5 frames with...

5 Frames with the Yashica 635 and Kodak Portra 400 – By Lee Butterley

November 30, 2019

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.

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  • Reply
    steve phillips
    November 30, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Nice work! I was recently given a Rolleicord by my camera-collecting brother, and have only put one film through it, so your comments about moving the wrong way in the viewfinder made me smile. Having only 12 shots on a film certainly concentrates the mind on getting things right, which can’t be a bad thing.

  • Reply
    Terry B
    November 30, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Lee, a nice example of why 6×6 produces superior images to 35mm. Excellent scans, too. What scanner do you use? Do you have the Yashikor or Yashinon equipped version of the 635?

    • Reply
      December 1, 2019 at 11:00 am

      It’s the more simple Yashikor lens but I honestly don’t have complaints about it, you can see how nice and sharp it looks.

      Scanner is the Epson V550. Does a pretty decent job.

      • Reply
        Terry B
        December 2, 2019 at 10:06 am

        My experience has been with my first YashicaMat in 1963 and later a Yashica 24 with the special and now rare, 120 back. Both have Yashinons. Had you said Yashinon, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. But good triplets on MF film can produce almost inextinguishable results once stopped down to around f8. It would be hard to tell the Yashikor and Yashinon apart except at the widest apertures.

        • Reply
          Terry B
          December 3, 2019 at 9:07 pm

          Ooops. auto spellchecker got the better of me. Didn’t spot it decided on inextinguishable instead of indistinguishable.

  • Reply
    Willy MAES
    November 30, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    Did you try the 35mm accessory with this camera? It gives very nice 80mm pictures; I used it with the look through 24x36mm viewer

    • Reply
      December 1, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      I’ve not yet tried it – it’s lost at the bottom of a cupboard somewhere. Hopefully it’ll turn up at some point and I can give it a go.

  • Reply
    Mike Hinkleman
    November 30, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Great shots. It is startling when you see medium format on a pretty old tlr. Your next step might be 4×5 where even bad shots look good.

    What is a car boot sale?

    • Reply
      December 1, 2019 at 12:32 pm

      Yep, the quality is really great. A car boot sale is a bit of a British institution, they tend to be weekly or monthly events held in either fields or a massive car parks and people drive there to sell their old stuff out of the back of their car.

  • Reply
    Jon B
    November 30, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    Beautiful colours, sharpness, contrast – just lovely. When photos such as these pop up it just reinforces the question mark over the rush to digital that took place. By the way, you must have paid a fortune for that male model 😉

  • Reply
    Nick Clark
    December 8, 2019 at 11:19 am

    Great shots!

    Make sure you carefully clean the scanner glass on the V550. The vertical line on the right hand side of some of your scans happens if the calibration windows on the scanner are dirty 😉

    • Reply
      December 10, 2019 at 10:10 pm

      I actually thought those vertical lines were scratches on the film!

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