An Interview with Paul Sokk – Site Author of the popular YashicaTLR.com

Chances are you’ve visited Paul’s site and hadn’t known it. Thousands of collectors, online auction sellers and buyers and estate sale pickers gather valuable information about their vintage Yashica cameras from Paul’s well researched and easy to understand site. First appearing in late 2011, Paul describes his website as more of an e-book about Yashica. Paul traces Yashica’s humble beginnings from early 1950s upstart to become the worldwide leader in the manufacture of twin-lens reflex cameras by the end of that decade.

Paul calls the beautiful Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia his home – retiring after 35 years of Government service. He enjoys spending time with his family, photography and writing.

Paul's View

Ahh the joys of retirement… the Central Coast, NSW and a lovely sunset.

Paul

Paul with one of his favorites. A prized Yashica Flex S from 1954.

I first met Paul via his website back in 2014. I asked a seemingly simple question about decoding Yashica serial numbers and ended up with my answer (well sort of – we still regularly battle about it to this day) and a new friend.

Chris: Paul you have an amazing site that just can’t be easily compared to anything else presently online. What was the genesis behind it?

Paul: When I got interested in Yashica TLRs, I wanted to find out more about the history of the cameras. Some of the stuff on-line seemed contradictory, the more I looked into it, the more evidence I found of discrepancies. Barry Toogood’s TLR-cameras.com seemed to be a popular source at the time for both enthusiasts and eBay sellers. Most of the wikis linked to him but their sources were different and seemed to mainly be an interpretation of original ads. Their conclusions were often different to Barry’s but still not reconcilable with what I was seeing. I wanted to set the record straight and I felt that if I could convince Barry to change some of the claims on his site, that would be a tipping point. So I wrote to him. He didn’t agree with me but did say “interesting” and offered me a webpage on his site to state my claims. Being all very new to this and enthusiastic about proving my theories, I was producing page updates at a far greater rate than Barry could keep up with plus I was making additional demands for spreadsheets and graphics etc. It didn’t take long for me to realise that what I needed was my own site. So that page became YashicaTLR.com. My continued commitment to it is partly driven by the hope that one day, Barry will indeed make some changes to his site. Are you listening Barry? (If you are, thanks mate!)

Chris: I know what you mean, and I know lots of bloggers feel the same way about providing accurate and complete information in their blogs too. But your site is huge (in a good way) and it can’t be easy researching all of that data and keeping it straight. We only blog, you maintain a database accessible worldwide that’s used as reference material. Is your background in research? 

Paul: Nah, I’m just a bit anal. Others collect things, I like to collect information about things. Back in the early 70s, I was a uni dropout and followed some friends into the Commonwealth Public Service here in Australia. With a 35 year career mostly in middle management in disciplines varying from personnel to finance to computing systems, I learnt the value of accuracy, process, facts and records management. I also learnt that collecting data is one of the best tools of research. That is why I have spreadsheets listing details of almost 5,000 Yashica TLRs I have found online. That alone has enabled me to decode 1957 to 1980 serial numbers. Mind you, all the mistakes about release dates, some by as much as three or four years, could have been easily fixed by looking at a few original ads available online to anyone.

Chris: Why Yashica? And why specifically Yashica twin-lens reflex cameras? They’ve been out of production for over 30 years now. Do you think film is making a comeback?

Paul: I was a digital convert by 2003 but couldn’t afford a DSLR back then. I craved real metal cameras as a way of linking to my past, not as replacements for my photographic tools but as a nostalgia fix, I just love the feel, sound and weight of them and disliked the plastic AF SLRs of the 80s and 90s, although that is what I still had too. After playing around with some 50s and 60s 35mm cameras, I thought I should get something medium format. Something I had never used before, maybe a TLR, and the first affordable one was a Yashica D. That turned out to be a dud with a focus problem so that was an excuse to follow up with a Yashica LM. Before you know it, a collection had started.

Is film making a comeback? Not in the sense that it is going to hurt digital market share but people are realising that there are these wonderful old tools than can still be used to make exquisite photographs with nuances quite different to a digital photo. It’s not that one is better, I think that there is room for both.

Chris: Your background is of course with film photography. Can you tell us what formats you used and which you enjoyed the most?

Paul: I’ve been mostly a 35mm shooter, although in the early 1970s, I did 2 years of a commercial photography course which mostly used 4×5 view cameras. They were a huge amount of fun but not really the kit for a non-pro. I like the square TLR formats but they are challenging at times. Sometimes a composition screams for it but when it doesn’t suit, it doesn’t suit. I hate having to crop to change format and generally I also tend to prefer a slightly wider angle of view. In that way, 35mm is more forgiving and even more so is the 4:3 aspect ratio of micro four thirds that I now use.

Chris: Do you recall your first experience with a digital camera? Did you see a bright future for digital back then or did it seem like it could never equal film’s capabilities?

 

My daughter was born in 1990. By her first birthday, I was following her around everywhere with an analogue camcorder. Having shot some 8mm movie stuff previously, that was an eye-opener. It was only a small step to my first digital camcorder in 2000 and by then I was a total convert to the idea of digital imaging. At about the same time, the branch I was managing got hold of its first digital stills camera. That came home quite often with me. First, our family bought a Pentax Optio p&s camera for about AU$1,200 but by 2003, I had replaced my SLR with a Canon G2. What I loved most about electronic film, both analogue and digital, was the amount of control it gave back to the user. Only a darkroom could match it for film but that was no longer a realistic possibility for me.

Chris: What equipment do you enjoy using today? Are you a film vice digital shooter or have you (like most of us) embraced digital as your primary tool and film for your artistic side?

Paul's Olympus

Paul: I use one digital body and that is an Olympus E-M5 II. My favourite and most used lens is an f/1.8 17mm prime, although I have the Pro standard zoom and some other lenses as well. I previously used Canon APS SLRs but for my purposes, I can’t tell the difference quality wise, I’m getting more keepers and my wife doesn’t cringe when I say “I’m bringing the camera”.

Chris: Money’s no object – what would be your perfect digital setup? How about film?

Paul: I’m very happy with my Olympus gear and Panasonic has some nice micro four thirds temptations as well, but, always the but, there are better low light performers and for some reason, I seem to find myself in low light quite a bit so perhaps I would give a Sony A7s II and some nice Zeiss primes a go. For film, maybe a Leica M7, or something I have just thought of, the CONTAX 645 AutoFocus SLR. Nah, too heavy for selfies.

Chris: Final questions coming up. Thinking back over the years, are there any film cameras (and lenses) you wish you still had or wished that you had gotten?

Paul: In the mid-70s, I probably should have kept my Minolta SR-T101 instead of trading it on a Zorki IV Leica copy. Going back to basics was just an excuse for “couldn’t afford the lenses”. Which brings me to the second part. I wish I had got some more Minolta lenses for the SR-T101 instead of adapted crap.

Chris: You’ve been given $500, are you going to spend it on a camera for research purposes or something more current like that special something you just have to have to make your digital photography just a tad better?

Paul: Give me the $500 and let me surprise you… No? $500 is not enough but I am pining for a decent wide angle lens. I would only spend $500 on a camera for research purposes if it was likely to be an appreciating asset. I’m not good with anything that involves making money.

Chris: OK for real this time, one more three part question. Do you have any suggestions on how to start a website like yours? Have you thought about blogging? Why no advertising?

Paul: Part 1 – Do I have any suggestions? Don’t do it my way. A wordy long book-like website is not really a website, it’s an e-book. Either learn or pay for real web-design skills or pray that you are offering a subject which will attract people regardless of what they may have to wade through. Oh, and definitely pay for more reliable hosting, it’s not worth the unbelievable angst for that teensy 5% of time that it’s really a crap service.

Part 2 – Yep, maybe when they introduce the 36 hour day.

Part 3 – It’s ad free for a number of reasons. The main one is that even though I try to stick to using my own photos, or my contributors photos, there are so many different Yashica variations to analyse and document, invariably, I end up “borrowing” from the net. Quite often this might be from a Japanese auction where it is impossible to ask permission but sometimes from western sites too. I acknowledge that on the site. I try to minimise any concerns by only using the part of the image that features whatever I am wanting to show and usually at quite low resolution. My defence for doing that is that it’s in the public interest. Mind you, that is a moral, not legal defence. If I start making money out of advertising, I lose the moral argument as well. The other reasons are “the site is too big already” and my doubts that this type of site could generate anything worthwhile.

Thanks so much Paul for taking the time to visit with us.  I encourage anyone even with a passing interest in film photography to stop by Paul’s site (be sure to bookmark it) at http://www.yashicatlr.com

You can contact Paul directly at paulsokk@live.com.au

A small sample of Paul’s most recent work which includes a trip to Japan in November, 2016 –

Paul's Sydney

The Sydney Opera House – 27 May 2017, E-M5 Mk II and M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 lens. The occasion was Vivid Sydney, an annual light show.

Paul's Storm

Storm clouds across Brisbane Water, near Broken Bay, Gosford, NSW.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Japan, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Japan, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Japan, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hiroshima, Japan 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Japan, 2016

Paul's Yashica 635

Yashica 635 from Paul’s collection.

Yashica TLR

http://www.yashicatlr.com

Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex, Yashica Flex, Yashicaflex & Yashica Models
ピジョンフレック ヤシマフレックス ヤシカフレック ヤシカ

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