Yes, the Yashica Y35. The camera the internet has declared The Worst Camera Ever Made! So, first and simplest questions and answer – Is it the Worst Camera Ever Made? No, it isn’t. Seriously, did you never have one of this 110 cameras that came on a keyring? What do you mean you weren’t born when they were readily available? God, the internet makes me feel old.
The truth is that the Yashica Y35 has a simple problem – expectations. People signed up for the Kickstarter campaign and expected to receive a digital equivalent of the classic Yashica rangefinders of 50ish years ago. Did the campaign promise a digital rangefinder? No. Are there any digital rangefinders out there for less than around 40 times what the Kickstarter campaign was charging? No. The expectations were wrong.
I didn’t back the Kickstarter campaign, but I did follow it. The campaign promised a digital camera with a retro look, a fixed focus lens, gimmicky operation and that’s it. To everyone’s disappointment it delivered exactly that, with build quality appropriate to the price they charged.
So, in this review I will not be comparing it to a classic Yashica rangefinder on anything other than looks.
I got my Yashica Y35 from eBay, for less than half the price I would have paid if I’d backed the Kickstarter campaign after it went unsold several times. If you’re looking for one this is the way to go, lots of people are selling them unused and they’re going for a song. Mine was in the box, unused and complete with 4 of the Digifilms.
First of all, the look of the camera. From a distance it looks like an old school rangefinder, but a little smaller and plastic. Without the batteries or Digifilm cartridge the camera weighs almost nothing, with them it has a little more of a comfortable weight.
The controls on the top plate are pretty straightforward – an on/off switch, exposure compensation dial, shutter button, frame advance lever, and very fake film rewind. The on/off switch operates simply, and the exposure compensation dial moves easily. In use the shutter button is a bit stiff sometimes and seems to operate in two steps, although the first half push doesn’t really seem to do much. The frame advance lever moves easily, clicking as it does, much like the film advance on a cheap film camera (something more expensive would be a bit smoother).
Once you’ve inserted batteries and a Digifilm cartridge you switch on the camera and a red light comes on, next to the viewfinder on the back of the camera. To shoot a picture – frame your shot, press the shutter and hold still long enough for the light to turn blue and then red again. The shutter doesn’t always fire immediately, it may take a second or two. Before you can shoot another you need to ‘wind on’ the camera.
Framing your shot with the viewfinder is simple, it is also about as accurate as a cheap point and shoot viewfinder film camera from the 70s or 80s. In other words, it only roughly frames your shot. As for ‘winding on’ the camera between shots – you get used to it. After a lifetime of shooting film cameras I found it a very comfortable way to shoot, how much you enjoy it or find it irritating is very much going to be personal.
In operation the Digifilm feels like somewhere between using film and digital – yes, you have to open the back to change your shooting format but you can do this as often as you like and don’t have to get to the end of a roll of film. On the whole it does feel a little like using a film camera, but it is only a gimmick. How much enjoyment you get out of it only you can judge.
If I am completely honest I found using this camera to be pretty fun and comfortable. I like the retro looks, I like the freedom of using a point and shoot without worrying about focus or aperture and so on and I like using the Digifilm.
So, what about the images? Is the camera, and the Digifilm, any good?
I got the 1600, 6×6, 200 and Black & White Digifilms with the camera so I tried each in turn.
Starting with the 6×6 Digifilm. This basically gives you square pictures with a bit of a retro effect on the colours. These shots were all taken in relatively low light on my way too/from work.
I like the muted colour palette and the pictures are good enough for viewing on a screen so they’d probably make decent prints. How good they would look if you blew them up I don’t know but how much would you be planning on blowing the pictures up?
Next up the 200 Digifilm. These were taken in better light in a lunch break from work.
Much more true to life colours and, again, fairly sharp images.
On to the 1600 Digifilm. The first 5 were taken indoors at a church, with no artificial light, on a very overcast day. The last 3 were taken outside on an overcast day.
There’s a lot of grain (I know you’re supposed to call it ‘noise’ on a digital image but I hate that) on the interior shots, but they were taken with very little light. Grain is still fairly prominent on the exterior shots but it isn’t too bad. This seems like pretty good performance in low light to me.
Finally the Black & White Digifilm.
Okay, you’ve noticed the obvious issue with these images, right? That’s right, the B&W isn’t very Black and White, is it? As far as I can tell I have actually got a Blue Digifilm cartridge labelled as a B&W, although the Blue cast looks a little more green. I kind-of like it but it isn’t exactly what I expected, and I do like black and white images.
So, overall what do I think? I like it, and I like the images it produces. At the start I said I wouldn’t compare it to the classic Yashica cameras of the past, and I won’t. However, I will compare it to what I think is its real competition – the Digital Holga. Both are plastic, both are styled like old cameras, both are deliberately ‘quirky’ in operation. Here are two images of a building, the first taken with the Yashica and the second with the Holga.
I like both these cameras, but I think the Yashica probably produces better images. I paid around the same price for both cameras and they’re both fun to use. The simplest way to decide if you like this camera is to ask yourself if you like Lomography, with all the quirks of the cameras’ operation and iamges that implies. If you do then the Yashica Y35, and indeed the Digital Holga, are the true digital successors to the film cameras used in Lomography. Just like them, they are a little awkward to use and sometimes the images you get are more about luck than judgement – but, if you like that, you may just enjoy using this camera. I intend to use it a lot.