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Yashica Mat 124G : Medium Format Camera Review

The Yashica Mat 124G is one of those cameras that has just always caught my attention. It’s a beautiful camera, even without knowing what it can do photographically. The hefty metal body makes this camera feel like a small film-holding tank. And really, there is just something iconic about the TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) look – it’s a pretty camera.

I finally got my hands on one to call my own, thanks to KEH Camera. I found my beautiful Yashica on their website, listed as a “Bargain” for the condition, but I must tell you, it was in fantastic shape when I received it. I ordered a special battery (a Wein MRB625) and hoped they would arrive together and be ready to go. I quickly loaded a roll of film, and since then… this camera has easily become one of my favorites.

The camera has a built-in meter, and if the battery stays fresh, it does all the work for you. I often play it safe and just meter the scene by hand, to double check that the camera is metering correctly. If the battery dies, the camera will still work, just without the meter.

Loading film is self-explanatory, thanks to an easy open bottom and clear instruction literally printed on the inside of the camera. While it is an easy to load the camera, I’ll offer one tip – roll the film tightly. Loose rolls can lead to light leaks and other problems, so just keep it tight at loading.

The 80mm f/3.5 lens is part of the camera, so no lens changing is ever needed. The camera is a 6×6 format which creates twelve square photos on a roll of 120 film. The first thing I noticed when shooting with this camera is the mirror effect of the viewfinder. It can take some practice to get used to seeing the scene a bit differently in this viewfinder.

Focusing is done with a large knob on the side, and it is a silent and smooth operation on my camera. The winder is a handle, that turns just short of a full turn to set up the next frame. The aperture and shutter are controlled by two small dials on the front of the camera. The shutter was the real surprise to me – it’s super soft and quiet. It’s somewhat odd to have such a heavy camera with such a quiet shutter. I’ve shot with other medium format cameras and they give a vibrant slap of a shutter – not the Yashica.

 

So, why do I love this camera? It makes some stunning photographs. Medium format film can provide such a different look from 35mm, and this camera adds a fun square format to that dynamic medium format film. The photos come out with a depth-of-field that I wouldn’t expect from a f/3.5 lens, and even more surprising to see at f/8 or f/11. The detail and sharpness is unmatched, from all of the cameras I’ve used. I shoot digital alongside film, and I think this camera gives me the sharpest and most intriguing images than from any other camera I’ve used. I look forward to shooting with this camera at any opportunity. Here are some of my favorite shots taken with this beautiful camera (all taken on Kodak Ektar film, and the locations are Alabama Hills, Yosemite National Park, a San Diego beach, Joshua Tree National Park, and Death Valley National Park):

A word of advice, should you choose to take a camera like this out for a shoot – expect that just about everyone will stare and some will ask you what in the world you are shooting with. It’s an attention-grabbing camera, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone out with it without someone striking up a conversation!

If you’ve never shot with a waist level finder I’d urge you to get right around to finding one. The process of making the photos is almost more fun than seeing what you created. Almost!

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6 comments

  1. My father shot with a previous model, a Yashika 635. I know the joy of those large 120 negatives. I college I was fortunate enough to get a 120 camera, a Hasselbald 1000f with two lenses for $250! So my senior year in college and my two in graduate school were so of my most rewarding years as a photographer. My present gear choice is Olympus and Panasonic micro 4/3.

  2. Great write up. Purchased a Yashica Mat LM not that long ago and I thoroughly enjoy shooting with it. Considering the price it stands up very well as compared to my Hasselblad 501c (the Yashica was purchased as a more everyday 6×6 option) and I find little compromise in use. These cameras are also small and light considering what they are capable of.

  3. I worked in a local photo shop during some of time (mid to late 1970’s) the Yashica Mat 124G was still being produced. I sold several and shot with a few. As the author states, the camera is well made and produces great images, especially for new sell price of around $100! I recently started shooting film again. I think that I will add this camera to my “arsenal”.

  4. The 124G was my introduction to medium format shooting. I totally loved working with this camera, a simple straightforward and reliable tool with great image quality.
    I subsequently moved to Hasselblad, but my heart was always with the 124G. In my opinion it is a true “classic”.

  5. I have had about 10 of these over the last 2 decades. I love them, but they can be finicky and the sharpness is not consistent from camera to camera. They shine superbly with a Maxwell brightscreen installed! Mark Hama will do a complete CLA for $160 if it ever gets stuck. If you think the sharpness is keen, try a Mamiya 6 or a Hasselblad! All in all, they are totally worth $100 if you can find one in good working condition with clean lenses.

  6. I’ve got one I’d sell. I am original owner; leather case included. Great 120 or 220 film camera. [email protected].

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