The Yashica 44A has joined what has been a surprising revelation, that somehow there is a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) collection in the house. TLRs being so ornate and beautiful cameras, they are very hard to resist when they are available for sale. The Yashica 44A differs to the others in the collection by being a 4x4cm 127 film camera as compared to the 6x6cm 120 film cameras.
This does mean that the 44A is a significantly smaller camera, thus why it is called the “Baby TLR”. This is taken from the Baby Rollei connotation. It was aimed at the more amateur consumer market, but this does not automatically mean that it is any less capable than its bigger siblings.
This copy is in the grey colour, which was the most popular of the different colours available. It was dubbed the “Baby Grey” colour. In total there were 8 colour combinations, which helped make them a hit with consumers.
TLRs are not everyone’s cup of tea. You have to get used to working with the image in the viewing screen backwards, and they can be a bit difficult to shoot a portrait at eye level. Interestingly, this is also what gives the photos made from them such a unique perspective.
The comparable 6×6 Rolleicord Va review is here, but a camera which is even more interesting for the Yashica is the Pigeonflex linked here. The Pigeonflex was the first TLR camera the company which eventually changed names to become Yashica produced.
As indicated above, the Yashima Seiki or later Yashima Kogak Seiki company started off manufacturing the Pigeonflex for about a year in 1953. As this was for a distributor, they branched off and started manufacturing their own branded cameras in 1954, with the Yashimaflex.
In 1957 Yashima founded the Yashica Inc. subsidiary based in New York. It was this year that they also introduced the Yashica Mat line of 6×6 TLRs. They had landed on their final branding. More information is available of Yashica at the Yashica Electro 35 GL review here.
TLRs were very well established by this point, as can be seen by the plethora of TLRs available from that period. Franke & Heidecke, with their Rollei cameras, was the obvious one at the top of the heap, and in 1957 they re-introduced their pre-war 127 model, the Baby Rollei.
Almost immediately, in 1958, many Japanese manufacturers responded by producing their own 127 versions, including Yashica with the Yashica 44. It was manufactured in the same grey colour as the Baby Rollei. Franke & Heidecke took Yashica to court in the US, which lasted for a year until the two company presidents signed an agreement. This included that Yashica stop manufacturing the 44 models in grey, which is consistent with the availability of the other colours from 1960 onwards.
When the Yashica 44 was first introduced in 1958, it was priced quite heavily, though not as much as the Rollei. It was in fact more expensive than the Yashica D which had a very similar feature set albeit in a 6×6 format. The features included a hand crank and a top speed of 1/500 second.
To ensure coverage of the amateur consumer market, Yashica then introduced the Yashica 44A in 1959. The main changes being that it lost the crank and was limited to 1/300 second top speed. It can easily be identified with a set of “teeth” markings just under the name plate. The Yashica 44A was manufactured likely until 1965.
The Yashica 44A is a 127 film, 4x4cm format, Twin Lens Reflex camera. This copy is in a grey colour, although they came in 8 different colours. It is fully mechanical, as there is no meter. Due to the history related to the litigation where Yashica agreed with Rollei to stop producing grey versions from 1960, this is then likely to be a 1959 model.
Both the taking and viewing lenses are Yashikor 60mm f/3.5 lenses. This equates roughly to a 50mm lens in 35mm terms. The taking lens is in a three element configuration. The shutter is a Copal shutter which offers speeds from 1/25 to 1/300 second and Bulb. Setting the speed is done by rotating the ring around the taking lens and aligning the speed marker to the red arrow. The shutter is cocked with a lever just behind the speed settings.
Aperture is selected on the side of the taking lens, with another lever. Options available are f/3.5 through to f/22. The shutter release is in the corner under the taking lens and does not have a remote thread. A flash sync port is available on the other front corner.
On the left hand side of the camera is the focus knob. It moves the front of the camera in and out achieving focus. On this copy distance is marked in feet with closest focus at 3.3 feet (1 metre). The focus knob also has the film reminder on it. You just set it to the film speed you have, marked in ASA and DIN. Highest speed marking is 400 ASA. A flash cold shoe is also on the left hand side.
The right hand side has only the film advance knob. This does not prevent double exposures and can be over advanced. A little red window at the back is used to align the frame number for the next shot. It also has a little sliding cover, to minimise possible light entering the camera.
On the bottom of the camera is the tripod socket which is surrounded by a flat knob that locks/unlocks the back of the camera. Twisting it around to “O” moves the lock away from the camera and allows the back to be swung upwards.
Loading the camera is a fairly standard affair, the 127 film is loaded into the top and threaded into the bottom which is connected to the advance. When the camera is closed, you just need to advance the film to the first frame.
Viewing is through the top, as per regular TLR function. The viewing screen has a cross with a circle in the centre, which is slightly magnified to allow easier focusing. A pop out magnifier is also available, allowing fine focusing and easier viewing in bright sunlight.
This copy came with a bluish grey leather case, which is magnificent looking in itself.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, I seem to have somehow accidentally become a TLR collector. I find them extremely attractive, a product of a previous era. I came across this Yashica 44A online and put in what I thought was reasonable for one in great condition. A week later it arrived and I started to understand why people like these “Baby” models. The size is very convenient and they fit in the hand so well.
I have some 127 film, but this is running out ever since Rerapan has discontinued their 100 ISO black and white film, so I had a moment of decision. Do I use the camera for a few rolls as I do with the other reviews, or do I conserve for other 127 cameras? In the end I decided to try and do this review with one film.
Soon after I started using the Yashica 44A, I started to question this decision. It is such a nice little camera to use. Fantastic to carry around and even with the grey colour, very unobtrusive to use.
The viewing screen was not extensively reflective, so even in bright sunlight it is quite good to use. The magnifier was nice and handy for fine focus. Surprisingly the screen is quite bright itself, as with a f/3.5 viewing lens I expected it to be a bit more dim.
It didn’t take long to hit the first limitation with the 44A in the bright Sydney sunlight. The maximum shutter speed is 1/300 second. Most of the shooting, even in late afternoon, ended up being at the smaller apertures. Further to this, capturing movement without blur was impossible. 1/300 second will not freeze a person in motion, as you can see with the examples presented in this article.
I didn’t mind using the advance knob rather than having a hand crank, it moved smoothly and it was easy to align with the next frame.
The results are very good. Rerapan can be quite contrasty in bright light, which is exactly what came out. The camera did handle this quite well, and the pictures are well defined. Sharpness from the Yashikor lens is also very good. The centre is spot on, with very little fall off to the edges. Light fall off is not significant either. Surprisingly it does have more distortion than I would expect from a standard lens. It is rather strong and can be a little distracting in the photo. Not a camera for any architectural use!
The niggle about the shutter speed maximum aside, it was a very enjoyable camera to use. It just needs a bit of a planned approach and for portraits rather than candid photography. For the target market of the amateur consumer of the time, the camera hits the mark. The results are above what you would expect for that market. I will use the 44A again, hopefully when more 127 film becomes available.
Great review by Mike Eckman of the original Yashica 44 here.