Back to the old school: first steps in medium format photography

Last week I bought an old medium format film camera, a Yashica Mat TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) made sometime between 1957-1971.

Yashicamat TLR

Why?

Image quality – this camera takes 120 film, a format Kodak created around 1902.  TLRs are most associated with the Rolleiflex brand but it’s a little more complex than that (here’s a great summary). You get 12 shots a roll and the negatives measure 6cm x 6cm. The total film surface area is much larger than 35mm: 3136 sq.mm versus 864 sq.mm (click here for an excellent summary).  Larger negatives offer finer image quality with superior saturation, tonality and detail through capturing more information through the lens.  The lens on this particular model (Yashica made many over several decades – see here for details) is a Yashinon 80mm F3.5.

Fit for purpose – I’m interested in landscape photography in available light and I’m trying to get better.  In two weeks’ time, I start a 10-week tutored portfolio course (of which more soon) and I’ve been reading books on the history of photography, and on landscape photography in particular.  I’ll be shooting digitally (Nikon D40) for the portfolio project but during the course I’ll certainly be practising with the TLR.  I think medium format has real potential if I can get things right behind the camera.

It’s not digital – the TLR should be a useful counterpoint to my digital habits as it’s so different.  Whilst it’s hard to take technically poor photos with today’s digital cameras – their ease-of-use and economy are great – they can encourage sloppy habits.  With digital, you’re shooting at no real cost and you know you can trash all rejects later; therefore, it’s natural to (even unconsciously) take less care making the photographs themselves.

The completely manual operation of a TLR – bring a light meter, set the shutter speed and aperture, crank the film advance – and the expense of film (and processing it) perhaps makes for a more frugal and careful photographer – we’ll see.  Though I expect to use the TLR in a considered way, mostly with a tripod, TLRs can of course be used handheld and they were used by press photographers before the ascent of 35m SLRs.

Sergeant Karen M. Hermiston of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, 1944 (Library and Archives Canada)

What next?

I have 5 rolls of Fuji Provia 100F slide film (E6) for starters, and a batch of Provia 400X on the way.  So when my light meter arrives tomorrow, I’ll be ready to take the Yashica Mat outdoors.  The forecast this weekend looks decent too.