What on Earth is a DigiFilm?

This week, Yashica arose from the dead and announced the Y35 and companion digiFilm accessories. All Y35 product images in this article are ©Yashica, and are not taken or owned by That Vintage Lens.

This week, Yashica arose from the dead and announced the Y35 and companion digiFilm accessories. All Y35 product images in this article are ©Yashica, and are not taken or owned by That Vintage Lens.

What Makes Film Unique?

Quick! What about film is most enticing to film photographers? What is it that makes them forgo the allure of the digital technological masterpieces?

Some might say it's the analogue tactile connection that one has to film; the tiny silver grains within the celluloid reacting to the light as it enters the lens rather than pixels churning out 1's and 0's. Others would say it's the mechanical nature of the cameras...you don't changes settings through menus but by switches and substantial buttons. Yet others would claim it's the anticipation...did I capture what I hoped, or did my skills fail me? Traditional film isn't about the instant view or the quick gratification.

Despite the dozens of answers that photographers could give on the topic, Hong Kong-based Yashica seems to think they've boiled it down. After promising an "unprecedented" camera release, Yashica finally launched "the unexpected"...and unexpected it was. You see, for Yashica, the allure of film apparently boils down to the experience.

Inside the back, there is enough space for a digiFilm canister (which changes your settings to simulate the chosen film) and two AA batteries.

Inside the back, there is enough space for a digiFilm canister (which changes your settings to simulate the chosen film) and two AA batteries.

How many of you know this process: You take a digital image. You look at the back of the screen. You find something worth changing; perhaps a blink, or an exposure adjustment. You adjust the camera, recompose, and take the photo again. You look at the screen once more, and find something else to correct. By the time the process has completed, you've spent more time in the action of taking a photo that in connecting with what is truly going on. 

Moments later, you’re viewing the pictures on the back of the screen and remarking how much better the third image was. This process continues throughout the day. Dozens if not hundreds of pictures later, you arrive at your computer, where you backup the photographs to your hard drive, and promptly forget about most of them. Perhaps there are a few that are good, but most are just rubbish. Why? Because you didn’t care if you made a mistake. If you did, you can simply redo the shot. Why spend the time getting it right the first time when try #2, #3, #4, and so on are free?

This scenario isn’t too far fetched for most of us. When I’m out shooting with my 1DX mkII, many times my photography is careless. Do I double check my aperture, shutter speed, and iso? Often times no. Why should I? I can just take a picture, see how far off I am, and then correct and take again. Now often I am much more careful (particularly in moments when error isn’t an option), but all too frequently the lazy photographer inside me is brought out by too heavily a reliance on the equipment. 

It really is a tiny thing. Just look at that leather wrap though! I love a good leather wrapped camera.

It really is a tiny thing. Just look at that leather wrap though! I love a good leather wrapped camera.

How Does the Y35 solve this?

This brings us back to Yashica. Their answer to this problem is the digiFilm system. Combatting the increased time we spend actually taking the photographs, the Yashica y35 (and digiFilm system around it) offers a different alternative: a camera with few settings to change, and no review function. In their own words, “there is no instant gratification of a review screen, no delete button, and no hiding from mistakes. The world seen from the viewfinder of Y35, might be a little slower, a little prettier, transporting us back to a time when we all pay a little bit more attention, and causing us to care each shot before clicking the shutter – because it must solid the first time or the moment is lost.”

On the camera itself, just about the only thing you can adjust is the shutter speed. Iso and color are controlled by the insertion of one of many “digiFilms” that represent a different film stock. Similarly to changing a roll of film, one must remove the canister and insert a different one to adjust for varying lighting (indoor shots in dim light vs outdoor shots in bright sun), and adjust the color and tonal shifts. They've even gone so far as to build in a film-like method of preparing for the next picture: a film advance lever. So far they have promised:

  • ISO 1600 Color Film - grainy, but high speed
  • ISO 400 B&W Film - grainy black and white image
  • ISO 200 Color Film - sharp, detailed photos for outdoors
  • ISO 200 1x1 Color Film - for simulating medium format ratios and for easy Instagram share
ISO 1600 Color Film - grainy, but high speed.

ISO 1600 Color Film - grainy, but high speed.

ISO 400 B&W Film - grainy black and white

ISO 400 B&W Film - grainy black and white

ISO 200 Color Film - sharp and detailed for well-lit scenarios

ISO 200 Color Film - sharp and detailed for well-lit scenarios

Love square format? It isn't quite the same as medium format, but it will fit Instagram all the same!

Love square format? It isn't quite the same as medium format, but it will fit Instagram all the same!

As the format matures, I expect to see more variations. As for specifications, the camera sports:

  • 1/3.2-inch CMOS sensor 
  • 14 megapixel photos 
  • Built-in viewfinder
  • Apertures of f2.8
  • Focal Length 35mm
  • A minimum focusing distance of 1m (~3 feet) to infinity
  • 5 selectable steps shutter speeds 1s, 1/30s, 1/60s, 1/250s, 1/500s
  • SD card storage (wifi card compatible)
  • Micro USB connectivity for data transfers
  • Tripod mount ready
  • Operate with 2 x AA batteries
  • Image controlled by digiFilm™
I only own one Yashica camera at the moment, but a fine camera it is. Yashica-Mat EM 120 camera with working selenium light meter.

I only own one Yashica camera at the moment, but a fine camera it is. Yashica-Mat EM 120 camera with working selenium light meter.

Wait, Haven't I heard of Yashica? 

Now some of you may be saying to yourselves, “Yashica…I swear I’ve heard of that brand before.” Others might think this is a new startup. In truth, you’re both sort of right. In fact, while going through a sort of re-birth, the Yashica name is quite old.

Founded in 1949 in Nagano, Japan, the Yashima Seiki Company began as a clock manufacturer. By 1953, however, they had completed their first camera, the Yashimaflex, a twin-lens-reflex camera for the masses. In 1957, Yashima opened an arm in the United States under the name Yashica (simply Yashima and Camera mushed together). The company continued to grow, and while initially known primarily for their medium format offerings (often competing as lower-priced offerings to the iconic Rolleiflex), in 1959, the company entered the realm of 35mm.

While never known to be an A-list manufacturer, Yashica made a name for itself for it’s electronically-controlled cameras, beginning with the iconic Electro 35, released in 1965. Aside from being the first completely electronically controlled camera, the Electro 35 is particularly notable for today due to the design similarities with the Y35 announced this week. 

Here is a fine example of the Yashica Electro 35. Doesn't it look strikingly similar to the Y35?

Here is a fine example of the Yashica Electro 35. Doesn't it look strikingly similar to the Y35?

Fast forward to 1983, and the Yashica corporation (by this point the worldwide organization was known as such, not just in the United States) was purchased by ceramics giant Kyocera. Initially, this purchase brought few changes, but as time went on and the market competition stiffened, Yashica was repositioned as the budget alternative. Production was moved from Japan to Hong Kong, and all high-end offerings were discontinued. 

In 2003, following additional mergers, Kyocera discontinued all of their camera brands, including Yashica. Later, the brand was sold to Hong Kong-based MF Jebsen Group, where is resides today. Since the sale, the Yashica has sold a number of low-level electronics of varying categories under their name, but nothing of interest to any serious photographers. The Y35 is the first semi-serious camera from the brand since 2003. All in all, Yashica is essentially a startup at this point. The skill in producing quality cameras has all but dissipated from the company. That said, it isn’t unheard of for a startup to produce something quite extraordinary, if not a bit niche (Digital Bolex anyone?).

So who is the camera really for?

So in the end, what does the Y35 offer? Well, truth be told, the Y35 isn’t very impressive by specs alone. Essentially, it is a point and shoot grade camera with a tiny sensor and an average lens, with an average megapixel count. People who purchase this camera, however, won’t be purchasing for the specs. Sure you can’t actually view pictures on the camera, or even delete known mess-ups, and sure the settings are limited. This is all aside from the fact that you have to carry multiple digiFilm rolls with you in order to make settings adjustments. 

If you didn't know any better, you might think this was a film camera.

If you didn't know any better, you might think this was a film camera.

With all of these limitations in mind, this camera isn’t for the pixel peeper, it isn’t for the master photographer looking to capture that perfect shot, it isn’t for the person who plans to edit their images profusely. This camera is for someone who wants to experience the joy and simplicity of photography without all the fuss that surrounds digital imaging these days. No more wasted moments trying to capture multiple images and correct those pesky imperfections. No more wasting precious time reviewing images in the field. Now you can focus on what’s important: capturing the moment and going back to enjoying it. 

I really have to applaud Yashica on realizing the need. I must say, when I initially saw the product, I scoffed. After a few minutes of analyzing the target audience and our current predicaments, however, it isn’t such a crazy camera. Essentially it gives the user a portion of the experience of shooting film, but without the film. All of the anticipation, possibilities for errors, careful and necessary preparation, and lack of settings to spend time changing are there.

When I shoot film, I’m methodical. I’m calculating. I’m exacting. I don’t shoot to correct later, I don’t take a shot to see how it will look. I don’t waste my time on fiddling with the camera. I line up my shot, question whether it’s a picture worth taking (often times, it isn’t. Do I really need another shot of my lunch?), double check my settings, take a deep breath, and snap the picture. Until the negatives are developed, that’s where it ends…and I enjoy every minute of it. I’m more engaged in the interactions around me, and the photographs stem from the enjoyment of those interactions. 

digiFilm. Will it take off? Will it be remembered as a dud. Let's find out!

digiFilm. Will it take off? Will it be remembered as a dud. Let's find out!

If you want this experience while shooting digital, the Y35 may be for you. It offers that simplicity, and the style, for a relatively low price. Is it perfect? Of course not. This could never fully replicated the process of film photography, I can think of a dozen things I would do differently, but that isn’t the point. Here we have a camera that’s getting back to its roots. Will I purchase it? Probably not, but who knows? Maybe it will be an impressive little camera. In the end, despite its appeal, I can’t help but wonder…if you spend so much time emulating the look of film and the process of shooting it, why not use the real thing?

If you would like to support the project, visit their Kickstarter page. They're fully funded, but if you think you might purchase the camera in the future, some great deals are still available.