Yashica TLR Models (66 & 44)
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How many models and variations are there? I can count exactly 34 66 models and 4 44 models, 38 in total. The 66 models include the original Pigeonflex, the MolfoReflex which is a rebadged Yashicaflex A-I, the Yashicaflex AS-I which is in Yashima documentation and Karl F. Kahlau's book but I have not found yet, the Yashicaflex A-III which I have not definitely identified in the wild but maybe the “unknown” example that I saw on eBay (see in “66 Models”), the Yashica AIII which seems to be a Japanese market version of the Yashica A, the newly discovered Yashica Hi-Mec of which two examples have been found and the made in Brazil Yashica Mat-124B. The 44 models include the Yashica Auto 44 of which the only confirmed sighting is Sugiyama's photo (plus perhaps one eBay sale).
If you add in variations for models with early and late body types, changes in shutter type, shutter release method on Yashicaflex A series and lenses and different colour combinations on some models, there are at least 63 confirmed and I think at least 65 models and major variations of the 66 series. Based purely on known colour combinations, there are 18 model and colour variations of the 44 series. In total, there are at least 81 to 83 variations in models, shutters, lenses or major appearance differences.
After you read the “Bodies & Lenses” and relevant models sections, you will understand that by also factoring in changes to focusing hoods, logos, spool knobs, film winding knobs, focusing knobs and scales, locking mechanisms, sync location, control wheel trim, “Yashica” between the lenses, screws in the back visible or not etc etc, the possible variations are seemingly infinite.
As an example, there are at least 15 major and minor variables with the Yashicaflex S (probably the most affected model) not including lens caps or number of holes in the exposure meter flaps. Most occurred at different times.
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(For acknowledgement of sources, refer to “Notes” below)
Information in grey text in the “Production” columns is presented as a matter of interest but it has not been able to be verified and it is known that there are major issues with some of the source documentation. Information about the Shinano made Pigeonflex models in italicised grey text can be found on The Pigeon Loft page.
The Pigeonflex information originates from Camera-wiki.org (previously Camerapedia.org) and is also found on the new commercial Camerapedia site. Some models underwent shutter changes (discussed elsewhere) and I have shown the specs for these on separate lines. I have found examples of all models and shutter variations except the Yashicaflex AS-I, Yashicaflex A-III (with Seikosha Rapid anyway) and the Yashica Auto 44. The Yashicaflex A3 is called “Yashicaflex (New Model A)” by Sugiyama and some others (the unique style of the film reminder flags on the winding knob matches the Model A2 and there is a Japanese website which has proven reliable on other matters but ultimately, I'm not certain). The Yashicaflex S has Bay 1 filter mounts in both early and late forms and the sometimes called “early Yashicaflex S” with plain filter mounts is actually either a Yashicaflex AS-I or AS-II. Confusingly, the Yashicaflex AS and Yashicaflex B both have similar names to earlier models. They are basically the same camera except for minor trim and the first was fitted with a Citizen shutter and the second with a Copal.
In “Yashica/Kyocera and the Problem with Dates”, I pointed out that most of the dates found on the net are the same or similar and can be traced to “Yashica/Kyocera supplied documentation” or, words to that effect. I also noted that it is possible to easily prove that there are some major issues with the accuracy of the release dates. However, when it is the only game in town, it is still a useful starting point. I have used two broadly similar resources referring to this source information, both a defunct website called “A Partial History of Yashica TLRs” and the book “Collector's Pictoral Encyclopaedia & Value Guide to 6x6 TLR Cameras” by Karl F. Kahlau (with the author's permission). In most cases where there is a difference, I have preferred Karl's book.
Where I have used release dates unamended from at least one of these resources, the month is shown. Where only the year is shown, information from these two sources is either not available or I believe that I have better information based on advertising, trim changes etc (e.g. Yashica A, C & LM). Such controversies are usually discussed in the specific model entry in the “66 Models” and “44 Models” pages and also the “Yashicaflex A Series” and “Yashica 44 Series” pages.
Discontinued dates are much more difficult to verify. For example, the book quotes the discontinued date for the Yashicaflex B as December 1960. At first, I found this hard to believe. There were no trim changes at all for the Copal MXV shutter version but its identical twin, the Yashica D, had already had a number of cosmetic alterations by this time as had other “Yashica” named models. However, there is evidence that the last of the “Yashicaflex” branded models may have been restricted to the domestic Japanese market. Were these updated at the same time as the “Yashica” models? Who knows? (From serial number patterns, my guess is that production ended before December 1960.) Even where the discontinued dates are my best guess (shown by year only), I have no confidence that they are correct - usually just based on the arrival of replacement models and often these coexisted for periods e.g. Yashicaflex S and Yashica LM.
Production figures are simply as quoted in “Collector's Pictoral Encyclopaedia & Value Guide to 6x6 TLR Cameras”. I have omitted a couple where it is not clear which models are covered.
Where “Both” is shown for Focus Scale, both metre and feet scaled examples are spread through the serial number range. The Yashica A started with feet but there are twelve metre scaled examples (versus 46 feet scaled examples) before changing to dual scale. Eight of the twelve have no hood logos and could be domestic Yashica AIII variants, at least one and maybe both of the examples with the earlier style film speed reminders have the 10 flag DIN film speed scales and were probably destined for Europe. The balance of the metre scaled cameras have the later dual DIN/ASA scales and could also have been destined for European export. The Yashica LM and C have minor special case exceptions related to European export (10 flag DIN film speed scales) detailed elsewhere. Yashicaflex ASs and Bs generally have metre scales but there are now four Yashicaflex B examples in my database with feet. All have 3340xxx serial numbers suggesting a small batch. Yashica Ds have both feet and metre examples prior to dual scale knobs. Yashica 635s are a smaller sample but I have found only feet scaled examples before the introduction of dual scale knobs. Yashica-Mats have both feet and metre scaled examples but the balanced is very heavily skewed towards feet. The sample size of the Mats is relatively large and also heavily skewed towards earlier examples – sales probably dropped off as successive metered versions were released. Also note that this column represents what I have found and in terms of total production numbers, the sample is very small.
“Yes” in the “Sync” column means that flash sync is fitted but I don't know the specific type. On the earliest cameras, it is probably for short duration “F Class” bulbs which are pretty close to “X” sync but still have a delay (see also Flash Sync). DO NOT USE “M” SYNC TOGETHER WITH THE SELF-TIMER see also the “Ownership” section.
The following table is a simplistic view of Yashica's 66 models grouped by feature set and year of introduction (not all models shown). There is no suggestion that this represents Yashica's grand design, its meant to be illustrative only:
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The Mid Spec Line includes cameras with different mixes of basic and advanced features. There are no entirely unique models, the Pigeonflex DNA remains dominant throughout. As with any biological tree, the closer to the source, the more in common that the cameras have. Note that cameras released in 1953 are only found with the older, short strap holder body. Cameras released in 1954 are found with both the early body and the later body with long strap holders, a change that occurred sometime in 1955.
Note that whilst “A” in a name originally signified a budget model and “B” seemed to indicate a mid-spec model, later iterations are not so clear. Perhaps the Yashicaflex B was considered to be mid-spec compared to the Yashica-Mat but why was its Yashica twin called the “Yashica D” and why was the Yashica B a re-badge of the Yashicaflex A3? Then there is the Yashicaflex AS with Citizen shutter that just seems to be an early version of the Yashicaflex B.
Everyone has their own reasons for believing that a model is special. Although there were other important models and all were interesting, for me, three models standout as game changers:
The first of the line, the beginning of 33 years of TLR production. Nothing special compared to its peers but it got the basics right and its heritage was there at the end. The line evolved from this basic start, there was no need to go back to the drawing board and start again. Without a decent product, Yashima's move into camera production may have been still-born.
Yashica Flex S
It brought bayonet lens mounts to Yashicas as well as auto-stop film winding and a film counter. These were merely playing catch-up with some of its better specified competitors and would hardly have made it stand out. The inclusion of a selenium cell exposure meter was a first for Japanese cameras. This makes this model iconic in my eyes. It also drew attention to Yashima as a new and innovative camera manufacturer and is perhaps the point at which Yashima's future was assured.
It's easy to dismiss this simply as a cheap Rolleiflex clone. For Yashima, it was a culmination in design. Fitted with 4 element Tessar design Lumaxars, and later Yashinons, and crank wind, it also introduced control wheels and revised trim details seen on subsequent models. It was a very competent camera and the price was breathtakingly affordable compared to the Rolleiflex and even other Japanese competitors. Yashima sold a truckload of the the early Mats. The basics hardly changed for subsequent models which simply added various styles of exposure meter and film type options.
A Special Case - Yashica Mat-124G
I did say three. I don't consider the 124G to be a game changer, more a part of the end game. However, I do think it is iconic. It is the last of the line but it was in production for 16 years, longer than any other model and for almost half the life of Yashica TLR production. It sold in enormous quantities and was perhaps the model most widely used by professionals. Some say that its quality isn't as good as some earlier models, such as the Yashica 12 and Mat 124, but whether that is true or not doesn't matter. When people that remember the period think of a Japanese TLR, they think of the Yashica Mat-124G.