The days are both early autumn and mid-Corona. Being of the at-risk population I stay mostly at home. As the weather changes it is the time to switch from summer shorts to track pants which are my winter at-home staple. However, my girth has shrunk from extra-large to a mere large, so all pants sort of don’t stay put. My bride went on her rounds and brought a pair of size large track pants, all well save for the bottom of the pants, that is finished with a stretchy sleeve-like around the ankles which I don’t find comfortable. Also, there is a diagonal seam halfway the leg that makes it looks like yoga or riding pants, to neither I subscribe. So I repaired to the good people at Amazon who are always ready with a solution.
Puzzled, I found out that most track pants are finished the same at the bottom and carry that seam. I did find a pair of old-fashioned pants to my liking, but here comes a cardinal question: how come that all manufacturers suddenly change a current and proven style to a different one? Is there any decree from the sports clothes authority, or do they convene at a secret den as the season changes and vote for the style to come?
It does not end there. Each year and season thereof fashion changes. The hemline and waistline go up or down. Dresses cut change and so does the colour palette. All appear on the shelves at about the same time, where it takes a good part of a year for manufacturing and logistics to get them there. The same with motor cars. A certain model year all cars offer very similar colours, and silhouette lines are hardly distinguishable. Here design and manufacturing take years ahead of launching time, yet at the model year launching all look alike. All that when the carmakers, each a major corporation on its own, are in stiff competition over each car sold so should offer a standout looks. I do not have the answer.
Here is where the wise reader asks herself/himself what does the above have to do with cameras. Here it is:
In the early 1960’s Olympus introduced 35mm half-frame cameras into the mainstream. The half-frame format was used before by other camera manufacturers, but not as a complete and ongoing line as by the Olympus. Such cameras, smaller compared to the full-frame viewfinders or rangefinders of the time, still subscribed to the same design pattern as the latter.
In the early 60’s, four camera manufacturers, three in Japan and one in Poland came to market with half-frame format, with vertical film travel. All four, being Canon Dial, Yashica Rapide, Taron Chic, and WZFO Alfa, risked a large investment in the hope of becoming a trailblazer in this style. None succeeded. Why such a similar concept was taken by all four is understood, as there are two ways to run a strip of film, horizontally or vertically. But the question is why did they do it at the same time and by a very similar product.
Yashica Rapide appearance
The Yashica Rapide is a pleasure to look at and to hold. The body proportions are almost the same as my LG smartphone, made some sixty years later, just thicker. It looks much better than the Taron Chic, let alone the Alfa. Yashica even added a crest at the bottom front, giving it a classic halo. It is all metal, no soft touches save for the back, and it feels very natural in the hand. It is not always that I like a camera as much as this one, and here it is from the first sight.
Holding and operating it is as pleasing as its appearance. I had two doubts about it, but both proved to make sense. First, I toyed with the camera for some time and went to have dinner. Something bothered me, couldn’t tell what, till I realised that I didn’t see any winding feature. went back to it and as my food got cold I found it. Second, it seemed odd that the light meter lens points up rather than the front. This too has a reason, explanation to follow.
The front of the camera features three-tone metal shades, in grey and silver. The grey section is sized to an exact golden ratio. A deceivingly large viewer, gold-hued, allows for a smallish field of view, compared to other viewfinders. Not sure why the gold hue. Parallax marks are visible when looking at the viewer from a few centimetres away, but are not visible when holding it to the eye. Next to it is the light meter reading barrel. Below, a large metal lens cap that snugly fits over the full lens assembly. The crest is at the bottom just to fill an otherwise barren area, guess just for looks. A flash sync port is at the edge, above the lens, not unlike a beauty spot. On the right, there are the film rewind release, a mounting thread and a rewind lever. All nicely spaced. on the left are the frame counter under a magnifying lens and the shutter release. Unlike its above-mentioned brethren, the shutter release blends nicely in the body and is located where you would expect it to be. Top carries a cold shoe and the selenium meter lens. The back features the film door, partly leatherette covered, an ASA selector and the viewer. Bottom left is the back door release catch and a nice leather lanyard. On that later.
Film rolls from bottom to top, which I think is the convention in this camera style. Being half-frame the default position is landscape. The Yashica Rapide can be conveniently held by small and large hands alike. But, in one point it lacks compared to the other cameras of that family: the viewer window is positioned at the right side, making it difficult to aim straight for large-nosed users such me. I had to either hold it at a slight slant or hold it away from my eye. When holding the camera sideways to the problem goes away.
Operating the Yashica Rapide
Using the camera has its own peculiarities.
- Light meter: At first look, it seems that the light meter lens is at the wrong place, facing up. The reading window is facing forward. At a second look, it makes perfect sense, deliberately installed this way.
Once the film is loaded, the user sets the dial at the back of the camera to the film speed. The same dial, viewed from the front, is marked with a scale of numerical value Once the light meter is directed to the object, the meter’s needle points to a number on the dial, specifying an exposure value. Below these numbers, marked red, there is an attached scale, in black, giving a deviation reference.
- Lens assembly includes, in concentric circles:
The Distance dial, metric on the top and imperial at the bottom, from 1m / 3’6″ to infinity, with the additional marking of ‘C’, for close and ‘P ‘for person. The markings on top and bottom of the little barrel, 25mm / 1″ diameter, are evident to the thoughts put into this camera design. in other cameras designers tried to force both metric and imperial scales into a small area, resulting in illegible sized markings. The ‘P’ position clicks into a stop for fast focusing.
- What I like most about the settings, are the shutter speed and the aperture combination setting. These are two concentric dials, an external shutter speed dial and an internal aperture openings dial. The external dial is adjusted via two little handles, more like square bulges, where the green speed markings on the dial are to meet a green arrowhead on the fixed containing ring.
The internal ring, marked with the aperture values, in white, is moved via a knurled edge, towards the same arrowhead marking. The combined settings yield an exposure value, shown in red, shown in a small hole at the top of the aperture dial. This value should be set to correspond with the exposure value shown on the meter.
What it means is that the correct exposure can be simply set to the meter recommended value by turning the shutter speed ring and the aperture opening ring against each other.
What it really means is that the Yashica designers created a mechanical computer, simple to the core and plainly efficient. True, it is much like using the light meter needle reading in a coupled meter, but here it dead simple.
- Self-timer and flash sync selectors are neatly set within the outer fixed ring.
Which brings me to the final trick this little camera has in its bag, winding. As the adage says, if all fails read the manual. I did. The leather lanyard at the bottom pulls out a metal bracket that winds the film and cocks the shutter. Ingenious. With agile fingers and some practice, one can shoot at a rapid sequence. Note that the back opening latch is at the end opposite to the winding latch.
Yashica or Kyocera do not make cameras anymore. Yashica succeeded with their TLR lines, rangefinders, viewfinders, and the later CONTAX cameras. Failed with the SLR lines. If other cameras would have vested with the thought and practicality of this little gem am sure Yashica would be still leading the field these days.
Here is an ancient advertising clip by the Japanese Four Stooges doing Companion de la Chanson:
|Format||35mm half frame|
|Weight||540 gr, Body with lens|
|Class average weight||400 gr, Body with lens|
|Filter size||25mm (?)|
|Lens mount||Fixed lens|
|Light meter||Selenium, uncoupled|