Return to Film: The Perfect *12*

They say "Looks aren't everything" but one has to admit that they're a start.

Photographers can often tend to admire beauty, given that a photographer works strictly in a visual medium.  This thought is hardly universal in that many have the more logical thought of placing form over function, and some of the most productive of professional photographers work with rigs that are weather beaten and anything but aesthetic.

While I hardly consider myself a "photographer," I've generally tended to favor photographic devices that were easy to use while giving good results, allowing a sufficient level of control that was easy to access and utilize.  I'd rarely considered the elegance of the overall device to be a factor in my decisions about equipment. 

Fresh from my frustrations from my first round of disappointments from the reactivation of my old Seagull camera, and prior to my ability to remedy that problem, I started looking at alternatives that included picking up a "new" TLR.  I was hardly ready to outlay the money for a Rollei or Mayima, and had read good things about older models made by Ricoh, Minolta, and Yashica.  

Ricoh cameras were not too readily found, while Minolta Autocord cameras had a pretty established following that led to them fetching prices in the $200-300 range on auction, a bit more than I really wanted to pay for a hobbyist camera.  Yashica cameras were pretty plentiful, but came in a very wide range of models over the decades, and took some time to figure out.  There was the "A," the "D," the "Yashicamat," the "44," the "635," and a number of variations of the "124."  Looking at auction results for "Yashica TLR," it was nearly impossible to tell what the distinguishing aspects of these particular cameras were.

And then I spotted it, the prettiest of all the Yashica TLR's, sporting the most simple of model numbers: 12!

Produced only between 1967 and 1968, the 12 largely acted as a bridge between the preceeding Yashicamat line, and the 124 line that would follow to the end of TLR production.  This camera refines the look of the Mat it replaced, but retains an elegance that was lost when the 124 replaced it.  It is tough to fully describe the "it" factor that this camera had for me, but on seeing it, I was intrigued, and when I spotted a sparkling copy on ebay for a $99 opening bid, I dug in for an impending bidding war that never happened!  SOLD!

Upon its arrival, I could not have been more thrilled with my purchase.  This gleaming gem looked as if it had just come straight out of a time machine from 1967.   The chrome sparkled while the textured black backing stood in snappy contrast to it.  The lenses were clean, and the shutter fired responsively at all settings.  

I took a little time to get acquainted with my newly acquired gem.  It looked much like the Seagull in a lot of ways, but I was significantly more impressed with the quality of the trim on the 45+ year old Yashica than the 22 year old Seagull.  

Operation of the cameras was quite similar in that both use a knob to the left to achieve focus using the matte screen visible by flipping up the top hatch, and assisted by the magnifier.  Focus is slightly more challenging on the 12 over the Seagull for me in that the Seagull has a split field prism on the screen that makes focus pretty precise by matching up horizontal lines.  The Yashica only has a lighter spot upon which to focus.  This hasn't proven troublesome as of yet however, and it seems pretty intuitive.  The grid lines are helpful for framing and horizon alignment, and are missing on the Seagull.

Setting aperture and shutter on the Yashica is quite different from the Seagull, and this is admittedly my only real pain spot with this camera.  Whereas the Seagull's aperture and shutter are set on the bezel around the lens, the Yashica has the user wheel the dials on the camera face to the desired shutter speeds before shooting.  While this is workable in most situations, it can become a real headache in low light situations, as this window is slightly recessed and things like streetlights cause glare on the viewing window.  This all said, there is a perceived advantage to this over the setup of the Seagull, namely that outside "pollutants" are less likely to get into the shutter mechanism and gum up the works.  

Though the camera is equipped with a Selenium meter, I tried using a Wein Cell replacement battery only to get no response at all from the meter needle, so I've been content to continue to use my beloved Lightmeter app for taking measurements, or alternately, to meter on another camera with auto exposure. 

One appreciable advantage of the Yashica 12 over my Seagull is that it has a four element lens in comparison to the 3 element lens of the Seagull for improved sharpness.  I'd worried that this camera may be too sharp, but it retains a nice degree of character that I really like.  

Another great advantage is the presence of a 1/500 shutter speed in comparison to the 1/300 minimum shutter speed of the Seagull.  This allows me to better stop action when taking photos in the field, and also allows me more chances to use the f/3.5 maximum aperture to enhance depth of field.

My first few shots with the "new" Yashica were done the same evening as the weekly photo of August 27, 2014, when I was able to nail a really nice photo tripod mounted for a 2 second exposure at f/8 on Provia 100F.

Admittedly, my digital camera handled this shot quite a bit better than the Yashica, but some of that comes from some latitude in my time exposure count.  

It seems I constantly turn to the National Law Enforcement Memorial lions when looking to test lens bokeh.  Here, the Yashica 12 does not disappoint with this photo taken at f/3.5 at 1/500 on Provia 100F.  The bokeh ball above the lion's ear seems to have a star pattern similar to the camera's shutter blade design! 

Another f/3.5 photo taken at 1/60 does well to illustrate the improved corner sharpness of the Yashica 12's Yashinon 80mm f/3.5 lens over the Haiou 75mm f/3.5 lens of the Seagull. The duck near the bottome edge of the frame is still quite sharp.  Note the slight swirl to the bokeh in the backdrop.

Color rendition is quite pleasing, and even with some slight overexposure in the subject of this photo, one can definitely appreciate its capabilities.  

The 1/500 shutter speed is great for stopping moderate action in bright lighting conditions, though the lens is hardly telephoto at all.  

Even with the grid lines, I'm admittedly guilty of ignoring them in haste.  Suffering from an abundance of foreground, this photo is also crooked, even with the lines to help. Admittedly, it can be a bit unnerving trying to focus and shoot quickly in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue.   

The Yashica is not going to wholly replace the Seagull, though I still want to do some more comparisons between the two to see what each's optimal use is.  I do already have a few upcoming creative projects for which I think the Yashica will be the preferred choice, while there are shots taken with the Seagull that I'm not fully sure the Yashica will replicate.  

And if you think my medium format camera acquisitions end here, you would be mistaken.  In my sentimental return to film, I have taken it back even further, acquiring two of the "same" model of camera from even further back: one from the 1950's and one from the 1940's.  Stay tuned for some more fun in the coming weeks and months!