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.
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.
So is this the worst camera ever ?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…)
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.