All images © Yashica
For some reason, late 2017 saw a number of film photography-related crowdfunding campaigns come onto my radar.
None of them created as much chatter – good and bad – as the Yashica digiFilm project. I say good and bad but really, from what I’ve seen, it’s been mostly bad.
A lot of people have called the project pointless (and worse). Others have asked who is even backing it, and labelled those mysterious folks who have as idiots.
I don’t really have the energy or desire to argue that I’m not an idiot.
What I want to do instead is put my hand up as someone who backed the Yashica Kickstarter, talk about what I like about the concept, and why I’m looking forward to receiving the camera.
But first, some context.
What exactly is the Yashica digiFilm camera?
The Yashica digiFilm camera – officially known as the Yashica Y35 – aims to bring some of the film photography experience to a digital medium.
Bear with me.
Instead of actual film, the camera comes with a number of removable digiFilm cartridges, with each one determining how your photographs will look.
You could think of this as the digital equivalent of loading film into an analogue camera. Load monochrome film and you’re shooting monochrome photographs only, obviously.
Alternatively you could think of it as a really inconvenient way to change the photo filter on your digital images before you shoot.
At present the digiFilm options are:
- ISO 200 Ultra Fine
- ISO 400 Black & White
- ISO 1600 High Speed
- 6×6 120 format
- Blue Colour
- Unexpected 2017
Other film photography-like features of the Yashica Y35 are a wind-on lever, which really does nothing except make you pause between shots, and the absence of a screen or any way to look at your images as you’re shooting.
What you make of all that is up to you. If all I’ve done is confused you though, here’s a video.
Common criticisms of Yashica digiFilm
Much of the criticism I’ve seen of the Yashica Y35 has been a straight dismissal of the concept. It’s stupid. It’s pointless. It’s pretend film.
I’ve seen some aspersions cast on the complete strangers who backed the project too. Idiots. Hipsters. People pretending to shoot film. I do get the pretend film thing. I really do. I just prefer to think differently about it; about what this is rather than what it isn’t.
Someone shooting with the manual settings their phone isn’t pretending to shoot on a DSLR. They’re actually shooting on their phone. I’m not going to be pretending to shoot film with the Yashica Y35. I’m going to be actually shooting with a digital camera.
A common question I’ve seen regarding this too is “why wouldn’t someone just pick up an old film camera and shoot some actual rolls instead?”
For me, the answer is that I have, and I’ll continue to do so. That doesn’t mean I can’t try this thing too.
For the other idiots, hipsters and pretend film shooters, I don’t know. Maybe they have too. And if not, maybe they just don’t want to. Or maybe in the future they will.
Who knows. Who cares.
Anyone who backed the Yashica Y35 Kickstarter did so because they wanted to. If somebody doesn’t like the Yashica digiFilm concept, it probably wasn’t designed with them in mind.
Just shoot what you enjoy.
Technical limitations of the Yashica Y35
Certain points have been raised about the technical specifications of the camera.
Small sensor. Fixed focus. Fixed aperture. To be fair, some of these are valid questions to ask.
Although the sensor has been upgraded since the Yashica Y35 was first announced, it is still a 1/2.5″ – in plain English, that means it’s the same size as you’ll find in some mobile phones.
Also, a focus ring on the lens would have been nice. But then, as the lens is fixed at f2.0, people would have been asking for an aperture ring too.
Then costs begin to mount (the package I chose was only $150) and maybe the project gets too far away from what it’s supposed to be – a fun little photographic plaything rather than a serious piece of kit.
And although I’m yet to hold one in my hands, my least favourite thing about the Yashica Y35 is already the wind-on lever. It just seems like an extra thing that could break while serving no real function, and is probably the one thing I’m not looking forward to using.
My thoughts on Yashica digiFilm as a concept
It’s important to realise what the Yashica Y35 is and what it isn’t trying to be.
I don’t think the creators are trying to replace anything that’s already on the market. Film hobbyists aren’t going to drop analogue and migrate to it. Professionals aren’t going to sell their DSLRs for digiFilm.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place in the photography world. It just might be a place that nobody knew existed.
Nobody ever thought they needed a device to fill the gap between their phone and their laptop. Nobody even thought there was a gap between their phone and their laptop.
Not even Steve Jobs demonstrating the first iPad changed their mind. Then they got one and they thought different.
I’m not saying digiFilm will go on to have the impact the iPad has. I’m arguing more the principle that a new idea that fits in between existing ones can work, even in the face of initial criticism or even misunderstanding of its merit.
The fact that what Yashica are doing is a new idea also appeals to me too. I generally think that doing something, so long as it doesn’t negatively affect anyone else, is better than not doing it.
Trying something new is better than not trying it. digiFilm doesn’t hurt anyone who doesn’t use it, but it can bring joy to those who do.
What could Yashica have done instead?
I saw a comment about the Yashica Y35 on YouTube.
I’m paraphrasing but it argued the best way for a new camera to stand out today is for it to be a novelty; for it to be somehow out of the ordinary.
Everyone having a camera on their phone has hit the compact camera market hard. DSLR and mirrorless sales are also in decline over the long term.
With major players like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm and Olympus firmly ensconced in this space, what would have been the point in trying to enter as it continues to shrink?
I’ve seen suggestions Yashica could have brought a new film camera to the market. An actual film camera. I agree they could have. They really could have. But I’m not sure they should have.
It would certainly have gotten them more positive feedback, more respect, more kudos, and more goodwill. None of those pay the bills, though.
For whatever reason – perhaps with an eye on development costs versus potential sales of a new film camera – Yashica went a different route and came up with something of a hybrid.
It’s ended up being divisive, but that’s not a bad thing for anyone. The chatter has been good for the company and immaterial for the people who will use the camera.
Could Yashica digiFilm help film photography?
I keep going back to film photography because much of the criticism of the Y35 has been with real film as a backdrop.
But could digiFilm actually help film photography, at all? I think it could.
The two are not mutually exclusive. It’s not a zero-sum game. I’m not planning on abandoning film after my Y35 arrives. From the reaction to the digiFilm, I don’t imagine many film photographers will.
What’s more likely is a trickle of people heading in the opposite direction. People who have never shot film being inspired to try after playing around with the Y35.
The film community is not losing anything, but it could gain a few more members.
It’s worth pointing out too that this is the first iteration of the idea. To go back to the iPad example, one complaint with the first version was the absence of a camera. It now has two. As do most other tablets, by a good number of different manufacturers.
Yashica, or anyone else, could take the Y35 and improve on it. They could even iterate in a way that makes film photographers happy.
What that would look like, I don’t know. But to see the Y35 as the end point is a little short-sighted. It could really be the beginning of something that turns out good for film photography, and photography in general.
The near future of Yashica digiFilm
Nobody can say for sure how the future looks for a product that hasn’t even shipped yet, but it’s fun to speculate.
Major, long-term technological iterations aside, here are a few things that could happen with the Yashica Y35 in the near future.
The first is that, once people have used it for a while, they get bored of the novelty. The fad burns out and digiFilm cameras are either collecting dust on a shelf or selling for half their original price on eBay.
The second possibility is that sales will continue to be steady after the launch. I don’t really see demand exploding again as it did when the Kickstarter went live. The buzz has already been created and it’ll be hard to generate a second wave.
Most people who want the Yashica digiFilm will have backed the project and will get one when the first batch ships, so a huge number of sales soon after looks unlikely.
Whether it sinks or swims, one thing I’m confident of is there’ll be a community of loyal digiFilm shooters. Perhaps a Flickr group or two. Definitely, without question, accounts and hashtags on Instagram.
The success of the product will determine how big or small this community is, but there will certainly be one.
The real reason I like the Yashica Y35 concept
I’m well aware that post-purchase rationalisation is a thing. I’m well aware that I may be optimistic about Yashica digiFilm because I backed it, rather than the other way around.
That’s almost certainly the case, in fact. If I’d passed on the project, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it since. I definitely wouldn’t have written this.
It’s not something I can help, though. I’m not immune to cognitive biases. All I can do is be aware of them as much as possible.
That said, I’m just a photography blogger. I’m not a professional shooter. I’m not a film expert and I’m not devoted to analogue.
What matters to me is having fun with my photography and being able to write about it here. The Yashica Y35 will hopefully allow me to do the former.
But perhaps more importantly as a photography blogger, it will definitely allow me to do the latter.
Bonus: other crowdfunded 2017 film photography projects
The 2017 crowdfunded film photography projects I mentioned at the top of this are the following:
I backed two of the four.
These were Silberra and Analog Cafe.
In a year when Fuji announced they were discontinuing some of their film range, how could I not back a small company like Silberra who are working to bring new films to the market?
Analog Cafe is a site my buddy was raising funds to help develop. It’s a place where you can submit your own film photography for publication. Seriously, check it out if that sounds like something you want to do.
The Reflex camera did look good, too. Being able to use the vintage lenses I already own with it sounded wonderful; as did the ability to change film halfway through a roll.
Ultimately, however, I couldn’t justify the cost of backing the project. It was just too expensive for me. It’s good that they reached their target, though.
I’ve not read as much about the Elbaflex, save for some tweets that questioned its originality. Regardless, the cost to back the project was again too high for me. At the time of writing, they’re looking like their campaign will fall short.
Some may see this as vindicating Yashica’s decision to try something different. Personally, I don’t.
They’re completely different entities and comparing what Yashica could have done with what Elbaflex did do would be unfair.
It would also be unnecessary. The Y35 is what it is. digiFilm is what it is.
I’m just looking forward to trying it out.
What do you think? Looking forward to shooting with your Y35 or think the whole thing is pointless? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter 😀
Also, if you’ve found this enlightening or otherwise, why not share or pin it?