In common with many manufacturers seeing the success of the Rolleiflex, the Japanese company Yashica began to market its twin-lens Reflex cameras from 1953. They included the wonderfully named Pigeonflex, the Yashimaflex (which later became the Yashicaflex) and the Yashica Mat.
In 1958, Yashica introduced its double-format TLR, the Yashica 635. The 635 is so named because it can produce 6x6cm images on 120 film as well as 35mm photographs. A 35mm adapter kit is installed in the camera to shoot the smaller format.
The 635 was not the first TLR capable of being adapted to shoot 35mm. If you owned a Rolleiflex, you could purchase the Rolleikin adapter for the same purpose. The 635 was a significant export model for Yashica and continued to in production until the early 1970s.
Starting the journey
I started my journey collecting cameras five years ago, and the Yashica 635 was the first TLR that I had owned. It was a gift to me from a good friend, and it continues to be my favourite camera and one of the most precious in my collection.
The lens on my 650 is a Yashikor 1:3.5 f=80mm with a Copal MXV shutter allowing speeds of 1S to 1/500s. Exposure can be set from f/3.5 to f/22. A roll of 120 film provides twelve frames on the 635.
The film winder, the focusing knob and the exposure counter are located on the right-hand side of the camera (if you’re holding it as if to take a picture). On the left-hand side are the 35mm advance and 35mm rewind knobs. The wheels on either side of the lens control the shutter and the aperture, while the shutter-release button is on the bottom right under the taking lens. Most of the controls can be operated with the right hand while holding the camera steady in the left.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa’s day job involves working as a professional archivist for a religious order based in Ireland. Since childhood, she has always had a deep love of history and holds a bachelor’s degree in ancient history and a master’s in public history. She later developed a love for photography and the ability to capture a moment in time. These passions collided when she chanced upon some Kodak folding cameras at a Dublin flea market several years ago. Instantly enamoured with their aesthetic and excited by the opportunity to own a little piece of photographic history, she subsequently fell into camera collecting and hasn’t looked back. Her collection has grown exponentially since those first folding cameras, and she finds great joy in giving her cameras a new lease of life by shooting a roll through them and researching their history. Using a vintage camera is to hold the history of photography in your hands. And what’s not to love about that.
The dial on the bottom of the body opens the back, ready for loading. In common with most TLR cameras, the film is loaded into the lower chamber and pulled through to the top section, where you insert it into an empty spool. You wind the film on until the arrow appears on your film and then line it up with the red indicators in the loading compartment; the process is easy and straightforward.
The focusing hood opens up, and photographs are taken by holding the camera at waist level and composing the image through the focusing screen. A small magnifying glass can be flipped up to help ensure that your image is accurately focused.
I find the focusing screen on the 635 to be bright and clear, especially when using the camera outdoors. The option of using the sports finder involves pushing the front of the focusing hood down and looking through a small square at the back of the hood to compose the photograph. However, this is not a feature I have used, so I cannot say whether it is necessary.
Not only is the 635 a stunning looking camera, but it also takes fantastic photographs. Sometimes, the image edges may be a little soft, but this adds character and gives that beautiful classic aesthetic. After all, I don’t shoot film for perfection; I shoot it for fun. In general, though, I find the image quality of the 635 to be sharp and clear once you get your focusing right.
I used the wonderful resource that is Yashica TLR to find out more information on my own model. I was both surprised and delighted to discover from the serial number that I have an early model from July 1958, to be precise. Another indicator of this is the format of the Yashica branding between the lenses. My own version shows ‘Yashica’ written in an oval, where later models had the name written in bold block letters.
I feel that the photographs I’ve captured on the 635 are all the more impressive given the camera’s age.
There are quirks to using a TLR, such as the reverse image when looking at the focusing screen and, also, the weight of these cameras can surprise. The 635 is not a light camera to carry around. But, at the same time, that weight makes the camera feel solid and reliable. The 635 does not have an integral light meter, so I use the “sunny 16” rule to work out my exposure. Occasionally I have also used an external light meter.
Another peril is that you can end up with a double exposure if you forget to wind on the film after taking an exposure. Or, if you’re as forgetful as I am, a triple exposure.
If you can overcome these quirks, then shooting a TLR is an absolute joy, and the 635 is no exception. I have taken this camera on many holidays and have been delighted with the photographs it has produced. In my own experience, using a twin-lens reflex forces you to really slow down and take your time with your photography. It can be a slow process to compose your image, ensure it is in focus, and correct your settings. But, to mind, this isn’t a bad thing.
In a world where we can take instantaneous snapshots on our phones and probably never look at them again, there is no harm in slowing down and being deliberate in the images we take. For anyone looking to give medium format photography a try, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Yashica 635—a solid and beautiful camera that produces quality medium format photographs.