Digital Cameras

Unexpected Expectations – A Yashica Y35 Review – By Alan Duncan

Yashica Y35 & DigiFilm

Before it even shipped the Yashica Y35 has become on of the most maligned cameras in history. Its reputation hasn’t improved any since shipping began in September but bar the obvious quality control issues – is the criticism fair? What did folk really expect from a Kickstarter backed camera that cost around $120USD? As a connoisseur of vintage but crap cheap cameras I had to find out.

I’ve a fuller review over on my site if you want more details and images.

A bit of Context

Why I backed this is a bit hazy. But whilst late night internet browsing & wine may have been involved, I’m no fool. There was the interesting premise of film style digital camera that had film style controls, no LCD and an innovative/pointless/WTF! DigiFilm system of film like cartridges you inserted to determine the film like setting you used. All wrapped up in a body that looked based on the Legendary Yashica Electro 35 rangefinder. It promised the return of the Yashica brand which effectively died in 2005 when Kyocera ceased making cameras.

Kyocera had acquired Yashica in 1983 and whilst many felt that marked the end classic Yashica production, Kyocera continued to make some pretty good cameras under the Yashica and their own name until they left the business in 2005. Kyocera did sell on the Yashica name to MF Jebsen Group a HK based holding company. A few  Yashica branded cheap digitals made by the the likes of Haking  have appeared since. But the glory was long gone.

Reborn Classic ?

Then last year a new Yashica website popped up. It was all quite chic & arty and the first product was a a set of add on lenses for smartphones with quite nice Yashica heritage packaging. Soon after another product was teaser trailed with quite seductive advertising of a young lass wandering around a Far East bar with what looked like a classic Yashica Camera but one that was digital and used DigiFilm. It then went live on Kickstarter on the 10th of October last year and was funded within 4 hours and ended up being funded over 1200% of it original HK$800,000 goal with more than HK$10 Million pledged.

Yashica Y35 with DigiFilm

Almost immediately the nay saying started. Clearly for some touching a mighty name was affront enough. But others started  to express doubts over what would unfold. Quite a lot of negative posts started appearing on YouTube and other sites.

A good example was Science of Photography’s discussion video which takes apart the spec before the camera was even in production but missed the key point of what did you expect for $120USD (and also brilliantly called a Holga 120N a rangefinder !). A valid point often raised was the fixed wide aperture lens but selectable shutter speeds up to 1/500. to be fair that puzzled me as it would indeed make daylight shooting nigh on impossible. But as we’ll see that didn’t arrive.

This negativity started to infect even the backer comments on the Kickstarter pages helped by the fact that folks behind this have been initially unresponsive to backer concerns.

The camera finally began shipping in September (a mere 5 months late – not that bad IMHO on Kickstarter …Ahem Ferrania). But since then things have intensified. This hasn’t been helped by the initial poor responses to complaints or concerns and it does look like a number of defective units were shipped or broke shortly after arriving. This has led to a lot of anger and some of that has been vented on sites like Youtube and picked up by the online photography news sites like PetaPixel. Almost all aggregate sites have picked up on Point&Shoot Clubs videos on this camera which are pretty angry stuff.

Johnstone House

Yashica Y35 with 200 DigiFilm. October 2018

So is this the worst camera ever ?

No

If you can deal with its issues, it actually takes usable images. Not great but usable which are okay for web use and small prints. And it does provide a retro experience you have no LCD screen to preview or review your shots, the DigiFilm stuff does what it says on the tin and there is a strangely nice feeling about manually winding a camera on to take shots.

If you’ve visited my site you’ll know I’ve a bit of a thing for lo-fi and cheap film cameras and the Y35 produces better clinical images than many of those. (yes it is better clinically than the Halina Panorama Hamish!! but thats not the point). It is a hell of a lot better than the cheap low end digital camera (we’ve had a few of those for the kids) and some low end smartphone cameras.

However this is not a great digital camera as we’ll see.

Sky Field

Yashica Y35 with B&W DigiFilm. Oct 2018

So what is in the Y35 ?

The Y35 is a 14MP 1/2.5″ sensor digital camera with a 6mm fixed at f/2 lens (equates to 36mm full 35mm frame) wrapped up in a plastic body. The lens is meant to be 4 glass elements (hence the naff 4G literature). The sensor is bigger than most smartphones (iPhone 8 for example has a 1/3″ sensor) but quite small compared to most average compact digital cameras (1/2.3″ become the average size in 2010!). It is way below elite compacts with 1″ or APS-C sized sensors.

The fixed aperture means this camera is gonna function more like a smartphone. Funnily enough the 5 selectable shutter speeds were replaced by a automatically controlled shutter that goes allegedly between 1/30 and 1/6000. That’s along the lines of what most smartphones do although I’m a bit dubious about the top speed. You have a +/- up to 2EV dial instead of a shutter control dial. You have no feedback about the exposure. No info is  displayed in the sparse Reverse Galilean Viewfinder. the shots are stored in JPEG format on SD/SDHC card (not included) and the camera takes 2 AA batteries.

Stop Noir

Yashica Y35 with DigiFim B&W. Oct 2018

Focus-Pocus

And now the focus or I should say lack of.
This is a fixed focus number. Yup – I said it.
According to Yashica the focal range is 1m to infinity. But entering the lens, aperture and sensor size into a DoF calculator would suggest a 2m to infinity range is better and trust me that’s what happens in practice.

And the DigiFilm ?

Each of the DigiFilm are about the same size as a APS cartridge. They clip in and link by 6 contacts to the camera. A total of 6 were available at launch but most folks went with the standard 4. Each DigiFilm can best be though of as a film filter effect.

The B&W module for example causes images to be recorded in Monochrome purportedly at 400 ISO with a grain effect. The standard 200 claims a ultrafine 200 ISO film look. 1600 ISO is grainier and for lower light. These 3 actually seem to work to some extent if used properly. The 4th one is a 6×6 120 film effect. It does do that but also comes with a weird green cast. It seems many folk got a rarer Yashica blue cartridge sent out mislabelled as B&W.

3 out of 4

Yashica Y35 with DigiFilm 200. October 2018

Design & Build

The Yashica Y35 camera is smaller than the Electro 35. It is actually nearer the size of a Konica C35 class camera. It actually does look like a compact 35mm rangefinder/viewfinder at first glance with the exception of the too narrow and too long lens barrel. You can stick a 37mm filter on but the cable point and rewind knob are faux. There is no way of using flash as there’s no electrical contacts. The coldshoe is not standard size & is intended for a as yet unavailable clip on LED light.

There is some attention to finer details with the engraved effect mouldings on the body. It isn’t engraved as this camera is pretty much all plastic. the silver stuff is better than the black stuff. The on switch is flimsy as is the rather naff EV dial. The winder is metal and has a nice feel but seems to be prone at going.

Build quality isn’t the best – or at least quality control issues genuinely do seem to have been an issue.

Widow Crichton

Yashica Y35 with DigiFilm 200. October 2018

Use

In use there are 2 issues with the Yashica Y35. The less of the 2 evils is the lack of feedback. The single LED by the viewfinder just tells you when the camera is ready to shoot and when it is shooting. The only other warning is a beep if you try to use without a SD card.

The bigger issue the shutter button. It’s not the curious way the shutter half depresses then you need to apply a little more force to full depress to take the shot. It’s the lag once you do. The manual acknowledges a 1 second delay from depress to the shutter firing (with a shutter sound). But there’s worse in that sound doesn’t actually mean it has fired. You’ll need to wait til the LED light reverts to red before moving the camera.

Results

In brief this is worse than a 2018 average smartphone. Lets begin with Focus. As you’d expect there is always gonna be a a degree of softness with a fixed focus lens and this one is no exception. Not the worse I’ve ever seen. Nor is it the best, but it actually does okay in good light as you can see from the shots as long as you are at least a few metres away (my grip with the Point&Shot Club’s review photos are they are all taken indoors at about a meter from subject).  It softens more at the corners but there no vignetting. The lens suffers from barrel distortion and this more obvious close in

The sensor lets down the lens. If you zoom in over-processing is evident with considerable artefacts. On paper the Y35 should be good for prints up to 14×11″ at 300DPI but you really would want to keep any prints much smaller 6×4″. My iPhone SE is much better despite a smaller sensor and in fact my 2002 2MP Olympus C120 with  1/3.2″ makes the same amount of noise.

Modern Flare

Either Dumfries got Nuked or there some serious overblowing going on here. Yashica Y35 with DigiFilm 200

Exposure is okay but this is no camera for bright light sources. It tends to blow out highlights of even lampshaded lights. Dynamic range isn’t the best

Blown Highlights on Y35

Blown highlights on a Yashica Y35 with digiFilm 1600. Shot cropped to 1024×768 only from original JPEG

But there is one redeeming thing here, The 1600 DigiFilm actually works in low light as long as there’s no bright nearby light sources. Yup noise is up a bit but it does not bad. I mean this is better smartphone level but still not too bad. The camera EXIF output is terrible. Every shot is a 1 second exposure according to it. The ISO speeds and DigiFilm rated speeds  don’t match (unless this means the camera is really limited to 100-300ISO hmm…)

Castle Street I

Yashica Y35 with DigiFilm 1600. Oct 2018

Thoughts

This is an interesting idea and it isn’t as awful as you might be led to believe. There has been a woeful misappreciation of what $120USD is gonna buy you IMHO. When I saw the spec list, I kinda knew we were looking at smartphone level performance. This was not gonna be some killer all metal bodied re-incarnation of a classic Yashica at that price.

If you want a brilliantly engineered metal bodied Digital Rangefinder, Leica will happily sell you one without lens for just under $8,000USD. The Ricoh GR II, the ageing but brilliant elite fixed focal length digital will cost you a dollar less than $500. However $120 will buy you a new perfectly competent digital compact from the likes of Canon, Nikon etc. that will take better pictures and offer loads of features. there’s a good chance they be metal bodied too and come with a pretty clear warranty but that’s not what this camera was about.

That said the Yashica Y35 is still too pricey. For the money I’d have expected more feedback, better sensor and a bit better build quality. I had also hoped for some more control than we got. The Maker’s response until the last 48 hours to concerns have been quite poor.  I guess the Yashica Y35 team were hoping for a cult status like a digital LC-A. The negative press seems to have killed off any chance of that.

A shame as a nice idea poorly implemented. There isn’t really anything like it around…

Again, I’ve a fuller review over on my site if you want more details and images.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    October 31, 2018 at 3:42 pm

    This is much as I expected and it’s good to read a balanced review from someone who wasn’t determined to hate the thing from the outset. When the Kickstarter emerged, I thought it was a neat idea but one that wouldn’t be for everyone. It certainly found an audience, as its rapid backing suggests, but I suspect not much of it came from traditional photographic circles. In truth, I quite fancied one. I liked the idea of a fuss-free camera offering an experience that was somewhat film-like whilst retaining a lot of digital convenience. In the end, I decided not to take the plunge purely because the sample images were clearly taken with a sensor far, far larger than the one in the actual product, and that put me off.

    Now though, having seen your images and also shangdat’s on Instagram, I’m a little sorry I didn’t. They’re not half bad and I still like the idea. The price is a touch high for what it is, but I don’t think I’d have been too disappointed provided I wasn’t one of those receiving something unusably borked (the odds of which are not exactly small). I’m still tempted to pick one up.

    • Reply
      Alan Duncan
      October 31, 2018 at 4:45 pm

      Thanks Ken. I’m maybe fortunate in getting a more robust one. I do like the action but the camera is not worth $120. May be worth about half that and the sensor ain’t that great.?That said you can take usable shots if you are aware of the foibles

  • Reply
    Dagmar
    November 1, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    I got pretty upset about the disrespectful “reviews” and handling of the camera of some wanna-be-funny blabbermouths.

    While in terms of quality, it is maybe not quite what most of us did expect, certainly only a fool would have thought this would be a high end, super-solid, digital rangefinder.

    I always understood it as an homage towards Yashica, and yes, it might have been built more solid, with a better sensor/lens at that price, but I still like it, and I like the process of taking a shot and how the pics turn out different depending on the respective digiFilm.

    I would wish the files would be stored in the DCIM Folder, though, respectively, they could be imported with the SD Card Reader to the iPhone/iPad. Also, the ready light being RED is a bit funny..

    • Reply
      Alan Duncan
      November 2, 2018 at 12:01 am

      The Red LED is a bit wacky but easy to live with. As I said its actually not that bad but I do feel a wee bit more could have been done for the money.

  • Reply
    Max-n-k
    November 1, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Won’t you get much better ‘digi-film’ experience if just using RNI Films and shooting with any camera or smartphone?

    • Reply
      Alan Duncan
      November 1, 2018 at 7:14 pm

      That’s fair enough. Of course you can apply any filter to a image but there’s something intrinsically fun using a digital camera that you have to wind on and put a film in

  • Reply
    Malcolm Myers
    November 1, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    From reports I’d heard I thought it was a complete disaster. Nice to see a more balanced review showing that it has some merits. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    November 1, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Very balanced review Alan. I do think there is something in this concept. For me to splash the cash, I would like to see a much higher build quality and I would like to see the DigiFilm cartridges restricted to 36 exposures; you’d have to download and reformat before being able to reuse them. You’d be getting a bit closer still to a film experience.

  • Reply
    Nigel Haycock
    November 1, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    Nice balanced review Alan and slightly comforting. As a backer of this that has yet to receive my camera it has been disconcerting to see the poor reception this has got and there has been a lot of anger on the kickstarter site over the last few months. Agreed that Yashica themselves have been very poor in responding to concerns and criticism. Like you I went into this with my eyes open hoping for a fun, well built quirky camera that if I didn’t like would either pack away or sell if the cult status grew and demand increased. The price was something I could swallow either way. I am still looking forward to actually getting my hands on the thing so I can form my own opinion.
    Ken, I have seen a few on eBay already a couple not even opened so you may still be able to get one before some of the backers (like me) 🙂

    • Reply
      Alan Duncan
      November 2, 2018 at 12:03 am

      Mine turned up unannounced Nigel. No emails telling me it had been posted. Just remember to keep it still until the light turns back to red, the shutter sound doesn’t seem to respond exactly to when the shot is taken.

  • Reply
    David
    November 2, 2018 at 4:34 am

    I must admit, I didn’t like this concept from the beginning. Fake plastic film???
    I don’t think theres much point in incorporating only the inconvenience of film into a digital design. I like the idea of a film-like operation but why would you want to buy a camera that has an awfully small sensor that’s no better than the phone in your pocket?
    What they should have made is a half decent quality digital camera with a retro design and film style handling. It could incorporate all the creative filters from various smart phone apps. Bluetooth connectivity could link it to your phone for viewing pictures and sharing when you have shot a bunch of pictures without chimping. Voilá a film-like experience with all the bells and whistles of digital.

    • Reply
      Nigel Haycock
      November 2, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      Hmmm… If only Leica could come up with something like that 😉

    • Reply
      Alan Duncan
      November 11, 2018 at 11:02 pm

      Problem is on a limited run they were never gonna achieve all of that on the budget David. The sensor is smaller the size of most digital cameras around the price mark but not massively so 1/2.5″ v 1/2.2-2.3″) and to be fare they’re being decimated in sales terms by smartphones with 1/3″ sensor or smaller

  • Reply
    Laurence Kesterson
    November 2, 2018 at 6:34 pm

    This would have been a huge success at $39.95 and perhaps even started a Holga like cult among the hipster crowd. I would buy one at that price knowing full well what I was getting myself into. However, for $120 I would expect image quality similar to the same price Canon or Nikon PS cameras but with the “retro cool” form factor.

    No doubt tooling, manufacturing set-up, etc is expensive. I guess that’s where most of that $120 went to. Once the set-up is out of the way then these things shouldn’t cost more than $15 to make.

    • Reply
      Alan Duncan
      November 2, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      Camera is probably worth nearer $60-70 given limited run. If more mass produced then lower might be possible I guess

  • Reply
    Rifki Syahputra
    November 5, 2018 at 12:44 am

    Finally, a review from who actually use it 🙂 thank you

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