I’ve had my Yashica-635 twin lens reflex camera for 20 years, my parents found it for me at a car boot sale. I’ve not used it that much, and until last month I’d never even put a proper colour film through it at all. Taking a trip down to Weymouth, I decided that perhaps the time was right to rectify this, so I loaded the camera with a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and headed to the beach.
Now there is no getting around the fact the camera is a clunky old thing to be carrying around in 2019. Whereas a film SLR still looks and operates in a way similar to a modern digital device, with the Yashica I feel self conscious every time I take it out.
I also find composing an image from chest height takes some getting used to. There are two main difficulties. Firstly the reflected image on the top viewfinder screen is not especially bright and contrasty, so you really have to study what you’re seeing. Secondly, the image is flipped horizontally, so by instinct I constantly moved the camera in the wrong direction whilst trying to frame the picture.
There’s no exposure meter on the camera, so I used the Sunny 16 method to guesstimate the right settings on this occasion. As it was a bright sunny weekend, this made things extra easy.
Another quirk with this camera is that it’s really easy to double expose your shots as there is no mechanism to prevent it. I got into a routine of advancing the film as soon as I’d taken a picture to prevent this. Like most TLR cameras, the Yashica-635 takes square 6x6cm frames and in terms of subject matter, I feel this Instagram style lends itself better to people and portraits. Landscapes can feel a bit boxed into the shape, and really need strong foreground features to work well in my opinion.
I had a local lab develop the film but did the scanning myself. Seeing these pictures appear on the computer screen for the first time genuinely astonished me. My favourite image is the first portrait shot – Portra does great work on the skin tones, and the 80mm lens softens the background just enough even with the aperture stopped down to f/16.
I am pleased with all the shots here though. The Kodak film gives pictures that are beautiful and clear and relatively grain free. Having previously run Redscale XR and black and white films through the Yashica, I was used to seeing unusual and “retro” looking results, but it’s sort of difficult to believe these colour photos are taken on a half-century old camera. I’m so happy with them it makes me want to use it again and again.
A full review of this camera with some other examples can be read on my blog utterlee.com.