My Experience: Shooting Squares For The First Time With The Yashica A
Up until this point, the only film I’ve ever handled was 35mm. This is the case for many first time film photographers. 35mm is far more accessible, affordable, and easier to get developed at local labs. It’s the family format. So taking step into medium format just felt a bit daunting.
I didn’t have a medium format camera, nor did I have any 120 film. I trolled ebay for months looking at all the cheapest TLRs and folders I could find. There’s a lot of risk involved at the bottom of the Ebay barrel so I never pulled the trigger.
A couple months ago, a friend of mine stumbled across a hidden and poorly titled ad on Kijiji. It was a professional photographer dumping a ton of his gear as he was moving soon and let it all go at a heart stopping price. My friend let me in on the spoils and I walked away with a Yashica A and a Canon T70 (the camera of the last article). Oh, and a pack of expired Porta 400VC.
The Yashica A was introduced in approximately 1956. There are some discrepancies on the exact date, but it was definitely the late 50’s and was discontinued in 1969. That decade of manufacturing left us with one of the best entry level TLRs you can find.
Being a base model, there’s very little in the way of bells and whistles. Actually, there’s very little of anything. It’s Copal leaf shutter has only 4 speeds; 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300. There’s no port for a cable release, and the viewfinder (at least on my camera) isn’t the brightest. Close ups are out of the question with a minimum focusing distance of only 3.3′.
The camera does, however, have a full aperture range from f3.5 to f22 and an X-sync flash port. So while it may have very limited options, the full aperture range and the exposure latitude of modern films definitely helps.
The Yashica A is fitted with the 80mm Yashikor 1:3.5 lens. While it may not be the sharpest lens on the shelf, it certainly suits me just fine. I can’t fully comment on the sharpness of the lens as I’ve mainly shot expired film through it. I was also having a bit of trouble focusing due to the dim viewfinder. I’ve recently opened it up and cleaned it which seems to have helped.
Later models of Yashica TLRs, such as the Yashica D, were upgraded with the Yashinon 4-element lens. This lens apparently improved focusing in lower light, something I found to be quite difficult with the Yashica A. However, it has been said that there was a bit of character lost in the newer Yashinon lenses that was in the older 3-element Yashikor.
The viewfinder, being dim as it is, was a bit of a hindrance. Being so spoiled to the lovely viewfinders of the X-700 and the AE1, focusing the Yashica A took some getting used to (not to mention the reversed image was a bit of a…. twist…).
For those not familiar with TLRs, the image on the focusing screen is reversed. So every movement you make in composure is opposite in the viewfinder. This really took some getting use to, but it’s not too hard to get the hang of. As I heard someone say, “if the image looks good backwards, it will look good forwards.” Keeping that in mind really helped in composing.
Composing In Squares
Composing a 6×6 square image was pretty interesting. While I’m use to the 3:2 ratio of 35mm, composing in a 1:1 ratio was certainly different.
I’ve never been afraid to crop my images. Many times when cropping my 35mm images, a 1:1 ratio made a much stronger composition. So shooting in the square format, while different from what I’m use to, seemed natural.
The viewfinder has grid lines which greatly assists in composition. Having grid lines helps break an image into , but for me, the biggest help was with keeping my image level. The build of a TLR, to me, makes it tipsy and easily held unlevel, a problem not found with SLRs.
When looking through an SLR, you instinctively hold it level, being assisted by your own equilibrium while look straight forward. With a TLR, you’re essentially looking straight down into the top of a tower-like camera, so equilibrium forsakes you. It doesn’t help either when tilting to the left, you image tilts right. This results in me dancing back and forth like I have ants in my pants when trying to straighten my composure.
So as I mentioned, when I received this camera, it came with a pack of Expired Kodak Portra 400VC.
It expired in June of 2006. My friend shot some of his before me and exposed it at 200iso. The results looked amazing with very little color shifts. There was a bit of grain in the shadows, but otherwise it looked great. So I decided to shoot mine at 160 and wasn’t disappointed.
I started noticing some color shifting in images where there was difficult harsh lighting, but for the most apart it held up very well. Nothing a little bit of tweaking in post couldn’t help. The Portra VC still retained much of it’s “Vivid Color” and the grain wasn’t as pronounced as you usually get with expired films.
Angle Of Perspective
Something I found quite fun with the TLR is the perspective angles that can be easily achieved. With SLRs, majority of the time you’re seeing from the shooters perspective, whether that’s looking straight ahead, or looking down at the subject.
With a TLR, thanks to the waist-level viewfinder, you can get low perspectives of whatever you are shooting. Unless you were a professional at the game “Twister” as a kid, this can be really difficult to do with an SLR without looking like you’re having a fit.
TLRs, in my opinion, are some of the most beautiful cameras ever designed. They may not be the easiest to use, but they make up for it in their sheer beauty. Using the Yashica for the first time made me excited to use it more. A TLR just feels like a discreet camera, even though it’s anything but discreet when walking into a coffee shop with it around your neck. It’s quite a head-turner. The leaf shutter is SO quiet, it’s easy to steal a shot without letting everyone know.
Being my first TLR and my first time shooting medium format, I couldn’t be happier. I really enjoy the shots I got from this pack of film. Being limited to 12 shots per roll was a big change in pace from what I’m use to with 36 shots on a roll of film that’s much cheaper. I don’t recommend playing the “cost-per-shot” game with film photography (unless we’re talking large format), but it’s certainly a subconscious factor when shooting 120.
Taking things a bit slower and not getting in a hurry was helpful in how I think of my photography. Especially when using a point-and-shoot camera, I can tend to be run-and-gun with how I take pictures. The effectiveness of this method is evident in the amount of shots per roll that I actually like, which isn’t very many.
While there is a time and place for burning through film on the kids, trying to catch that nanosecond smile they tend to give, TLRs aren’t exactly the camera of choice. 35mm certainly offers speed and volume, but medium format is a different pace all together.
If you’re feeling like you’re constantly burning rolls and disappointed in the results, I highly recommend giving medium format a try if you haven’t already. A camera like the Yashica A is such a great camera to start off with. It’s lack of options is perfect for snapping you out of the spray-an-pray mindset 35mm can tend to give you. It’s probably going to be in my collection for a long time.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the images. Let me know in the comments what you think!