A Slight Diversion from Pentamatics

Some classic Yashica (Yashima Optical Co., Ltd.) instruction booklets from the 1950s.

Before there could be a Pentamatic, Yashica had to start somewhere and that somewhere was with easy to build twin lens reflex (TLR) cameras. TLRs were also know as medium format cameras that took (6 x 6 cm) or 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch sized images on 120 roll film. In the early 1950s the competition between Japanese camera makers was to say kindly, fierce! Out of hundreds of start ups in those early days of the 1950s, only a few manufacturers would emerge by the end of the decade to compete not only in the domestic market, but in the growing global marketplace as well. Going head-to-head with well established camera companies from Germany and in some cases, the United States.

In a departure with the then norm of simply producing basic user’s manuals or instruction leaflets, Yashima’s marketing department decided to publish (at great cost I’m sure) a series of more sophisticated instruction books that would serve as a calling card of the company’s knowledge in the field of photography. The series, “Yashica flex Photography” (my translation) often featured images from well known professional photographers and images of rising models and actors (and actresses). The books would start with a brief “mission statement” from Yashima’s founder and president followed by details on how to operate the particular camera model, use a light meter, how to adjust exposure and focus, load film, hold the camera, take flash and studio

From the series of "Yashica flex Photography" books from the 1950s.

From the series of “Yashica flex Photography” books from the 1950s.

photography and even how to develop the film and make prints in your own home darkroom. Yashima also included sections on using accessories such as filters, flashes, tripods, cable releases and lens hoods. Not all of the accessories were made by Yashima… often other manufacturers products were included and identified by name. Generally not seen in instruction books of the time (and certainly not today).

So bravo to Yashica! These books serve as a great reference to any collector and I’m sure introduced and encouraged many a young photographer of the day to achieve greater confidence in their picture taking abilities.

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Pentamatic… great camera or epic fail?

Did Yashica produce a great new SLR or did they miss the mark…

Yashica started making the Pentamatic in small numbers in December 1959 and appeared to have enough made to release into the marketplace by the May-June 1960 time period. I have proof (finally) that the Pentamatic model I and model II were available in the Japanese domestic market for around ¥34,800 for the model I and ¥37,300 for the model II. Not quite sure why the big change in price other than they made a price adjustment to cover the costs of manufacturing and marketing. Even the simple leather case went up in price by ¥200. The original list price was $159.95 in the US with another $12.95 for the leather case. By the January 1961 issue of Modern Photography, the Pentamatic was reduced quite drastically by some camera dealers in New York. Why the drastic sell off? 

By January 1961, some pretty strong discounts.

By January 1961, some pretty strong discounts.

Some Early Yashima (Yashica) History

The excitement of those early days at Yashima…

A slight departure from the Yashica Pentamatic and a brief look at Yashima, later Yashica, in the mid 1950s. In less than 2 years as a camera manufacturer, Yashima was demonstrating its commitment to producing quality products across the spectrum of its product line. Most camera manufacturers in Japan were busy developing credible and affordable cameras and lenses for sale at home and around the world… that was what was expected to be successful in the marketplace. There were hundreds of small start up photographic companies emerging from Japan in the post war years, but by the end of the 1950s, hundreds would be gone. Yashica’s brilliance came from understanding what the domestic market would embrace and what the world markets would accept. Inexpensive high quality cameras that the masses could afford and marketing that gave the company a presence that would set it apart. As I have stated before, by the end of the decade of the 1950s approached, Yashica was out producing and out selling other such well know competitors as Olympus, Canon, Nikon and Pentax combined!

Yashima’s first ‘instruction booklets’ (more like leaflets) were quickly replaced by a wonderful series of books that served as both an instruction manual for a particular camera and as a lesson book in the art of photography. The series titled Yashica Flex Photography was first published in August 1955 with many editions and re-printings to follow over the next 2 to 3 years. The books served a purpose in establishing Yashica as a credible camera company and contributing to the general education of the many young photographers developing their skills. Some of the books feature images taken by well known professional photographers as well as popular models and actresses in Japan at the time. In my opinion, certainly not an inexpensive way to go for such a humble item as an instruction booklet. It has been pointed out to me by my good friend Paul Sokk (www.yashicatlr.com) that these books were only published for the Japanese domestic market and there are no examples of English language versions. Yashica did issue more traditional instruction booklets in English for their TLRs produced during this period for markets outside of Japan.

Small sample of Yashima / Yashica instruction books from the 1950s.

Small sample of Yashima / Yashica instruction books from the 1950s.

Here are just a few examples…

Image taken by Mr. Akiyama Shotaro c1955.

Image taken by Mr. Akiyama Shotaro c1955.

Unknown

Unknown “actor” poses for the cover of the Yashica A III Yashica Flex Photography book.

Cover photo from the model C. Actress was Ayako Wakao and the photographer was Matsushima Susumu.

Cover photo from the model C. Actress was Ayako Wakao and the photographer was Matsushima Susumu.