Yashica T4 – A Hype-free Review of a Decent Film Camera

Yashica T4 – A Hype-free Review of a Decent Film Camera

2800 1575 Josh Solomon

Blown out portraits of swimsuit supermodels. Hashtagged and upvoted shots of trendy streetwear-covered, moody-looking youngsters. A price tag that makes hypebeasts and unscrupulous camera flippers alike lick their lips. You know which camera I’m talking about. It’s none other than the poster child of the 35mm point-and-shoot inflation bubble, the favorite camera of questionably-motivated fashion photographers the world over (you know who I mean). It’s the Yashica T4.

But do we really know what this camera’s about? I think not. The T4 is one of those cameras whose reputation often far eclipses the more salient points of its design, operation, and capability. We know this camera as being capable of a certain look (a e s t h e t i c) and associate it with a very particular kind of photography. It would then be easy to dismiss the Yashica T4 out-of-hand as an overhyped darling that doesn’t deserve any more consideration than the next 1990s point-and-shoot with a 35mm lens.

When the task of reviewing this camera fell into my lap, I almost did just that. After a few weeks with one I’ve found my position hasn’t really changed, but my appreciation for the camera has deepened. And it’s done so for true and honest reasons.

What’s a Yashica T4?

The first interesting thing about the Yashica T4 is just how uninteresting it is. For anybody who experienced products and design go the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the Yashica T4 will look and feel like everything else made in that era – weirdly bulgy and oddly slippery. Its specs don’t encourage either; it features a 3-point infrared autofocus system, a stepless shutter that bottoms out at one second and tops out at 1/700th of a second, a decent EV range of EV 3.5-17, a DX code reader that reads up to ISO 3200, and a decent looking integrated flash that’ll give you that head-on-apply-directly-to-the-forehead look. Decent specs for a point-and-shoot from the 1990s, but nothing that sets it apart.

The saving grace of the Yashica T4 (and the reason why so many Yashica products from the ’80s and ’90s were so great) is the fact that it features glass designed by German optical powerhouse Zeiss. The Yashica T4’s Carl Zeiss T* 35mm f/3.5 Tessar was and is still considered one of the best lenses ever dropped into a plastic point-and-shoot, and the reason the T4 has stood the test of time.

Even so, there’s still stiff optical competition for the Yashica T4. The Nikon Pikaichi L35AF features a faster and equally renowned 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar pattern lens, as does the much-hyped Olympus Mju-II and the higher end Contax T-series of cameras.

So what’s the deal with the T4’s lens? It’s a sharp and contrasty lens owing to the timeless Tessar designed and perfected by Zeiss, and it renders colors very well owing to the same’s T* coating. But other lenses do these things too. It focuses down to 0.35m, which is a welcome feature in a point-and-shoot camera, but it isn’t a feature exclusive to the T4 by any means. In fact, I’d wager the T4’s legacy was cemented the moment “Carl Zeiss T*” was printed on the lens surround.

If the T4 doesn’t offer anything different other than the Zeiss name and an above-average lens, then it doesn’t really amount to much in the 35mm autofocus point-and-shoot segment. While all that is true, in practice, the T4 performs at a level higher than almost every other point-and-shoot I’ve ever tried. While it doesn’t completely demolish the competition in terms of raw capability or image quality, the T4 has a leg up in terms of design. The T4 is one of the most well-designed point-and-shoot cameras out there, creating an overall package that’s everything a point-and-shoot should be – effortless, but capable.

Shooting Experience

The Yashica T4 is a surprisingly flexible, capable camera. There are only three buttons on the top plate – the shutter release, a self timer button, and a flash mode button which doubles as a mode selector. A sun symbol appears on the LCD for daytime fill-flash, a night time symbol for low-light shooting with no flash, and an infinity symbol for infinity focus lock meant for landscape photography. All of these modes make for a surprisingly versatile camera, and the button used to switch between them isn’t an annoyance. I usually balk at the push-button menus of the 1990s, but there are so few modes here that switching between them is no more of a bother than manually focusing or setting shutter speed or aperture on a manually operated camera. Though it should be noted that every time the camera is turned off, the modes reset. Shooters who want to shoot with no flash will need to remember to turn it off every time the thing restarts, or risk startling a candid subject.

Just beyond the trio of buttons lies a switch that unlocks the camera and pulls back the shroud that protects the T4’s Carl Zeiss T* lens. It seems like an innocuous feature, but the placement and operation of this switch is perfect. We’ve said much about the convenience of the clamshell on/off switch featured on the Olympus XA and Mju series of cameras, but there really is no better way to unlock a lens than the small switch found on the T4. It’s a small feature, but in practice it lets the shooter be a step quicker than they would be with other cameras, which is essential for street and candid photography.

Speaking of those styles of photography, the T4 is a stellar camera for situations which require an observant eye and a quick trigger finger. This is down to both the T4’s unlocking switch and the incredibly quick and quiet action of its autofocus and shutter release. Too often do point-and-shoots wail and whine away for a couple of seconds before taking a photo; the T4 takes care of its business within a half second, and takes care of it quietly. For more discerning shooters, it is possible to utilize the shutter release as an AF/AE lock with a half-press for more precise composition and exposure control, but this doesn’t add more than another half second to shooting time. In tandem with the slick action of the T4’s unlocking mechanism, it’s possible to unlock, shoot, lock, and stow away the T4 within about four seconds.

Much can be said about the T4’s functional drawbacks. For example, the T4 doesn’t have a manual aperture selector. It doesn’t have a manual focus override. It doesn’t have a manual ISO selector. It’s also plastic and electronic, which for some is enough to warrant eternal damnation. But to these points I will counter that these are only drawbacks if you use the T4 as your only camera.

There’s a strange notion that all cameras must be evaluated as if they were going to be your only camera. I find it much more productive to view cameras in context, especially when it comes to the point-and-shoot set. For me, point-and-shoots act as secondary cameras or part of a larger camera system. For quick, casual grab shots, the point-and-shoots will do just fine. For considered shots which will require finer manipulation of exposure, control over depth-of-field, and pinpoint framing, a pro-spec SLR or rangefinder should be used.

Considering this, the Yashica T4 plays the point-and-shoot role admirably. It’s quick on the draw, capable enough to grab a wide variety of shots, and designed well enough for anybody to operate. It won’t do everything a fully-equipped SLR can, but expecting such acrobatics from a point-and-shoot is preposterous to begin with. When used with its limitations in mind, the T4 can offer one of the most effortless and enjoyable shooting experiences among point-and-shoots.

The Buyer’s Guide

Even though the T4 is absolutely deserving of praise and is a great camera in itself, I can’t recommend the T4 to the average shooter in good conscience. Why? Price and hype.

The Yashica T4 has one of the most obscenely inflated price tags in photography, which comes in currently around $500. That’s simply absurd. Nobody should be shelling out five Benjamins for a point-and-shoot from the ’90s, no matter how good it is. That kind of money should be reserved for a first-rate pro-spec camera system, not a point-and-shoot. In fact, for that kind of money you could probably fund an entire system, lenses and all, and still have enough for an equally capable point-and-shoot.

At this absurd of a price point, you aren’t paying for the camera; you’re paying for some weird conception of what this camera represents. Considering the bulk of that image is unfortunately constituted by a gross looking photographer-creep and an overplayed style of portraiture that any camera with a flash can accomplish, the T4 isn’t worth $500.

I should stress that none of this is any fault of the T4’s, and if you find one at a thrift store for a hundred bucks, buy it! It’s a nice camera. But it should be said somewhere on the internet that, at $400 or $500, there’s nothing about the Yashica T4 that makes it deserving of this inflated price tag more than any other decent point-and-shoot. There’s just not much to it.

The T4 just got caught up in being handled by a controversial and popular photographer, and in the infamy and social media hype that followed. Perhaps we can (and should) look to other point-and-shoots as good secondary cameras or casual everyday cameras, and appreciate them for what they are without hype or expectation.

If you really want your own Yashica T4 and don’t mind paying, try eBay

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
19 comments
  • Wilson Laidlaw May 6, 2019 at 10:05 am

    I bought the zoom version of the T4, the 110W for £8 from a charity shop recently, to have as a disposable film camera, for those situations to which I would not want to expose one of my Leicas, either film or digital. I was not expecting a whole lot but its performance has astonished me. Its metering is more accurate than my Leica R9 and the lens has less pincushion distortion at the tele end of the zoom range than my 28-70 Vario Elmar-R (admittedly this Leica lens is not one of Leica’s greatest). The AF seems to work near perfectly every time. Almost certainly one of the best value photographic items I have bought, only just outdone by my recent acquisition of a free Leica R4, which only needed an hour’s work to make it all work perfectly again.

  • Josh, your review is spot-on. I found one of these at a local thrift store for $7 in excellent condition. I shot two rolls through it and thought “meh”.

    I don’t get the hype, although it is the camera you get if you don’t have Contaxt T2 money. My Contax 139 Quartz with the Tessar 45mm f2.8 is way better and almost as small, although not as light and gets way better results.

    I admit that I shamelessly made a ridiculous profit when I decided to sell it.

    • Can’t knock the hustle! Truth be told, I think the flippability of this camera is its greatest asset. I’d gladly flip a T4 for your Contax 139Q + Tessar combo!

  • does the flash setting reset itself upon switching the cam off?

  • I only have the Yashica T3, but I have similar experiences with it. It’s an OK camera for what it is, but I can’t feel very enthusiastic about a camera which only lets you push the button and do nothing else. The results are quite decent, but not outstanding. It’s hard to use it for serious black & white work because of the missing manual ISO adjustments. What’s also annoying is that you have to turn off the flash again for every exposure, which makes the camera less usable for available light photography.

    Sometimes I wanted to change it in for a T4 or T5, because of the more compact body design – but not at those prices at the moment. So I’m keeping my T3 for occasional use. My recommendation is also to look at the earlier models of the Yashica T-Series. If you can live with the quirky designs, you get basically the same camera and lense for much less.

  • I had one of these for years and gave it away as junk. I’d pay $10 for this. What is going on in the world?

  • Thomas Harding May 6, 2019 at 7:32 pm

    I picked up a T4 Super/T5 for very cheap about a year ago. I was immediately inundated with offers from guys on Instagram who collected sneakers and wore lots of Supreme gear. I decided to at least shoot a couple test rolls through it and fell in love with it. Its been great for snapshots and to toss in a bag for a day trip. It has a purpose and it fulfills that purpose very well, even punching above weight at times. And it’s survived a couple of nasty falls that would (and eventually did) kill the Konica C35 that I originally bought the T4 to replace.

    It’s a shame the T series carries so much baggage from all the hype, because I think it’s a great little shooter if you can get it for a good price.

    Would I have paid $400 for it? No. There’s so many equally capable machines available for less, and at the current prices, you’re bumping into the lower limit of Nikon Ti35 or Contax T prices. But would I be willing to pay, say 10 to 15 times what I bought mine for if I have to replace it?

    • I grew up with a lot of, uh, streetwear aficionados, and I never thought that film cameras would ever make it onto their hype radar. Yet, here we are. At least we still have other point and shoots!

      • Thomas Harding May 8, 2019 at 10:48 am

        Right? While everyone rightfully calls out the T4 for all the hype, it probably isn’t even the worst offender. Of course I havent shot any of the others, so that’s just speculation at this point. It’s interesting to see the difference in prices of the point and shoot cameras that photo geeks hype (e.g. Big Mini, Ricoh GR series, Olympus XA, Nikon Ti) and the prices of cameras that those who we tend to think of as the hypebeast/”influencer” set glom onto (anything with a T* stamped on it, Olympus Mju, etc.)

  • Brilliantly written review, don’t think the T4 is something for me either.

  • I bought a T4 new a few years after its release and although unused for a long time now I still have it. I had been using a Ricoh GR1 to good effect as my “carry anywhere” camera when I didn’t want the inconvenience of lugging around my main 35mm outfit. It was sort of my “family holidays” camera when I needed to be far less disciplined than when I was in “personal photography” mode. So the T4, with its narrower FoV, was able to partner my GR1 and still without the mass and bulk of my main outfit. The T4 did what it was intended to do: focus and expose accurately, and not having any manual overrides, there was nothing to tempt me. :D) And it produced sharp images.
    The T4 will still do this today, but the hype, and I mean serious hype, that has built up around this, and others, has me completely perplexed.
    In the pre-digital film era, cameras were part of a quality hierarchy, supported by dealers and photographic magazines who knew what was what, so one could never be overcharged. A Leica had its price, as did a Praktica, Minolta or Nikon, for example. And unless there was something very special about a particular camera, prices tended to drop when they were superseded. There were known “market rates” well advertised in magazines.
    Today, this price link has gone. Film cameras are no longer being made and with the re-emergence of film photography it was bound to see the better cameras increase in price. Unfortunately, the proliferation of cameras on auction sites seems to be adding to the problem, as we are not seeing price reductions that could be expected to flow from increased supply and competition among sellers. I get a feeling, and it is personal, that a lot of sellers see what others are asking for their camera and, not knowing its real worth (usually not a lot), pitch their prices accordingly. Could this explain the overall increase in prices being demanded over the last three years or so? What would happen if BIN pricing was dropped in favour of 100% auction listings all starting with an entry 0.99. Certainly set a reserve, by all means, but if it doesn’t sell, it was clearly optimistically priced by the vendor. I bet the market would see a re-adjustment downwards.

  • Enjoyed reading this because, like Terry, I bought a T4 new (in Birmingham in 1993) and still have it. As Josh mentions, it was best thought of as Not My Only Camera – and I had a Pentax SLR kit at the time – although I quickly discovered that there weren’t many pictures that it couldn’t take. In fact, flicking through my 1990s negatives, it looks like most were taken with the T4 – easy to spot because it’s the only camera I’ve had that winds the film from right to left. I soon learned to trust it to produce good results, and that meant I often felt it was all I needed to have with me. My parents bought one too, on my recommendation. So if I knew where to look, I might now have two.

    The lens really is as good as people say – the T* coating contributing as much as the outright resolution. (Is it true that T* is a cousin of Pentax SMC? They have a similar punchy signature.) But the reliable focusing (once you’d mastered focus-and-recompose) and the surprisingly subtle daylight flash facility made it an easy camera to enjoy too.

    But all that was 20 years ago. Would I use it today? When I rediscovered it a few weeks ago, I put a fresh battery in it and finished the roll of no-name 200 print film I’d left in it in about 2006. As it turned out, I got more pleasure from seeing the forgotten pictures of my then-toddler sons riding borrowed ponies than I did from the act of taking new pictures with the T4. Is it a superior camera to a modern pocket-digital, like my Fuji X70, or even my little Canon S100? Clearly not. But while it can come close to matching the picture quality of my old ME Super, or of the old Nikon SLRs I’ve been playing with now I can afford them, it lacks their tactility and mechanical charm. If I’m going to incur the cost and extra work of film, there has to be more to it that just the pictures.

    So, to conclude, the T4 has picture-making qualities that lift it above the run of 1990s plastic cameras. In its day, it was an un-showy camera for people who cared about results. But it is, all told, still a 1990s plastic camera, and the world has moved on significantly. I should probably sell mine while the selling is good.

    • Brummie, eh? Me too.

      • Well, not quite — but certainly a Brumophile. (Was at the Barbican last night to see Simon Rattle conducting his new London band. Took me right back to the Town Hall and £2.50 student tickets in 1987.)

        • Ah, memories. Around 1965 I recall paying 10/6 for lower gallery seats. I was a regular concert goer back then and occasionally treated myself to the best seats in the hose. And during my lunchtime break on Wednesdays I would pop over to the Town Hall for the free organ recital.

    • Clive, Zeiss were the first to coat lenses, in the late 1930’s. I have two f1.5/50 Sonnars for my Contax rangefinders, and the newer one, made in 1942, has basic coating. There is some interesting “chatter” on the web and can be found here: https://www.photo.net/discuss/threads/zeiss-t-coatings-what-and-when.170684/
      and https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/59162820
      Both make for interesting reading. Nothing that conclusive, but what is clear is that Japan, despite being a war belligerent allied with Nazi Germany, was able nevertheless to benefit from German patents being void at the conclusion of hostilities.

  • Chris and Carol May 13, 2019 at 9:13 am

    Nice review and some great images. You want to try an overlooked camera from Yashica-Kyocera? Give the Yashica L AF a try. It’s basically the exact camera (I know, no T*) but how different can the lens be in the L AF? Like overhyped stereo specs in the 1980s that most people could never appreciate or hear, most people will not be able see a difference between the lenses. It’s not like Yashica was cranking out dozens of significantly different lenses during this period. I use the L AF and love everything about it. It handles contrasty and tricky (low light) exposure situations perfectly and when you want to blow out some color, throw in a roll of Fujicolor and head out mid-day. Please check out my post at https://yashicasailorboy.com/2017/02/09/yashica-l-af-date-field-test-2/
    Thanks,
    Chris

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon