Ownership – a Brief Overview
(Scroll down or click on links)
User Manuals & Assembling Charts
Choosing & Collecting
Weaknesses Specific to Yashica TLRs
Cleaning Lubricating & Adjusting (CLA)
Testing Shutter Speed Accuracy
120 & 127 Film
Valuation & Selling
Below is a complete Yashica LM kit (without the external box which was usually discarded, see Boxes, but underneath, a slightly later camera is shown with both its boxes) from most probably late 1956 but possibly early 1957. It is typical of what original buyers could expect and includes the camera, lens cap, ever-ready case and strap. This seems to be consistent from the beginning in 1953 to the end in 1986. English language user manuals and guarantee certificates for export cameras date back to at least early 1955 and possibly earlier. The same style boxes were in use from 1953 through to the end of the 1950s and possibly 1960. From the early 1960s, boxes changed style several times, were less durable and were probably expected to be discarded. The “Yashica” branded silica gel is a nice touch but the logo suggests that it could be from a little later.
(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)
The two tags (reverse shown below to approximate scale) are the self-explanatory “JCIA”, Japan Camera Industry Association, and “JCII”, Japan Camera and Optical Instruments Inspection and Testing Institute. Later, the name was shortened to Japan Camera Industry Institute to match the acronym.
(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)
JCII was a Japanese Government sponsored organisation founded in 1954 with the aim of improving the quality of the camera and optical industry's export products. My understanding is that representative samples were tested and if they passed, that would apply to the whole production batch. The tag with the Yashica LM kit is an early form of that assurance. This style of tag was still in use with Yashica 635, ST 1020xxx, and Yashica D, D 1020xxx, both of which I believe are from February 1961. Both sides of the Yashica D tag shown below:
(Images courtesy of Tim Samuelson)
Many of us are familiar with the JCII's mid 1960s to late 1980s oval gold “Passed” stickers, this one on a 1965 Yashica 44LM:
There are claims on the net that with this type, the two digit number following JCII, in this case “53”, represents the year of the decade and the month of the year that an example of that batch of product was tested - a camera with that sticker might be made a long time afterwards. In this case, the date would be from 1965, March.
When the Yashica A, C and LM were launched in the US in 1956, ads showed them with cardboard “hats” with their model names and price. The model A kit below right included its “hat” (this one is probably from later):
(Detail from larger web image on left, right image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
(Click on ad for larger image)
This is an earlier Yashicaflex model S kit from most probably 1955. The camera belongs to correspondent Chris Whelan and parts of the kit, including user manual, are featured elsewhere on the site:
(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
The Yashica A below is from 1964. It has the basics; camera, lens cap, case and box (late style with flap instead of lid). Presumably, there will have been a user manual, guarantee certificate of some sort and probably an outer box or by 1964, sleeve. What makes this one special is that it apparently still has its original plastic wrapping - certainly believable from the mint condition of the camera:
(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)
Finding reasonably complete kits these days is rare but they do come up, sometimes even with the external box. There are a number in my database. Were all cameras sold this way? I have no idea. All were initially sold with lens caps and ever-ready cases and boxes already appeared with the Pigeonflex. However, at different points in time, various sellers advertised ever-ready cases separately. Without the ever-ready case, did the camera retain its “presentation” box?
If nothing else, these may tell us a little more about Yashima's/Yashica's operations and the likely availability of documents in other languages. From purely a collector's perspective, the presence of such documents make a kit complete and maybe also a little more special, implying perhaps that the contents have been well cared for.
This is the blank Guarantee Certificate from the Yashicaflex model S kit above:
(Click on image for PDF of full document)
Note that unlike the Yashima “Certificate of Guarantee” with the later Yashica LM kit above, reference to Yashima or Yashicaflex does not appear anywhere on the document, only Miura Trading Co., Ltd. with a Tokyo address to send the tear-off card to and on the Information page, addresses for the “Japan Service Station” and the “U.S.A. Service Station” which is given as Japan Camera Information & Service Center at 393, 5th Ave., New York, a joint facility established by the Japan Camera Industry Association on behalf of its members. A similar Guarantee Certificate has been found with a Yashicaflex model AS-II of the same vintage.
The role of Miura Trading Co., Ltd. is not altogether clear to me. Early Japanese market guarantee documents I have seen (“Yashica Flex Model A” here for the A-II and also Yashicaflex C), probably from 1955, have the camera name and some details in English and are called “Guaranty”. Yashima's name is clearly displayed:
(Detail from larger web image)
A Yashica Rookie (described as “Yashicaflex Model R”) certificate, most probably from earlyish 1956 is very similar except that there are no English translations of “Guaranty” and the company name, which is still clearly Yashima:
(Document image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
The Yashica oval logo appears on this 1958 Yashica 44 guarantee document but the company name is still Yashima Optical Industries:
(Document image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
By 1959, the name was Yashica on this Yashica AIII guarantee document:
(Document image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
My presumption is that Miura was either providing a range of export related services to Yashima or that Miura was independently involved in export marketing of various models. This would have been before the export push with Yashica A, C and LM models. It is also possible that it could somehow have been related to models sold through US Army PX and Navy NX stores. The company's name also appears at the end of the English language user manual for the pre-1950 sub-miniature Gemflex TLR made by Showa Optical Works, Ltd., Tokyo.
Japanese “trading companies” seem to be a unique institution focused on exports and shouldn't be confused with wholesalers and importers in the target markets, I think. However, contributor Chris Whelan has provided the following warranty card found with a 1973 Yashica TL Electro-X ITS 35 mm SLR:
(Document image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
Clearly at that time, in the Okinawa prefecture in Yashica's own home market, warranty support was provided by a trading company. However, as the document is bilingual there maybe a US base connection. A warranty card for an SLR lens from about 1967 lists the following worldwide service centres:
(Document image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
By the time of a post-1983 Yashica Mat-124G user manual, Yashica listed addresses in Japan, USA (Main, Midwestern and Western offices), Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Brazil and Hong Kong. Presumably, camera documentation reflects those markets. Multi-lingual user manuals also include French. The early commitment to Sweden also included user manuals in Swedish and a service center but interest seemed to fade in the early 1960s along with TLRs, probably because of intense competition in a small market.
Export cameras sold in the US from the mid 1950s to early 1960s had similar versions of the “Certificate of Guarantee” found with the Yashica LM above before changing to a different style of “Warranty Certificate” found with a 1969 Yashica 635. They all featured Yashica's US addresses.
On the left is a blank Certificate of Guarantee found with a Yashica Mat-LM and on the right, a very similar one found with a 1961 Yashica D, both appearing near identical to the Yashica LM example at the top:
(Right document image courtesy of Tim Samuelson)
(Click on left image for PDF of full document)
One element of difference is the colour of the Yashica seal in the top left corner and the certificate number on the right; a greeny gold colour for the Yashica LM, black for the Yashica Mat-LM and purple for the Yashica D. Two Yashica 44As have those two items in bright green. It is possible that different colours were used for different models, or for different years, although I think that is less likely.
Japanese language user manuals and other guides almost never surface in the west and are relatively rare on Japanese sites as well. I am disappointed not to have found any Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex or Yashica Flex model B documentation, however, one early guide that has been found with both Yashicaflex model A-II and C cameras on Japanese auction sites is Yashima's “Yashicaflex Photography” shown here with the model C that it came with:
(Image courtesy of Chris Whelan)
This is the first version of several found so far, there are versions to suit different models - see further below. Note, all versions are machine translated with the name as “Yashica Flex” - I don't see the break in the name and believe that it should be the single word form “Yashicaflex”.
Owner Chris Whelan writes:
“The model on the cover of the 'Yashica Flex Photography' book is well know film actress Ayako Wakao or Wakao Fumiko as she was identified here in this book. She is still living and made over 100 films in her career! The photographer was also well known, Matsushima Susumu (1913-2009).
This book contains a wealth of info about the company. Towards the back of the book they list the publishing dates. First printing was August 5, 1955; second printing August 10, 1955 and third printing (reprint) October 20, 1955. The 'author' was the Shinbashi Service Department Planning Office. The print shop was Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., Tokyo. The Publishing Office was Yashima Optical Seiki Co., Ltd. Other addresses listed are; Sales Department Tokyo Shibata Village Town, 4-6; Shinbashi Service Department Tokyo, Shinbashi 5-34 and the Suwa Factory Nagano Prefecture Shimosuwa.”
To put that into perspective, Yashima made its first camera just 2½ years previously. Regarding the guide itself, Chris adds:
“It's about 170 pages long and reads right to left. The booklet describes what a TLR is, briefly highlights the various Yashicaflex models, tells how to take pictures and to set up a darkroom and develop your film and make prints. A small removable supplement (6 fold out pages) describes the model C and how to use it.”
As I understand it, the book is a general guide to photography using Yashicaflex cameras on sale at that time but doubled as the user manual for those cameras as well. In concept, it is quite different to any English language manuals. The models covered are the S, A-II and C, although in the the book, Chris tells me, they are referred to as “Type-S”, “Type-A” and “Type-C” (that is somewhat unusual and again could be related to the machine translation, see the Japanese guarantee document above which has “Yashica Flex Model A” in English, a nomenclature that appears on most boxes from the Yashica Flex S to the end of the 1950s and in some instances, beyond). Note that the A-II may simply have been known as the “A” in the Japanese market. There is evidence that the A-I was not sold in Japan (except perhaps the very early A-I type with Y.S.K. shutter) so there was no need for the “I” or the “II”.
There is a section on loading film and setting up a camera using a Yashicaflex A-II as an example. This part is much like the Yashicaflex Directions for Use Model A & C, even the trim of the A-II is the same but the model demonstrating the camera in the Japanese document is male including hand shots whereas all the pictures in the English language document are similar but different with a female model used instead.
As Chris notes, there is also a removable supplement for the model C. As the A-II is used to demonstrate the basics, it appears to only get a single page identifying all the operational controls and relevant parts in the style found in the front of most Yashica user manuals. There is also a section on Yashicaflex model S exposure setting, the only difference of any substance with the model C. The user manual parts of both the Japanese and English language documents are very similar down to even the age of the cameras used (both use an early model C from near its release and an A-II of similar vintage and both use model S cameras that appear to be from some time earlier, i.e. early bodies and NKS-FB shutters still).
It doesn't surprise me that the two AS models are not mentioned - the evidence, discussed elsewhere, is that like the model A-I noted above, these models were not sold in Japan. The very rare model Yashicaflex model A-III mentioned in Yashicaflex Directions for Use Model A & C is also missing but that document may be from a fraction later in time.
Below are selected pages from the first Yashicaflex Photography (also accessible from the respective model entries on the 66 Models pages):
(Click on dust jacket cover for PDF of selected pages)
Beneath the dust jacket is a cloth faced soft cover. I have not seen the dust jacket survive on any other examples. Note also that as Chris has already identified for this example, all versions of Yashicaflex Photography read the traditional right to left, meaning from our western perspective, back to front. Some of the text reads top to bottom. Unlike with western language, the direction of characters is not important, anyone understanding Japanese will automatically know which direction characters are to be read, including from left to right (more on that below).
In keeping with its budget status, the only slightly more recent 1956 Yashica Rookie manual is more a fairly typical international style Yashima manual, thin and stapled, but formatted for the Japanese language, including reading from right to left. Chris Whelan tells me that it is about 20 pages, not including covers, so still a few more pages than the typical English language manuals from the 1950s. According to Chris:
“The first page inside from the cover are pictures (3 of them) of the Yashica factory workers hard at work making our Yashicas. The next page is all in Japanese and appears to speak about the benefits of being the 'Rookie' as it relates to photography... that you can see the world with young or new eyes (my interpretation).”
The rest of the manual is similar to the typical export types, perhaps with a little bit of extra info here and there:
“Pages 3 to 8 are images of how to load film and get started with using your Rookie. Page 8 actually shows how to attach a cable release and shows two different flash units being attached to the accessory shoe. Pages 9 and 10 have drawings of modern (1950s modern) foreigners holding a TLR and describes how to focus and take low angle shots. The remainder of the booklet shows the typical users manual info... what is aperture, exposure, how to use an exposure meter, how to adjust shutter speeds and their relationship to film speed and aperture settings. It finishes with some exposure tables, some flash info and on the last page explains depth of field (almost as an afterthought).”
Below are the covers and a pair of inside pages:
(Click on cover for PDF of pair of inside pages)
Chris has the note on the cover translated to:
“Look sharp with the Rookie on your shoulder - and keep the Guide in your pocket.”
The 1957 Yashicaflex AS manual (Yashica AS on cover) is unusual in several ways. It is an export style manual somewhat like the Rookie but as far as I can tell, it is the first Yashica Japanese language manual to read left to right in the western style. This model appeared to miss out on the dedicated Yashicaflex Photography book even though it was the most sophisticated model after the Yashica-Mat. Note however, that I have not seen a Japanese Yashica-Mat manual of any type so far either.
(Click on cover for PDF of selected pages)
The version of “Yashicaflex Photography” below, also owned by Chris Whelan, is for the late 1957 Yashicaflex B (new model) which replaced the model AS after only a few months. Chris tells me that it has 160 numbered pages plus a few other blank and miscellaneous pages. As well as “Yashicaflex Photography”, there is an English “B” on the spine:
(Click on cover for PDF of selected pages)
There is also one for the 1957 Yashicaflex A (new model) and a grey Yashica D version, claimed to be dated 1 May 1958 and with 158 pages, appears to be similar. As well as the vertical “Yashicaflex Photography” in Japanese, for the first time there is the horizontal name “Yashica” in English. The date is interesting, it is six months earlier than the commonly quoted release in November which also lines up with my date code theory. The cover of an obviously later Yashica D manual with pen annotation “'67”, presumably 1967, suggests something akin to export manuals.
The “Yashicaflex Photography” featuring a 1959 Yashica AIII (Japanese market Yashica A) is also from Chris Whelan's collection. It continues with the traditional right to left style but is now a briefer, more compact booklet of 83 pages according to Chris, plus some blank “filler” pages:
(Click on cover for PDF of selected pages)
The really interesting thing about this user manual is that it includes an excerpt from an English article titled “The Yashica Story”. A story with the same title appears in the 24 November 1960 edition of the Singapore Free Press newspaper. The first sentence of each of the stories is identical but then the stories diverge to focus on different aspects. They may have been based on press releases issued at different times. There is also a picture of the company founder, President and later Chairman, Yoshimasa Ushiyama, in both this and the Yashicaflex B (new model) version. More details can be found on the Yashica - Success & Failure page.
To give a comparative idea of size and format, the photos below show Chris Whelan's collection of Japanese manuals. Left to right in first image; Yashicaflex Photography for Yashica AIII, Yashica Rookie manual, Yashicaflex Photography for models S, A-II and C sans dust jacket and Yashicaflex Photography for model B. In the second image, the blue Yashicaflex Photography for models S, A-II and C is shown with dust jacket:
User manuals sometimes come up on eBay and specialist classic camera sites. Downloadable PDFs are available for most models from Yashica A and C onward from Mike Butkus at OrphanCameras.com.
Below are PDFs of the historically interesting Yashicaflex A manual for Models A-I and A-II, Yashicaflex AS manual for Models AS-I and AS-II, Yashicaflex Model S Instruction Book, combined Yashicaflex Directions for Use Model A & C with Models S & AS supplement (for Japanese version, see above), selected pages from the Swedish version of the very earliest Yashica-Mat manual with the “Yashicamat” nameplate and ASA only film reminder and Yashica Auto manual:
(Click on covers for PDF of full manuals, except for the Swedish “Yashicamat” which is most pages)
(The second and sixth manuals are provided courtesy of Tom Heckhaus, the Yashicaflex Model S Instruction Book scans were provided by eBay seller Kathryn and the Yashicamat pages are provided courtesy of Göran Årelind)
The following manuals are more common ones. The Yashica C and 44A manuals are provided by Göran Årelind, the rest are mine. Note that both the Yashica C and LM manuals are for the earlier versions with film counter reset buttons - that function is automatically completed by closing the camera back on later versions and models:
(Click on covers for PDF of full manuals)
All models are similar to operate, the main things to watch when using a manual from a different model or version is the film counter reset button with models so equipped, the different exposure meter reading scales and film advance by red window, auto-stop or crank wind.
Yashica also produced “assembling charts” for a range of models. These are basically parts diagrams and are invaluable for disassembly and reassembly of cameras. There are some free ones floating around the net plus there are sets for sale.
Tom Heckhaus has scans of the original Yashica A, D, 635, E, 24, 12, 44A and 44LM and Yashica-Mat/Mat-LM, EM, 124 and 124G charts. The originals were obtained by him personally in the late 1980s from the Kyocera Parts Department Manager in New Jersey and he has written permission to distribute both these and copies of the user manuals. Because some have tried to profiteer from his generosity in the past, at this stage, they are not available for general distribution but if you have a real need, write to me and I may be able to assist.
People buy cameras to use, to collect or to both use and collect. Using old film cameras is a personal choice about what you are looking for in photographs and how you think you want to achieve that. If you think that a Yashica TLR is the right tool for you, there is quite a bit of relevant information on this site and this page as well which ought to be useful. In my mind, the question is whether you want simple and basic or the best quality image that you can possibly obtain (that wont necessarily be the best photo or even noticeably “better” quality). That is also the way the dollars pan out. There are a number of ways to go in either direction (you can't get more resolution than the Yashinon but you don't need a Yashica Mat-124g to achieve that) but most likely, later cameras are the best proposition simply in terms of both wear and tear and problems caused by long term storage. Therefore later cameras tend to be more expensive (except for rare models). Contrary to what some may say though, there is nothing inherently wrong with the earlier models.
There are examples of Japanese websites where people think nothing of tearing down and rebuilding user Pigeonflexes and Yashima Flexes whereas outside of Japan, collectors can't find examples for love or money. It's all a matter of perspective and what you want from your photography. If you are a resolution junkie and worry about whether Lumaxars can out perform Yashinons, its probably time to concentrate on digital.
Collecting is a bit like using; it depends on where your interests are and whether champagne tastes match your pockets. I don't have a view about what should be collected or not but I do have some thoughts about what is doable or not.
In order to retain or grow value in your collection, mint is what you should aim for but overall good condition compared to other examples commonly available is a good starting point (this might be the time for me to admit that I can't resist a bargain and that some of my cameras may have more value as a doorstop - we all gather cameras for different reasons). Starting out buying a nice Yashica Mat-124G will leave you poor for a long time and if users stop using them, they wont be worth near as much to collectors as they fetch now. That is unlikely to be the case with a Rolleiflex for example. I wouldn't start collecting with late model Yashicas.
Often, collectors start because they personally have some examples of something interesting or they look for something that may be a challenge but is achievable as well. There are a stack of Yashica TLR collectors, including one or two of my contributors, and OK, I admit me, that thought that there are the Yashica A, B, C, D, 635 and some crank wind models to worry about. The more worldly amongst us may have heard of the Yashica LM and maybe even the Yashicaflex “A” and/or S (don't laugh, these models were comparatively rare outside of the US). In the current time period, in the second decade of the 21st century, regardless of the size of your bank account, it will be almost impossible (I am not taking bets) to find all 38 known Yashica 66 and 44 models, let alone all possible major variations of which I count at least 81. And then there are the minor ones. Some collectors have come close to covering all the major bases but nearly all of them started a long time ago when these cameras were more plentiful and certainly less expensive. But they still have gaps.
My advice is, to develop a collection plan. If you are happy buying just what becomes available, that is a plan as well. Just don't despair when there are half a dozen gaps on the shelf that you can't fill. You may decide that you want to collect from a certain time period or have an example of every model with a selenium cell exposure meter (almost possible but probably bad luck in regard to both the Yashicaflex AS-I and Yashica Auto 44 and assuming that more than two Hi-Mecs made it to the market place).
My own approach has been to look for what I think are representative examples - that has led to several versions of the Yashicaflex Model S and I would consider more, but I'm not interested in the Yashica A or Rookie as the Yashicaflex A series cameras are very similar and there are quite a few. I'm not interested in multiple colours, although I couldn't resist a rose Yashica 44A and why would the budget version Yashica Auto get my heart racing when I can get the better and more relevant Yashica-Mat at a fraction of the price? One of those from the very beginning would be nice, one with 75 mm lenses and the MX shutter and the first type case as well - a landmark camera worth bagging. My Pigeonflex is beat up and if a nicer one turned up, I'd probably think about it for a moment and then wonder why that would be better - if it had the earlier Yashima maker name, then maybe. In fact a nicer one did turn up with excellent lens cap and case for about 1,000 yen, about $10! How could I resist! I didn't miss the Yashima Flex or Yashica Flex Model B at all but then several turned up cheap in Japan as well. I was happy with just one example of a crank wind model with coupled CdS exposure meter (the battery already makes me twitchy about my criteria for the absence of “electricity” - selenium cells don't count) but two are better. And I should probably swap either my Yashica Mat-LM or Mat-EM for a 635. But then my wife bought me a 635. Your thoughts may be completely different. And that's absolutely fine.
Here is my assessment of the hard to find examples, some others need patience too:
- Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex Model B - now extremely rare everywhere, a little less so in Japan (one or more examples of each have recently been bought by contributors to this site), best chance is one of the Japanese auction sites (there are agents that can buy on behalf of international customers). Their condition won't be gorgeous but the prices are likely to be low.
- Yashica Flex Model S with NKS-FB shutter - now rare but do occasionally appear on Japanese auction sites and less so elsewhere. Prices of nice early ones seem to be on the up.
- Yashicaflex Model S with Copal shutter and Yashicaflex Models A-I, A-II and AS-II - examples turn up on eBay but if you want an A-I or A-II with Y.S.K. shutter, then Japan it likely is. I have seen a few for sale there, although at the end of 2013, a fairly nice A-II with Y.S.K. did sell in the US for $20, I have the receipt to prove it.
- Yashicaflex AS-I - Referred to in two user manuals and advertised in a third but I have never seen a photo even.
- Yashicaflex A-III - with the Seikosha Rapid shutter - as for the model above, except only one user manual. There are two examples in my database of what may be a later version.
- MolfoReflex - with only 400 sold, the odds don't look good. Contributor Göran managed to find three in recent times and was outbid on a fourth but it helps that he is Swedish. I am aware of more sales but that means even fewer left to go around.
- Yashicaflex C - very occasionally on eBay but very common in Japan, in fact the most common Yashicaflex model there (followed closely by the A-II).
- Yashica Hi-Mec - maybe it was just an LM prototype. However, two have been found in the wild and one of these was definitely sold on eBay in the US.
- Yashicaflex A2, A (new model), AS (new model) & B (new model) - very occasionally, one of these will turn up on eBay but often, one of these at least is on sale on Yahoo Japan.
- Yashica B - not easy to find, Japan wont help as they have the Yashicaflex Model A (new model) equivalent. Europe seems a better bet than USA.
- Yashica Auto - the odd one has come up for sale in Japan. An Australian dealer had several for sale (2013) but he seems to have gone off-line. Not cheap but not the $1,500 asked for a complete mint kit by a US seller.
- Yashica Auto 44 - there is Sugiyama's photo and a possible eBay sale in 2003 but I really think that this was a prototype for the 44LM.
- Yashica E - I keep saying negative things about it but at the right price, it would be on my list. In the past, a few have come up on eBay but starting to become harder to find. Many are missing their battery caps for the integral flash and most don't work, except perhaps in manual mode. Not very exciting with only 1/60 to play with and perhaps Yashinons with only three elements but collectible nevertheless.
That's quite a list of challenges. To these must be added hard to find colours like brown (Burgundy) Yashica AIIIs and Ds, not to mention that only one Golden Brown Yashica D has been sighted, and you can check the 44 page to find that anything apart from grey Yashica 44s, grey and black Yashica 44As, and grey and black Yashica 44LMs will be tough going as well.
Good luck! (I'll be the guy just in front of you!)
Bear in mind cameras range in age (in 2013) from 27 years to 60 years old and many of the Mats have been used professionally. They are relatively reliable, robust tools. They are also precision instruments with complicated mechanisms that can get out of alignment/spec and also gummed up from old lubricants. Many people buy off eBay and find that the camera works acceptably well for their needs, or they are lucky and it has been recently CLA’d (cleaned, lubricated and adjusted), or it is a late model with little use. However, many people are less judicious in selecting their target camera and seller only to find that to really use the camera as intended, it would benefit from a CLA, or worse. People seem to accept that Leicas and Rolleis require ongoing maintenance but begrudge the same attention to cheaper cameras. The economics and satisfaction are for the individual to work out.
On the other hand, if you are simply collecting, then appearance is everything. Of course “mint” and original is what everyone wants (just look at my first Pigeonflex to see what we actually settle on!) but most 6x6 TLRs have 3 big “gotchas” to work against you. First, they have thin, easily damaged leatherette covers. Second, nearly all work on them requires removal and replacement of said leatherette. Shutter work with Yashicas with Bay 1 filter mounts certainly requires removal of the front “skin”, plain filter mount cameras may not require this, except for the Yashicaflex A2 and A (new model) and Yashica B. With the older, more collectible Yashica TLRs, the leatherette is of a very brittle type. Therefore, look at the covering to ensure that it is appropriate for the model. Third is that many parts are interchangeable. I have seen quite a few cameras with incorrect hoods – these are often a casualty in a fall. Other parts are interchangeable too; I have a Yashicaflex AS-II with an A-I back. Check trim details.
For rare and valuable cameras (I should perhaps say that for rare and hence valuable cameras), original is definitely more important than mint (but condition is right up there as well). What I am saying is that a rare model with tatty but original skin is probably worth more than one with nice new clothes – see the section below on re-covering.
These days it is easier buying from Japanese auction sites than ever before. However, whilst there are quite a few earlier, rarer models available, generally they have been well used and then stored in a much more humid, even damp, environment. Photos are often low quality and very limited in number. The prices reflect this but fees to the agents and postage from the seller to the agent and then overseas means that costs escalate quickly. It can be rewarding, I don't mean in a monetary sense, but the buyer needs to be across all the possible issues and must be prepared to take a risk or two as well. I have to say that I, and other contributers to this site, have found the buying process itself to be efficient and the agents very reliable.
I have elsewhere mentioned the propensity for certain versions of the Yashica LM to undress itself. The Yashica-Mats with 80 mm Lumaxar lenses and the black leatherette inserts in the control wheels also seem to suffer from loose leatherette, not the earlier ones with gold rings and not later cameras with Yashinons - my database is littered with them. However, the leatherette on these is less brittle and less likely to break. Yashica 44LMs tend to shed one, two or more commonly, all three glued on labels and sometimes, one or both control wheel inserts.
Whilst crank wind models are reliable enough for light professional use, they don’t have the same reputation for robustness as the Rolleiflex, for instance. It’s not that they break (although they can do that), it’s more likely that things will get out of alignment and then they begin to trip over themselves. I bought my Mat-LM advertised with a jammed shutter. Well, it’s not jammed – you just have to jiggle the crank the right way and recite the correct incantation and then it works and then repeat.... Focus problems are rarer but it does happen that one side will want to crank out properly and the other doesn’t. I don’t believe that this is a hard problem to fix but the skin does have to come off.
Exposure meters are old exposure meters. Like all their contemporaries, some work some don't. Selenium cells are inherently reliable. The most common failure is in the sealing of the contacts to the cell. In this regard, Japanese cameras seem to do rather better than German ones, including Rolleis. The biggest issue with the CdS cells is that many cameras have stopped being used and have been put away with the mercury batteries still inside. They leak and corrode the battery compartment contact to the point that it breaks. Sometimes the leak escapes further and I have an an otherwise nice Yashica Mat-124 which cleaned up OK on the outside but has a pressure plate with a matte corner (visible in a photo elsewhere on the site). The lens hood operated switch is also a weakness with Yashica 12 and Yashica Mat-124 cameras (the 124G has a revised design plus gold contacts).
By both reputation and my own experience relative to early Asahi Pentax and Russian gear, fungus seems more common than with other cameras, particularly affecting the rear element and the organically cemented rear pair of the Tessar type 4 element Yashinons and Lumaxars. More common does not necessarily mean more susceptible (although that may be). Many TLRs have been found forgotten and stored in dusty/dirty and/or humid conditions conducive to fungus. For amateur use, 120 film started to fall out of favour by the late 50s whereas 35mm gear from the same period was more likely to continue in use (frequent use is good, dark storage in leather cases is not). Fungus can often be successfully cleaned (the lens will have to be dismantled) but if in the cemented surfaces, you can kiss that element group goodbye. Minor amounts probably don’t have an appreciable effect – in these cases care with storage needs to be taken so that it doesn’t continue to grow (strong ultraviolet radiation may kill it).
The biggest and most dangerous issue affects cameras with both self-timers and M/X sync lever. I don't know what happens with the Citizen shutters but the Copal shutters will surely jam if the self-timer is operated in the “M” sync position. The user manual tells you this and take that as a hint that it is dangerous. In theory, Copal shutters have a lock-out to prevent operation of the self-timer in the “M” sync position but this often seems to fail or is circumvented by persistent users. Hence, the user manual warning. Given the fragility of the self-timer, my advice is to not operate it to simply test the camera unless you really intend to use it. If you do intend to use the self-timer, find some non-permanent way to jam or tape the sync lever in the “X” position. Vandals, who do things like breaking off the lever, just make subsequent buyers unhappy.
Although there is the user manual warning, below is a separate warning found with a mid to late 50s camera with Copal MX shutter:
One way to tell if there is a problem when purchasing on line is to look at the position of the self-timer lever (red knob). If it is sitting away from its rest position, then that should ring warning bells and at the least, requires assurances from the seller that all is OK (very unlikely).
Also, the user manuals for knob wind models advise that the shutter speed should be set before cocking the shutter and that the speed should not be changed afterwards. The crank wind model manuals don't appear to say this.
On the other hand, crank wind Yashicas have a reputation for jamming caused by the frame spacing and shutter interlock. The warning below (repeated on the “Bodies & Trim” page) to not operate the crank with an empty take-up spool should be taken very seriously:
(Crop of scan of reverse of “Supplementary Instructions for use of 120 Roll Films in Yashica 24 Camera” provided by correspondent Alan Williams. This was with the user manual of his father's Yashica 24.)
To do this yourself, you really do need skills and experience or at the very least, a good understanding of the equipment you are working with and some aptitude. Leaving burred screw heads and worse behind won’t help resale values. As I have noted elsewhere already, the Yashica Mat-124G and 124B and 1970 or later Yashica D, 635 and Yashica-Mat use cross head screws for some of their trim. These are almost certainly Japanese JIS standard rather than Phillips - tight screws can be damaged by a Phillips driver.
Most of that is beyond this site but if you search around, there are some relevant articles on various other sites and forums. The most commonly recommended and most highly regarded techie is Mark Hama in the US (www.markhama.com). Of course for us outside of the US, this would be an expensive exercise.
Whether as part of the CLA process or simply to find out if exposure compensation is needed for an under performing shutter, testing shutter speeds with some accuracy is a very useful thing to do. Of course, if you know how shutters sound and are happy to do some experimentation shooting tests shots, you may be simply happy with that.
Contributor Göran Årelind has bought himself a testing device and set up a custom rig to accurately measure the shutter speeds of TLRs fitted with Bay 1 lens hood mounts but the same arrangement can be adapted to most TLRs. Read Göran's excellent article here or by clicking on the image below.
(Click on image to view article)
If you need to re-cover a “user” camera, anything goes but just remember that any future collectible value of that camera maybe also “goes”. There are some sellers on eBay that claim to have new “original” cover pieces but these are generally for later crank wind models. Probably the best solution for these cameras. Next best and probably only commercial solution for older user cameras is cameraleather.com – see below. For older, collectible cameras, the best solution is to find a leatherette match as close as possible and cut your own but unless you can do a good job, forget it. Also, don’t super glue it on – find a solution that allows easy removal. Micro Tools US and Micro Tools Europe are good starting points, plus they have other bits and pieces including, you guessed it - tools!
Speaking from earlier reputation and personal experience, cameraleather.com have extremely good prices and accurately cut (but see note below) and easy to fit (and remove) cover pieces in an enormous range of materials. However, they do not have an exact match for the most widely used Yashica leatherette. The Yashica LM seems to have a finer grain pattern than other models (the first cameras such as the Pigeonflex had the coarsest grained material of all) and on my camera, it is hard to pick the difference between the hood (original) and the recovered rest but this is an exception.
(Image on right courtesy of Göran Årelind)
The Yashica D on the right originally had grey leatherette. Not only was it in poor condition, it had to come off for camera repairs. Now it is a very nice user camera but with little interest for collectors. They're the sorts of choices Yashica, and TLR owners in general, have to make.
Whereas in the past, I would have recommended cameraleather.com wholeheartedly, a search of Internet forums clearly indicates problems in 2011 and early 2012 regarding excessive delays, unanswered emails, non-delivery issues and other problems. Hopefully, these are temporary glitches. For anyone contemplating this route, I strongly suggest that you do your own research first and make up your own mind. If anything changes, I will post an update here.
Update: A search of forums reveals that earlier in 2014, some people were still experiencing problems but there were some satisfied customers as well. The cameraleather.com website appeared to experience some major issues in August 2014 with a note near the header stating that parts of the site were still down on 14 August 2014 but should be back up by the end of the day. As at 15 January 2015, most links still appear to be broken.
Also, whilst the experience with later model Yashica TLRs has generally been excellent for most customers that I have heard about, there have been problems with earlier and rarer models and variations. Whilst most long strap holder Yashica/ Yashicaflex bodies are very similar, there are subtle differences that can cause problems. The three most common issues are logo sizes, hood panel sizes and screw locations in camera backs. Feet and the casting around spool knobs have also caused problems.
In ordering kits from cameraleather.com for earlier cameras like the Yashica LM, including earlier versions of common cameras like the Yashica A and D and even Mat, it would be a good idea to include clear photos and measurements of any potential problem areas and point these out specifically. You cannot expect cameraleather.com to know every possible variation so it is your job to identify these. Ordering backs without screw holes is probably a good idea and if the hood has an unusual logo size, or an unusual panel size, you maybe better off buying the bare material for that part and cutting your own. At least make very sure that the seller clearly understands what is needed and confirms what will be supplied. Take this as more than a hint - one of the contributors to this site is currently experiencing some difficulties in this regard and is also one of the customers not receiving responses to emails.
Both 120 and 127 film are available. A search of the internet and eBay will turn up current manufacturers and their product types and also on-line sellers. (Note that film choices, especially for 127, have suddenly become more limited with the news that Fotokemika in Croatia have ceased production of their Efke products due to equipment failure. This also apparently affects Rollei Retro 80 B&W 127 film which was repackaged by Fotokemika. Information provided courtesy of Jim Hurtle).
It is certainly the case that because of its “professional” heritage and greater popularity and hence sales volumes, 120 film remains available much more widely with greater variety of emulsion types at far more attractive prices. Clever people have come up with different ways to split 120 down to 127, which incidentally, also provides a correct size off-cut for use in 16 mm cameras for anyone also interested in those. Presumably, that includes the Yashica Y16 introduced in 1959. Below are words and photos from contributer and Yashica 44LM owner Bill Pruitt describing his two adaptations from ideas found on the net:
“I have made a film slitter out of an old TLR parts body that cuts one 16 mm film strip and a 127 film strip that you can cut with out putting it in a dark room or dark bag, however to re-spool it you will need to be in total darkness, but if you use this it’s less to do in the dark! It’s basically a box cutter blade mounted on a nylon block I cut then screwed to the bottom of the TLR film take up area. The body could still be used if ever needed because the holes are in the enclosed area. The blade was set a little above the film level and touches the back plate on the TLR.”
(All images courtesy of Bill Pruitt)
Here is Bill's second method which doesn't involve any modifications to a precious TLR!
“I used Double Edged Razor blades (under $2 at the local Walmart Store). You can flip these to end up using all four edges so they will last a while and you get ten of them in the package.
I used some PVC scrap I had from a trimming job I did on some sliding glass doors I installed in the house last summer. You can get this stuff at almost any hardware super store. I got this at Lowe’s. It comes in a lot of sizes and I like to use it on outside house trim because it doesn’t rot. It sands well and cuts easily. I also used some 10-24 All-Thread I got at Lowe’s with some wing nuts. The photos show the steps I took to make it. All areas that touch the film were sanded with 400 grit sand paper after they were roughed in.
The pictures show what I set up to cut 16mm film strips, however if you leave off the second two cutter blades, you get one strip of 16 mm film and one strip of 127 film. I rounded the edges slightly where the film comes in and exits in the top and bottom block and put a groove in the top block for a rubber band to go to hold it together. I also cut a notch in the top block for orientation in case I want to do everything in the dark bag and can not see which way the top block should go on (you can use the top threaded rod on the bottom block for this so you don’t need a groove in it). You use the spacing between the blocks for the size film you want to cut, but if you buy a piece of this PVC board you will have plenty for all the size film you want to slice from a 120 roll. You also need a little gap for the top block to be a little above the film. This thing works great. I used a band saw, small drill press, and table saw that I already had to make this go faster when I was building it, but it can easily be made with hand tools as the PVC cuts easy.”
(All images courtesy of Bill Pruitt)
To finish the job, you need a spare 127 film spool:
“Once you re-spool the film, Set the counter on the side of the camera to zero. Then put the film in your 44 camera (44LM shown) and stop advancing the film when the START arrows on the film line up with the two arrows in the middle of the camera back that are molded in the body. Shut the back, then mark the advance knob with a piece of tape and advance the knob eight full turns, then reset the counter on the side of the camera and take the 12 shots as normal, then reset the counter and take four more shots (if you used the full length of the 120 film). Yes you can get 16 shots if you line up everything right. Then take out your film and develop it, and do everything again and most of all have fun!”
(Image courtesy of Bill Pruitt)
Note: Using cut 120 film in Yashica 44 and 44LM models is reasonably straight forward. It would be more difficult in the Yashica 44A which also has the moulded start marks but normally relies on the frame numbers printed on the backing of 127 film for manual frame spacing. Perhaps by counting the number of turns and remembering the number of images taken, it can be done but it would be a challenge!
Adapting 120 Film for the Yashica 44A
Issue a challenge and someone will always find a way to take you on! Correspondent and Yashica 44A owner Shalom Septimus has done just that and very effectively too. This is a great solution:
“It's no challenge at all, really; I do it all the time.
You need a film slitter like the one Mr Pruitt made, or similar; I've purchased one from Joe McGloin of the SubClub, who advertises on eBay as “xkaes” (called the “Al Spoil” Filmslitter), that works on the same principle.
The trick is as follows: Hold the roll of 120 film such that the film unwinds away from you. When you do this, there will be three tracks of numbers from left to right, one each for 6x9, 6x6 and 6x4.5. Set the blade to cut 16mm off the left side; i.e. you are chopping off the side with the 6x9 numbers. You are now left with a 46mm strip that has a 4x4.5 track at the left edge, and a 4x6 track in the middle. Unfortunately, real 127 film has the 4x4 track at the right side. So what do you do...?
Simple, you spool what's left onto a 127 spool, but you start at the end and spool it backwards. Make sure you tape down the loose end of the film to the backing paper (you'll probably have to peel off the tape at the other end when you reach it). This will put the 4x4.5 track, which was at the left before, on the right side, where the 44a has its ruby window. Now you load it into the camera, wind until you see “16”, and start shooting. Keep going until you reach “1”. It lines up perfectly, I was astounded when I discovered this.
You'll probably have to shorten the end of the leader just a few inches to fit it all on the 127 spool. Also remember to explain to the photo lab, if you're not developing your own, that it's exposed film even though the roll is at START.”
I mentioned in “About Me” on the Site page that I have very little expertise regarding valuation matters and that I am not prepared to put a dollar figure on someone else's camera. However, there are some things worth thinking about.
How valuable are Yashica TLRs generally? They are not very interesting to the really serious collectors. There are simply too many and they are not technically different or interesting compared to their peers. People who collect Yashicas will be price sensitive. It is actually the case that the big bucks spent on Yashicas is by users who want to shoot 120 and their camera of choice, not for any real good reason, is most often a Yashica Mat-124g followed by other late models depending on budget.
A reminder: A camera is only worth what someone is willing to pay at the time that the camera is offered for sale. In practical terms, the value is set by what other similar items have sold for. Check completed listings, other similar cameras for sale and if an auction, the pattern of bidding. Also, as we will see, value is affected by the seller's selling nous.
A comment about auctions. By their nature, they determine a camera's value automatically. Providing there are enough interested bidders, the outcome will be a fair price for both seller and buyer. These work well with good user cameras. With collectibles, the number of potential bidders is probably less and one of the two guys who may have bid maybe on holidays that week. As a seller, I use auctions but if I think that there will be limited interest, I set a starting price that will get attention but wont make me cry if there is only one bid. I am rarely unhappy. As a buyer, except for low value items and obvious bargains, I avoid “buy it now” pricing because I know that most sellers have an inflated view of their item's worth. These are just my personal preferences.
Once you have determined the value range, the next step is to determine the condition. Overall appearance is obvious. Originality is not so clear cut and is best determined by comparing to photos of similar cameras from similar periods with particular regard to things like viewfinder hoods, camera backs and meters (if they have the serial number on them). In fact anything that might get damaged in a fall or broken for some other reason - most parts are interchangeable.
If you are not familiar with this type of camera, my suggestion is that either get the camera looked at by a reputable service tech or at least perform some elementary tests yourself. See also “Weaknesses Specific to Yashica TLRs” above. Don’t worry about film (although that would help to reassure buyers), just try operating the camera in accordance with the most appropriate user manual from OrphanCameras.com. The main things to check are that the focus is smooth, that the film advance crank or knob winds as described in the manual, the shutter cocks and fires and that all the shutter speeds sound OK. If they sound progressively quicker (or slower), that’s probably enough to keep prospective buyers interested. I have said this elsewhere: VERY IMPORTANT! You probably should leave the self timer alone but if you decide to test it, MAKE SURE THAT THE M/X SWITCH IS NOT SET TO THE “M” POSITION. If it is, there is a very good chance that the shutter will jam and the camera has to come apart or become a paper weight.
I have also warned about not operating the crank on crank wind models with an empty spool in the take-up chamber (the chamber with the serrated wheel).
These cameras are susceptible to fungus. If you are not sure what that is, Google it. There is only one way to check for fungus. Open the aperture wide (f/3.5), set the shutter to “B” (bulb), cock the shutter with the lever or crank as appropriate, open the back, press and hold down the shutter button and look at a bright light (obviously not the sun or anything else that might damage eyesight). If there is fungus, you will know (like a spider web). A little may be OK in an old camera but a lot can be terminal.
If a camera comes up clear on these tests and the appearance is excellent with no paint loss, there is no corrosion and the leatherette is not damaged, loose or stained, then the camera is in the running to be worth top dollar for the particular model. However, remember, what the camera is worth is what someone will pay for it. If a seller only has one or two dark, out of focus photos, limits their market to maybe their home country and instead of giving an honest appraisal of the camera, says something like “I know nothing about this type of camera but it looks OK”, then the seller is increasing buyer risk substantially as well as perhaps limiting buyer competition for the camera and the effective value of the camera is much less.
If a camera exhibits some deficiencies, the seller needs to revise their expectations accordingly. If the deficiencies are serious, the camera is still worth something “for parts or repair” and a collectible may still be desirable for display anyway. In such cases value is probably best determined by auction.
There are a few high profile on-line sellers who offer Yashica TLRs at quite high buy it now prices. There are quite a few other sellers who think that those prices set the value benchmark and that they can ask the same prices. They are very wrong. The few high profile sellers are knowledgeable about their products, have competently checked them, provide an honest description with a guarantee of usability and are prepared to advertise for months at a time until a well heeled buyer, who wants to buy with a minimum of risk and fuss, comes along. The premium that is being paid for is service, not the camera itself. Unless of course, they have the only example in town.