Yashicaflex A Series
Models A-I, A-II, AS-I, AS-II and A-III
(see also “66 Models”)
(Images courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
Early A-II and AS-II examples (the A-II with Y.S.K. shutter). Early and late examples of the A-I are further down.
Yashima seemed to use “Yashicaflex A” and “Yashicaflex AS” in the generic sense when referring to models A-I and A-II and models AS-I and AS-II respectively. This is the convention I have tried to follow and the logic is covered further down the page. The A-III doesn't get much mention simply because very little is known about it. It is not mentioned in the earliest documentation and a basic description appears once only in a combined A series and Model C instruction leaflet.
There is no doubt that the the “A” series were intended as low cost, entry level cameras. However, the build quality remained the same as the more expensive models and even some of their advanced features were made available in various mixes. The savings were in the specs.
The Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex B were sequential releases with minor upgrades. Even by the standards of the time, their feature sets were basic. After Yashima released the more advanced, metered (a Japanese first) Yashica Flex S with Bay 1 mounts and auto stop film winding and film counter (new to Yashima but not Japanese TLRs) and later on, the unmetered Yashicaflex C, Yashima continued development of the original cameras as its budget line. The most basic Yashicaflex A-I was little more than a Yashica Flex B with shutter and lens change. Later, with a minor shutter upgrade, it eventually became the long running Yashica A. However, in budget guise, these cameras lost the self-timer, the speeds were reduced from 1-1/300 to 1/10-1/200 and initially, the button release was replaced by cable release. The new Yashimar lenses were also found on budget models only. The evidence is that the Yashica Flex B continued on for a while longer as a more upmarket camera.
The variations of the Yashicaflex A series are complex, hence the need for this dedicated section. Looked as a whole, there is the early type/ late type body, red window/ film counter, cable release shutter/ press button release shutter and film speed reminder/ plain film wind knob. Apart from the A-III, all share the Copal 1/10-1/200 shutter except for the very first Yashicaflex A-I and A-II examples which were fitted with a Y.S.K. shutter of similar specification (three A-Is and thirteen A-IIs found plus the example in the Yashicaflex A user manual). The first cameras were reputed by some sources to have Tri-Lausar lenses. Because of the intent of the A series, I think those sources have made a mistake. All I have found are fitted with Yashimars including the very early examples in the Yashicaflex A and AS user manuals.
What feature set divides the cameras? The auto-stop film winding and counter is what defines the A-II from the A-I. The AS-I is an A-I with exposure meter. The AS-II is an A-II with exposure meter (or alternatively viewed as an AS-I with film counter). Cable release was fitted to early cameras, press button on later examples including move of the flash sync to the front panel. Given that the same trim variations, including the shutter cable release/ press button, appear across all three models, it would be safe to assume that they were pretty much concurrent models. This is confirmed by Yashima documentation.
The leaf shutters supplied by shutter companies were complete assemblies and in different sizes used in many applications including folding and view cameras. In their most basic form, they were operated by a cable release on the side and also an integral lever, usually in the middle of the lower edge. I will refer to these shutters as “cable release” as opposed to “press button”.
(Images courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
Early bodied Yashicaflex A-I on left with cable release shutter, later bodied version with press button shutter and cover plate on the shutter housing and finally, the transformation is complete. The steps seem to suggest that the release type is perhaps more a shutter development issue than a camera maker's choice but either way, the issue was probably cost, i.e. selecting the most basic option. It also had benefits for those that often preferred to use a cable release but I doubt that was a design priority.
Up to the end of 1950, the Rolleicord II series had a similar cable release arrangement with their Compur shutters. However, the centre lever combined both shutter tensioning and release.
Below is a table that compares the feature sets of the four original “A” models against the “S”. The “A” models were released in the second half of 1954 with the A-I and A-II quoted as October and the AS-II as November. The “S”, I believe, was a little earlier than the others. The Yashica Flex B was still in production but near its end and the A-III and Yashicaflex C didn't arrive until probably later in 1955 and the A2 and A (new model) models later still. Trim changes that applied across the whole of the range such as spool knob design and move of flash sync to the front (low set on “A” models, high set on “S”, a convention that carried through to the later Yashica A and premium models) are not included. (Note. Whilst this table relies on details found on actual cameras, I have not yet found any confirmed red windowed AS-I examples other than reference to its existence in both the original Yashicaflex A and AS user manuals from probably late 1954 and a later manual, probably from 1956 - see further down.)
(Click on table for full screen view)
Note: The first Yashicaflex AS-II in my database has the film wind knob from the A-II rather than from the Yashica Flex S as on later cameras. However, this is the camera from the instruction manual and may be a pre-production example.
The “Yashicaflex Directions for use Model A and C” covers the most recent A variations (about 1956), i.e., long strap holder, press button shutter release models, as well as the Yashicaflex C and Yashica Flex S, now called the Yashicaflex S in line with its new peers. Tom Heckhaus' example has “purchased Okinawa Feb 1957” penned on the cover.
Inside is detail referring to the various models in production at the time:
The page referred to as “Instructions for Models S & AS see separate page attached” is often missing - two of four Directions I am aware of have the page:
(Click on image for larger view)
The “A” models listed are the A-I, A-II and A-III. The A-I is what has been commonly referred to as the Yashicaflex A and confirmed by photos of several cameras with their boxes which simply state “Yashicaflex Model A”. The A-II with film counter and auto-stop winding is as described above. The A-III has a Seikosha Rapid Shutter with 1/500 speed and M/X flash synchronisation. I have seen no exact example and no other references to such a model but I believe that there is a later version – see “66 Models” (In 66 Models, I have two examples of an unknown Yashicaflex model with Yashimar lenses and red window but with Bay 1 mounts and a high spec Copal MXV shutter of similar spec to the Seikosha Rapid Shutter).
The Directions confirm that the Yashicaflex AS is a metered “A” series model (note that this is a completely different model to the 1957 Yashicaflex AS with control wheels and Citizen shutter). It also identifies the “AS-II” model and describes both as “identical to model A but with built in exposure meter”. But what does that exactly mean? Here is a page at the back of an earlier Yashicaflex A manual (probably dating from the camera's release, other pages and the full manual appear throughout this site):
(Click on image for larger view)
Therefore, the “AS” is clearly expected to have a red window and the “AS-II” is clearly an A-II with meter. Here is part of an advertising brochure from the time:
(Brochure courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
The brochure is interesting in that inside, it has details of the A-I and A-II but nowhere is there mention of the red windowed AS as in the Directions above. Adding to the confusion is this “Yashicaflex AS” manual (probably dates from close to the Yashicaflex A manual) which seems to be mainly for the Yashicaflex AS-II but also covers the “AS-I” by the note: “If you purchased the AS-I Model instructions are the same except that you wind your film using the film counting window on the side of the camera.” (I think that this is referring to the red window on the back, the parts diagram for the AS-II refers to the film counter on the side as “Film Counting Dial Window” - this was still the period when Japanese use of English grammar in manuals was poor.)
(Manual courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
(Click pages 1 & 2 and 3 & 4 for larger views)
Apart from some obscure web references, I have found no other traces of the red windowed AS or AS-I other than in the above multi-model user manuals, or “Directions” and in Karl F. Kahlau's book in the list “partly supplied by Yashica/Kyocera” (the photo is doubtful, it appears to be the same camera as in the Yashicaflex AS user manual and also the Swedish ad displayed elsewhere - it could be either an AS-I or AS-II).
As I mentioned on the “Model Names” page and also above, Yashima seemed to use the names “Yashicaflex A” and “Yashicaflex AS” generically for the two groups of early models. Boxes also do this to a point, but the A-II is identified separately, i.e., I have found boxes marked “Yashicaflex Model A”, “A-II” and “AS” (the AS box could belong to the later 1957 model with control wheels and no meter). Although there were some lapses (e.g. using “AS” when “AS-I” would have been more consistent in some examples above), literature generally identified specific models, i.e. “A-I”, “A-II”, “A-III”, “AS-I” and “AS-II”, except on the covers of multi-model manuals which are generic. It is very difficult to have hard and fast rules with the Yashicaflex period but I don't think that there is any doubt about the correct model names and features, although the A-III remains a mystery regarding some details.
Yashicaflex A2 and Yashicaflex A (new model)
(see also “66 Models”)
There were also two later A models, the Yashicaflex A2 and the less well known and slightly later Yashicaflex A (new model). The first had a red window but a high spec Citizen MXV shutter (replaced by Copal MXV near the end of production). The Yashicaflex A (new model) added film counter and auto-stop winding but it had a lower spec Copal shutter. It was also released as the Yashica B. All three had 36 mm plain filter mounts with a cover plate somewhat like Bay 1 mount models.