Yashica Mat 124G
In my early days of doing night photography, I relied on my trusty Nikon FE. If you are a beginner to this type of photography, I’d highly recommend the Nikon FE as a 35mm option. It’s rugged and has a very sensitive auto exposure mode that I’ve found very useful for night photography. When I was using the FE, having it pick exposure times that run for many minutes that gave perfectly usable negatives was the norm.
From 2001 through 2003, the Nikon FE was a great camera for me and my night photography endeavors. Then I got a taste for the crisp images that large format cameras provide and the 35mm results didn’t cut it for me anymore for any work where I’d be using a tripod. I experimented with using some large format equipment for night photography and have made some really excellent images with it. But, the camera was slow to operate, and I wanted to remain highly mobile and be a ghost in the night, yet still have a larger negative than 35mm. So I made a compromise by making my Yashica Mat 124G my main night photography camera and used it for that purpose from 2007-2009.
Large Negative: While not nearly as large as the 4×5 equipment I often use, the medium format Yashica Mat still records an image 3.6x larger than 35mm. I find the extra resolution to be quite welcome.
Compact: Compared to the FE with lens, the 124G only weighs 1/5th of an ounce more, and is roughly the same proportions, while still having that nice larger negative.
Slop Factor: This point will probably upset the full frame purists in some way. With a 35mm system, I don’t like having to crop any of the frame out before the final print. The negative is already at a size where it doesn’t take much cropping to start being detrimental to the quality of the final print.
With this camera, I know that the ground glass shows slightly less than what gets recorded on the negative. I still compose for what is on the ground glass, and just consider this extra area that gets recorded stuff I can easily crop away if I didn’t get a horizontal or vertical element spot on. With the negative being as large as it is, this reduction in size is barely noticeable, if at all.
Very quiet shutter: This is great if you want to do street photography. I’ve taken photos with it and wasn’t even sure if it had fired since I didn’t hear the shutter noise. Which leads me to the next point.
Fun to use for street photography:It doesn't look like what most people think cameras look like, so there is some added stealth. Some additional thoughts about street photography with a twin lens reflex camera can be found in my article Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) Street Shooting.
Reloading: Your mileage may vary on this con. For me, having to reload after every twelfth exposure in itself isn’t much of an issue. The issue, though, is that I live in northern Minnesota and have a fetish for shooting during snow storms. I have yet to figure out a way to reload without having to take my gloves off. Cold hands are unhappy hands.
Doesn’t fit my tripod well. I’m currently using a Manfrotto 808RC4 tripod head that uses the RC4 quick release plates. Neither of the Yashica Mats that I own attach nicely to the RC4 plates due to the little feet on the bottom of the cameras. The feet on this camera makes the attachment to the quick release plates seldom level, which makes using the spirit levels on the tripod head rather worthless.
Non-modular: All too often I’ll be out with it loaded with black and white film and will pass by a scene that I feel would be much strong in color. A modular medium format camera would allow me to pack both color film, and black and white film to choose from for each shot without having to bring two cameras.
I've kept a lens hood on my Yashicamat for many years. I don't specifically recall anymore if flaring was so much of a problem that I needed to the hood to remedy it. There was, however, one incident that convinced me that I needed a lens hood for my Yashicamat.
Grandma's Marathon 2008. I brought my Yashicamat with me to put a few rolls through. Didn't own a lens hood yet. Many of the resulting images had my big fat finger over part of the taking lens.
This has never happened again once in the years since I've had a lens hood in place to block my stupid fingers.
2015 and Beyond!
Everything up to this point was written back in 2007. I feel an update is due as I do still use the Yashica in 2015. Let us reassess some of the bullet points.
Doesn’t fit my tripod well: Well, this hasn’t been much of an issue in the past eight years. Mostly because since then I’ve used it exclusively handheld as a walk around camera. For posterity sake, it does seem to fit the hex plates of the Manfrotto 229 I’m using these days much better. But there still is a little interference from the feet on the bottom of the camera.
Since I haven’t been using this TLR handheld, one of my more important accessories is a good flash for it. Leaf shutters plus flash is like one of the best luxuries in photography. The downside is that the side mount flash shoe that the Yashicamat has is sort of awkward. From my limited experimentation with using a flash in the shoe, as opposed to a bracket, I’ve found that the Vivitar 281 style of flash works nicely, while sort of looking like something out of Star Wars. If you look to buy one, try to find one with a freshly replaced capacitor.
Non-Modular: I did dabble some with a Bronica SQ-A SLR between 2013-2015 but ended up going back to the Yashicamat for how I use the format these days. I really liked the Bronica, except for one fault. Those damn film backs leaking. I’d get light leaks running an entire roll of film. Repair it with new seals. Repair it again. Still get light leaks. Repair it again. Finally get rid off all the light leaks. Shoot for a few months. Suddenly have light leaks again. Really annoying, and sad since I loved the optics and ergonomics of the camera.
As for keeping different backs for color and black & white film? Doesn’t matter much for me anymore. Black & White doesn’t excite me anymore.
Fun to use for street photography: Still true. I wonder how many people have gone to the TLR since the Vivian Maier discovery in 2009.
Compact: This one is still big. As I’ve taken to putting many many miles onto bike trips, I like to keep a camera with me for the quirky little things I discover as I travel country roads. While I would love for this to be my 8×10 camera somehow, that just isn’t happening comfortably. The Yashicamat, on the other hand, fits nicely into my Bike’s trunk bag. Something I should possibly consider is getting the most compact monopod that I can find. Sometimes trying to hold the camera still after a few hours of touring can be a bit of a challenge. Always shoot twice!