Although words like "best" and "ultimate" are fun to throw around, of course there is no objectively best camera out there for a beginner. But to me, the Yashica Mat 124G is pretty close for a variety of reasons. From its handling to price, there is a lot to appreciate in this little gem. Here are some of my favorite features and why I think a person starting out in film photography might be in hog heaven with the little Yashica.
Fun, fun, fun
First and foremost, this camera is fun. It's all manual except for the light meter, which is practically useless anyway. But as soon as you open a TLR (twin lens reflex) camera, you're almost guaranteed to smile. The world is just different when you're looking down onto the ground glass. And even though, historically, I've been a fan of prisms over waist-level viewfinders, the simplicity of this camera won me over. It's lightweight, simple to load, and easy to grab and go. Just lock the shutter, throw it in a bag, and head out for a day of shooting. It has a sharp, fixed 80mm (50mm equivalent in 35mm style cameras) f/3.5 lens, aperture and shutter speed controls, and a quiet leaf shutter that can sync at all speeds.
Also, I believe the best way to get excited about trying something new is to make sure it's very different from what you were doing before. Using a TLR is novel. The viewfinder is big. The image on the ground glass is reversed laterally. It's entirely different to hold this camera than a 35mm style camera. There's a definite learning curve involved, but the camera is so simple and fun that it should keep you interested.
It's a Conversation-Starter
I don't know about you, but I love speaking to other photographers and people who are interested in photography. I find that networking and trading stories helps build my passion for the art. When you break out this puppy, you're guaranteed to get some looks. People will talk to you about the camera, and because it's so unusual looking by today's standards, people are more likely to pose for you. Seriously. I find that the more unusual the camera, the easier it is to convince a stranger to sit for you. That said, if you're into getting that candid moment, it might be tough because people will see you coming from a mile away.
The shop I borrowed the camera from, Englewood Camera, had it for about $250. You just can't beat that. If you're thinking of sticking your toes in the waters of film, a low barrier to entry is a definite bonus. Also, because these cameras are older, they've already depreciated; and should you decide to sell it, you can likely get back exactly what you paid for it.
If you've been toying with the idea of getting a film camera, definitely give a Yashica Mat 124G a chance. You really can't go wrong with it. Check out the video above for my more in-depth review of the body and its workings! If you have any questions or comments about my experience with the Yashica, sound off below!