The Yashica Y35 is without doubt one of the most controversial products to have hit the analogue photography community in the last year or so. Of course, it’s not analogue, so why did it hit our community? Why did so many of us got so up in arms about it? And why is it still causing such a fuss? Mainly, I think, it’s because some of us were so profoundly mistaken when we thought it was aimed at us, and even if we didn’t think this, I suspect it might have been because we begrudged who it was aimed at, and indeed the way it was being marketed. I wonder though, just how far up our own arses have we been about it all?
To my mind, the whole story, from the day the Kickstarter campaign launched right the way through to the reviews it’s now getting, has mostly been fairly hilarious. I should caveat this by saying that this is from perspective of someone who understood the way, and to who, it was being marketed. From the perspective of someone inside the analogue photography community, I must admit that there have been moments where I’ve found myself a little irritated, but – perhaps thanks to my aforementioned feeling around it’s target marketing – this has been nowhere near to the extent that I’ve seen in some people. Judging by the strength of some people’s reactions, you would think the Yashica Y35 had committed murder… Of course, to some it did; it murdered (insert dramatic music) the Yashica name!!!
Finding my expectations
When I first saw the Kickstarter, I actually got pretty excited – though the excitement didn’t last! I am a big fan of the concept of the digital camera without a screen. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks shooting the Leica M60, the precursor to the M-D, and loved it. I also used to have an Epson RD-1 with its mechanical shutter cocking lever, and genuinely never felt that it was an odd or out of place feature on that camera. So when I first saw the Y35, I was quite excited that another company – Yashica at that – was to introduce a similar concept. That was until I looked a little closer.
The listed specification, especially around the sensor rung alarm bells with me, and so did the price. I’m pretty certain they increased the size of the sensor since the campaign was initially launched, though not by much. Either way, it was always going to be a tiny-sensor camera. As soon as I realised this, I was knew I was never going to buy one. Quite simply, this combination of the small sensor and screen-less function was one that didn’t sit with me as something I wanted in my life.
The price was the second issue I had. There was no way it was going to be an objectively good camera at the ~£100 price point. It’s not that £100 can’t buy you a good camera, but I felt this price point gave a pretty good idea of the trajectory this camera was headed. It was likely destined to be plastic feeling, and that didn’t appeal to me either.
And then of course all the uproar started. We in the film photography community seemed to almost unilaterally lose our shit the moment the Yashica Y35 Kickstarter launched. Perhaps there was an element of disappointment or let down that the return of Yashica wasn’t to be as exciting as it could have been, or maybe we just hated what it seemed to stand for. Either way, it was being reported on film photography websites and podcasts and being discussed on social media and with a great deal of disdain! The Yashica Y35 touched a nerve – in fact it seemed to prod a lot of nerves with something hot and sharp and then pour salt on the wounds.
The branding and market targeting
For a start, how dare this fake film camera take the Yashica name?! Actually, this is the bit that touched a nerve with me a little. The problem is, the use of the Yashica name is so profoundly cynical the mind boggles. You see, the target audience for the Yashica Y35 isn’t really those who will know the Yashica brand. The Yashica name is well know in film photography circles, but it’s not likely to be that well known outside of these circles – not these days.
By using the brand name, this new “Yashica” weren’t targeting the product at us within the film photography community, they were using it to catch the attention of journalists and to give some justification and credibility to the “retro” styling. It was a hook; a brand messaging thing designed to tap into an audience that’s likely much larger than the film photography community!
The Yashica Y35 was of course aimed at – for want of a better description – the “Instagram generation”! Those who’ve seen the likes of Kendall Jenner talking about her Contax T2, those who are more about style, those who like the “retro” thing, those who post endless selfies. Young people, basically, who like stuff that’s a little bit different, a little bit counter-culture, a bit, dare I say “cool”.
“Yashica is back…” the headlines read even before the campaign was launched. The buzz the use of the name caused was huge, at least within the photography press. But all that this buzz needed to create was a bridge from the photographer communities into this world of Instagrammers. These people would read of this old film photography brand coming back with a camera that didn’t let them see their photos until later, one that had these little cartridges that slotted into the back, and needed to be “wound on” after each photo; and they would be enthralled by it!
Moreover, even if they read the comments from whining “real” photographers they wouldn’t understand what they were saying, and even if they did, they wouldn’t care. What they would see was a retro thing with some brand credibility. The use of the Yashica name would build on the perception of this product being cool within these groups of people because it was somehow legitimately retro.
Of course, to us in our elitist film photography echo chamber, all we saw was something we felt that was aimed at us, but at the same time didn’t really make sense as a product we would use. So to start with it made us angry and confused. With a bit of thought applied to it, we then realised this new company was stealing something of ours! They were stealing Yashica! How dare they!?
Of course, the brand wasn’t the only thing we felt they were stealing. They were also stealing our culture. They were stealing our mindset, they were misappropriating how us film photographers think and feel when we go out and take photos. We take these ideas that we don’t like to see our photos straight after we take them very seriously. We think of ourselves as being good enough at what we do, that we don’t need to chimp every frame. And then of course there are those in the film photography community, especially the younger entrants who’ve come via Lomography, who enjoy a sense of serendipity in their results!
The slogan that Yashica used “expect the unexpected” – as ironic as that turned out to be when you take into account all of those within our community that apparently completely missed the point that this product wasn’t aimed at them – was a stroke of marketing genius. For those outside of film photography and used to shooting with their smart phones, it would no doubt have completely encapsulated some of the core ideas we hold so close to our hearts and explained them in a way that could be easily understood and bought into by a new audience.
Of course to us, it was repackaging our core ideals, and flogged them unceremoniously. The worst of it being, the new audience it was being flogged to was one that us elitist film photographers look down upon – those selfie taking, iPhone snapping, Instagram filter using wannabes…! They aren’t photographers! They don’t deserve the Yashica brand! They don’t get us “real” photographers! Is it any wonder we were so up in arms?!
And then there’s the “The Silence of Story” slogan – “A picture tells a thousand words” rewritten to sound more pretentious. It probably went over the heads of most of the target audience, but that wouldn’t matter – the use of it as the last words in the lead video on the Kickstarter was, again, marketing genius. The video itself showed a young, smoking, cool looking girl taking photos in a bar perfectly illustrating the target market. Ending this with a bit of Japanese voiceover would reinforce the credibility of the brand. Rounding it off with this arty-farty slogan – whether it was understood or not – would tap into the mindset of the Instagrammer who maybe thinks a lot of their creative abilities, and would see this Yashica as something that could make their Instagram photos, and their approach to taking them a little bit more unique.
In fact, to the target audience, all that was being waved under their noses would have seemed slightly mysterious, definitely arty, and so very different to what was already out there. You have to realise, these are the sort of people who use VHS emulating filters on their Instagram videos. These are the sorts of people who want shortcuts to cool-seeming creative ways to portray themselves. The marketing assets, from the video, through to the images and even the (sometimes poorly translated) language used here were all so perfectly constructed for this target audience, that it was cringeworthy!
Actually, to be fair, it was brilliantly executed! If you look at all this from the point of view of a marketer, and not from the point of view of a snobby film photographer, it was an incredibly well targeted and successful product launch. Obviously really, it raised a butt load of cash! Yet so many of us in our little elitist echo chamber couldn’t see it from this point of view, and as I’ve said, if we did, we didn’t half resent it for what it was taking from us!
The Yashica Y35 in the wild
So wasn’t it wonderful when we were proved right and this stupid thing started landing in the hands of those in our community who did back it and, of course, it turned out to be junk?! This crappy little plastic thing would be pulled apart, literally, and found to contain a lump of metal screwed inside to make it feel heavier in the hand. Those who are aware of the “scamera” plastic crap Chinese cameras that also contained a lump of metal would be able to draw the comparison and use it as ammo to point at this piece of shit Yashica! Now we were right, we could completely disown this thing – it was not good enough for us, therefore this so-called camera could rot. Who cares that we’re not the target audience – as long as we were right that it would be technically shit from a photographers point of view, that’s all that mattered!
Despite, or perhaps because of this revelation, our little community still gurgles with hatred toward it – it certainly got a hammering on my Instagram when I posted a picture of it the other day. But is it all that bad really? And how suitable is it for those who it’s really aimed at?
A Yachica Y35 review (sort of)
Of course how good it is, as I’ve alluded, depends on your perspective. The one I have here was sent to me by Alex Yates, who backed it was to see if it would be a functional toy camera along the lines of a Digital Harinezumi – which he’d loved but broke by dropping from a great height. Alex is a fairly open minded guy in my experience, he’s someone who shoots film and digital, and in his words thinks “the media matters less than the image”. Unfortunately it wasn’t what he expected to be so he sent it to me without any desire for it to be returned.
Now I’ve got it, do you want to know how bad it is from the point of view of a “serious” photographer? Well, let this serious photographer tell you this: As a serious photographer with a penchant for Leica and Nikon and other hoity-toity camera brands – surprise! It’s a load of shit!
It’s plastic, it feels crappy, the inclusion of the rewind crank as nothing more than a shaped plastic bulge is daft. The shutter cocking lever feels awful, the viewfinder is about as low quality an experience as you could possibly imagine – it’s basically just a plastic window. And then there’s the action of taking a photo. The shutter button has a very long throw with last little click of it being the shutter release. Once pressed, you have to hold still until a red “ready” light on the back of the camera turns purple and it makes a shitty electronic shutter sound, and once it does, you have to wait until it goes back to red before you move else you risk getting a blurry photo. A device for capturing the “decisive moment” is certainly not what you’ll find in the Yashica Y35!
Of course, image quality is not what you might expect out of any half-decent “real” camera either… let me rephrase that. The image quality is shit! But I’m not going to dwell on that, for one, Alan Duncan, who reviewed the Yashica y35 here on 35mmc, has gone to great pains to demonstrate where in the hierarchy of cameras this thing sits – the précis version being that it’s better than most toy cameras, but not as good as some very budget digital cameras. I can tell you for free, the relatively huge power of the camera in my iPhone X completely walks all over it! Surprised? You really shouldn’t be!
Suitability for its target audience
That said, I don’t think much of this really matters much. If you’re a photographer looking for a serious tool, let’s face it, you’ll have ruled the Yashica Y35 out a long time ago! My reviewing it as a serious photographic tool is therefore fairly moot. The only real question is whether or not it’s suitable for its target audience. As such, the question is, if I were a cool young thing looking for something to capture something of my cool young existence in a fairly unique way, would this thing work for me?
The answer is probably yes. Once the shortfalls around the shutter lag are acknowledged, it does indeed provide a fairly unique, and dare I suggest possibly even “fun” way to take photos. As it was designed to do so, it even encourages some of the ideals that we in the film photography community often rant and rave about being what draw us to it – that’s right, it does quite successfully steal from the way we film photographer think in the way it works!
For a start, it makes the user think ahead. Since changing the way the photo will look requires changing the little cartridge you slot in the back, the user is encouraged to have forethought and develop at least some level of a pre-visualisation technique. An understanding of which cartridge is most appropriate for the subject matter or shooting conditions would need to be learned to get the desired end result too.
It also slows the user down! That’s an ideal we espouse, right? You can’t take 10 shots a second like you can by furiously tapping the screen of your smartphone, so a little more consideration needs to be applied. Its slowness of function applies limitations that are not likely to have been experienced by its target audience in any other camera. In the same way as we film photographers thrive on the limitations our kit imposed on us, these Instagrammers might thrive on the slightly weird (by our standards) limitations this thing imposes too.
Good or bad, the aesthetic of the results from this thing are going to be different too. Again, aesthetic is something we talk about as striving for in the film photography community. Presenting our work with a different look to it is part of our commonly held motivations for shooting film. We like the images that we share to have a slightly different look to them, something about the aesthetic that’s different to digital, that somehow makes our images more unique, more arty, even… I hope you get the point here, I’m trying to draw parallels between us film photographers and the mentality of these instagrammers. Are we really that different to them…?
Of course, I might be wrong, I might just be projecting some of my own ideals on to these Instagrammers in some slim hope that I might at least understand a small percentage of their mindset. But if I am right – and I might be giving it too much credit here – if it does inspire some of these feelings in its target audience, then it might even act as a steppingstone to a real film camera for these people. It might encourage some of them into our little community, and that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing!
So does any of this make me think it’s a good thing that this “camera” exists? Well, I must admit, perhaps through channeling my inner Instagrammer and combining it with my enjoyment of limitations, I have to say I did enjoy shooting some of the slightly (very!) crappy photos I took with it. Is it a serious photographic tool, for slowing the user down, encouraging a different approach to photography, for taking images with a unique aesthetic? Yes, it’s all of those things to the right audience! Exactly as it was designed to be!
Am I the Yashica Y35 audience? No, I don’t think so! I’ll stick to my hoity-toity Leica thank you very much…
Oh, and at $240/£190, they must be fucking kidding! Wait, how much did my Leica cost me again…??
Want this camera? Alex doesn’t want it, I don’t either – if you do, leave a comment. The comment that makes me and Alex laugh the most gets the camera!