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The Yashica-635 is a TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex) as one imagines a TLR to look like: all-black, with chrome fringes, and a shiny lens assembly. I guess I bought this camera because of its looks. When I bought it, somewhere in 1998, I think in April, I had been pondering what it would be like to shoot photographs in medium format. Back then, I had just gotten hold of my Diana toy camera, and was experimenting a lot with roll film. I had read that roll film cameras were the ultimate in sharpness, so I wanted to see for myself. As you can guess, the Diana didn't satisfy my perfectionistic cravings a lot, so no wonder a sturdy and imposant TLR like the Yashica-635 drew my attention. I tested it out in the store, and then bought it for about eighty dollars (fl. 245,-). I was delighted with it, happy with the fact that now I too had my very own medium format camera that made pictures in the best film format available.
In practice, it went different (ofcourse...). I soon found out, that TLRs have the disadvantage of the 'inversed' waist-level finder. That is, if you don't own a TLR yourself, that the image as seen through the viewfinder, is horizontally mirrored'. In other words, if you turn the camera to the right, the viewfinder makes it look like you're turning it to its left. It's a disaster if you're used to SLRs...
I don't particularly mind all-mechanical cameras (in fact, the only non-mechanical camera I own, is my Nikon F50), but this one too cumbersome even for me. Although it's small for a medium format camera and carrying it around isn't that much of a deal, setting its controls like aperture and shutter speed, and especially framing, takes a while. Normally I shoot in a somewhat more documentary fashion; quick reaction shots, so to speak. But when I started using this camera, to my surprise I noticed I was always taking a tripod along to avoid camera shake. Soon I didn't leave the house without the Yashica-635, an extra big carrying case (my reflex holster didn't do for this one!), a tripod, and a cable release. All a bit of a burden, if you ask me. And not only that, but setting up a tripod, using a hand mirror to view the scene the right way around, and then metering the light with another camera, really killed every spark of creativity.
So now, after owning this camera for over two years, I don't use it a lot anymore. First of all, I'm afraid something might happen to it. Secondly, its image quality isn't all that. And thirdly, dragging it around is annoying, because it's so big and clunky.
Its image quality is, as I mentioned, not that good. The center is excellent and really isn't the problem, but it's the corners that make me cry. Why? They're unsharp to the extreme, or at least to me. Full-frame 6×6 prints are spoilt because of it. Just look at the big sample picture below. (Um? —Alfred, 2006)
The Yashica-635 has a taking lens and a viewing lens. Surprisingly, their full openings are the same (usually the viewing lens is more light-sensitive than the taking lens, for more precision and clarity), and they're even the same lens: Yashikor 80mm f/3.5's. Why did Yashica use two the same lenses, one for the noble art of picture taking, and another one for the down-to-earth job of viewing? Why not an expensive lens for taking, and a moderate one for viewing? Rollei used that system... Why not Yashica? I guess that they didn't have the facilities to costruct two different lenses, or they wanted to keep the camera simple, or they had a lot of Yashikor 80mm f/3.5 lenses lying around somewhere, or those lenses were cheap or something. Anyway, the Yashikors do NOT have the best corner sharpness ever seen in a medium format camera! I'm told they're three-element lenses, and I know they were used in several down-market cameras too. If you come across a Yashica with Yashinon lenses (instead of Yashikor), you could probably go for it more safely, because the Yashinon-type seems to be a good four-lensed lens. They were also used in the renowned YashicaMats.
These cameras were probably made as early as 1959, but they were surely around in 1964. I have no clue as to when the production stopped, but perhaps Yashica continued making these cameras right up into the 1970's.
Their origins are clear though: as Japanese copies of the German Rolleiflexes. Or, to put it more correctly, as Japanese TLRs. It would be unfair to dismiss all TLRs as simple Rolleiflex clones. Though here, the similarities are somewhat obvious. Take the lens assembly, the general lay-out of the controls, the control types, the viewfinder with loupe, it all reminds strongly of a certain German camera...
The Yashica-635 is actually quite special within the TLR category. Most TLRs use 120 film, some use 127 film (Baby Rollei, Primo), but only a few have the ability to use 120 AND 35mm film. The Rolleiflex, along with several other cameras like the Super Ricohflex, can be rigged with a 35mm adapter, but it's an uncommon quality among TLRs. I don't have the adapter, so I can't give you a more detailed description of how the system works. Anyway, the Y-635 has several dedicated knobs and stuff to make the system work. I'm convinced that as a 35mm camera, the Yashica-635 does a good job. The Yashikor 80mm f/3.5's aren't very good when it comes to the edges, but center sharpness is their point of excellence.
The Yashica-635 is actually a sub-model of the Yashica-D, only the Yashica-635 does 120 (6×6) and 35mm film, hence the name '635'.
As I'm still quite unfamiliar with the Yashica-635, I can't tell you much about who used the Yashica-635, how reliable it is, and what its manufacturing history is. On behalf of the reliability: I had to have the shutter repaired once after I had over-cocked it, and since then I keep it uncocked. It was my own fault, because I had certainly cocked the shutter for over twenty times, without ever tripping it (the cable release shoe was slipped over the release button, so I couldn't easily trip the shutter). That was more than the Copal MXV shutter could bear. But on the other hand, all still works smoothely on my camera, including the entire lens train shift, when focusing. The whole plain slides forwards or backwards.
|Film:||Primarily 120 film; 35mm film through insert|
|Lenses:||Two Yashikor (sometimes Yashinon) 80mm f/3.5 triplets|
|Shutter speeds:||1s – 1/500s; B.|