Stepping into Medium Format with the Yashica Mat 124

A growing interest in still life photography brought me to medium format. More specifically, it was the desire for larger negatives. At the time, early February 2020, I was focused on darkroom printing and wanted to print larger than 8×10. Ahh, the good old days…

Although I did not start out with the idea of doing still life photography, it’s not surprising that I find it compelling—I love still life paintings. Also, flower portraits, which I did set out to do, are my favorite still-life subject. It seems I was destined for this. By early 2020, I had begun seriously contemplating buying medium format gear. After having started the Vintage Minolta Love Project, naturally, I went looking for a Minolta AutoCord. Autocords are beautiful cameras, but working models in good condition were scarce, and those few were very expensive. I wanted a working camera with good optics that did not cost a fortune. After looking at 645 systems, which were even more expensive than Autocords, I decided to search for a Yashica.  

Yashica 6×6 cameras came to market in the 1950s when TLR systems were all the rage. All closely copied Rolleicords, which were the leaders in this area. There are six generations of Yashica’s ending with the Yashica Mat 124G last produced in 1986. Based on what I’ve read on forums, not too long ago, these systems were dirt cheap relics of a bygone era. Today, mint Yashica Mat 124Gs go for 500 dollars or more.  

After a few weeks of searching and waiting, I found a Yashica 124, the model immediately before the 124G. I got a great deal on the camera, but I didn’t realize why until later. I had an issue with the camera and had to contact the seller. I believe that’s when I noticed the eBay listing was for a Yashica-12, a much earlier model, which explains why no one else had bought it. 

Making the deal even sweeter were the two sets of auxiliary lenses the seller included. Yashica 6×6 cameras have fixed lenses. However, to add flexibility, the cameras have a standard Bay-1 bayonet mount that allows one to attach auxiliary lenses. Yashica produced Bay-1 compatible telephoto and wide-angle auxiliary lenses that come in pairs consisting of a viewing lens and a taking lens for each focal length. The Yashica 124 has an 80mm f3.5 lens. The auxiliary telephoto increases the focal length by 50% to 112.5mm, and the auxiliary wide-angle lens decreases it down to about 58mm. Unfortunately, the meter doesn’t work, which I knew beforehand. All ended well with the seller, and I have been happy with my purchase. 

Since I’m interested in shooting still life images, I went looking for a set of close-up lenses. They come in +1 and +2 strengths, allowing one to shoot from about 30 down to about 14 inches from the subject (the 80mm lens has a MFD of 3.5 feet). These also come in taking/viewing pairs. I managed to find a great deal for these as well. They are not Yashica, but so far, they seem to be good optically. 

I’ve only shot three rolls because, after those three, my attention moved to setting up the studio. Each roll has been a learning experience. I almost completely ruined the first roll while it was being developed. Accidentally, I left out the central part of the developing tank, so light leaking in exposed most of the frames. It was the third or fourth roll of film I had ever developed, so I made a typical rookie mistake. Even worse, those frames that survived were out of focus. I bought clip-on reading lenses in order to see better when using the pop-up magnifier, which solved the focusing problem. 

The second roll went much better during shooting but almost as bad during development. Somehow, I unraveled the film while taking my hand out of the dark bag, again exposing the roll. However, this time all the frames survived, but a few had light leaks. That second roll came out with sharp images, good tonal range, and very nice grain. I was surprised by how well the HP5+ performed. 

More confident using the camera, I went with Kodak Ektar 100 for the third roll. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but for whatever reason, I went out in a heavy drizzle to shoot the garden. I had to put a jacket over my head to cover the camera, like when using a view camera. I’m sure people driving by thought I was nuts. As I had read, the Ektar produced saturated colors, especially reds. That was my first roll of Ektar, so I’ll have to see how much I like it long-term. 

I tried using the auxiliary telephoto and wide-angle lenses—bad idea. Fumbling in what was now a light rain, I got them wet and panicked. Looking at the images, I really cannot tell that much difference. The results produced by differences in focal length are not that pronounced. But, to my credit, and despite the rain and flipped view, the images were pretty sharp.  

I’ve done basic testing with the close-up lenses in the studio. So far, I’ve mapped out the field of view and image depth. This info was used to measure for props and backgrounds. I haven’t tried the auxiliary lenses in the studio. 

Overall, I would rate the shooting experience as very positive. Lens flare has been an annoyance, but I bought a 3D-printed hood that seems to work well. I also found a Bay-1 step-up filter ring that allows me to use my 49mm filters, which I’ll be testing soon. I have a lot more exploring to do, and now that the studio is ready, I’m eager to get started.  

One thing I really like, but never thought of before the Yashica, is using the waist-level finder. Every time I look through it, I imagine myself 60 years ago in some exotic locale carefully documenting something newsworthy. Having to put the jacket over my head and viewfinder while it was raining made this feeling even more intense. Does make-believe count as a reason to use a camera? No matter…I’m having fun!

2 Comments

  1. Author

    Have you tried the close-up kit yet?

  2. Very nice. I predict many happy years of photography ahead.

    I have a Yashica-12. It’s pretty much the same as the 124, except the 124 takes 120 and 220 film while the 12 takes only 120. I think, but am not certain, that the lenses are the same.

    I have an inexpensive Spiratone close-up kit for my -12 and it is very nice.

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