Making them like they used to

I’ve just been looking at Rolleiflex cameras online.

Like the Leica: the history is long and storied, and many other cameras owe a great deal of themselves to these ‘antediluvians’. The Leica introduced 35mm film to the photographer (and we all know where that led), while Rollei perfected the modern medium format twin lens reflex camera.

Looking at my Yashica Mat 124, I can see that virtually everything on it is not an innovation, but a re-implementation of something found in a contemporary Rollei. The operation is almost identical.

I am not certain of the Yashica Mat’s age. I think I can confine it to a span of about four years from 1968 to 1971, but beyond that I daren’t say. I am certain however that I won’t find anything startling on a new Rollei, coming from the Yashica. Improvements will be found in the details, in subtleties. The quality of the glass is likely to be better; while the Yashinon 80mm f/3.5 is known to be a pretty good lens, I’m willing to bet that glass labelled ‘Schneider Kreuznach’ wins this game of top trumps. The light meter will be worlds more reliable than the one in the ‘Mat (not, once I get my hand-held meter, that I will care) . The film transport will ‘feel’ better. Overall, the haptics will be far superior.

But how surprising is that, given the difference in price? I bought the Yashica at a second-hand camera dealer in Cape Town in late 2003 for not very much money — I can’t recall precisely how much, but it was certainly far less than a thousand Rand, while a new Rollei will set me back perhaps about €1 500. Udate: €3 000.

So why am I even comparing them?

I bought the Yashica because I wanted an old medium format camera. I had no experience with the format, and I didn’t want to spend too much money on something I wasn’t totally sure of. I needed, in short, a knockabout camera with which to learn; where all the primary features were present and correct, and which would help me learn the basics of handling the film and a twin lens reflex.

It’s taught me a great deal, especially in the last few months of my photographic revival. In particular, and perhaps strangely, I don’t feel the slightest attraction to single lens reflex MF cameras like the Hasselblad. I know they’re excellent cameras, and photographers use them to turn out stunning images, but I’m not interested.

I adore the mechanical simplicity of the TLR. I adore the kooky idiosyncrasies of the reversed, top-down viewfinder. Frankly I love the fact that I can still see what I’m doing even if I have stuck a deep red filter over the taking lens — that’s definitely a feature.

The TLR is a sort of halfway house between speed-freak photography and large format meditative composition, and I suppose that’s what I love most about it. There’s definitely a nice feeling to be derived from spending some time taking a picture, crouched over the viewfinder, getting the focus just right, getting the composition as good as parallax will allow. It’s a nice feeling, and it’s a hell of a lot lighter than lugging a large format monster over hill and dale.

The Yashica Mat 124 takes really nice pictures. There is something other-worldly to them. There is absolutely no need for me to buy a Rolleiflex for its own sake; I am perfectly content with the old Yashica.

All good things will pass, and the Yashica will eventually fail. The gods willing, I will be in reach of a good camera shop capable either of servicing or repairing the old girl, or selling me a newer one. But if all else fails, and chequebook willing, it’s a reassuring thought that Franke & Heideke are still making the Rolleiflex more or less the way they used to.

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About lidlesseye

Mouthing off about photography, and occasionally important things too.

Posted on December 22, 2007, in Photography and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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