There is something undeniably cool about medium format photography and few things encapsulate it better than a twin lens reflex camera. Think of Vivian Maier strolling the streets of New York City and the unrivaled style and class of old Rolleiflexs.
I had been in the market for a TLR throughout 2016 and just before Christmas I finally got my hands on my first one. After months of research and deliberation, I opted for a Yashica Mat 124G.
Why this particular camera? Well, my research indicated that for a first venture into TLRs and medium format, the Yashica is a great starting point. Also, while an E model Rollei would have been my first choice in a perfect world, the massively inflated prices are a turn-off.
So I scoured eBay and found a bargain. There's always going to be natural apprehension when buying something blind for a not insignificant price but, on the surface at least, I am extremely pleased with what I have received. Gut instinct counts for a lot when it comes to online purchasing, hence why it took me the best part of 10 months to pull the trigger, and this item just felt right. Add to that the following twist of fate - the seller lived just a few doors down from the house I grew up in - and I knew I had to buy it.
I will do a fuller review of the camera once I have run a roll of film through it but for starters I thought I would provide some first impressions for anyone who is thinking of putting a Yashica top of their list of 2017 priorities. And for those of you keen to remind me, I am upholding my vow to never try and clean or fix a camera again...
1. It's a Beauty
Classic design is just so beautiful. Sure, Rolleiflex will always be the benchmark when it comes to style, but there is an understated beauty to the Yashica Mat 124G. It's the only camera I am personally familiar with that would challenge my Fuji X100S in the beauty stakes. And that's not easy to admit...
2. Built like a Tank
When you first pick up the Yashica it instantly feels solid. But, strangely, not too heavy. I'm far more conscious of weight when shooting with my workhorse DSLR. The ISO / shutter speed / aperture dials move with a reassuring stiffness. I must have got lucky as there is not a mark on the body; lucky for me I think it has spent all of its life in its case.
3. Don't Trust the Light Meter
I have only performed primitive tests but I am not convinced by the accuracy of the built-in light meter. It seems to suggest exposures that are far higher than actually required but I'll be testing this more precisely in due course. It could be that the battery needs replacing but, in any event, I will be metering with my Fuji to be safe.
4. Composing in Reverse
No matter how much I prepared myself for it, learning to adjust to the reversal of the image on the focusing screen is difficult! Left is right, right is left, down is up, and trying to achieve a level horizon while maintaining your composition is a mind-boggling task to the uninitiated.
5. Test the Shutter Speeds
I've shone a torch in the back of the camera and shot at every shutter speed as a crude visual test to see if anything is amiss, but ideally I would like to know if there is a more accurate way to test this - preferably before shooting a roll. If anyone has any ideas I would love to hear them. In the meantime I have consigned myself to using my first roll to try out as many different shutter speeds as possible.
6. Focus on Focusing
Remember to focus! I've already fired off one shot having completely forgotten to turn the focusing knob. I'll chalk this up as a rookie mistake, or maybe the disconnect between focus and shutter release. Ultimately it's a bit like learning to walk all over again.
7. Film beats Digital. Again
I've no qualms in saying this before I've even seen any photos out of the Yashica: film cameras make you feel infinitely more connected to the actual process of making photographs than digital. The difference is tangible. The incredible level of sophistication we have reached with digital cameras means it can feel as if you are telling a computer what to produce; with film I feel as if I am creating the photograph.
Those are my first impressions; all in all it has been a positive few weeks. I've got a single shot left on the roll and will report back when I have the results.