The Yashica DigiFilm Saga
On October 10th, 2017 a daring project was launched on Kickstarter. The project was to revive the legendary camera brand Yashica and create a hybrid camera that combined the limitations and character of film with the ease of use that comes with shooting digital. All of this was going to be wrapped up in a retro-styled rangefinder camera that reminded us of the legendary Electro 35 GSN. It struck a nerve with many people and according to their kickstarter update on October 11th, the project was fully funded in only 4 hours.
Shortly after, the first impressions started popping up. Reviews like this one from DP Review, labelled it as “everything wrong with retro design” and noted that 5,100 “fools” back the initial campaign. By the time that both the Kickstarter and the Indiegogo campaigns finished there were a total of 7,967 “fools” eagerly “expecting the unexpected” as the tagline of the campaign said. In all reality, this was a successful campaign, and I was one of those fools who backed the project. However, I was not expecting a fuji level camera by any stretch of the imagination. I just wanted to see what Yashica could do with my investment and if it could live up the the trusty Electro 35 GSN.
Poorly Run and Awful Communication
The campaign on Kickstarter started off good. They promised that the product would be ready by April of 2018. They met their stretch goal and added an upgraded “4G” lens and a 2.0 aperture. They also upgraded the sensor as well. Then, suddenly after December 2017, things took a turn for the weird. There was zero communication in January. By March they admitted that they were behind and that the camera would not be shipped until the end of July. On July 29th, they mentioned nothing about the shipment date and showed images of the tooling process and some barebones cameras. Backers were starting to get frustrated.
The following update mentioned more about the “grainy effect” and that shipment would start in August. Backers were dropping like flies and begging for refunds. Sadly many struggled to communicate with Yashica at this point. August went by with nothing being sent out to the backers. However, Yashica did announce that they had set up a pop-up store in Lane Crawford, a department store in Hong Kong. This was the first time people could get a up close look at this camera. The reviews were not good.
The fact that they had not even started sending out cameras to backers but were opening up pop-up stores infuriated the backers. By September, members of the Yashica Y25 facebook group started mentioning that they were receiving email confirmations and some even got tracking info. By the 28th of September, I finally received my confirmation. On October 4th, I received my tracking information. As of today, October 11th 2018, I actually received my camera.
Just a Toy in a Box
I was really interested in what this little camera would be like. I had read the reviews and heard people’s initial thoughts, so I was not expecting anything too great. The initial look was not bad but not good either. It was faintly reminiscent of the miniature cameras that I picked up recently in Japan from the coin-op machines at Yodobashi. I am not exaggerating that fact either. The camera felt light and plasticy and the viewfinder is just a plastic window without any framelines. This was a far from the stylish camera in the video for the campaign.
Without the batteries, it just feels light and cheap. Adding the batteries, does add a bit of weight which does make it feel a little better in the hand. However, the rest of the camera still has that cheap toy feel. Perhaps this what the “unexpected” part that they had put into their tagline. However, I could see nothing of the “significant upgrades” or anything that Yashica had promised once they had blown passed their shipment deadlines. It was like what Ron Leach from Shutterbug Magazine said “My disappointment is simple: The new Y35 is pretty much a gimmick with nice retro styling—not a tool for serious photographers.”
The sad part is that there was seemingly no attention to detail in the design or construction of this camera. The film rewind knob is molded into the case which adds to the overall cheapness. This could have been used a self-timer or something. They could have at least made it metal which would have made the camera look a little less fake. Same thing with the power switch. The grooves on the power switch of my Electro 35 are similar to that of what you would find on the edge of a coin. The grooves on the Y35 power switch are laughably huge to the point that they look as if someone drew them on a napkin and then just rendered the drawing in a 3D printer. You can adjust the exposure 5 stops where you would set the iso on the Electro 35 which is a nice touch, but they should have added a few more of those touches to round out the camera.
The feel of shooting with the the Y35 is lame at best. Again, without the framelines it just feels like I am pretending to photograph… something. The Y35 gives out a wimpy fake shutter sound after you have pressed the shutter button. The pathetic part is that the camera keychain that my wife bought me a few years ago has the same but slightly louder fake shutter sound. The only indicator that this contraption is even working is the led at the back. It changes from purple to red. Even that, seems poorly constructed for some reason.
A Whole Lot of “MEH…”
The photos that the Y35 produced were lackluster and distorted. While I liked the idea of waiting to get back home to check the results, they were disappointing at best. I received 4 DigiFilms with my pledge: B&W, 6×6, 1600, and 200. By far the B&W and the 200 are my favourites. The 6×6 seems to be designed for the instagram crowd but also has a weird pee-coloured shade of yellow to it. The 1600 is ok but I will have to test it out in low light a bit more.
The biggest thing here is that they lack any sort of character or desirable quality. This combined with a cheaply made camera makes for a disappointing experience all around. This is different from a holga or something where you know that it is crap and going to produce a weird photo but that is what you bought it for. The Yashica people actually think that this is a superior product and “unlike anything else on the market” as they said once in their updates.
If Yashica was really going for an actual camera then they should have done a little more with the backers money than make a toy camera with a fake shutter sound. The first recommendation I would say would be to beef up the camera. Make it of equal weight and size to the Electro 35. A metal body would have been nice but at least they could have gone with a material that did not feel like child’s toy.
With regards to the DigiFilm, I would have opted to start with a few “legendary” films first. How cool would it have been if they got permission to emulate Kodak T-max or Ilford HP5 Plus? The DigiFilms could have the same brading as the the film cansters and whatnot. Yashica could have been the one system that could save some types of film from being forgotten by converting them to their proprietary “DigiFilm” format. What better way to get film lovers to buy your toy camera than to save their beloved films in a format that lasts forever. This would have worked a lot better than pee-stained instagram-style films.
As one commenter stated recently in the facebook group “For those who own it and find faults in it, it’s not meant to be on par with your DSLR” and for the price that I paid off of Kickstarter, I certainly was not expecting anything near a DSLR. However, what I was expecting was a camera that at least was well made for what it was. Meaning that while it is a novel concept, the wimpy fake shutter sound and the odd distortion make it feel like they just stopped caring after a while. Had they created a nifty little camera that performed well and was well made, they could have proved a lot of the critics wrong, myself included.
This project was never meant to give everyone a 2018 version of the Electro 35 and that must be stated. Also note that this is not even made by the same company that made that legendary camera either. This was a project that started out with a half-baked idea and followed through with a half-baked product. It is as simple as that. Does it work? YES. Does it do what Yashica said it would? YES. However, it also just feels thrown together the way that you would find a “digital retro camera” in a novelty store. In the future versions, Yashica needs to up their game and put together a fully formed camera.
If you are looking for that traditional feel, go to Ebay and pick up an old Electro 35. They are a great camera and there are tons of them around that are in great condition. They have a sharp lens and are perfect for those wanting to play around with a rangefinder without dropping big bucks on a Leica.
If you are looking for a retro-style camera to shoot that is digital, then download Hipstamatic and invest in a few films, lenses and skins. For a few bucks you can emulate the feel of an old camera on your phone and produce some interesting photos at the sametime. I feel that these photos have a lot more character than the DigiFilms and the lens on my iPhone has way less distortion.