5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

By MARTIN MISIAK

Six months ago I left Florida and moved to Vietnam as something of an economic refugee. I’m a science teacher and staying in Florida increasingly meant subsistence living and the real possibility of having to move back in with my parents if the rise in cost of living continued to outpace the rise of my salary.  Forget being able to afford a house or raising a family. Florida is in 48th place out of 50 states for teacher pay. Bye, bye Ms. American Pie.

Life has been good teaching in a private school in Saigon. I have an adult salary, am able to pay all my bills easily and am saving plenty. I even have time and money to peruse Facebook Marketplace for interesting cameras! You find some unusual ones here. I came across this lovely, late 50’s Yashica 35 rangefinder, reminiscent of Nikons and Contaxes of the same era.

Only made for two years, this was the faster, 1.9 version. Had to have it. $40 and a few days later, it appeared at my door, fresh from the Mekong. Had it CLA’d at a great local shop, loaded it up with some Fomapan 400, and went out into the world. 

Almost anything I might say about this model, Mike Eckman has already said – and better. I will only comment on two items that affected my shooting experience. Firstly, the film advance lever feels different than any camera I remember using. At the end of its travel it doesn’t just “hit a brick wall”. There’s nice little springy action, which I grew to quite like. Secondly, my copy has a stepless aperture ring, which I do not like. Some owners claim their copies have detents. I don’t know if mine was simply designed differently or if it was worked on at some point and reassembled incorrectly. For the whole roll, I had a sort of low-level background anxiety about accidentally budging the ring off the desired aperture.

These aren’t just five frames from the same roll – they’re five frames from a first roll. Admittedly, these required more editing than I like. I have read that Fomapan 400 is overrated – literally – as in, you will get better results if you shoot it at 200 ISO. My results seemed to support this. The unedited images have something of a fog or haze across them.

Old buoys gazing across the river at Phu My Bridge – Map: https://maps.app.goo.gl/pCnkGh1rs5Q1t1PS6

On the way home from errands recently, I decided to take a detour and ended up crossing the bridge seen in the background. I took a series of random twists and hairpin turns down some very narrow alleys and crumbling concrete bridges over oozing tidal creeks until a clearing eventually opened up before me. I seemed to be in an old shipyard. I consulted my map. Where am I? What am I doing here? Where do I want to go? 

I saw that the spit of land I was on tapered to a point and there was what Google maps claimed to be a maritime museum. Sounded inviting – but that turned out not to be correct.

I drove twenty minutes in the blazing sun (encountering nobody) down a riverside dirt trail to get there. I rolled up on what looked like a small, dilapidated old Coast Guard station and a few bored looking fellas seated around a table, smoking. They were visibly puzzled by my arrival, but invited me to join them for tea all the same. I learned from them that it was a traffic control station for large commercial vessels ferrying goods into and out of Saigon. After a cordial chat, courtesy of Google Translate, I cut across the heart of Saigon to make a loop of my return home.

Ice cream vendor, District 1, Saigon
A traffic officer and his understudy waiting for the first catch of the shift. Phu Nhuan, Saigon.

Crossing the newest bridge, Cầu Ba Son, I returned to my own district, Thu Thiem. I’ve learned that the 60,000 people who lived on this land were forcibly cleared off in exchange for a pittance of their property value. As the concierge held the open the door of my own luxury residential tower, complete with 5th floor, open air swimming pool, gym, and topiary, I couldn’t help thinking that I, the American poor, have arrived and displaced the local poor.

These are the foundations of ambitious and speculative residential projects – but they were never completed. They’ve been crumbling away under the brutal Saigon sun for years.

Thinking again about my photos, I’m rather unimpressed with them – but maybe the final product isn’t even the most important thing. I loved the experience of taking them and learning about where I live. The challenge of making a good image with ancient analog technology. I love the interactions with kind and interesting strangers and little sporadic side quests my hobby sends me on. I would like the image quality to be better. So what’s the problem here? Me? The camera? The film? The lab? Hard to say. But figuring it out is part of the fun. I’m heading to Laos for a hike with a friend of mine – a fellow contributor to 35mmc – and will continue to experiment with different filmstock and labs to see if I can squeeze some better results out of this old Yashica. After all – if I wanted instant clinical perfection – that’s what digital cameras are for. 

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Comments

Telkom University on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 15/02/2024

What challenges did the author face while shooting their first roll with the Yashica 35, particularly concerning the choice of film and editing? Regards, Telkom University/a>
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 15/02/2024

Thanks for reading. Regarding film choice... I didn't know if this camera had light leaks or any other kinds of problem. I didn't want to use nice, expensive film for the first roll. Fomapan is the cheapest stock around here and I had a roll laying around, so that's what went in. Editing challenges - I know that the film was exposed properly and the camera works right when, no matter what I do in post-processing, the image barely changes. In this case, contrast was low, exposure was wrong, there was a haze cast across the frame, and there's golf-ball sized grain, which I didn't like, but was unable to edit away.

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Alexander Seidler on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 13/02/2024

Thanks for your beautiful frames !
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Martin replied:

Comment posted: 13/02/2024

Thanks!

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Murray Leshner on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

I have a relative from USA who lives & works there. He loves it but says he has to remember he is a foreigner in all other countries he visits. I hope your willingness to take a job & location that are out of the ordinary gives you options to build your resume with skills & experience others do not have and don't have the ambition to take that leap. 48th out of 50 may imply something about under-appreciation of the importance of your profession & what you teach. Good luck to you, and keep thinking out of the box!
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Murray Leshner replied:

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

I don't remember if you used a filter but some people like using a yellow contrast filter for all their b&w shooting.

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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

Thanks very much for reading - and your comments.

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DANIEL J CASTELLI on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

Hi Martin, I'm deeply saddened to read you had to leave the US. You were gracious enough not to mention the current political climate here that is targeting some professions (medical, education, etc.) I won't be as gracious. I like reading this style of review that bring to light lesser-known equipment. Without these postings, who knew? Continued good luck with that gem of a camera.
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

To be honest, it was a little difficult to avoid making at least an oblique reference to the leadership in Florida. Thank you for your comments. I tried to make this more than just a review of gear, which is common - but a little "slice of life" incorporated into the article. I have since run a fresh roll of Kodak 400 Ultramax through it and the results were much, much nicer.

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Graham Orbell on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Martin, what a wonderful destination you have chosen with Vietnam. And what a great place for photography. Over two trips we have traveled mainly using public transport from MeKong Delta in the south to the China border and Sapa Valley in the north. Someone asked about language, and I’m sure you have found it a non issue as we’ve found all around SE Asia. Being invited to drink tea with strangers is a wonderful custom everywhere in SE Asia in my experience. It’s a great chance to ask. May I take your photo, And then for someone to take a photo of you with them. Don’t worry about your “old technology”. Look at the great and famous photographs taken over the last 150 years using film. I look forward to seeing more of your photographs from around beautiful Vietnam
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Hi, Graham. Thanks for reading and commenting. It indeed is a great place for photography. Particularly the north, in my opinion. Most people with nominal education speak at least a little basic English and Google Translate helps with the rest. The more remote one gets, the more curious people are about you. You can see more of my photos here - most of them are film and shot with vintage analog: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10156498147166884&type=3

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Gary Smith on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

I guess I'm more interested in your motivation for selecting Vietnam as your destination. Do you speak Vietnamese? Anyway, great story and images. I imagine that images from a first roll will always be slightly odd - I'm in the process of finishing off a first roll as well. I'm also going to be interested in lens performance from a 68 year-old lens when I get mine back. I think I've decided to fore go having mine processed locally in favor of a mail order lab where I can get the processing and scanning done for less than what it costs me to drive to/from the lab and pay their prices for processing.
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

It was mostly a matter of economics... This is the safest place that paid me the most while having the lowest cost of living. I have only the most basic vocabulary. It's a hard language; but basically anybody you meet that's gone to college speaks some basic English. What's the 68 year old camera you're referring to?

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Geoff Chaplin on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Yeas great story and you captured the point of wandering with a camera well. I have used Foma 100 a lot and have only had one partially problematic film (fogged at the end) - otherwise its a great film. The ice creamvendor shot is good - maybe combination of flat lighting and not great fim. Camera seems fine.
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Thank you!

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Lance on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Great story! I enjoyed the photos. I suspect the problem is probably the film stock, as Foma is known to occasionally have quality control problems. I had a roll of it in 120 that was sadly pretty fogged. However, it could also in combination with whatever developer the lab used. I’d definitely try some different film stocks and see what happens. Continue to explore your new home and take us along for the ride!! I for one can’t wait to see more.
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Thank you! I've since shot a roll of Kodak 200 and the shots looked much better!

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Eric on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Great post. Interesting camera that I had not heard of. I have had the same experience with Fomapan 400, and have had much better luck with their 100 and 200 offerings. The real star of the post is the narrative. The images perfectly paired with the background. Well done and an excellent read. Eric
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MARTIN MISIAK replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Thank you! Regarding the film, I have since shot a second roll of Fomapan 400 but at 200 ISO. I still don't really like this film, but the results were much better!

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James Roberts on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Great to see another Yashica 35 being used, I have two, an f/2.8 and an f/1.9. I regularly use the f/1.9, the look and feel make them firm favourites. Both of mine have step-less aperture rings, never really bothered me, but I have to make sure the aperture is correct before each shot. Another quirk is the self-timer is easy to knock when focusing. I’ve had some pleasing results with Ilford HP5 and FP4 plus125.
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Martin replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

I think my aperture ring is rather loose. If it could just be tightened a little it wouldn't bother me. I'll give those films a try!

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Ibraar Hussain on 5 Frames with a Yashica 35 Rangefinder

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Nice story and a lovely camera. I was looking at this for months then for some reason stopped as life got in the way and I was also about to pull the trigger on a Konica Pearl III. Nothing came of it though And really enjoyed the excellently composed and caught photos They’re a bit low res on my phone screen so should
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Martin replied:

Comment posted: 11/02/2024

Thank you for your comments about the pics. A word about that Pearl... it features a Seikosha shutter. I have two cameras with these shutters and, in spite of CLAs for both cameras, they both are still sticky and don't work properly.

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