Yashica 35

The first of the 35 mm cameras

Contents

Arrival
The Camera

Lenses
Target Markets

Production & Trim Variations
Following Models

Arrival

The Yashica 35 was Yashima's first 35 mm camera and the second camera after its Yashica 8 movie camera to tread a different path to its bread and butter 6x6 TLR models which had so far been the source of the company's growth and success. The writing was on the wall for TLRs and Yashima could see that the future looked different.

How this camera was developed is not clear to me. It is often linked to the acquisition of Nicca (May 1958). The Yashica rangefinder camera website Yashica Guy, comments that it “ is the first of the Rangefinder models to have been produced in the integrated Yashica Works”. In a sense that is likely to be correct but from serial numbers, it looks like the first production examples rolled off the assembly line in April 1958 already which fits with the April 1958 release claimed by Japanese magazine “Camera Collectors' News” of July 1987. In other words, Yashima was already making this camera before the arrangement with Nicca came into effect.

Although lacking innovation in comparison to some contemporary models, most commentators regard the Yashica 35 as a well designed, quality camera. To me, it seems like the mature product of a camera maker familiar with 35 mm fixed lens rangefinder cameras so it is quite remarkable for a first up effort, particularly in light of Yashica Guy's claim that the General Manager of the “reorganised company”, Mr Agucho, had a vision of a rangefinder camera “which the masses could afford”.

Clearly, the design, testing and tooling for such a model will have taken some time to execute and its gestation must have occurred well back in 1957, if not earlier. If Yashica had any sort of outside assistance or partnership in the development, it would unlikely have been struggling Nicca as its models had little in common with a rangefinder camera with fixed lens and in-lens leaf shutter.

(Back to top)

The Camera

The Yashica 35 is a well constructed substantial, mostly glass and metal, full manual camera without exposure meter. Like several other Japanese rangefinders from the period, the handsome overall look of the camera is borrowed from the pre-War German Contax II, or from the Nikon S, take your pick. The Nikon S was a visual copy (and more) of the Contax II in any case. With lever film wind, re-wind knob with folding crank and hinged back, the Yashica 35 is already modern but still uses the sliding latch on the side for opening the back which was common in the 1950s:

Given Yashima's established focus on quality at the lowest prices (profit through volume) and the vision of this camera as being for the “masses”, Yashima could have been forgiven for some cost cutting with this first model but there is little evidence of that. The coupled rangefinder has a long base and uses superior prisms instead of mirrors. The combined viewfinder/rangefinder window is not parallax corrected but does have a bright frame, already an improvement over most of the more expensive Leica copies available. Frame counting is in a window and resets automatically, not even something carried across into Yashica's first SLRs. The top plate also has a window for setting the DIN/ASA film speed reminder.

As far as I can make out from references and also photos showing the name on the side of the lens barrel, the between lens leaf shutter is a Copal MXV on all variants. However, photos of a tear down of an early example clearly show a Copal SV cover plate once the front lens elements are removed. I have no way of knowing whether that is a one-off, replacement or something else.

(Detail from larger web image)

With the shutter open on Bulb, my late f/1.9 version displays a 10 curved bladed aperture, typical of the Copal MXV shutters used on Yashica's TLRs.

Regardless, there is a full range of shutter speeds from B to 1/500, using the old progression, and also a self-timer.

(Back to top)

Lenses

Two versions of the Yashica 35 were offered, one with an f/1.9 4.5 cm Yashinon lens and the other with an f/2.8 4.5 cm Yashinon lens. In other respects, the two models were identical. Both lenses are relatively sophisticated designs for the time, the f/1.9 is 6 elements in 4 groups and the f/2.8 is 5 elements in 4 groups:

(Scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Click on page for larger version)

That page is taken from this brochure, there are also similar details in a slightly later brochure.

On the headings, both lenses are called “Yashinon”, however, the name on the front of both lenses is “Yasinon”. There is more here including cine lens examples. Clearly, Yashima had a change of mind. The only f/2.8 “Yasinon” examples I have seen are in brochures. However, production versions of the f/1.9 “Yasinon” lens are comparatively common. All the examples fitted to the cameras made in the first two months, April and May 1958, are branded “Yasinon” and the odd one or two continue to appear on cameras made up to and including May 1959. If anyone doubts my interpretation of serial numbers, about half of the “Yasinon” examples in my database have the maker name “YASHIMA OPT. IND. Co., LTD.” and the other half , “YASHICA Co., LTD.” (see below). All the “Yasinon” f/1.9 lenses have 5 digit serial numbers and the “Yashinon” lenses 6 digit but the production “Yashinon” f/2.8 lenses start with 5 digits and progress to 6 digits. Yasinon example below that was for sale:

(Detail from larger web image)

With Zunow cine lens examples and the 13.5 cm LTM telephoto for the YE & YF almost certainly being made by Kyoei Optical Co., Ltd., the idea of Tomioka being the “exclusive” lens maker for Yashica is somewhat discredited. So who made these lenses? I think that Tomioka has to be the front runner. Whereas with the other lens formats, there was no history of prior examples, similar focal length and aperture “Tominor” lenses (renamed “Tominon” on some later variants) are found on Royal rangefinder cameras made by Royal Camera Company from 1955 onward. The lens construction of the 45 mm f/1.9 and f/2.8 lenses is not known to me but the earliest model featured an unusually complex f/2 50 mm lens with 7 elements in 5 groups, or, an f/2.8 lens with 5 elements. Tomioka may also have been responsible for the “Canter” and “Biokor” lenses on Beauty cameras.

Focusing Distance Scales

With lens barrels that pretty much look identical to each other, you would expect the focusing distance scales to be the same too, but no. Right from the beginning, whether “Yasinon” or “Yashinon”, Yashima made or Yashica made, the f/1.9 lenses are marked either “M” or “ft” for metres and feet respectively. The one oddity is that there is one only dual scales example marked “m” (white) and “ft” (yellow). It is a late 1959 lens but a 1960 lens reverts to feet only and there are no f/2.8 dual scale examples and some of these are later still.

On the other hand, the f/2.8 lenses on the early Yashima made examples are mainly in feet marked “ft”. There is one metric one marked “Meter”. Then when the maker name changed to Yashica, all bar one in my database are now metric, still marked “Meter” but the one exception is marked “feet”.

(Back to top)

Target Markets

It's difficult to draw any real conclusions about export patterns, but it may just be that I don't have enough examples, or probably more accurately, a disproportionate number of my examples are from Japanese websites. Even my late f/1.9 example has a feet scale marked “ft” but was bought by me from Japan.

I don't recall seeing any non-Japanese ads or brochures except for the one Singaporean ad mentioned below. Nevertheless there was clearly an export program. Japanese brochures for the domestic market refer to a book with “Yashica 35” in English on the cover which is described as a complete photography guide, much like the Yashicaflex Photography type books supplied with Japanese market TLRs. A YouTube video reviewer featuring a Yashica 35, probably from Australia, tells us that the camera belonged to his mother from before her marriage to his photographer father. It is boxed, cased and includes the original English language user manual. From time to time, other Yashica 35 examples do turn up for sale here and I can't honestly say that I have spent much time looking on eBay in the US or elsewhere.

(Back to top)

Production & Trim Variations

According to serial numbers, production of both versions seems to have started in April 1958. The maker name on the back of the top plate was “YASHIMA OPT. IND. Co., LTD.” In September 1958, along with all affected models (e.g. Yashica-Mat), the maker name changed to “YASHICA Co., LTD.”:

(Left detail from larger web image)

Production seemed to continue until the end of 1959 after which time the f/2.8 model seemed to be produced in limited batches at a time. The final f/2.8 cameras, if the date code holds, which I am by no means sure of, could be from August 1961. Net commentary suggests production ended in 1960. There are few ads from outside Japan but The Singapore Free Press newspaper ran an ad for the f/1.9 model on 27 January 1960. The f/1.9 camera production slowed to a crawl in about May 1959. The final f/1.9 camera in my database may be from October 1960 but it is the only example from 1960 at all, in fact since November 1959. It is noteworthy because it is also the only confirmed f/1.9 camera in my database to get all the following updates featured on the f/2.8 model, although the July, August and November 1959 examples in my database probably also received them (not visible in photographs):

(Left detail from larger web image)

(Detail from larger web images)

There was one more change for the f/2.8 model examples in my database. With the same caveat about the date code mentioned above, in what I think is early 1961, the label on the leatherette was dispensed with and “Made in Japan” moved to the back of the top plate to join the maker name. The engraving is now “YASHICA CO., LTD. MADE IN JAPAN”. I have found six examples like this but the first has a lower case “o” as in “Co.,”:

(Detail from larger web image)

(Back to top)

Following Models

It seems that the Yashica 35 remained in production whilst the next 2 models were released. These are the YK and YL. “K” before “L”, right? Not according to Japanese “Camera Collectors' News” of July 1987 which claims that the YK went on sale in August 1959 and the YL was released in April 1959. Nevertheless, I'll treat them alphabetically.

The YK top plate is simply engraved “Yashica” with “YK” on the front window but the user manual calls it the “Yashica 35 YK”. It looks substantial and well made and very similar to the Yashica 35 except for a modified top plate with a slight step. However, it is most assuredly a budget model. The elegant long window on the front hides the fact that the rangefinder base has been shortened, the film speed reminder is now a simple dial on the back and the automatic frame counter has been replaced by the simpler and very common manual reset type counter on top of the film wind lever.

(User manual photo)

The Copal MXV shutter has been replaced by the simpler Copal type found on the Yashica A TLR. Consequently, the self-timer is gone and shutter speeds reduced to B and 1/25 to 1/300. Only the one lens was available, an f/2.8 4.5 cm. I haven't been able to confirm whether this is the same as on the Yashica 35 but the well known website, www.collection-appareils.fr, claims that the lens is 4 elements in 3 groups, probably a Tessar, which wouldn't surprise me, and this Japanese website, www.asahi-net.or.jp, thinks the same.

However, Yashica hadn't abandoned more advanced specs and features. Enter the unusual, and to my eyes at least, visually challenging, YL model. This has a completely new body and look which seems to echo elements of both the Nicca III-L and Yashica YF. This time, the top plate is engraved “Yashica 35” with “YL” on the front and as with the YK, the user manual calls it the “Yashica 35 YL”. It's the YF like stepped top plate with III-L like black viewfinder/rangefinder window surround that makes it stand out but there are other more interesting features. The bright line viewfinder is now usefully parallax correcting. The top plate and viewfinder placement don't easily allow for a rewind knob/crank so Yashica added a pull-out crank to the bottom plate. This apparently works well but does add cost and complexity with an internal shaft and gears required. The automatic frame counter makes a return and the film speed reminder moves to the top of the film wind lever.

(User manual photo)

There are two versions, one with f/1.9 lens 4.5 cm Yashinon lens mounted in a Copal SVL shutter and the other with an f/2.8 Yashinon lens mounted in a Copal MXV shutter. The lens types/optical construction are not known to me but could be the same as on the Yashica 35. Both versions are fitted with a self-timer.

After these came a whole slew of similar models based on the YL body but with new flat top plate (the base plate rewind crank disappeared mid-way during the next model's run). These were the mid-spec Minister models (first called simply “M”, presumably because “M” follows “L” as in “YL”) with exposure meter , top-spec Lynx models which added large aperture lenses and the lower spec J and Campus models without meter. Some basic automation followed with the Yashica EE and Minimatic models until finally in 1966, the all new Electro 35 ushered in the electronic revolution and rangefinder success.

(Back to top)