Yashica T4

Yashica T4 Review – Goodbye to an old friend – By Clive Williams

The Yashica T4 and I go back a long way: right back to 1993, when I bought one in Birmingham as a quick and pocketable complement to my Pentax SLR kit. I’d looked at the Olympus XA and Mju ranges too, but the allure of the Zeiss T* lens outpulled them. The sales manager in the shop nodded approvingly at my choice: “A bit of quality,” was his opinion.

And so it proved, serving me well through the Nineties and into the new century. As I began to travel more on business, I appreciated being able to carry the camera in an inside pocket and leave my hands and shoulders free. And when parenthood arrived, a quick, easy camera that could always be close at hand got me pictures of my new family that I still treasure. It’s safe to say that it was the Yashica T4 that converted me to the benefits of a small camera, a preference that has continued well into the digital era.

My parents borrowed my T4 and liked it enough to buy one for themselves. Its quick focusing and accurate exposures must have been a revelation to them after 30 years with an Exa IIb – a truly horrible machine that I may revisit in a future article — although my mother never quite mastered the focus-and-recompose technique, which resulted in a lot of double-header portraits neatly focused on the tree in the centre-background (or, in this case, on the boat in the middle-distance.) This picture, taken in Corsica in 2000, is from a forgotten roll I found while clearing out their house. Note that my dad is modelling the suede Yashica case as well as the fetching sunhat.

Holiday snap photographed with Yashica T4
Old-school holiday snap

It’s the parental Yashica T4 that took the pictures here. That suede case now smells a little musty from years in a drawer after my father died and my mother’s mobility declined, but a fresh CR123 battery fired the camera up straight away. The lens cover, occasionally hesitant on this one – though never on mine — slid open and out popped the lens. The flash fired on request and the focus and winding motors made the right noises. It happily self-loaded an unexpired roll of Fujicolor C200 and went into my bag for a work trip to Prague.

I had a couple of hours to spare on my last morning but the previous day’s gorgeous winter sunshine had given way to milky grey skies and a chilly wind. Never mind, there’s plenty to enjoy in Prague even on a dull day, and I still had my 24-hour tram ticket from the night before, so off I went to the Old Town. And that’s where I decided that the T4 is no longer for me.

I find Central Europe fascinating and delightful; a region that’s happy to celebrate its position as a crossroads of civilizations is such a refreshing contrast to the isolationist, monoglot tendencies of post-2016 Britain. The colourful buildings and bright signwriting are a rich source of subject matter – with the fragrant bonus of a Christmas market – and I tried to express some of that feeling in pictures. But somehow the T4 wasn’t helping. The 35mm lens is just right for this kind of walkabout, but the viewfinder felt awkward and the release button seemed over-sensitive; I tripped the shutter too early several times while trying to lock and recompose, as I think happened in this example. (Sorry, Mum, maybe it wasn’t your fault after all.)

Focus-and-recompose error

Like all the pictures here, this one is an entirely untweaked scan from the negative.

I enjoy exploring the character of a city by picking out details, and the Yashica T4 has always been good for this. The sharpness of the lens and depth-of-field characteristics of a 35mm suit my fondness for putting a foreground detail in the context of a background landmark.

Prašná Brána Old Town photographed with Yashica T4
Prašná Brána, Old Town

I use aperture priority where my cameras offer it, but didn’t miss it too badly here. It wasn’t the brightest day and I was using medium-speed film, so the camera’s program was presumably favouring hand-holdable shutter speeds. That, in turn, gave widish apertures and reasonable subject separation, while keeping the background recognizable. After all, not much is ever going to be far out of focus at 35mm.

Karlin photographed with Yashica T4
Saints Cyril and Methodius have to share a church, Karlin
Prague photographed with Yashica T4
In Prague, unlike New Zealand, a trdelník is not an item of clothing.

And, even on a dull day, the famous Zeiss coatings make the most of whatever colour is on offer.

Karlin photographed with Yashica T4

It was easy to slip the Yashica T4 into a pocket between shots, but irksome to press the control button three times when I pulled it out, just to avoid the risk of startling a passer-by with an unintended flash. And the flat front and tiny grip made it hard to be sure I wasn’t blocking the lens with the wrist cord or a finger, as has happened in the bottom right corner here.

King Kong Balls Denis Defrancesco photographed with Yashica T4
King Kong Balls, Denis Defrancesco

I couldn’t visit Prague in December without taking in the sights and smells of a Christmas market and, sure enough, there was one in Old Town Square. The T4 did a good job of getting the focus and exposure I wanted for this one.

Old Town Square

That took me past the famous Astronomical Clock, where the crowd of selfie-takers had momentarily cleared and this tour guide was waiting for his party to reassemble.

Astronomical Clock

Undoubtedly, the Yashica T4 still turns out pleasing pictures; a good lens is still a good lens even after other technologies have moved on. That over-eager flash has a superbly easy and effective daylight-fill mode that made the T4 in its day great for family snaps on sunlit holidays. And, importantly, it’s still a convenient package to take along on a trip, like most of mine, whose main purpose is not photography – even if I might like it to be.

But I take pictures for pleasure, and part of that pleasure is in the process of taking them. The tactile and ergonomic satisfaction I get from my Nikon FE, or from my Fuji X digital cameras (one of which also came to Prague) simply isn’t there in the T4. And if I just want something quick and effective, I can do that more easily in – sorry – digital. At least I’ve proved that the parental camera is still in good order and has plenty of life left in it for someone who likes the pure point-and-shoot method more than I do. But I’m ready to rehome both of my T4s.

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13 thoughts on “Yashica T4 Review – Goodbye to an old friend – By Clive Williams”

  1. Interesting! So, why don’t you try an Olympus XA1 which is my ideal ‘inside pocket’ visual notebook? See my recent article on the XA1 on this blog, it’s a fixed focus jobby which I regard as the best in the XA range for snapping even though it’s actually (price and spec-wise) bottom of the range.

    1. I’m certainly tempted by the XAs, Brian; probably the 2 or 3 rather than the XA1 because, as you’ve seen here, I like to have some control over what is and isn’t in focus, even if the distinction at 35mm is slight. They’re going up in price, I’ve noticed – but with luck, that means T4s are too, and I’ve got two of those to sell first.????

  2. A very nice and enjoyable write-up, and some nice pictures where the automatic choice of exposure was the right one.
    I concluded exactly the same about the Yashica T2 I had bought for my mother in the ’90s, and which she asked me to sell. In a few minutes of G.A.S., I thought about keeping it but sense prevailed. It is one thing to be ‘limited’ by a manual camera and one’s ability to use it, another to be limited by the decisions an auto-point-&-shoot makes for you.
    Encouraged by 35mmc, I am planning to shoot some film once more and, at the other end of the scale, have been teasing myself with Leicas and all sorts. Of course what makes most sense is to use the Nikon F3 and a couple of the lenses I already own.

    1. Thanks Andrew. I’ve only revived my film habit in the last 18 months, and I’d hesitate to define myself as a ‘film photographer’; for me there are good pictures and bad pictures, and whether they’re recorded on a silver emulsion or a sensor is only one factor among many. But I have enjoyed rediscovering the excitement of opening that envelope from the lab, and I’ve come to appreciate the reduced homework that comes with just 38 scanned slides or negs rather than hundreds of .RAF files each demanding to be post-processed to perfection.

      I also like the way these old machines feel and the interest they stimulate when I do take them somewhere. You’d certainly get that toting an F3 today.

      Your call, of course, but I’d be wary of a megabucks Leica until I’d tried one first. Part of my enjoyment of my film cameras is that I’ve either had them for ever (Pentax / Yashica) or got them recently for very modest amounts (Nikon) and that offsets the cost of film and processing and the limited use they get. They’re a bit of (mostly) affordable fun and if that fades I can sell them for as much as I paid. The same may also be true of Leicas, but I’d feel more anxious about having £2,000 to recover than the £100 or less I’ve paid for most of my items. And with the F3 you have the option to tell people, “Oh, this old thing? Had it for years and it just keeps on working!”

      Whatever you decide, have fun. That’s what’s really important, right?

      1. You’re right Clive, or course. I have taken good and bad in both digital and film, yet probably never enough in either. Being a product of the electro-mechanical era, I like the feel of 1970s and 80s kit. I never warmed to the auto-focus SLRs and their plastic lenses and so was slow to adopt digital. I felt tied by investment to Nikon but released myself when the mirrorless Fujifilms X-pro1 & X-e1 appeared, with their tactile manual controls – and recently added a bundle of manual Pen-F half-frame lenses to complete the illusion!
        The last films I shot were monochrome and the one thing I miss is shooting with the knowledge of that self-imposed restriction. It is not the same to wade through the colour files to pick out ones that may work if post-processed to B&W. Indeed, I rarely post process at all; there lies a process of decreasing spiral viewed through a crappy, uncalibrated screen. If will be a roll of refrigerated old-stock Ilford that with be my first film in a decade through the F3.
        I did in the 1980s have an Olympus AF-L autofocus P&S and used it a lot, but in the pre-digital age, it made sense to have one as a photographic notebook. My smartphone does that job now – but I can see the attraction of a more manual compact film camera for more involvement in the picture taking process…

  3. I was on a business/political trip with a good friend and co-worker back in the era of the T4. He wanted to buy a small camera and wanted help in selecting one as I was his camera information resource. He opted for the T4 and we burned some film on the trip. We were in Madison, WI for our industry’s Day On The Hill and would be taking political figures to lunch and visiting them in their State Capitol offices, It also happened to be the date of the Governor’s State of The State speech and we had great seats in the over-hanging balcony. One of those pictures made it into the local newspapaer back home and it looked good and professional. The last time I spoke with my friend, he was still using and liking his little pocket pal.

    1. Yes, Craig, it’s certainly capable of that kind of result. The best pictures I’ve taken with mine look very good indeed. But I didn’t know about State of the State speeches, so thanks for that!

  4. For me there’ll always be a place for a P&S camera in my arsenal if for no other reason than size. They can fit in the palm of your hand hidden from view until moments before you shoot. They can have pretty decent image quality ( although you do need to be realistic). I’ve never tried a Yashica but currently have XA, XA4 and an Espio Mini. The latter is the lightest by some margin and is really the only true P&S. The others all need some form (albeit minimal) of user intervention. Ultimately I love being able to carry a camera with me everywhere no matter the occasion. Sounds to me that you still like your Yashica……

    1. I do like it, Adrian – just not enough to go on using it. What made it, if not unique, then at least a bit special in 1993 has been thoroughly superseded by the quality I can get from a pocketable digital camera. If I’m after the creative and tactile pleasures of a good film camera, then my Prague trip showed it doesn’t really offer enough control, and its ergonomic compromises are more than I want to live with. Better to release mine (both of them) into the wild and let someone else enjoy them for what they undoubtedly can do.

      1. T4s are going for big money right now, so you’ll be spoilt for choice getting something else.
        Great shot of your Dad, there’s something so charming about revisiting old snaps, warts and all.

        Kind regards

  5. Ah yes, I had a T4 Super-D that I bought new in the early ’90s to replace the T4 that I finally broke. I finally sold it just a few months ago. The T4 seems to have acquired some kind of cult status – it went for $460.00! I only paid $125 for it. These days, my “FunCam” is a Fuji XF-10, and my film camera is a Leica M4.

    1. Yes, my T4s eventually fetched a decent price too, from someone who had a clear plan for using them both. I’m currently enjoying the slower, more mechanical experience of a Rollei 35TE – any focusing errors with that are strictly my doing.

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