Camera - - CLASSICS -

Yashica is an­other of the Ja­panese cam­era mak­ers that flour­ished dur­ing the golden years of the 35mm film for­mat, pro­duc­ing long lines of rangefinder cam­eras, slrs and lens-shut­ter com­pacts from the end of the 1950s through to the mid­dle of 1990s. it all be­gan in nagano, Ja­pan, in 1949 with a small com­pany called Yashima seiki which be­gan mak­ing the com­po­nents for clocks. in the early 1950s it ex­panded into mak­ing parts for cam­eras and, in 1953, launched its first com­plete cam­era, a 6x6cm twin lens re­flex called the Yashimaflex. later that same year the com­pany name was changed to the Yashima op­ti­cal in­dus­try co., and the sub­se­quent Tlr mod­els were known as Yashicaflexes, in­clud­ing the s (1954) which was the first Ja­panese cam­era to have a built-in se­le­nium cell for me­ter­ing.

while Yashica is ar­guably bet­ter known for its 35mm cam­eras, it main­tained its 6x6cm Tlr line vir­tu­ally through­out its ex­is­tence, the last-of-the-line Yashica mat124g re­main­ing in pro­duc­tion from 1970 un­til 1986. This made it the last of the Ja­pane­se­made fixed-lens Tlrs to re­main avail­able and its longevity was mainly due to its com­bi­na­tion of af­ford­abil­ity, re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity (com­pared to the mod­els from ei­ther china or rus­sia). for a brief time in the late 1950s and early 1960s Yashica also mar­keted 4x4cm Tlrs (which used 127 roll­film) and it also dab­bled with 8x11mm mi­nox-style ‘spy’ cam­eras, plus a 16mm sub­minia­ture. ad­di­tion­ally, along with most Ja­panese cam­era mak­ers dur­ing the mid-1960s, Yashica built a num­ber of half­frame 35mm com­pacts, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of in­ter­est­ing de­signs – the ver­ti­cally-styled rapide from 1961 and the se­quelle from 1962 which looked like an 8mm movie cam­era and was, in fact, the very first Ja­panese still cam­era with a built-in au­towinder us­ing an elec­tric mo­tor.

in 1958 Yashima pur­chased the nicca cam­era com­pany and the

com­bined op­er­a­tion was re­named Yashica Co. Ltd. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the Nicca ac­qui­si­tion pro­vided ac­cess to a line of 35mm rangefinder cam­eras which Yashica sub­se­quently be­gan fur­ther de­vel­op­ing, start­ing by mov­ing away from Leica looka­like styling. Built-in me­ter­ing and au­to­matic ex­po­sure con­trol ap­pear to have al­most been twin ob­ses­sions for Yashica and its ‘Elec­tric Eye’ (EE) sys­tem – which was based on a se­le­nium-type cell to give au­to­matic aper­ture setting – first ap­peared in the EE 35mm rangefinder cam­era in 1962 and the Model E 6x6cm TLR in 1964, the lat­ter be­ing a first for a Ja­panese cam­era of this type. Ini­tially, the EE cam­eras had a sin­gle­speed shut­ter, but with the half-frame Elec­tro Half, launched in 1965, Yashica pro­gressed to an elec­tron­i­cally-con­trolled shut­ter and fully au­to­matic ex­po­sure con­trol… both firsts in a Ja­panese-made cam­era. In 1966 Yashica in­stalled this tech­nol­ogy in a full-frame 35mm rangefinder called the Elec­tro 35 which had a CdS-type light me­ter (non-TTL though) and a 45mm f1.7 fixed lens. The elec­tronic leaf-type shut­ter, made by Copal, had a step­less speed range from 30 sec­onds to 1/500 sec­ond. There was sub­se­quently a line of Elec­tro 35mm mod­els which added fea­tures such as an ex­panded film speed range and a flash hot­shoe. In 1972, the Elec­tro 35 MC was in­tro­duced with a much more com­pact body – sim­i­lar in size to the Rollei 35 – and a 40mm f2.8 lens. It was fol­lowed in 1973 by the mid­sized Elec­tro 35 FC and, in 1974, by the 35 GL which switched to an SBC-type ex­po­sure me­ter with the cell lo­cated on the lens so it com­pen­sated for fil­ters. In 1975, the 35 GX up­graded to an SPC me­ter­ing cell. The huge suc­cess of its 35mm rangefinder cam­eras put Yashica among the top five cam­era mak­ers dur­ing the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, but by now it was turn­ing its at­ten­tion to 35mm SLRs.

Again, it in­her­ited a 35mm SLR line after tak­ing over the de­funct Zunow op­er­a­tion in 1961, al­though it had al­ready built its own Pen­ta­matic and Pen­ta­matic II mod­els by then. Zunow’s 35mm SLR, launched in 1958, was an am­bi­tious de­sign with in­ter­change­able viewfind­ers, auto di­aphragm con­trol, an in­stant-re­turn mir­ror and a bay­o­net lens mount… so it in­cor­po­rated many firsts, but was pro­duced in such tiny num­bers (ap­par­ently less than 500) it isn’t con­sid­ered to have been a com­mer­cial suc­cess. Nev­er­the­less, Yashica would have un­doubt­edly learned some­thing from Zunow which, when com­bined with its devel­op­ment of me­ter­ing and auto ex­po­sure con­trol sys­tems, rep­re­sented con­sid­er­able po­ten­tial. The Penta J-3 from 1963 had a built-in CdS­type me­ter which was non-TTL and the J-5 (1964) added auto di­aphragm con­trol, but TTL me­ter­ing was in­tro­duced in 1967 with the TL-Su­per while the TL Elec­tro X, launched in 1968, was the world’s first 35mm SLR which used lights in the viewfinder as ex­po­sure indi­ca­tors. It was also first with step­less elec­tronic shut­ter speed con­trol.

After 1976 and the al­liance with Zeiss to re­launch the Con­tax brand with an ad­vanced 35mm SLR sys­tem, Yashica adopted the new Con­tax/Yashica (C/Y) bay­o­net lens mount – which was one of the first with an elec­tro-me­chan­i­cal in­ter­face – for its own cam­eras too. In fact, devel­op­ment of Con­tax and Yashica 35mm SLRs now went largely hand-in-hand. This ‘twin­ning’ in­cluded the Con­tax RTS and Yashica FR (1976, al­though the lat­ter wasn’t quite as well-specced, it ac­cepted var­i­ous Con­tax ac­ces­sories), the Con­tax 139 and Yashica FX-D Quartz (1980), and the Con­tax 159MM and Yashica FX-103 Pro­gram (1985). How­ever, there was also a very suc­cess­ful line of bud­get-priced Yashica 35mm SLRs (FX-1 to FX-3 Su­per 2000) and the brand started out in aut­o­fo­cus­ing with the 230 AF, which was launched in 1986 and pack­aged with a novel clip-on ac­ces­sory flash.

By now Yashica was part of the gi­ant Ky­ocera Cor­po­ra­tion which had ac­quired the cam­era-maker in 1983, and those re­sources un­doubt­edly helped fund the new AF sys­tem which in­cluded a range of lenses. Ul­ti­mately though, it wasn’t suc­cess­ful and Ky­ocera aban­doned the sys­tem in 1994, but the bud­get FX line con­tin­ued (with at least some mod­els built by Cosina) un­til 2002. Ky­ocera had more suc­cess with the Yashica Samurai range of cam­corder-style ‘bridge’ 35mm SLRs – with fixed zoom lenses – which were first in­tro­duced in 1987 and re­vived the half-frame for­mat. Yashica-badged 35mm com­pacts also con­tin­ued to sell well dur­ing the 1990s, many mod­els hav­ing Zeiss-en­dorsed lenses, but with dig­i­tal imag­ing de­mand­ing in­creased in­vest­ment (and Con­tax be­com­ing ever more costly to run), Ky­ocera de­cided to exit the cam­era busi­ness com­pletely in 2005.

In re­al­ity, un­der Ky­ocera, Yashica had been play­ing sec­ond fiddle to Con­tax for quite some time and, at the end, there re­ally wasn’t much left of the mar­que that was once among the top five cam­era-mak­ers. And while Yashica never quite had a ‘big bang’ tech­no­log­i­cal break­through, it pi­o­neered many small de­vel­op­ments which, col­lec­tively, con­trib­uted much to pho­tog­ra­phy dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tury.

“While Yashica is ar­guablY bet­ter knoWn for its manY 35mm cam­eras, it main­tained its 6x6cm tlr line vir­tu­allY through­out its ex­is­tence.”

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