Going Back to My Roots
Published 3 May 2019
My dad Alex received a Yashica MG-1 for his 21st birthday way back in 1977 and when I went back home at Christmas he said I could have it. This is the camera that took the vast majority of my childhood photos, so it’s a pretty important piece of kit to me. I always remember it being massive but that’s probably because I used to be a lot smaller...
The first step was to try and find a battery to use, as the original mercury oxide batteries are a bit toxic and you can’t buy them anymore. A quick bit of googling led me to Yashica Guy, who makes an adapter to enable you to use a standard alkaline battery in the MG-1. Sorted.
This Japanese rangefinder shoots in auto exposure aperture priority and is fitted with a fixed Yashinon 45mm f/2.8 lens. The shutter speed ranges from 2 seconds to 1/500 seconds and stepless Copal shutter chooses the best speed to for the ambient light and aperture that is set. The ISO can be set from a rather limited range of 25 to 800, which seems even more limited when you consider that this is the only way to overexpose or underexpose an image. The minimum aperture is f/16, so combined with the 1/500s shutter speed I wouldn’t want to be shooting in really bright light - luckily I was trying it out in winter in Manchester, so the chances of bright sunlight were slim.
I hadn’t used a rangefinder camera before, my digital cameras are mirrorless and my other analogue cameras are SLRs (those of you who know the difference please skip this paragraph so I don’t bore you). When you look through the viewfinder of a SLR (or single lens reflex) the image you see is the same image that the lens of the camera sees - via a mirror and prism. The viewfinder on a rangefinder, like the MG-1, is offset from the lens and a second window, known as the rangefinder window, is located above the lens. The image from the rangefinder window is projected on to the viewfinder with a mirror, which moves as the focus ring is turned. When the two images line up perfectly then the lens is properly in focus. In summary, it’s much easier to poke a SLR through a gap in a fence and focus.
The lack of mirror also gives a less than satisfying shutter sound, just a feint click. It took me a few shots to actually make sure everything was working correctly. I can see the advantages in avoiding mirror slap but I find a SLR to have a much more reassuring clunk to it when you take a photo.
Through the viewfinder of the MG-1 you may see either of the two arrows – one yellow and one red. The yellow arrow lights up when the image is underexposed and points left so you know to turn the aperture ring to the left (wider). The red arrow lights up if the image is overexposed and points to the right to make you select a smaller aperture. So I was mostly sure I got things right if I didn’t see any arrows. It would be good to get a green light if the exposure is spot on but maybe I’m just another millennial needing constant positive feedback?
It has been great to take this camera for a spin as it has a lot of sentimental value to me. It takes a lovely photo too, despite me not being totally sure if everything was working properly after all these years. Thanks dad, I’ll take care of this one.
Sample Photos: Yashica MG-1 and Fujifilm C200. Developed /scanned at FilmNeverDie, Melbourne.
Bonus Sample Photos: Yashica MG-1 and the old man is pretty sure it was with Truprint ISO200 film.