I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when Theo pulled this pretty well used Yashica Samurai out of his bag. It was weird enough for it to make an instant impression on me, and I really couldn’t wait to play with it. It looks like that pre-smartphone, generic family video camera that your mum pulls out at Christmas time. In fact, I think the last time my family used a video camera, was when my brother drank so much wine at his 18th birthday, that he fell asleep at Bengal Balti, and never even made it out partying!
The Samurai series began with this camera in 1987 – the X3.0. Yashica dumped all existing ideas of what a camera should look like and tried to create something that fit in with the increasingly popular, handheld video cameras of the time. This is a time where electronics started to get a bit funky across the board, and by no means is this the weirdest camera that was created in this period (in my opinion, Ricoh holds that crown), but this feature packed half-frame is still a real head turner.
The Samurai, as mentioned, is a half-frame camera; creating 17x24mm images. This format certainly has its pros and cons, and I was interested to see how the Samurai’s feature set lent itself to emphasising the pros. Being able to take 72 pictures is great. Especially now that we live in a time where film is drastically rising in price. The Samurai has a reliable autofocus, and the ability to switch focal lengths, meaning that this camera is ideal for people who are looking to create interesting photosets, or just use their imagination a little. Besides the features mentioned, the camera has a motorized film advance and rewind, and the zooming is done using ergonomically placed WIDE/TELE push buttons. It even has the option to shoot continuously (albeit at a very slow speed). There is also a small “RS” (reset) button provided, which I discovered was there in the event the camera’s microprocessor locks up – Mad tech!
The Samurai fits really well in the hand and every function is easily accessible. The main drawback that irked me a little, was the sluggish nature of the electronics inside. Zooming in and out took longer than it takes to traverse a Shanghai metro escalator, you know the one, the one that seems to have half of the city stood on both sides. The autofocus locks with a half press but was also pretty slow going. I do feel the need to repeat that I was impressed with the reliability of the autofocus, which was pretty hard to fool. I was really expecting a lot of out of focus images, but what I got back from the lab, I was more than happy with. It takes a 2CR5 6v lithium battery, and I kept wondering if there was a way to supercharge this thing to speed up the camera a little.
The Samurai has a fully electronic leaf shutter that runs from 2 to 1/500 of a second, and I found that most images were well exposed. Even images in testing lighting conditions were useable, as the method in which you have to hold the camera gives you a nice steady platform to shoot from. The Yashica 25-75mm Zoom Lens (35-105mm @ full frame) – F/3.5-4.3 is coated and made of 14 elements. The viewfinder zooms alongside the lens to meet the intended focal length. The lens itself focuses from a distance of 1M to infinity and It far exceeded my expectations in terms of image quality. I liked that it had a filter thread (49mm), allowing for yet more opportunities to get a bit whacky. Annoyingly, the camera reads DX code from ISO50-3200, without giving the option for any kind of exposure compensation. So, if you want to shoot anything expired, or over expose, you are going to need to get the foil and scalpel out and do a bit of cartridge hacking.
In summary, I liked shooting this camera, it had lots of things to keep a dork like myself interested (even though I felt a little more Shinobi than Samurai shooting this thing). It’s slow, makes strange noises and takes a little adjusting to. But, it gives you 72 sharp, well exposed photos, creative licence and subjects who are convinced you are videotaping them doing all kinds of weird stuff.
(apologies in advance for editing errors)
Kyocera / Yashica Samurai X3.0 with Kodak Gold 200:
*China Camera Style is dedicated to giving an honest, open review of all the cameras that are currently sat on your eBay watch list, or in your Taobao cart right now. Each camera is loaded with a roll of Fujifilm c200 (unless, as in this case, I move to a new apartment and have no time to get some), rain or shine. It is always shot in one day, by the same nerd. It’s taken to the same lab, scanned with the same scanner and posted onto the site, as is received (via. Email).