The Yashica-D

Yashica-DThis camera is closely associated with what press photographers carried during the 1950s and 1960s, although I must admit that the Yashica is a bit of a knock-off; the Rolleiflex is the original sensation. The reason these were considered more professional had a lot to do with the lens specifications and the selective-focus feature, allowing for more artful and aesthetically pleasing compositions.

This is a medium format camera – accepting 120mm medium format film – and makes 6×6 centimer square images.
Most of the latter models were equipped with a three-element 80mm lens capable of opening up to f/2.8 – this is considerably “faster” glass than many contemporaneous camera models, allowing for faster exposures, effectively giving the photographer the power to ‘freeze’ moving objects on the film plane. Earlier camera models had darker glass and slower shutter speeds, so moving objects would render as a blurry jumbled mess.

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With the discovery of Vivian Maier‘s work and the release of her books, the often ignored TLR style camera has seen renewed interest. Prices for the Rolleiflex have risen significantly, leaping from as low as $150 to figures closer to $1,000. The Yashica (and the Rollei) are relatively easy to find, and because they aren’t as user friendly as your smart phone, I’m confident this fad will die down. When the fad dies down, so will the price.

If you’re a camera freak like me, I suggest you keep your eyes peeled – get one of these as soon as possible. They’re cumbersome to work with compared to modern DSLRs, but they are reliable, sharp, and produce stunning negatives. Like any tool, a well-built camera is a joy to work with.

And if you haven’t heard the name Vivian Maier, go and see  John Maloof & Charlie Siskel’s documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” immediately. It’s blasphemous if you haven’t at least heard the name.

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The Sears And Roebuck Tower ’52

tower folding postThe 1950s saw continued expansion in casual consumer photography. Film costs were prohibitive, but newer models with ease-of-use features attracted new buyers. Bulkier, double-lens cameras (the twin-lens reflex model) were still considered the gold-standard for press photographers, but folding cameras had quickly begun to replace box cameras. Kodak’s turn-of-the-century innovations – the ‘Brownie’ and ‘Brownie No.2’ – fell out of fashion as cameras such as the 1950s Tower series arrived, manufactured and distributed by Sears, Roebuck & Company.

A folding camera is precisely that – a camera with bellows that can be folded down so that it occupies less space when not in use. The self-erecting bed camera has a fixed viewfinder, a simple pre-set lens aperture, and a synchronized shutter. Without having to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, or focal length of the lens, the user literally only has to “point and shoot.” Using medium format 120 film – the most common film size before the transition to 35mm – the Sears & Roebuck Tower produces negatives measuring 6×8 centimeters.

Most folding cameras I come into contact with are metal-construction models, although I’ve read that Bakelite models were also used. Metal models are durable and almost always function (so long as they haven’t rusted). Bakelite models, on the other hand, are infinitely less common (most likely because Bakelite plastics become brittle with age). Folding cameras in circulation today usually require some rudimentary maintenance if they’re to be used – torn bellows will leak light into the camera and fog your film. This is easily remedied with a bellows repair kit, or even black gaffers tape or shoe-repair liquid rubber.

The beauty of old cameras – of old technology in general – is that they can pretty much be held  together with rubber cement & tape and still produce interesting images.

Images produced using my personal 1952 model are quite good, especially when you consider how rudimentary this series of cameras is. Images made with these cameras weren’t intended to be enlarged, but rather contact-printed, yielding prints the exact same size as the negative. Because of the fixed lens and lack of adjustable focus, enlarged prints will reveal a lack of sharp focus. The only other downside is the frame-count – you can only get eight exposures from a standard roll of 120 film. Large negatives make for fewer exposures, and there’s just no way around it.

In my experience, a limited frame-count usually means that the photographer has an incentive to make every picture count. In the age of digital cameras and smart phones, where we can just delete whatever doesn’t turn out, we wind up making a lot of junk that we have to sift through later on. If nothing else is to be celebrated about the era of film, it forced the camera operator to actually think before they pressed the button.

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The Fujica Half

fujicaOriginally marketed as a “true candid camera,” the Fujica half was a wonderful new addition to the world of casual “economy photography” in 1963. Using standard 35mm film, this camera split the 35mm frame size in half, allowing for two vertical exposures for every single frame – hence the name “half.” Seventy-two exposures were now possible from a thirty-six exposure roll of film. Pretty snazzy.

The Fujica Half was likely developed to compete with the Olympus PEN half-frame camera, which had experienced a great deal of success. Boasting crisp pictures from a wide-angle (28mm) five-element lens, the Fujica Half could also open up to a 2.8 f/stop, making it unusually versatile. Wide angle, low-light friendly, sharp fixed-focus, extended frame count, and all in a compact design small enough to fit in your pocket.

Designed for a point-and-shoot audience, the built-in selenium light meter and compact design made the Fujica an ideal machine. It was one of the most accessible, user-friendly camera models designed until this time, delivering the practice of photography into the hands of an unprecedented number of consumers.

It was the iPhone camera of the 1960’s. Period.

As film prices dropped throughout the latter 60’s, “whole-frame” cameras supplanted the half-frame models. By the end of the decade, major manufacturers abandoned the half-frame model altogether. It was a short-lived fad, but these metal-constructed beauties were built to last. For any camera enthusiast, it’s easy to find a functioning model for a cheap price. They’re a lot of fun to shoot with.

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