You might wonder why anyone would bother to use this type of medium format film camera in this day and age of digital photography. There are several good reasons. Firstly, the Yashica-Mat shoots onto a6cm x 6cm (more accurately about 56mm x 56mm) section of the film, whereas a standard 35mm camera shoots a negative measuring 35mm x 24mm. Therefore you are getting a much larger negative to scan giving far more picture detail. This also means smoother gradation and a sharper image.
Secondly, you can scan the negative yourself. The larger size of the 6×6 negative means you have a lot more detail to play with. It is more forgiving. Even without an expensive high-quality scanner, you can still get excellent results. A flatbed scanner with a negative adaptor works especially well with the larger negative. Nowadays with modern inkjet printers, you can easily make quality prints yourself onto photo paper at a quite reasonable cost.
Thirdly, in this digital age, there is something kind of cool about using one of these old cameras. The four-element Yashinon lens is very sharp and provided you pick the correct subject matter like portraits, street scenes, and landscapes, rather than trying to shoot macro or telephoto, you are certain to see results that justify the extra effort required.
Though there are many different types of medium format cameras available including old rangefinders, the Yashica Mat offers good value for money. It has a solid metal box construction which is totally rigid so you don’t get any problems with lens-to-film-plane distance, or light leaks, as you can with the old pull-out coated paper concertina type medium format cameras. The Yashica-Mat also has an accurate focusing screen which is much better than point-and-shoot type zone focusing. The Yashica-Mat offers great value for money so you can have a try at medium format photography without having to spend a fortune. Many wedding photographers used Yashica Mat 6x6s back in the 60s and 70s. It is capable of producing excellent results.
It uses 120 films which gives you 12 shots per roll. The film is simply wrapped around a plastic spool. There is no cassette. You have to thread one end of the film through a second spool inside the camera then stretch it over the lightbox before inserting the spool. It is a bit fiddly the first couple of times, but soon becomes second nature, and can be done quite quickly with practice.
The later Yashica 6x6s also use 220 film which gives you 24 frames per roll. With film, you tend to be more deliberate in your shooting so as not to waste money. This is actually a good thing. You get better pictures with forethought instead of simply shooting mindlessly at everything and anything. I always use my Yashica-Mat on a tripod together with a cable release for the sharpest possible results. The ground glass screen means that the image is reversed from left to right. This is odd at first but you soon get used to it. If you prefer you can focus with the magnifying glass on the matt screen then use the sports finder to frame the shot. This works well in situations where it is difficult to use a tripod.
The Yashica-Mat is an early model in the line-up without an exposure meter. The absence of an exposure meter isn’t a problem. You can buy a purpose-made exposure light-meter. It is simple enough to just use an old SLR film camera to take light readings and then transfer the reading to your meterless cameras. I use a Nikon 801S for this which has a very accurate meter. You can also use your digital camera for this. I often use my Nikon D200. Don’t forget to set the ASA on your metering camera to the same speed as the film you are using.
I purchased my Yashica-Mat around twenty years ago from Photo and Video in the Merivale Mall, Christchurch. It has a Yashinon 80mm f3.5 taking lens together with a Copal MXV shutter and has a range of shutter speeds from 1 to 1/500 of a second, plus B. The Yashica-Mat was first introduced around 1957. The Mat series has the wind on lever and auto-cocking shutter similar to the expensive German Rolleiflex.
Some of the later models of the Yashica-Mat including the LM (light-meter), Em, and 24 came out with a coupled or uncoupled, light meter. This basic camera, albeit with various improvements was still being made in the mid-1970s. It was still available new during the early 1980s, though by then its popularity had waned, largely replaced by the 35mm SLR, and later by digital.
The Yashica-Mat is a twin-lens reflex camera. The bottom lens is used for taking the picture, while the top lens is only used for focusing. When buying this type of camera, a bit of mould in the upper focusing lens is no big deal, but you want the bottom lens to be clear. Also, avoid any prospective purchase if there are scratch marks on the lens coating as this can result in loss of contrast.
The cable release uses the Leica nipple. It screws on over the button used to fire the shutter with your finger. The button isn’t threaded so you won’t be able to use a cable release without the separate nipple. I purchased one from eBay for about eight dollars including the postage to New Zealand.
Click on Photographs to enlarge.
Negative film scanned with an Epson Perfection 2480 flatbed scanner. To see the images in a larger size: after clicking on the image, right-click on “open in a new tab,” then click again on the image to enlarge.
Marked shutter speeds are 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, and 500th of a second, plus B for longer exposures with a shutter release cable. The Yashinon lens on the Yashica Mat has an 80mm focal length and I believe it is a four-element Tessar design. Both lenses accept Bay 1 filters (30mm). A square-shaped lens hood is worth having to keep stray light from entering the lens on a bright sunny day. They are quite hard to get locally but you will find Bay 1 lens hoods and filters available on eBay. These can be bought from eBay and delivered to New Zealand for less than $NZ10.00. Exposure markings are f3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 and 22. You can also easily turn the exposure wheel for half stop settings if you wish.
A separate electronic flash will sync at all shutter speeds – which is good. You need a flash with a wire that you plugin as the camera has no flash shoe hot or cold.
The Australian Photography Directory 1978/79 edition lists the Yashica Mat 124G complete with a deluxe leather case at A$333.00 The same directory lists the Pentax 6×7 medium format camera at A$1,248.00 (excluding the straps and case which were an additional A$68.10).
It pays to inspect these old film cameras before purchase. It is a problem if buying from an auction site like eBay or TradeMe. Look for a good clean taking lens, snappy aperture, and accurate shutter. Sometimes a camera can look very good cosmetically but have problems that cost more to have repaired than the camera is worth.
All in all, you won’t be disappointed with the Yashica-Mat or any of its later variants. The lenses are good and the build quality is excellent. The lenses may not be quite as good as a genuine Rolleiflex, but from what I have read by those who have used both, there is little between them, particularly when stopped down below f8. From my own experience, the end result is way better than anything you can achieve with 35mm film no matter how expensive the camera and lenses.
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