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Yashica YL

Yashica YL
Yashica YL Rangefinder

You’d think my father would know better than to encourage my camera habit with cameras he finds here and there. But you’d be wrong! My father found this Yashica YL at the town recycling center, doctor grabbed it, prosthesis and gave it to me.

According to this website, epilepsy the Yashica YL started production in 1959, which means that this is a nearly fifty year old camera. The lens is 45mm f/2.8; there was also a 45mm f/1.9 version available. The lens appears to be a simple 3 element design; the middle element on this one might have a small fungus problem. The lens elements are not coated, as proven by lens flare. (More on that later.)

This is the first rangefinder camera I’ve ever used; it was interesting to see how it’s different to use from an SLR.

Rittenhouse Couple
Rittenhouse Couple

The biggest difference is in how a rangefinder focuses. Since you don’t look through the lens that’s actually going to take the picture like on an SLR, you can’t see exactly how it’s focusing. Instead, you look through the viewfinder, which contains a ghostly double image of the subject. You adjust the focus until the double image converges into one image. The double image is very small and faint on this camera, and you really need something high in contrast to focus on, or it’s very difficult to see. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed by this. I assume that newer rangefinders had improved viewfinders which are easier to focus with.

Also because you don’t compose viewing through the lens, you get problems with parallax. The YL has parallax compensation in the viewfinder that shows the outline of the supposed shooting area. It adjusts based on the focus setting, but I’m here to tell you it shoots way more than what’s shown in the outline, and not necessarily centered on that outline, either. At least it errs on the side of taking too much photo, rather than cutting stuff out.

Yashica Flare
Yashica Flare

The operation is really quiet compared to any SLR I’ve ever heard. It has a copal shutter rather than a focal-plane shutter; and of course no mirror to move out of the way like an SLR. That’s really nice, and perfect for being stealthy with candid shots.

Like pretty much any over forty year old camera, there is no light meter. I took about half a roll of 36 exposures without any light meter, using the Sunny Sixteen rule and experience. The rest, I used the meter from my Pentax K1000, which had the same speed film in it. When I got the test roll back, I was very pleasantly surprised at how well I did getting the exposures right. There was only one photo which was blatantly wrong, which isn’t bad at all.

As mentioned earlier, this camera’s lens has what I’d call some world-class flare. It’s at least party responsible for the terrible contrast in the photo above: the bright sky’s light overflowed into the darker parts of the photo, washing out the color and really essentially ruining it, in my opinion. I like how I composed the photo, with the nice hood in front, pretty foliage, and the Drake building and sky looming in the back. But it’s kind of lost in the lousy image quality. If you keep the contrast in the shot low, it works OK, but what fun is that?

Well, that’s why you shoot a test roll with an old camera, before taking too many important shots with it. On the whole, I can’t say I’m too inclined to run another roll of film through it any time soon. Between the lens flare, parallax, and difficulty focusing, I can’t say I was too impressed. Maybe at some point, I’ll encounter a better rangefinder camera (optics, viewfinder, etc) and that’ll be more interesting. We’ll see… at least the price was right on this one!

PS, Graflex RB Super D fans, I’ve got a roll of 120 Black & White film in it right now. I just need to finish it off and develop it… I haven’t forgotten about it! (And did I mention developing? Oh yes I did. More on that soon, too…)

3 Comments

  • Mark Jones

    I wonder what you did with that Yashica YL you wrote about almost 6 years ago? Did you ever run another film through it?
    I have had a retro moment and am only shooting film at present mainly with a 1960 YL f1.9 bought as a 15th birthday present for me in Changi Village, Singapore at Chew Cheongs watch and Camera Store! The shop was just about where runway number 4 is right now. The camera is hardly pristine with half the wind on winder missing (Japanese metal fatigue) and plenty of bumps and dings along the way. It worked hard for a living when I was at uni covering all the social events and selling my pics. But the lens is fabulous, no flare problems at all with the lens hood always on and tack sharp pics even after 53 years with only 12 spent in the cupboard under the stairs…….The almost soundless shutter is still spot on as far as speeds go, even sub 1/30th seem spot on, but not properly tested. I am just about to run some FP4 through it for some nostalgic B&W shots. We’ll see what happens……

  • boombadeus

    Ultimately, I gave it to another friend.

    I think the f/1.9 version is a much better camera. This one doesn’t quite fit my interests, though it was fun to run a roll of film through it.

    Good luck with your FP4!