back of the camera, slot neatly into the take up spool, wind on twice and off you go, it’s an older format. The first roll I shot through this ended up with only about half the images I’d taken, because I hadn’t inserted the ting flap of the film leader into the take up spool properly and hadn’t wound on enough, believe me you’ll think you’re just throwing film away with how long it takes to wind on to the first shot. Yes I admit that was me being stupid but come on, would you normally think winding a roll on for about a minute wasn’t just wasting film? Secondly the lack of a light meter is a little inconvenient, it’s not a deal breaker because as I’ve said I normally use this for landscape work but the few time’s I have used it for portrait’s I have wished so badly that I’d remembered to bring a hand held meter with me. Then there’s the viewfinder giving you a backwards image, yeah that takes some getting used to, I have struggled to get the composition I want a few times since every time I move to adjust the image I’ve moved the wrong way due to the backwards image. But these are just personal nit picking bits for me, I mean if they were really huge issues would I have just spent so long talking about the camera in the first place?
So I guess from all of this what it boils down to is, would I recommend the Yashica D? The answer to that is absolutely depending on what you’re planning to shoot with it. If like me you’re going to shoot landscape or portrait’s and want a tool that will slow you down, make you think more about what you’re doing and produce some beautiful results then yes, go out and find a bargain (I paid, if my memory is right, around £48 for mine and it’s in great condition). If you’re a street photographer, into sports photography or anything else fast paced then this probably isn’t for you, I’m sure you’d enjoy the experience but when you need to capture a precise moment at the drop of a hat, the Yashica D isn’t really designed for it.