Camera review: Yashica
As a 6×6 format twin lens reflex camera, the Yashica Mat-124 TLR is considered a great entry-level camera for people who are moving up from 35mm to medium format film. For me, however, the 124 was not the first medium format camera because, several years ago, I bought Zenza Bronica ETRS (6×4.5 cm) SLR and I also happen to own Sinar F1 (9×12 cm). All this means that at the time of purchasing the Yashica Mat-124, I already had decent experience with medium and large format photography and thus, a reasonable idea what to expect from a medium format camera.
The prime reason why I decided to acquire the 124 was to try a square format. Even though I have never had a chance to use a square format camera for an extended period of time, I found the idea of the square format creatively stimulating and was looking for a camera that enabled me to scratch that itch. Put simply, the Yashica Mat-124 simply seemed like a great (and affordable) way to get into the “square world”. So let’s get on with the review!
There are two basic models of this camera – 124 (original model) and 124G (a newer, slightly upgraded model). Both are more or less identical apart from the trim (the 124G is all black) and minor electrical differences. I deliberately bought the 124 as I prefer the silver trim and a more “metallic” construction.
The overall build quality is very good. When I say very good I mean very good, but not necessarily excellent. Given the price point though, there is very little one can complain about. This is not a Rolleiflex 2.8F (even though the inspiration is obvious) but the camera is sturdy and tolerances are reasonably tight. The body is almost completely made of metal including the crank handle and feels solid in hand.
The 124 can handle both 120 and 220 film and there is a simple and, at the time, innovative way to switch between both formats by sliding the film plate. However, given that a 220 film is almost impossible to come by these days, most people won’t be able to benefit from the feature.
The 124 sports a four-element, 80mm f/3.5 Yashinon lens which is capable of producing some very good quality images (especially when stopped down). The Copal shutter features speeds from 1 second to 1/500 sec., plus a bulb mode and the lens stops down to f/32.
There is also a self-timer which can be activated using a lever under the taking (lower) lens.
Focusing is performed using a focus knob on the left of the body (when in use), and a ground glass screen, acting at the camera’s Waist Level Finder. The WLF includes a flip-up 3x diopter loupe for precise focusing, as well as an eye-level “sports” finder.
As I mentioned, the 124 is basically a Rolleiflex copy and, unsurprisingly, the controls take a similar configuration.
On the front of the camera, there are two main control dials – shutter speed and aperture. Both are placed very ergonomically and are easily reachable when holding the camera during composition and focusing.
Both the aperture and shutter speed settings are conveniently displayed on the top of the viewing lens which means one can very easily check the current settings just by glancing at the indicators.
The focusing knob is on the left side of the camera. It’s large and runs smoothly (at least on my camera) which enables the photographer to control focus with precision. The focusing knob also includes a depth of field scale which is handy for a quick ‘rough’ focus in some situations.
Inside the WLF, the standard ground glass has a set of red horizontal and vertical lines to aid composition (they are pretty worn out on my camera though). My camera actually came with a ground glass and a fresnel lens which really helps to brighten up the ground glass and distribute the light more evenly. There are other (Yashica and aftermarket) focusing screens you can buy if you want.
The meter is on the top front side of the camera and activates when the focusing hood is opened. It’s a simple match needle system featuring two needles – red and yellow. The red needle is coupled to the shutter mechanism and the yellow “follower” needle is coupled to the aperture.
Aligning both needles indicates a correct exposure. I found mine to be reasonably accurate and I used it successfully for several shots, but your mileage may vary. Next to the meter is an ISO/ASA setting ring and indicator which ranges from 25 to 400.
The film advance crank operates smoothly in a clockwise direction as it advances the film and cocks the shutter. Once the wind-on motion is complete, it requires a short anti-clockwise rotation to return it back to its ‘default’ position (see pictures). There is also a dedicated shutter lock on the front of the camera behind the shutter button, which prevents accidental exposures during storage and transport.
Loading the film is very simple, fast and secure thanks to a large cover that can be opened by turning the cover locking ring at the bottom of the camera. The film is loaded in the usual fashion from the bottom spool to the top one. There is the usual film counter window and also a 120/220 film indicator.
So what is it like to use the Yashica Mat 124? In my experience, it’s very easy to operate, reliable and, generally speaking, a joy to use as long as one remembers that this camera is about 40 years old.
The Yashinon lens is reasonably sharp and does not suffer from major distortions. Focusing is pretty accurate, but I found it necessary to use the loupe most of the time to be really sure I focused correctly. Focusing purely using the ground glass is more challenging.
I have never had any issues with loading or advancing the film and the shutter operates very reliably as well or any other problems. The leaf shutter is very quiet as you would expect.
Naturally, on some 124s light leaks may pose an issue (new seals may be necessary) and some cameras tend to have a pretty temperamental meter. In my case, the meter seems to be working quite reliably and having checked its measurements several times using my phone I am confident it works reasonably well in most “normal” situations.
Having said that, I find myself double checking the correct exposure using my iPhone pretty regularly.
Would I recommend the Yashica Mat-124? Oh yes. It’s affordable, well-built, sturdy yet lightweight, reliable, simple and takes pretty good photographs. Yes, it has its limitations (focusing screen, lens) and yes, it is no Rolleiflex.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a great medium format TLR that won’t let you down and won’t ruin you financially. The Yashica Mat-124( or G) is definitely worth a consideration. Good luck!
Yashica Mat-124 Flickr group.
More about Yashica Mat models.
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