All images © Yashica
Update: I first wrote this before any Yashica Y35 had shipped. Now they have and turned out to be not very good, it’s time to revise it. I’m not going to hide any of my misplaced optimism though. I just made it past tense.
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, and justifiably so as it turned out, it was mostly bad.
A lot of people called the project pointless (and worse). Others asked who was even backing it, and labelled those mysterious folks who did 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 and talk about what I liked about the concept. Before I received the actual camera, that was.
What exactly is the Yashica digiFilm camera?
The Yashica digiFilm camera – officially known as the Yashica Y35 – aimed to bring some of the film photography experience to a digital medium.
Bear with me.
Instead of actual film, the camera came with a number of removable digiFilm cartridges, with each one determining how your photographs will look.
You could think of this as a 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.
The digiFilm options are:
- ISO 200 Ultra Fine
- ISO 400 Black & White
- ISO 1600 High Speed
- 6×6 120 format
- Blue Colour
- In My Fancy
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.
Here’s a video they released at the time.
Common criticisms of Yashica digiFilm
Much of the criticism I saw of the Yashica Y35 was a straight dismissal of the concept. It’s stupid. It’s pointless. It’s pretend film.
I saw some aspersions cast on the complete strangers who backed the project too. Idiots. Hipsters. People pretending to shoot film. I get the pretend film thing. I really do. I just preferred to think differently about it; about what this was rather than what it wasn’t.
Someone shooting with the manual settings on 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, when I finally get round to it. I’m going to be actually shooting with a weird digital camera.
A common question I saw 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 also try this thing.
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 didn’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 were raised about the technical specifications of the camera. Small sensor. Fixed focus. Fixed aperture. To be fair, some of these were valid questions to ask.
Although the sensor got 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.
In hindsight, neither of these were ever going to happen.
Even if they did, it would cost even more (the package I chose was already $150) and maybe the project gets too far away from what it was supposed to be – a fun little photographic plaything rather than a serious piece of kit.
My thoughts on Yashica digiFilm as a concept
It’s important to realise what the Yashica Y35 was and what it wasn’t trying to be.
The creators weren’t 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 the idea didn’t have a place in the photography world. It just might have been 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.
Of course digiFilm wasn’t going to have the impact the iPad has and I’m not suggesting anything of the sort. I’m saying 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 did was a new idea appealed 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 want to use it, but it could have brought 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 that 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. Maybe they 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 ended up being divisive, but maybe that was the goal. The chatter – be it the hype or the criticism – got them a hell of a lot of publicity.
The future of Yashica digiFilm
Nobody could say for sure how the future looked for a product that hadn’t even shipped, but it was fun to speculate.
At the time, I wasn’t sure if it would sink or swim. Looking now, it appears to have sunk harder than I thought it could.
My first idea was that people might use it for a while but then get bored of the novelty. The fad would burn out and digiFilm cameras are left either collecting dust on a shelf or selling for half their original price on eBay.
The second possibility I thought was that sales may continue to be steady after the launch. Demand was never going to explode again as it did when the Kickstarter went live. The buzz had already been created and a second wave was never going to come.
Whether it sunk or swam, I did think there’d be some sort of community of digiFilm shooters. Curated accounts and hashtags on Instagram, for example.
And none of the above happened. No community. No sales after the launch. And very, very few resold on eBay.
Perhaps the real reason I liked the Yashica Y35 concept
I’m well aware that post-purchase rationalisation is a thing. I’m well aware that I may have been optimistic about Yashica digiFilm because I backed it, rather than the other way around.
That was almost certainly the case, in fact. If I 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. If I ever use it, the Yashica Y35 will allow me to do the former.
But perhaps more importantly as a photography blogger, it has definitely allowed me to do the latter.
What do you think? Were you looking forward to shooting with your Y35 or did you think the whole thing was pointless from the beginning? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter 😀
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