At the turn of the millennium, Chrysler introduced the PT Cruiser, a retro-styled automobile that echoed design elements from the 1930s. People went gaga for it because it was retro cool while retaining modern utility. Turning on the car didn’t require the driver to manually crank the engine. The car had air conditioning, power windows, and all the modern accoutrement that said retro cool need not be inconvenient to be successful.
In photography, a resurgence of interest in film isn’t a self-flagellating exercise. Film possesses a quality that can only be simulated in digital. Large format digital simply doesn’t exist, and many alternative processes have no digital equivalent.
Companies like Fujifilm have succeeded in incorporating rangefinder-style design, which feels nostalgic while incorporating incredible technology that place their cameras on par with other top-of-the-line offerings from other manufacturers.
Then, there is Yashica. A few weeks ago, the company teased their “Coming Chapter” featuring an attractive Chinese model in jumpcut vignette that seemed to take styling cues from Blade Runner (PSA: smoking is bad for your health). Although Yashica never scaled the heights of its contemporaries, Nikon and Canon, it still had a fairly storied history with its SLRs and TLRs before Kyocera sold the trademark rights to a Hong Kong-based firm in 2008.
An initial announcement about a smartphone lens system brought about a collective yawn, but photographers were still waiting to be delighted with a more substantive announcement of their “unprecedented” return to the camera world. And here is.
The Yashica digiFilm Y35 is a digital camera with a 1/3.2inch 14-megapixel sensor that uses pretend film – each with different ISO ratings, aspect ratio, and color. They’ve launched a Kickstarter to give you an opportunity to purchase the $125 camera. Over 5,100
fools people have backed this project to the tune of nearly $1m.
As I wrote in 2013, the camera of the future isn’t from the past. The Yashica Y35 reminds me of those old DigitalRev videos where Kai and crew would purposely handicap themselves using inferior cameras like the Barbiecam for, well, no purpose at all.
You can plausibly make an argument that vinyl records have an acoustic advantage over low resolution streamed audio, that a handmade knife is more balanced and sharper than a factory manufactured version, but you can’t convince me that the Y35 yields any advantage in any aspect of photography whatsoever.
The only unprecedented aspect of this comeback is how unprecedentedly disappointing it is. In the pursuit of brash consumerism, this newly branded Yashica has forgotten a large part of why we take photos in the first place: joy.
Here’s a suggestion, save your $125 to donate to Hurricane Relief in Puerto Rico and use your smartphone instead. You’ll feel better and your photos will look better too.