Preparing my talk on subminiatures for a meeting, I took the cameras out and spent some time with them – they’ve been a bit neglected recently. Do other people do this? I have periods when a particular part of the collection gets a lot of attention, and then I move on to other parts. Because I did a group exhibition this year with two other photographers, my attention has all been on cameras that will actually make pictures good enough to print large and put on a gallery wall. That focuses one’s attention more on the larger formats – I showed a mixture of digital and film exposures, including the delightful Corfield WA67. For those who don’t know it, this is a superbly made (hand-made, really) architectural wide-angle camera for 6x7 on 120 film. It was a part of the re-launch of the Corfield camera business in the early 1990s; probably only a couple of hundred were made. I reckon it counts as collectible as well as usable, despite being relatively young. Needless to say, it takes outstanding pictures.
Anyway, back to the subminiatures. They are a pretty quirky bunch, many having been designed around their own unique cassettes (a really bad idea, commercially) and many of them must carry with them the heartache of their designers and promoters. All that effort and money, and very few sales. Inevitably they incorporate new ideas, some good and some less so. Looking over the cameras that I took to my talk, several can be labelled unique in some way – the Viscawide is, I think, the only 16mm swing-lens panorama camera (the Roundshot uses the smaller Minox film); the MEC16SB has the honour of being the world’s first camera with a TTL lightmeter. So the MEC is a milestone, the Viscawide a dead end. However, there’s one camera that stood out, with an invention never taken up by anyone else, but which really works and could have added convenience to almost any 35mm or medium format camera. I write of the Yashica Y16 of 1959.
The Y16 is a well-made, conventional looking 16mm pocket camera, a rectangular block of nicely enamelled metal, pale grey with a choice of colours for the front panel. It loads using cartridges, which snap in and out very easily allowing mid-roll film changes with the loss of only one frame. The cleverest bit, though, is the shutter; speeds are 1/25 - 1/200 plus "S". The "S" shutter speed is a really cunning idea and operates like a combination of B and T. When the shutter is set on "S", press the release halfway and the shutter opens. Continue to press it all the way and the shutter closes. With this feature, you can vary the shutter speed from about 1/8 of a second to as long as you want. For a short speed, such as 1/4, press the shutter release until it opens and continue the finger movement to close it. For a bit longer, delay the second movement. For much longer speeds, press the shutter release halfway until it opens and then let go - the shutter stays open until you come back and press the shutter all the way. This really works, and after a small amount of practice you wonder how you ever did without it.
Of course, the half-press of the shutter button has now been taken over by another function, to activate automatic focus and exposure operations, so we shan’t be following the Y16’s example today. But the opportunity lost by camera makers for two decades from 1959 actually makes me rather sad!
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An occasional and irregular blog, mostly of photographic experimentation and photographic history.
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