Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex, Yashica Flex, Yashicaflex & Yashica Models
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This site is dedicated to understanding and preserving the development history of Yashica Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) cameras from the first model Pigeonflex through to the Yashica Mat-124G. Whilst the content is possibly of greatest interest to collectors, my original intent was to help anyone that wanted to identify a Yashica model or find out more about the camera that they had acquired. I hope that I have also added enough information for users, meaning actual photographers, to find the site interesting. The story of Yashica is a story of post-War Japan and development of the Japanese photographic industry - I'm not pretending that I am contributing to that understanding but keep the context in mind when thinking about Yashica history.
To clarify my reasons for developing this site and justify why my take on early Yashica model history is sometimes at odds with other sources, I need to explain what I believe are some of the key issues in regard to the history of Yashica TLR models.
If you are not really interested in all the detail and just want to look up a particular model, go to “66 Models” or “44 Models”, as appropriate or the table “Yashica TLR Models & Specifications Table”.
The information on this site developed out of frustration at the lack of accurate model detail available on the Yashica TLRs, particularly the Yashicaflex series and the first of the Yashicas. Some prominent sites have obviously incorrect information, eBay sellers often use these sites for quick identification and you can see how wrong thinking has grown. The various “-pedia” sites, previously lacking in model detail but otherwise reasonably accurate, are not immune from ill-informed comment creep by well intentioned and enthusiastic Yashica owners. Unfortunately, Yashica seems to have done little to formally document its own history and what there was, seems to have been lost with the Kyocera takeover.
Also, it's only natural that websites and commentators outside of Japan have concentrated on models that were either commonly bought back by Service personnel in the early to mid-1950's, or were export models. On the other hand, there is little if any information on Japanese sites about models that were export only and that includes the Yashica C, Yashica LM and Yashica 44A and I suspect some of the crank wind models. Included in that is the early export Yashica A; the Japanese market Yashica A had Yashicaflex on the nameplate and was sold in export markets as the Yashica B and when the export Yashica A was finally released in Japan, it was without the hood logo and called a Yashica AIII (but not on the nameplate). If you read on, it may become clearer....
In quite a few respects, not only my research and conclusions but the visual evidence itself, contradicts the doyens of the collecting world, McKeown internationally and Sugiyama in respect to Japanese cameras (I will specifically address Sugiyama in another section). Well, maybe not Sugiyama so much, it's what he has left out and how he has been interpreted by others. However, they are cataloguers and generalists focused on the collector’s market rather than the intricacies of individual maker history and models.
Two related mistakes often made are assuming budget models are older than more sophisticated models and this comes from thinking that models were released in a linear fashion, i.e. one after the other, when even at the end of 1954, there were already a number of Yashicaflex models in production simultaneously. The Yashica A, B, C and D are not developments of each and were not released in that order (A and C came first in 1956 and B and D came some 2 years later). The first 1964 edition of the popular Focal Press Yashica Twin Lens Reflex Guide by W.D. Emanuel helped to set that incorrect thinking in stone by claiming that the Yashica D developed from the A and included a flow chart demonstrating this and that has appeared in many other places. What about the impact of the preceding Yashicaflex models and earlier cameras and the fact that the line had already split into many price/specification points? He may not even have been aware of these as they were not widely exported (never to the UK, as far as I am aware) and his user guide was for then current models, not a history book.
A third mistake may be related to Yashica/Kyocera itself. I have seen precise introduction and discontinued dates to the month and production numbers quoted to the last digit (some of these can also be found on this site but with the rider that they are not verified - use as a guide only). The introduction dates particularly are widespread throughout the net. The useful book “Collector's Pictoral Encyclopaedia & Value Guide to 6x6 TLR Cameras” by Karl F. Kahlau quotes the same production data for Yashima/Yashica TLRs as may be found elsewhere and references Yashica/Kyocera as the source. I have also seen similar Yashica/Kyocera sourced date information from a defunct site called “A Partial History of Yashica TLRs”.
Both the book and the site, A Partial History of Yashica TLRs, agree on many of the dates but others are exactly 12 months out with each other even though both claim to be relying on similar sourced information. That is problem number one. The production numbers may all be absolutely spot on (its not possible to verify one way or the other) and so may be many of the dates but problem number two is that it is very easy to prove using actual Yashima/Yashica documentation from the period that there are some gross errors of fact in what is claimed to be the original Yashica/Kyocera supplied mid-1950s dates.
Yashica A, C & LM
There is nothing obviously special about the Yashica A, C & LM models, they are relatively minor upgrades of existing Yashicaflex models (Yashicaflex A-I plus top speed increased to 1/300 speed, Yashicaflex C plus MX shutter and Yashikor viewing lens, Yashicaflex S plus MX shutter, updated lenses and exposure meter changes or, Yashica C with meter). However, they are critical to understanding Yashica history. Although there is evidence of earlier exports, these three models spearheaded Yashima's all out export drive into the US whilst Yashicaflex models continued in Japan:
(Images courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
Of the examples shown, Yashica A is from 1957 to 1958 (later hood logo and trim), the other two are from 1956 to early 1957.
A Partial History of Yashica TLRs quotes release dates of October 1956 and March 1957 for the Yashica LM and C respectively and April 1958 for the Yashica A (1958 is quoted almost everywhere, my edition of McKeown's has 1959, presumably based on Sugiyama's Japan only AIII variant) whilst the book uses dates of October 1957 and March 1958 for the Yashica LM and C (exactly 12 months difference - unconnected coincidence?). However, here is a December 1956 US ad featuring all three cameras together:
(Detail from web image)
(Click on ad for larger image)
There is also an April 1957 Swedish ad and two US ads from 1957 featuring the three cameras together with the “new” Yashica-Mat (released in April 1957). This is one of them:
And, there is an early US brochure featuring the three “new” cameras together without the Yashica-Mat and a Japanese brochure published on 15 December 1956 referring to a December US review of the Yashica C and LM. In my view, it is absolutely clear cut that the Yashica A, C and LM were all released in 1956.
However, if the marketing material is not enough proof, then there is the forensic evidence. The focusing hood, spool knob and locking lever trim details on the earliest examples of the three cameras are consistent with the 1956 period. The Yashica LM and C were released with film counter reset buttons (which they lost well into their production runs). Cameras accepted as released in 1957, the Yashica-Mat, Yashicaflex AS (new model) and Yashicaflex B (new model), had newer trim styles already and were also fitted with fully automatic film counter reset from the outset. Also, there was very unlikely any time lapse between release of the Yashica LM and C (basically identical, except for the LM's exposure meter), certainly not the 6 months suggested above. The first manuals used the same model for the different shots of using a flash (“D” cell handle type for one and shoulder pack electronic for the other) but she is wearing the same clothes and every hair and highlight on her head is exactly in the same place (the two photos are here). Except for colour, all three cameras have identical user manual covers for their first two editions, also unusual for the 1950s period.
It may be be a matter of interpretation or translation but I suspect that the data attributed to Yashica/Kyocera has been assembled many years after production of the respective models and with what purpose, source records or due diligence, we don't know. Elsewhere on this site, you will find that there were Japanese market Yashicaflexes which were marketed as “Yashica” models and which borrowed names from quite different export models - this may be a factor too. Whatever the reason, please take any such apparently authoritative information with a grain of salt and keep an open mind and weigh up the evidence when presented with conflicting information from this site. You will note that with the author's kind permission, I do reproduce much of the Yashica/Kyocera sourced information from Karl Kahlau's book later on.
The Early Models
Here I am simply floating the contradictions between observation and often quoted dates which can probably be traced back to a single source. The Pigeonflex is claimed to be released in March 1953 and the mildly revised Yashima Flex in October 1953. I have seen no evidence which would question (or confirm) those dates. With a new nameplate, the almost identical Yashica Flex B (old model) is claimed to be released in December 1953 and the iconic Yashica Flex S with exposure meter is claimed to be released 10 months later in October 1954. The Yashima Flex was certainly in production longer than a few months - it progressed through three versions of the NKS shutter, two distinct nameplate styles and several iterations of focusing hood as well as being advertised in a Japanese magazine in February 1954.
In the same context, there is mounting evidence, albeit circumstantial, that the Yashica Flex B and more advanced Yashica Flex S were released near simultaneously with different specs aimed at different price points and that the release date was earlier than October 1954 but significantly later than December 1953. The issues are dealt with under the individual model entries in 66 Models but the main indicators are shared bodies between the Models B and S with film start marks (of no use in the Yashica Flex B), shared shutter initially (NKS-FB), same lens name on early examples of both (“Tomioka Tri-Lausar” whereas late example of the Yashica Flex B changed to simply “Tri-Lausar”, perhaps when the Model S changed to “Heliotar” lenses), early examples of both had the same pattern of first four ring locking knobs and then three ring and the flash sync changed form the Kodak ASA type to PC type at a similar time in production. Both the Yashicaflex Model B and S were still being advertised together in Sweden in March 1955. Also, if the Yashica Flex B was the first and only model Yashica Flex when it was released, why did it need to be called “B” (period Japanese flyer below)?
(Note: The first of the Yashicaflex A series models was probably launched in October 1954, as claimed. These were a new budget line with a more basic shutter than their predecessors and with new budget lenses, Yashimars, only found on A series cameras including the early Yashica A and its near twin, the Yashica Rookie. The trim features clearly date the Yashicaflex A series as later than the Yashica Flex B and later than the first of the Yashica Flex S variations. Most reputable sources are in agreement.)
The biggest and most common confusion is regarding the names of these models:
(Images courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
1954 Yashicaflex AS-II, 1957 Yashicaflex AS-II and 1957 Yashicaflex AS.
The two cameras on the left and in the centre are absolutely, definitely, NOT early forms of the Yashicaflex S (the ones a little further below are) as claimed on so many sites and blogs. They are slightly later Yashicaflex AS-II examples based on the budget A series feature set (there is a similar model with red window instead of film counter, the Yashicaflex AS-I, mentioned in literature but not yet found). This is 100% provable from original Yashica documentation including user manuals with photos, ads and brochures, some of which appear elsewhere on this site. Here is one:
(Brochure courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
The AS-II shares the basic body and Sekonic CB-1 exposure meter of the Yashicaflex S but not the lenses or shutter. In “Yashicaflex A Series”, it can be seen how the model designation makes logical sense; “A” for A series, “S” for Sekonic meter and “II” for film counter with auto-stop winding.
(Images courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)
1954 Yashicaflex S and 1956 Yashicaflex S for comparison. Note the Bay 1 filter mounts and different nameplate script in the style of the earlier Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex B (old model). Note also that both the Yashicaflex S and AS-II have the same early and late body types and trim proving conclusively that they are largely concurrent models.
Although the camera on the top right is called a Yashicaflex AS by Sugiyama and on a number of sites, I previously found it hard to accept that it could have the same name (the AS-I and AS-II do have the extra “I” and “II” suffix but Yashima often referred to them collectively as “Yashicaflex AS”, including in the instruction manual and sometimes also forgot about the “I” in AS-I). A camera has now turned up with its original box and user manual. What could the “AS” possibly signify for this camera? An early example of “retro”? Possibly, this is one of three Japanese market Yashicaflex models with recycled model names released within a few months of each other.
The operation of the Yashicaflex model AS-I (also called model-AS and model AS) is covered in two user manuals, one to two years apart, and it is listed as a model in a third manual with all references made in conjunction with its close cousin the Yashicaflex AS-II of which there are plentiful examples, yet there have been no confirmed sightings. The Yashicaflex model A-III with 1/500 Seikosha Rapid shutter is referred to in one user manual but similarly, has never been sighted, although two examples of what might be later versions with Copal MXV shutters are detailed on this site. If they are not Yashicaflex A-III examples, they themselves are a mystery model. The Yashica Hi-Mec is not mentioned anywhere but there are two examples in my database. There is a photograph of a Yashica Auto 44 in Sugiyama's book and Collectiblend records a single sale in 2003 but there are no other confirmed sightings. My own thoughts are that the Hi-Mec and Auto 44 may have belonged to limited pre-production runs.
One thing these models all have in common is that I have not seen their appearance in a single ad or brochure. That only applies to two other models; the extremely short run 1957 Yashicaflex AS (with Citizen shutter) before being replaced a few months later by the similar Yashicaflex B (new model) and the Brazilian market Yashica Mat-124B.
If anyone has photos or information which will cast some light on these cameras, please contact me (see contact details below).
Except for non-controversial dates, background information about the Company and general matters, I have tried not to rely on third party sources or existing narrative on websites. My main sources for details about cameras have been user manuals, ads, brochures, catalogues and observing cameras offered at on-line auctions (currently, there are around 2,300 cameras in my database with photos of many more). For the Yashicaflexes and earlier models, I have come to rely heavily on Japanese brochures and sites. Plus I have a few representative examples starting with a very beat up, but dear to me, Pigeonflex.
Both 6x6 120 film and 4x4 127 film format cameras are included. As a group, the 4x4s were commonly referred to as “44” and with later user manuals for the 6x6s, Yashica started adding “66” to the covers. These are the terms I will use to distinguish between the two format groups.
I have focused on camera models and development history rather than corporate history or camera operation which is all basically similar and is well documented in user manuals. PDFs for many models are available for download with donation from OrphanCameras.com, and I can be contacted by email for the missing Yashica LM with reset button and Yashica Mat-LM manuals. On the 66 Models page are links to PDFs of the historically interesting early Yashicaflex A, Yashicaflex AS, combined Yashicaflex A & C and Yashica Auto user manuals in addition to the Yashica Flex S features sheet. A general resource, the first edition of the Focal Press Yashica Twin Lens Reflex Guide by W.D. Emanuel is available for viewing or download from 3106.photography but ignore the model development history.
My name is Paul Sokk. I am an Australian of Estonian descent. Since 2003, my photography, mainly amateur, has been pretty much digital. Before then, my format of choice was 35 mm but in the early 1970s, as well as weekend wedding work, I did undertake two years of commercial photography training based around the 4"x5" view camera before deciding not to give up my day job. Now I miss the look and feel of metal, fully mechanical cameras. In addition to the odd example of an obligatory folder and Japanese rangefinder, I have a few early Pentaxes (I remember admiring my first one as a young lad and a Pentax was also my last serious 35 mm film camera), a few early FED & Zorki Leica copies (cheaper than the real thing and of interest in connection with my Estonian heritage, not to mention that for a brief period of post SLR adventurism in the 1970s, I shot a Zorki 4K) and some Yashica TLRs (the first affordable TLR that came up on eBay and now some more have joined it, “for research”, you understand). I have come to admire the Yashica TLR as an effective photographic tool available to almost anyone, both then and now, not to just those with deep pockets. I don’t consider myself to be a real collector but I do take documenting Yashica TLR history rather seriously, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth telling. And there is quite a lot to tell.
As it is an Australian site, I try to conform to standard Australian (i.e. largely British) spelling e.g. metre, grey, colour and amateur, unless something is specific to the US market.
I can be contacted by email at email@example.com and am happy to discuss things Yashica or debate any of my conclusions - if there is better information, I will readily accede. Any contributions used, e.g. ideas, words or images, will be acknowledged. I am also on the lookout for manuals, brochures, ads, books etc that refer to the Pigeonflex to Yashicaflex period or accessories generally and also to The Mystery Models noted above. These could be either original, paper copies or electronic copies.
Some correspondents have asked me “how much is my camera worth?” This is one area where I have very little expertise. I am not a collector as such and am not familiar with sales on specialised auction sites nor do I subscribe to auction result bulletins or other market intelligence reports. Most of my research is web based and any views I have about value, and please note that most of the time I am not thinking about value unless buying something for myself, are derived from on-line auctions. My principal response is to refer correspondents to the completed listings history of such auction sites. And remember, a camera, or any item, is only worth what someone will pay for it at the time that it is offered for sale. McKeown says something similar but with a bit more authority. If you have an interesting camera and are happy to share serial numbers and perhaps a photo, I will be pleased to try to help but I can tell you now that there will be no magic number at the end. Also, before you contact me, please read the guide that I have prepared, “Valuation & Selling”, on the Ownership page.
The first iteration of this website was as a page accessed from Barry Toogood’s Yashica page of his excellent WWW.TLR-CAMERAS.COM. Barry and I did not, and it seems still do not, agree on a number of historical aspects but nevertheless, he very generously encouraged me to develop my ideas and then hosted the result. I am indebted to him for both the idea that has become Yashica TLR and the work he put into dealing with my dozen or so revisions which ended up as, I think, three distinct iterations of that original page. I also thank him for putting me onto my Pigeonflex.
My decision to turn my page into a site evolved from becoming involved with two amazing Yashica TLR collectors; Tom Heckhaus from the US and Leigh Harris from Australia. These guys are serious collectors with many years experience with Yashica TLRs and other collections. All three of us have come to share a similar view of Yashica TLR history and I know that Leigh and I have both gone down similar blind alleys in our respective pasts. Some of Tom’s information, including photos, had already appeared on my page courtesy of Barry. Some of the information concerned Yashicaflex history and I used a poor quality photo of a user manual from a well known auction site to illustrate the point. At that stage, none of us had contacted each other. Later I found out that Leigh had bought the user manual (and camera that it came with) - serendipity.
Most of the photographs on this site are courtesy of Tom Heckhaus – in fact I have used Tom’s photos to maintain some consistency in look. Some of the photographs are courtesy of Leigh – he has some unique examples. Correspondent and exposure meter aficionado Simon A. Spaans provided details and photographs of the differing exposure meter arrangements on the Yashicaflex S and Yashicaflex AS plus I have used some of his information in clearing up the origin of Yashica branded accessory meters.
A more recent recruit to the band of contributors is Göran Årelind from Sweden. Göran is a dedicated user of film cameras but in the process, has collected more Yashica TLRs than he cares to admit to, including a trio of MolfoReflexes, and has become quite skilled in repairs and restoration. Many of the photographs of accessories, as well as a number of cameras, are his and he has also provided me with brochures and ads. He has been investigating MolfoReflex history which has led him to a wider review of Yashica marketing and the rise and fall of TLR cameras in Sweden. More recently, he has added an article on Shutter Speed Testing.
Another new contributor is Sandu Baciu from Canada. He and his wife Alina have an extensive collection of Yashica TLRs including early models. In a very short time, quite a number of his photos have appeared all over the site and he was the inspiration for the “The Pigeon Loft” page with both his Yashima and Shinano Pigeonflex models and the “Prototypes & Specials” page with his Yashica Mat-124G based stereo camera. Sandu has managed to identify a number of unusual features and variations and has provided photos of previously unobtainable items like Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex B lens caps.
I have used photographs and in one case, an article, with permission, from a number of correspondents and these are acknowledged accordingly. Most of the remaining photographs are mine except where I needed to show critical detail and had nothing suitable available. In those cases, I have used photos found on the net and acknowledged that (generally from auctions that have ended and/or Japanese sites and therefore impossible to follow-up). I have not used complete images of items or displayed full serial numbers in order to maintain anonymity of owners and not devalue the possible worth of the original image itself. If I have upset anyone by doing so, please contact me with image details and some proof of ownership and I will take immediate steps to remove. My page is entirely non-commercial and therefore I am not seeking to derive any benefit from it other than expanding the knowledge base of Yashica TLRs. Hopefully, you will support me in this.
Karl F. Kahlau, author of the book “Collector's Pictoral Encyclopaedia & Value Guide to 6x6 TLR Cameras”, has very kindly allowed me to use material from his book and in particular, to both use and critique the Production List of Yashica 6x6 TLRs based on original Yashica/Kyocera information.
I recently came across a Japanese site, TLR66.com, at http://www.tlr66.com/souko/yashicaflex-miwake.php. It has an article about recognising Yashicaflex models. The site is not overly detailed and the Google translation is appalling but my conclusions seem to be in step with that site’s information. One mistake it does make though is to call the Yashicaflex AS-II a “Yashicaflex AS” and the Yashicaflex AS-I a “Yashicaflex AS-II” (I can see how that can happen, for example, if only relying on Yashica's “Yashicaflex Directions for Use Model A & C” - it confused me as well). Where there is conflict or I have relied on that site’s information, I have noted it.
Other sources including, Camera-wiki.org, are acknowledged where the material is referred to.
The draft of this site has been vetted by both Tom and Leigh and their input is gratefully appreciated.
Essentially, this site loosely follows a format of context setting, model identification, model naming and related historical and marketing considerations, the 66 body (including trim changes), lenses, shutters, serial numbers, Yashicaflex A series complexities, Yashica 44 series development, Sugiyama's influence and finally, trim and specification changes by individual model and serial number, first for 66 models and then the 44s. The Pigeonflex started it all and the change from Yashima to Shinano production is not so clear cut so I have added the "The Pigeon Loft" to explore these models further. Then there are also some prototypes and specials worth mentioning. I have included a page to consolidate access to brochures, the sort of thing that all of us like to peruse and which also support some of the claims on this site. To these I have added more practical sections on lens caps, cases and boxes, accessories and issues for anyone contemplating their first foray into Yashica TLR ownership. Finally, but not least, are some profiles of contributors to this site.
Because I become a little obsessive about things, you may find that what you thought was set in concrete one day, is subtly changed the next. I think about things, receive correspondence, find things on the net and find faults with my writing - it's a dynamic process. That only applies to the information. I'm under no illusions about the amount of traffic that sites such as this generate and therefore I am unlikely to want to spend time redesigning and adding bells and whistles. That is why I have attempted to keep the layout style simple. Like a book really. In order to keep everyone sane, I have belatedly added an “Updates Log” below.
There will be situations where I make changes to one section and forget to make changes to another corresponding section so that apparent contradictions will surface. Over time, I tend to find most of these but please feel free to remind me and point out any other mistakes.
Although not optimised for lower resolution devices, I have tried to keep things as friendly for all viewing resolutions as possible.
Ownership and control of usage rights of material provided by others, including photos and other images, remains exclusively with the original owners. Don't use without permission. Images that are not acknowledged are mine (or I'm guessing, in the public domain regarding the manuals) and I don't mind if they are used non-commercially, providing the use is not inappropriate or contrary to the purpose of this site. Copying tables or text for use on any other site without prior permission is expressly forbidden. Linking to the first page of this site is OK providing that the use is not inappropriate or contrary to the purpose of this site. Please ask permission for any other linking.
The best way to keep everybody happy is to ask first, a reasonable request will almost certainly get a “yes” providing I have the rights to grant it.
This site went live on 16 November 2011. Since then, there have been numerous changes, most small but some bigger changes as well. I'm not going to get too pedantic with tracking changes, particularly small changes of detail such as additional serial numbers or colours found or pinning down some variation more precisely.