Point & Shoot

Notes on the Yashica Auto Focus Motor: A Review – By Michael Raven

The Yashica Auto Focus Motor. I’d never heard of it before finding one in a local charity shop, and for a mere £8 including original strap, case and manual, I thought it was worth a go. Delighted to discover that it worked perfectly, some ambivalence still remained due to its awkward looks, noises (more on that later) and name; no alphanumeric codes like the greats here, just a description of its one main feature: Auto Focus Motor. It also lacks the magical T* designation on the lens which has made later Yashica iterations so sought after. So why do I like it so much?

First, a quick overview: launched in 1981, this is an auto-everything camera, equipped with a 38mm f/2.8 lens, a film speed scale going from ISO 25 to 400, and a very-satisfying-to-pop-up flash unit. The only room for creative input – aside from framing and firing – is manually selecting the ISO. It also has a focus lock button for those times when the subject isn’t bang in the middle of the frame, along with a focus scale window to confirm what it’s focused on.

In low light, a half-press of the shutter release triggers a warning light in the viewfinder to suggest using flash (with the front covered, this also doubles up as the ‘battery check’ function). It’s not compact in the way that some of its peers are, but it’s small enough, and I actually quite like the reassuring heft of the thing. The viewfinder has parallax lines, there’s a tripod mount and of course a shutter lock button. And that’s about it.

In use, one of the most noticeable things is the noise. That auto focus motor, combined with the film advance, makes a terrific racket. This is certainly not a street photographer’s camera, unless you want everyone on that street to be unequivocally alerted to the fact that you just took a photo. Sounding like a mechanised bugle call, it announces your presence with every shot.

Then there’s how it looks: every button is decked out in a bold colour, reminiscent of a child’s toy that might have a ‘try me!’ label next to it on the packaging. As it happens, each button is indeed labelled to make its function absolutely clear. Instead of a lens cap, this has a plastic front plate which clips over the front of the camera, clearly a few evolutionary steps behind the advent of integrated sliding covers.

All of this adds up to a camera that is the antithesis of the slick, compact, high-end camera of some of its contemporaries. Accessible rather than esoteric, simple and utterly non-pretentious, it’s as if the splashes of colour are an attempt at friendliness; it goes out of its way to dispel any misconceptions that this is a professional tool. This is the opposite of the type of much-coveted camera we all want then, but what do we really want?

This is a camera where there is little temptation to spend more time taking photos of it than with it, and I’m happy to take it anywhere without being anxious about loss or breakage. I love that I have the option to manually change the ISO on a shot by shot basis (yes, you can hack DX coding, but it’s a bit of a faff). I’d love the scale to go one more stop to 800, but then I suppose it’d be a different kind of camera. I also love that it takes AA batteries and isn’t part of that CR123 generation. I like the lens too: at f/2.8 it’s relatively fast and I’ve found it to be sharp enough. It’s got nothing on the T series lenses (I am reliably informed) and it vignettes like no one’s business, but for me this only adds to its point-n-shoot charm. This is, in its own way, a perfect distraction-free camera that provides an opportunity to keep things simple.

That is to say, having everything automated can sometimes feel severely limiting; at other times it is entirely liberating. I love shooting film, but so often I find myself becoming obsessively preoccupied with taking independent meter readings before ensuring focus is spot on and then checking that everything’s ready to go on my ‘vintage’ (read ‘old and crumbling’) gear. Most of the time, I really enjoy this slow and methodical process, but every now and then it’s refreshing to be able to just see what you want to capture and immediately react, without the temptation to over-analyse, second-guess, and ultimately miss the moment.

These frames were taken on expired (hence the graininess) Kodak Ultramax during a trip to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. If you’d like to see more images taken with this camera then you can find me on Instagram: @michaelraven_

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10 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Terry B
    May 2, 2019 at 10:45 am

    £8 well spent, IMO. Even with outdated film, the camera shows itself to be a very decent performer. Judging by your images, I personally feel that you are being over-critical about the vignetting. In this respect, this lens has to be one of the better performers, going from what I have seen posted on-line.
    It’s a little odd that the body is not emblazoned with the Yashica name, only the lens. So I rather suspect that the camera was made by one of the few manufacturers, possibly Cosina, who provided anonymous bodies, even though the vast majority would have been sold under better known camera names. Perhaps, but who knows, Yashica wanted it known that they were responsible for the lens, and going by your results, not a bad decision by them.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Raven
      May 2, 2019 at 11:32 am

      Thank you Terry, I shot it all +2 stops (I think) to try and compensate for the age of the film. The name Yashica does actually make an appearance on the top plate and also on the lens cover, but I completely agree that the lens is the main thing here which is just as it should be. As I say, it’s perfectly sharp enough and doesn’t suffer from having a reputation leading to grossly inflated prices!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Dominique Pierre-Nina
    May 2, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Awesome

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Faraz
    May 2, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Those pics look crispy to me, lens not to bad for £8!

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Raven
      May 2, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      Exactly! Quality to price ratio makes complete sense at this end of the spectrum.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Terry B
    May 2, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Michael, but have you seen the prices currently on eBay? Looks like the boat has already sailed on this, unfortunately.☹️

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Gorpalm
    May 3, 2019 at 12:02 am

    Just picked this up a week ago and started shooting with it today. Bought for £15 untested but returnable. Actually had previously paid £20 for another but that turned out to be not as “tested” as indicated, and returned. Loving these early 80s large p&s models, loving that most of them use AA batteries, and that most have filter threads (except the Minolta AF-S, even though it Looks like it’s designed to have threads added).

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Michael Raven
      May 3, 2019 at 2:02 pm

      Well worth the money! Good point – this one takes 40.5mm filters (if I remember correctly) but I’m yet to try the Hoya O(G) I bought for it.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      James
      July 13, 2019 at 3:55 am

      A local antique shop has had one of these for about $15 USD for a few months now and I wanted to do a little research. I think I might buy it, I absolutely love your images. Thanks for you amazing review!

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Michael Raven
        July 16, 2019 at 9:55 am

        Thank you James. Sounds like a good price, I’d heartily recommend it! Go along with a couple of AAs and try it out. Enjoy!

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