The The Yashica Ninja Star II AF-J2 isn’t my first Yashica. Early last year I found an odd plastic camera I hadn’t heard of: a Kyocera P. Mini 2. At the time, I was unaware of the Kyocera/Yashica connection. The former purchased the latter in 1983, branding future items under both names. Thus the Kyocera P-mini is the same as the Yashica J-mini. Common knowledge, yeah, but I’ve always been a Nikon guy, and company histories didn’t interest me until I started with point & shoots cameras.
As I mentioned, the camera is plastic. It’s odd, it’s not cheap plastic, but a kind that suggests a well-made product. It feels like money wisely-spent – it’s a device devoid of malfunction and is nicely pocket-size. The unusual, blue-tinted albada viewfinder felt like a prism, and the action of the camera, the shutter and advance, the whole mechanism, relayed a tactile quality that is rare in point and shoots. Obviously, a design that resonates with the discerning consumer that’s bred into my personality. Ha.
I put a single roll of Agfa Vista 200 through the P. Mini 2 before I sold it – this was before my move to exclusively using Superia and Portra 800 for easier for camera comparisons, more versatility, and the saturated look I favor, but the quality is still evident.
The camera sold on Etsy within days of listing, and going through the exposures, I realized why. The 32mm f3.8 lens was gorgeous and the metering apparently flawless. It seems these cameras have something of a reputation. Of course, the others available online were located in Japan, attaching prohibitive shipping costs. Note to self: be vigilant of unicorns in the trash heaps.
Cut to the present and I found an opportunity to get another unfamiliar, plastic-bodied, prime-lensed Yashica on the cheap. Cheered by my experience with the P. Mini 2, I buy it up. This time it’s The Yashica Ninja Star II AF-J2, also known as the AF-J2. This one has a 32mm f3.5 lens and the el cheapo viewfinder style of transparent plastic roughly cut to the shape of a frame. Dominik Mrzyk details his experience with it here.
His evaluation is spot on. The AF-J2 smacks of cheapness. The shutter fires at a mere glance. The film advances crankily. Gone is the graceful physical character of the P. Mini 2’s high-end plastic, replaced by a lightness I instinctively understand as fragility (though, to its credit, the AF-J2 is unassumingly stern in its build and can handle being bagged around). On the surface everything is mediocre.
Then there’s the lens.
Dominik writes that the The Yashica Ninja Star II AF-J2 is “a T3 without some functions and with the lens from T2.” There’s some debate whether or not this is right; I couldn’t find any information besides what he cites in his article. Perhaps, though, it is immaterial: Zeiss or not, the AF-J2 has one of the best lenses I’ve found on a point and shoot.
There are cameras I’ll never own, probably won’t shoot, or even see in non-digital space – unless I cut off the hand holding it. Yashica T’s, Leicas, Hasselblads. The scarcity model prevails, forums and articles proliferate demand for once-affordable secondhand items; it’s a classic economic rule. A lot of artificial inflation happens, until it no longer matters how artificial it is. Now everyone is selling that Olympus mju-ii for $250, and if you’re buying you’re buying at $250. You’re maybe selling a few old cameras to fund it, and maybe charging a little more for them too.
I like the idea that every image starts at zero, that no camera has value enough to measure against the photographer who makes its possibilities comprehensible; the camera has no imagination, it mindlessly desires the felicity of our images.
I think my limited means has me engage with photography in a more personal, idiosyncratic way. I often I go back to the filmmaker Robert Bresson’s slim volume ‘Notes on the Cinematographer’ wherein he states: “The faculty of using my resources well diminishes when their numbers grow.” Using so many cheap, unremarkable cameras coerces me to engage myself as the one consistent resource. In other words, shoot anything you can! The cheapest piece of shit camera can light up the traces of its user.
The The Yashica Ninja Star II AF-J2, I think, favors the photographer who doesn’t need it. It is the archetypal point & shoot. It has no features, a serviceable construction and it does one thing. Dominik is certainly right in his first impression, the camera is boring. If it’s not much of anything, then it can’t be deficient in any way either. Meeting that ridiculously good lens with the pure impulse to shoot will leave you open on all sides to bring an image into focus.
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