Yahica 635

Vintage Iron

Old things fascinate me. I love old cars, old coins, old tools, and I love old cameras. I’m not a film versus digital jihadist – I use digital cameras too and wouldn’t give them up for a minute. My digital cameras are the “bread and butter” of my workday. They go on all of the important shoots. When I’m shooting for fun or trying to get “creative,” I’ll often grab one of my veteran film cameras, in part because they make me shift gears mentally and in part because the textures and tones of film please me. Most important is that I just enjoy using them.

There are issues with shooting vintage cameras that have to be acknowledged. The first is maintenance and the second is cost. Cameras that are 30-50 years old often have problems. Most of the time, we buy these cameras used and it is hard to know how much use and abuse they have received. Just the sheer passage of time can cause components in the mechanism to deteriorate: light seals rot, shutters get sticky, batteries go out of production, parts wear out, and dust and fungus can accumulate in places which are hard to clean. So, if you pick up an old camera at a yard sale or off of Ebay, chances are that it will need some maintenance to get it into working order. This means knowing your cameras and their weaknesses pretty well, and having some sort of support in the form of technicians who can repair and adjust them. This isn’t always easy to line up, but people are out there who have the parts and know how to work on most old cameras of quality. Sadly, as digital cements its supremacy in the photographic world, the number of skilled analog camera repairmen declines. I would hope that we will reach a point of equilibrium someday between digital and analog hardware so that the people who are able to work on older cameras can make a living, but that hasn’t happened yet.

The second major issue with older cameras is the cost of operation. Film and processing cost money. There is no escaping that, but the costs can be mitigated. You can develop your own film and you can often buy expired film which still works just fine, especially in black and white. Expired color film can be a bit more dicey, but it can render some interesting results and effects. I recently tested a batch of Fujichrome Astia 100 and found that it produced very acceptable pictures when using a bit of color correction in Photoshop.

The last important piece of the processing cost puzzle is a scanner which can scan film directly, such as the Epson “V” series of scanners. Again, this is a cost, but one that is worthwhile for many reasons. You can shoot a lot of film for the price of a Nikon D700 or Canon 5D, and vintage analog cameras these days can often be had for absurdly low prices. A good scanner working directly from film can easily produce an image of equal or higher resolution than the current crop of professional grade DSLR cameras. Also, a scanner will allow you to scan old prints whose negative are long lost. You will spend some money to shoot film, but many photographers still find it worth the effort.

I won’t rehash in detail why I still enjoy using film. If you want to read more of that, please see my article, “Dancing with Dinosaurs.” The condensed version is this: film causes me to shift gears mentally; I enjoy the textures and tones of film; and, I enjoy working with vintage cameras.

Lately, my vintage camera shooting time has been shared by two wonderful cameras: the Nikon F3 and the Yashica 635. Here’s a bit on each of these, and why I like them.

The Nikon F3: Introduced in 1980, the Nikon F3 has been called “the greatest manual 35mm SLR ever built” and few seem interested in disputing the claim. Built like a tank, the Nikon F3 is legendary for its sheer ruggedness and durability. If you’re the kind who needs to sling a camera into the belly of a chopper under a hail of gunfire, the F3 still has no equals. Many of the features of modern SLR and DSLR cameras that we take for granted today were developed on some variation of the F3 platform, such as electronic shutters, exposure automation, “off the film plane through the lens” flash metering, and even autofocus (F3AF). The F3 “H” variant was capable of shooting 13 frames per second. To this day, it still has the smoothest film advance in the world. The body was built to highly exacting tolerances so that it still gives some of the best lens performance and focus sharpness ever. I am told that the Nikon F6 has even more exacting focus, but those are as scarce as hens’ teeth. The F3 was in production for 20 years, the longest production run of any of the Nikon professional grade “F” series cameras because it was just that good. There are a bunch of them still out there and you can buy them for a song. The F3 is simply a classic. The quality of the components is so high that even my 30-year-old F3 has never required maintenance or repair. When you hold this instrument in your hands, you know that you are holding a real camera.

When I started shooting, back at the dawn of time, the cameras I used were much like the F3, only not as nice and not built as well – Nikon, Pentax and Canon 35mm SLR’s that were more or less manual. The F3 is as comfortable as an old shoe for me. I won’t go into the electronic and mechanical intricacies that make the F3 what it is; that would take many pages. I will just say that, among film cameras, it is the best at getting the picture I am seeing of any I have ever shot.

Yashica-635_800 The Yashica 635: I don’t think the Yashica 635 has ever won a “greatest” in anything, except perhaps, the greatest twin lens reflex camera that can run both 35mm and 120 film. The 635 is essentially a Yashica D with the additional capability of running 35mm film. The charm of the 635 is different, less tangible, but very real. I was walking down the street in downtown Louisville with my Yashica 635 hanging from my neck on a strap. A pretty young woman approached on the sidewalk from the other direction. As she got close, she glanced at the camera, smiled and said to me, “I love your camera.” OK, this is a keeper. Almost everywhere I go with the 635, someone stops me and comments on it. It’s the greatest photography conversation starter ever. I have fun with this camera. The 635 is funky. You look down into it and it has a little flip out magnifying glass in the viewfinder for precise focus. The shutter cocking mechanism does not advance the film – that’s a separate knob, so I get double exposures all the time because I get excited about something I’m seeing and forget to advance the film. They’re nice double exposures and some of them are cool, but it can be annoying when you ruin a good shot because you forgot to advance the film. Also, when you look down into the viewfinder, the image is reversed left to right. Now, I think this is cosmic, and I believe it triggers some left-brain, right brain creative neurology, but it does require some imagination to remember that the picture you’re shooting is going to be the horizontal opposite of what you’re seeing.

What I really like about this camera is the big 6×6 negative and the particular characteristics of the lens. With a good scanner, you can make images that will print wonderfully at a size of 8 feet square. At f8 and above, the lens is very sharp and capable of great precision, but below f8, the lens softens ever so slightly and I find it to be an extremely pleasing effect – it’s a subtle softening that lends an artistic feeling to the picture. If I have a criticism of this lens, the Yashikor 80mm f3.5, it would be that it’s a bit contrasty in bright light. I get my best pictures from this lens in soft light situations.

The Yashica 635 really makes me slow down and think about what I’m doing. 120 rolls in 6×6 only have 12 exposures, so I don’t click like crazy. Each exposure is very intentional. The 635 has no onboard light meter, so I have to stop and pull out my light meter and take a reading of the scene around me. Everything about shooting it is slow, deliberate and intentional. The intriguing paradox of the Yashica 635 is that I have shot some of my best photographs on it, or cameras very much like it, such as the Yashica 124G and the Rolleiflex.

You shoot on a vintage camera for the same reason you buy and restore a 1939 Ford coupe: because you like the way it feels and what happens in your head when you do it. It’s not the easiest or most practical path for photography. For the easiest and most practical, get a nice Nikon or Canon DSLR and your life will be good. For a path less traveled, which can be full of surprises and unexpected delights, the vintage cameras can be a magic carpet.


The Nikon 35mm SLR Saga

Modern Classic SLRs Series : Nikon F3

Ken Rockwell on the Nikon F3

The F3 on Camerapedia

Yashica 635 on Camerapedia

Examples of pictures shot on Yashica 635 cameras


Adventures with Expired Film: Fujichrome Astia 100 in 120

My friend, Jim, sent me a box of Fujichrome Astia 100 to run through my Yashica TLR. The film expired in 2004 and I had my doubts about it, but we had it from a reliable source that the film had been refrigerated for its entire long life. I loaded a roll and went down to Willow Lake which is on the edge of Cherokee Park in Louisville. It was late in the day and the sky was overcast with heavy clouds. I shot it in the Yashica 635 TLR and and used the trusty Gossen Pilot 2 meter to get my exposure readings. I had the film developed at a local lab. To my dismay, I found out that the lab is closing down in three weeks and from here on in, I will have to ship my color out of town for processing. I totally understand digital, but I wish it didn’t have to mean wiping out all of the traditional analog photography industry. Anyway, here are the results of the experiment. All of these, except the dragon fountain have had some color correction in Photoshop: (click on images for larger view)

reed-at-willow-lake Yashica 635 with Fujichrome Astia 100

Willow-Lake-5Yashica 635 with Fujichrome Astia 100

Willow-Lake-7Yashica 635 with Fujichrome Astia 100

silly-dragon-fountain Yashica 635 with Fujichrome Astia 100
This one has no color correction whatsoever, and it shows some “red shift”
It should be more gray. Part of this may be underexposure, and some may be the age of the film.

Willow-Lake-2 Yashica 635 with Fujichrome Astia 100

To be honest, I expected the film to look much worse, given its age. I was pleasantly surprised at what I could get from these transparencies. I did some color correction on all of these shots except them dragon fountain, but actually, it was not much more than one would do on fresh color transparency film. I will definitely shoot all of this film that I can get my hands on.


Looking for Fish at Willow Lake


Yashica 635, Tmax 100 (expired) in Tmax

I had a few frames left on a roll so we went over to Willow Lake which is really just a large pond on the edge of Cherokee Park. It was late in the afternoon with a heavy overcast, but I wanted soft light, rather than a hard directional light that clear skies would have provided.

The film was from a batch of expired Tmax 100 that I bought a while back. The film expired in 2004 and I have been shooting it for practice fodder and to test it to see if it still works. It works fine in terms of development. The contrast and tones are right but I got a lot of light streaks which are too small to see at this size, but they would show up on a 10” x 10” print. I’m not sure if this is deterioration of the film or not. I washed some of the negatives in film cleaner to make sure it wasn’t residue from the development, and it didn’t wash out. The worst streaks can been seen with the naked eye. They look like dark, fine hair on the negative. If I was scratching the emulsion, one would think that the streaks would be reversed, looking light in the negative and dark in print.

We walked around the lake looking for interesting angles. Marian started looking for fish in the water and I realized there was repetition of form between her pose and the shape of the lake which was interesting, so I shot the picture. The soft light gave a dreamy mood to the scene. With a little touch-up in Photoshop to get rid of the streaks, I had a picture, but I’m wondering is this expired Tmax is more trouble than it’s worth.


Louisville’s Central Park

Arbor-at-Central-Park-Louisville Of Louisville’s great parks, Central Park is probably not the most impressive. It’s about the size of two city blocks, square and flat. It has a building in it that once was an athletic club but is now a substation for the Louisville Metro Police. It has a wonderful arbor which supports an ancient wisteria vine that gives shade to the whole thing. Most significant probably is the stage for “Shakespeare in the Park” which runs every summer and gives people the chance to come down and see Shakespeare’s plays performed for free.


I happened to catch a show on KET done by metro councilman Tom Owens, who is also a history professor at the University of Louisville. Tom Owens knows the history of Louisville like no one else. His knowledge of each inch of this earth at the Falls of the Ohio can only be called supernatural. In this show, he was doing Central Park and St. James Court in Old Louisville. His narrative of the creation of the park and St. James Court from a hunting camp owned by the DuPont family fascinated me. On a hot Sunday afternoon we went down to Central Park to soak up the history and shoot some pictures.


Central Park is one of the Olmstead parks which give Louisville its distinctive character. Frederick Law Olmsted designed 18 parks in the city of Louisville. He was characterized as “the father of landscape architecture” and I wouldn’t trade our Cherokee Park for New York City’s Central Park, which Olmstead also designed. Louisville’s Central Park must have been a challenge to the master landscape architect. To be fair to Olmstead, he didn’t have much to work with on this patch of ground. There are no hills, no naturally occurring waters or interesting outcroppings of rock – just a flat rectangle of ground. He built the athletic club, laid out the sidewalks and fountain, and planted some trees. I can’t think of anything he could have done that he didn’t do that wouldn’t be totally artificial, and artificial wasn’t Olmstead’s style.



And yet, Louisville’s Central Park has something that no other park in the world has: it has St. James Court across Magnolia Street at its southern edge. From the St. James Art Fair information site:

“In 1890 after the Southern Exposition site was cleared, William Slaughter led the development of St. James Court, one of Old Louisville’s most renowned neighborhoods. Centered on the picturesque fountain, the court was envisioned as a haven for turn-of-the-century upper class and was completely occupied by 1905. Slaughter set up deed restrictions to ensure that all houses on the court were constructed of either brick or stone. From its start, court residents established a homeowner’s association, one of the oldest in the country. Described as the epitome of Victorian eclecticism, the neighborhood included homes in such styles as Venetian, Colonial, Gothic and others. The Conrad Caldwell House on the northwest corner of St. James Court prominently features the turrets, towers and bay windows associated with the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. Through the years the court has been home to several city officials, judges, doctors, writers, poets, and business leaders. St. James Court residents are proud of the unique history and friendliness the neighborhood offers. When strolling through the tree-fringed court, you too will experience a vibrancy and vitality that no suburban neighborhood can match.”

So, when you visit Central Park, not only do you see an historic old park, but also, you can stroll down a shady boulevard where Louisville did its best to create a little piece of Victorian England in the 1890’s.


Some additional reading on the history of this area:

A History of Old Louisville’s Central Park.

St James Court and Belgravia, Louisville, Kentucky

Satellite Picture



The Iron Horse

Like millions of other American teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get a driver’s license so I could go racing off in one of my dad’s cars. I scarcely noticed that sometime between my childhood and early teens, the great passenger trains had vanished.

208-1 The Old 208 Close-up, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

After all, cars are much more fun. You can go where you want to go, when you want to go there. Cars are freedom and individuality; railroads are institutions. And, it didn’t help that when the railroads had a virtual monopoly on overland transportation, they took advantage of working people by charging exorbitant rates to ship farmers’ crops to market. When I was a kid, I never heard a single lament for the passing of the trains.

208-2 The Old 208 , Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

The last time I rode on one of the great trains was when my mother took my sister and I on the Texas Chief up to Oklahoma City to visit my grandfather in Norman. It was like a luxury hotel on wheels. I couldn’t have been more than about nine years old, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

French-Lick-Train-Station-1Train Station, French Lick, Indiana, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

When I was a kid, my dad could drive down the middle of the highway steering only with his knee while he lit a cigarette with his Zippo lighter. This drove my mother crazy, but you could do that then because there were so few vehicles on the road. In Texas, you could often drive for quite some time without seeing another car. Things have changed, and changed a lot since those idyllic days. Today we face streets and expressway choked with millions of vehicles almost 24 hours a day. Half of the time I set out to drive from Louisville to Lexington, I am delayed by a multi-vehicle accident. Today, the air is turning toxic, the planet is said to be heating up, and the Gulf of Mexico is filling with crude oil where a living ocean once thrived. In the days of my youth, gas was 25¢ a gallon. Today, people are going into debt to fill their tanks. Times have changed.

Passenger-Cars,-French-Lick Passenger Cars, French Lick, Indiana, Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100

I can’t help but think that our friends across the pond have been smarter than we have on the issue of trains. Only we gave up our trains – England, Europe, Russia, India, Africa, China and Japan all kept and developed their railways. Only we relegated our great trains to the pack mule role. Ours still run, but they carry only new cars, coal, chemicals and other bulk freight.

208-3_antique_effect The Old 208 , Yashica 635 with Ilford Delta 100, antique effect from Photoshop

It would be great if we would re-think our ideas about the trains. I know I would use them. I think a vacation on a train would be terrific. Just being able to hop on a train and ride to Cincinnati to see a Reds game would be a hoot. I wonder how many cars we could get off the road if we had a railway system that took people where they wanted to go. How many amphetamine-crazed truckers would have to find another line of work if our railways were truly operational? How many tons of hydrocarbons could we keep out of the atmosphere? How many Deepwater Horizons would we need if we were running the trains?

You can buy prints of these photos and others on Red Bubble by clicking on this link


Time to Get Angry


“Dead Gas Station” Yashica 635, Kodak Tmax 100

This gas station was a BP for a long time, and it flourished while it was a BP, but then the owners started mixing gas from other low-price vendors and BP cut them off. It wasn’t long before the station just failed and closed. Now, its carcass sits by the side of Newburg Road looking dead and forlorn. I have spent thousand of dollars here in gasoline, but now I have to drive over to Popular Level Road to a Texaco, soon to be a Marathon, to fill my tank.

With millions of gallons of BP oil gushing into the the Gulf of Mexico, and ruining a place I have loved all my life, I find myself wishing that we could make all the gas stations look like this. Maybe we could build electric cars, and rebuild the railroads. Maybe in some places we could even go back to riding horses. That would suit me fine.

I remember how the gas companies gouged us so badly a couple of years ago and helped to bring on the recession we now suffer. $4 for a gallon of gas, just because the hotdog speculators in the commodity pits bid the price up. They didn’t give a damn about us, or the country that allowed them to make a killing. “Killing the golden goose” has never been more true. I hope all of those creeps are out of work now. The world fell into a recession, and they eased the prices, just enough to keep us from going bankrupt trying to get to work, that is, those of us who still had work. Then this spill happened. It is no small wonder that the rage against the oil companies has boiled up. The rage will drive BP into liquidation, but if that is all that happens, we will have proven again how stupid we are.

It’s time – really, it’s past time – to get angry. It’s time to get angry about they way we’re getting screwed. It’s time to angry about what’s happening to our planet. It’s time to quit talking and start making some solutions happen. We have all been passive for too long. We have all been unwilling to suffer any inconvenience or do without any gadget for too long. It’s time to start saying “No” to the machine.

Although I can’t imagine why you’d want it,
you can buy this print on RedBubble – just click this link.


George Rogers Clark Homestead, West Wall

George-Rogers-Clark-Homestead---croppedClick on picture for larger view

Yashica 635 with Tmax 100


Pictures of the Day: Louisville Downtown


Belle of Louisville, Ilford Delta 100 in Ilfosol 3

MooringMooring, Ilford Delta 100 in Ilfosol 3

Hard-Rock-2 Hard Rock Guitar, Tmax 100 in Tmax

Live Live, Tmax 100 in Tmax

Click on Pictures for Larger View

Technical information: Photos shot with Yahshica 635 TLR camera and 80mm Yashikor lens; film and developers noted under each picture. Film is 6×6 cm “medium format.”

For a subject to be strong enough to be worth photographing, the relationship of its forms must be rigorously established. Composition starts when you situate your camera in space in relation to the object. For me, photography is the exploration in reality of the rhythm of surfaces, lines, or values; the eye carves out its subject, and the camera has only to do its work. That work is simply to print the eye’s decision on film.  – Henri Cartier-Bresson – on composition. “American Photo”, September/October 1997, page: 76