Saturday, 7 January 2012

Yashica Mat 124G I

Yashica Mat 124G / Kodak Ektar 100

For Christmas I decided to treat myself to a Yashica Mat, an old twin-lens reflex that shoots medium format film. In the medium format world it's one step up from the Diana and Holga toy cameras, although it's a big step, and it straddles the world of old folding rangefinders; and it's a little step lower than the old Rolleiflexes, and from that point a whole new world of fiscal pain opens up. Here's what it looks like:

For the shots in this post I used Kodak Ektar 100, which was launched only a few years ago, in 2008. I've shot some 35mm Ektar before, but I haven't had a chance to use the medium format variety. Based on current events I surmise that Kodak isn't in a hurry to replace it. I used to shoot a lot of medium format, about ten years ago, using the aforementioned Holga. This is a plastic camera from China that has a plastic lens and terrible light sealing. It produces instant art, with blurry edges and light leaks, viz:

You can still buy 'em on eBay. Zone focus, no other controls. There's an aperture lever but it doesn't do anything. Literally f/8 and be there. Medium format has a frisson, because it's hardcore and you get square images, which is doubly hardcore. Over the next few posts I'll get jiggy with the Yashica Mat, and hopefully I'll train myself not to type Yashica May, which I keep doing. The Mat has an 80mm f/3.5 lens, which in 35mm terms is roughly equivalent to a 50mm, with the depth of field of an f/2 or similar.

Wide open - that shot was wide open, and so was the one at the top - it's pretty soft in the corners. It gets much better stopped down, although this defeats the point a little; unless you actually plan on making huge detailed prints, or you want to send the images off to a magazine or something, you might as well just use a digital camera and crop the image square.

The irony is that, when stopped down, the Mat's images don't have much of the stereotypical Instagram-esque film look, because they're sharp and detailed. When people nowadays think of the film look, and when they go ga-ga over the film look, they aren't really going ga-ga over the look of film. They're fetishising a simulation of an idea. An implanted memory of something that didn't really exist. Pictures taken with a Holga, as above, looked strikingly different even when everybody shot film. They were never normal. If anything has a right to be representative of the look of film, it's this:

Vintage British Argos 1985 Catalogue

The 1985 Argos catalogue, there. Shot by a professional, on film. That's what film looked like, in the hands of a professional. Nobody fetishises that.

Unusually for an old TLR, the Mat has an electronic CdS lightmeter. In fact it's unusual for an old TLR to have a lightmeter of any kind. It uses long-discontinued mercury batteries, and although mine still had a battery I wasn't too sure of its accuracy, so I used a Fuji S3 as a kind of digital Polaroid preview back. The S3's sensor was designed to simulate the look of film - Fujifilm, mind, rather than Kodak Ektar - and I trust its metering. Just for fun here's the Fuji S3's rendition of the shot at the top of the page (not quite the same angle, but the same scene, processed to look similar):

The digital image is smoother, and of course I have access to the original RAW file and can fiddle with the colours as much as I want. In contrast, sending negatives off to be scanned leaves you at the mercy of the lab, and scanning at home requires a scanner than can take medium format film. Dedicated medium format film scanners cost a fortune and are hard to come by, because the professional market is tiny. A few cheap flatbed scanners can digitise medium format; the most popular choices seem to be the Canon 9000F and the Epson V700, which are about £30 either side of £200, Canon cheaper. Even then, not many shops in the UK sell these, so you have to buy them from the internet, which means courier firms, aargh.

One rule of thumb is that larger formats allow for more control over depth of field. The Mat's f/3.5 lens is a bit too slow for the kind of eye-popping 3D effect people associate with large format photography, unless you put the subject right up close. Otherwise the effect is subtle, as per the image above, which was shot at f/4.

Digital photographers get to play around with different filters; film photographers get to play around with different types of film! Slide, negative, black and white, expired, the works. In future posts I'll talk a bit more about the process of taking photographs with a twin-lens reflex, but first I need to shoot more film.

EDIT: Ye Gods. Reading this again in mid-2014 I'm struck by... well, the blog is slightly wider now, so all the pictures are too narrow. But the writing, it reads as if I was heavily abusing cocaine, which wasn't true. Can a man change so much in two years? Am I better now? Is the stuff I'm doing now just as bad? Except that the pictures are okay, in fact although they could do with remastering they're pretty solid. The composition, the colours etc are neatly done and work well within the square format. On a photographic level I haven't changed much. Technique has improved. Vision still the same. So it's a mixed bag. A combination of staccato Devo-esque text, solid photographs. I often wonder what happened to Rosaleen Young (probably not her real name). I can sympathise with her predicament. As a model she had a niche appeal. Not tall enough for the catwalk, not busty enough for porn, not really sexy in the conventional way and (again) not tall or distinctive enough for "high art", but too distinctive to just model clothes for a website. She might have made her way in burlesque but it's extraordinarily difficult to make a living as a burlesque performer in Britain. Certainly, if I totted up the money I've made from my burlesque performances, I'd have nothing.