The long history of photography has always bent toward convenience. In hundreds of years of cameras, the world has gone from minutes-long exposures and staged Civil War battlefield scenes to being able to take and store literally thousands of photos on your telephone. Thinking about the milestones of photographic convenience, a few immediately jump to mind: 35mm film, in-camera light meters, autofocus, Polaroid, disposables and, of course, the point-and-shoot camera.
The thought behind them is simple: Consumers favoring compactness, cost and ease-of-use are willing to compromise on photo quality. If you’re not a professional photographer, you may not have the need or desire to travel with an SLR body and any assortment of lenses. Just throw a point-and-shoot in your bag or on your belt and you’re ready to shoot away.
Konica ushered in the point-and-shoot era when it released the C35 AF in 1978. By the mid-eighties, everyone was in on the game and some seriously good compact cameras (like Nikon’s L35AF) were making impressive images with just the push of a button.
In 1985 Yashica threw its hat in the ring with the T. Two years earlier the brand had been acquired by electronics-giant Kyocera, and that purchase also brought with it Yashica’s existing agreement with Carl Zeiss AG, which would give the T and the four cameras that followed it their most attractive feature: Zeiss Tessar lenses and the famous T* coating. Not only did the Yashica T launch the brand into the compact camera market, this lucky partnership with Zeiss instantly elevated them to the top tier of premium point-and-shoots. And they stayed ensconced in that tier with subsequent releases in the series – the T2, T3, T4 and T5/T4 Super. And each iteration of the T maintained and improved the lofty reputation earned by the original.
But with that premium reputation came a premium price, and as the number following the T gets bigger, so grows the price tag. This consideration led me to the T2, which I nabbed on Ebay for about $60. That was a much more preferable price point to the T4 Super, the price of which (around $400) made me audibly laugh.
I’m the type that overthinks camera purchases. I’ll scour the web finding as much information about a camera as I can before spending money on someone else’s used stuff. That proved to be problematic with the T2 as there is remarkably little information about it online. So the fact that I laid down the cash for it speaks volumes about the T’s cult status and reputation.
But what do we get for our hard earned dollars?
The T2 is an almost entirely automatic camera with programmed auto-exposure and auto focus. After popping in a pricey 2CR5 6V battery, insert your film, press the shutter to advance to exposure one and the camera will automatically detect ISO between 50 and 1600. Unlike many other point-and-shoots of the era, that film speed is set in stone. Loading film requires a little more care than usual as the T2 can be quite finicky when film isn’t led exactly to the little red mark on the film spool. It only took one roll rewinding prematurely for me to learn my lesson and take my time loading it. If you’re using non-DX coded film, the camera will automatically rate it at ISO 100.
As advertised, taking photos is easy, and the autofocus system works pretty well. Pushing the shutter button halfway will lock in the focus, the distance of which is shown with icons of one person (1-2m), a group (2-4m) and a mountain (4m-infinity). If you’re within the 1 meter minimum focusing distance, the person icon will blink. Focus happens, but it won’t happen fast. This thing came out in the mid-eighties, when autofocus was in its nascent stage, and I can easily imagine many fanny-pack soccer moms frustrated with how out of focus little Jimmy seemed.
Two buttons allow “creative control” of the flash, which translates into one button for no flash and one for daylight fill flash. Both of these tiny buttons have to be pushed down when the picture is taken. The camera decides when to use the flash, and I’ve found it’s quite generous with its application of blinding lights.
Directly behind the shutter release is a self-timer button that is set to trigger the shutter at 10 seconds. To cut the timer, just hit the button again.
As far as features, that’s the extent of it; three buttons. Two for flash and one for a timer. That means we’re placing a lot of faith in a camera that doesn’t seem to offer much. We’re relying on the lens to deliver.
Happily, it does deliver.
People get excited when they see T* badging on a camera, and there’s a good reason for that. The Zeiss Tessar lenses of the T series really are outstanding. Not only are they sharp, but they deliver images with great resolution and contrast. The Tessar in the T2 is the same as that in the T and the T4: 35mm f/3.5 with four elements in three groups. The T3 would be a little faster with a 35mm f/2.8. For reasons unknown the company went back to the original for the T4/T4 Super.
Either way, this is a great lens. I love its color rendition and the punchy contrast these cameras are known for really does suck you into the cult. I’ve found the vignetting to be less severe than it is in my L35AF, but as with that camera I’ve never found it to detract from the photo. It adds a personality to the photos, like a photo byline that says “this photo was taken by a T2.” Sure the lens is a little slow, but really with a maximum aperture of 3.5 and a shutter speed range of 1/8-1/500s, it covers essentially every situation in which I’d want to use the machine.
Like the T1 before it, the lens of the T2 is protected by a dim and plastic “Auto Lens Barrier” that retracts when the shutter release is pressed and returns after the photo is taken. Not only is this a nice feature to protect the lens, it’s also a key component to the camera’s “80s brutalist” aesthetic (if you’re into that kind of thing.) I am into it, and this camera looks great on my shelf next to my strangely unnecessary collection of Walkmen. If you’re not into the look, you may prefer the design of the decidedly more elegant T3, 4 and 4 Super.
After some time with the T2 I’ve struck a loving truce with it. I wish it had manual ISO control and a flash system that wasn’t infuriating. The battery it uses is expensive, but that battery recycles flash a lot faster than other point-and-shoots running on AA batteries.
Once I was able to get beyond the limitations and hurdles of this archaic point-and-shoot from the earliest days of point-and-shoots, I really started to like the T2. While gathering photos for this article, I found myself staring at some of them, not because of the photographer, but because of the lens – its contrast and saturation are slightly punchier than reality, but not cartoonish. I hadn’t had any firsthand experience with Zeiss glass before the T2, but after using it I can understand its popularity.
I really like how it looks, that it’s a reliable producer and that it’s not the T model used by Terry Richardson.
Would I recommend this camera? Maybe. If you’re able to survive without having control of your photos outside of composition and film choice, then you might love it. If you’re not comfortable with that, get one anyway and learn to live without having control all the time. It’s a great companion for travel and walking around the city. It’s not great if you need reliable focus in a hurry or want to get creative with exposure.
In many ways, the benefits and the shortcomings of the T2 are indicative of the entire point-and-shoot world. If you’ve read this and replied, “but there’s not much to it” or, “it could break and there’s no way to fix it,” I’d reply that you’re talking about almost any point-and-shoot around today.
But those criticisms could also be cited as the thing that drove the creation of these cameras in the first place. They weren’t designed for professionals who demanded complete creative control, but for parents and travelers who cared about capturing events and snapshots. The buyer of a point-and-shoot wasn’t trying to get on the cover of a magazine; they were trying to fill up family photo albums.
The nice thing about the T2 is that it could easily allow you to do both.