Ever since I was a wee bairn, well, certainly no more than 5 years or so old, I had always been fascinated by the family camera. It was covered with a lovely tan leather case, which in itself had my little mind in twists, trying to figure out how the case fitted around the camera!
I’m sure many readers here will remember how valuable such things were in the 60s; I well remember that tv had not arrived in many homes at that time, so the only indoor entertainment was the radio set, and what radios they used to be, too! Huge big affairs, with bakelite or wooden cases and with intricately carved fascias and speaker grilles. And you had to wait a few minutes for the valves inside to warm up before you could hear anything — magic.
Anyway, so things like radios and cameras were considered luxuries at that time. And cry as I might, I was not allowed to touch our camera, which probably created a secret longing for it in my young mind in those days, resulting in my present interests in cameras.
It was many years later, around about when I was 9 or 10 years old, that I was finally allowed to handle the camera and actually shown how to use it. The camera I am talking about is a YashicaMat twin lens reflex, which apparently my father had bought from a shop in India when he was stationed there before I was born.
So that was the camera that I basically cut my photographic teeth on, as they say. You wouldn’t believe it, but that same camera is still with me as I write this, and still in constant use, after almost 50 years — absolutely amazingly well made instrument.
Over the years of using it, I learned how to overcome it’s quirks, such as parallax error etc and I experimented with it by shooting through magnifying lenses, homemade filters etc, all of it being stored in my head as valuable experience.
So what is a TLR camera, for the un-initiated? Well, the TLR stands for twin lens reflex, which means it has 2 lenses, one for viewing the scene, and another for taking the actual shot you are looking at. Similar to a normal SLR, but with different viewing and taking lenses.
So usually, the top lens is your viewing lens, which you use for looking at and composing and framing your shot, while the bottom lens is the one that takes your photo. Now because the taking lens is set slightly below the viewing lens, the image you see, especially when you are very close up to your subject, will not be exactly the same as what your taking lens will capture. They call this parallax error, a wonderfully obscure techie word that sounds like some kind of disease, doesn’t it?
All you need to do to correct this error in your camera is just tilt it upwards very slightly, so that the top of your photo lines up with the specially calculated marks in the viewfinder, and then you’re set to go; easy, isn’t it?
Ok, so those are the quirky things you need to know about. What is the camera like to use and what kind of results can you get with it?
Two words can sum up the answers to those questions — reasonably easy and mind-blowing!
Let me qualify what I mean by that.
The camera needs to be used a couple of times at least before you get used to it, because the image you look at in the viewfinder, is reversed, so for example, right will be left and vice-versa on the viewing screen. Once you’ve mastered that, the rest is plain sailing.
As for the results you can get, well, let me just say that after all these years using the thing, I have yet to see a camera that can match the photos my Yashicamat gives, unless I go spending $$$$$, of course.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say that many of my shots have been accepted by some well known magazines for publication, and all those shots were using the Yashicamat!
The reason of course, for the quality, is the sheer size of the negative, which beats 35mm and even digital cameras hands down.
What of the future? Well, like anything, I’ve been tempted so many times to trade the camera in and get a Hasselblad or something, but, when I sit down and think about it, this camera has had far too many personal memories encoded into it over time; every time I use it, I am magically transported to my childhood days so long ago, so who in their right mind would let such a nostalgic object like that be sold off? Not me, by far!