My Yashica 635 – Learning to love a TLR
Written by Tom Box
Prior to owning my Yashica 635 (find at KEH Camera or eBay), my only experience with a Twin Lens Reflex camera was picking one up in the local camera shop, scoffing at the flipped viewfinder image, and putting it back down again. All of my medium format shooting beforehand was on folding rangefinders such as the Super Ikonta and a brief, shameful affair with a Pentacon Six.
What eventually lured me to purchase a TLR was the lens on the Yashica 635; a Yashikor 80mm f/3.5. I’d become enamored with the ‘look’ of the lens whilst browsing Flickr, with it’s slightly soft edges and swirly bokeh, and decided to blow a few quid and give TLR shooting a chance. After all, there’s no camera quite like a TLR. Their iconic design is undoubtedly appealing.
First Impressions of the Yashica 635
When I first took the Yashica out for a shoot, I utterly detested it. It was bulky and unwieldy. The focus screen was dim and flared in the sun, and the flipped viewfinder image was impossible to get level. I spent each photo opportunity dodging flare, struggling to focus, worrying about parallax error, oscillating this ridiculous cuboid trying to get my framing level, and cursing having ever paid for the thing.
The upside of this test roll was the photos. When I got home and developed the film, the character I wanted to see was all there, swirly background and subtle vignettes all over. And I think it was the lovely results that made me tentatively allow the TLR a second outing. So I loaded another roll and gave the big lump a second chance.
And I still hated it.
However, on this second attempt, I loaded the camera with the best film ever made: Ilford XP2 (find on Amazon). The lens’ character worked so well in black and white I decided it was worth the learning curve. Or perhaps I should say liking curve.
Getting Accustomed to the 635
The Yashica accompanied me on two more adventures soon after that, and, with each photo I took, I warmed to the camera a little bit more. I learned to rely more on the magnifying eyepiece for focusing, rather than the waist level finder, blocking out any stray light that might flare on the focus screen. I steadily got accustomed to the flipped image viewfinder, learning that a gentle sideways tilt allows you to level out vertical lines with relative ease. I started to appreciate the boxy shape and how it can rest in your left palm while your right hand works the focus. Shooting film and metering by estimate has always slowed down my process, but this TLR has put the brakes on even more. It’s the most purposeful and methodical shooting experience I’ve had so far. And it often results in a full roll of keepers.
A dozen rolls in and I barely even notice the backwards viewfinder. Framing and leveling are now as simple as with a Pentaprism. And the waist level finder affords me a new perspective on a scene, helping to find shots I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. The shape and weight of the camera actually assist in keeping me steady, resulting in sharper photos than I’ve ever got with a folder.
The Yashikor 80mm f/3.5 Lens
I’m constantly impressed with how the Yashikor lens renders. It has those little imperfections that really complement film, and I just can’t resist a lens with swirly bokeh. Compared to the technically superior Yashinon found on the Yashica Mat line, there’s no contest for me. To my eyes, the Yashinon renders flat and lifeless images, and judging by my scans, I actually think the center sharpness on the Yashikor is superior.
Another benefit of the 635 or other non-Mat models is that double exposures are possible.
With an adapter, the Yashica 635 is capable of shooting 35mm. I do not own the adapters to use 35mm film in it, and the focus screen in my particular copy was replaced with a plain ground glass, sans 35mm frame lines, which would make shooting 35mm almost impossible. But the capabilities are there.
TLRs are undoubtedly beautiful, impressive, iconic cameras, and after a relatively short and painless adjustment period, they’re also a total joy to use. The Yashica range of TLRs are the obvious choice for a beginner entry model, plentiful and much cheaper than the Rollei equivalent, but there are many other options sharing the classic TLR design such as the Meopta Flexaret, Zeiss Ikoflex and Minolta Autocord.
If you’ve never used a TLR and want to learn a totally new way of taking photos, have a browse on Flickr and choose a TLR based on the lens it carries. Sharp or characterful, there are options for every taste. Using a twin lens reflex is an entirely distinct experience from shooting with an SLR or rangefinder, and it takes some persistence to grasp the shooting process, but once you’re there you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner.
You can also check out all of our film camera reviews here.