Too Pretty for Pity? The Yashica T2

Too Pretty for Pity?  Well, not terribly likely, but it made for a catchy title.  The somewhat more accurate title of "Too Cherished for Charity" just didn't have the same ring. 

The evening's run home had all the hallmarks of my typical commute, and with it, the pondering of a stop off at the Goodwill a block off my commuting route, but almost always impeded by heavy traffic.  Given that my last few visits to this same thrift store had netted me absolutely nothing in vintage camera finds, I had more or less elected to skip the deviation, but left the slightest door open to the possibility, electing "if there is no cross traffic, maybe I'll give it a try."

As if almost by intervention, Urbana Pike was completely free of the usual southbound traffic, so on a resigned whim, I elected to give the pit stop a try since there was very little time or gas wasted by the effort.  I wholly expected to breeze in and breeze back out with no net gain, and even after perusing the electronic offerings of the day, had almost determined that the trip was another lost effort when, mixed among a box of remote controls and other small electronic apparatus, I found this little gem for $1.99.

The Yashica T2 definitely embodies the decade that produced it. 

It would have been the ideal candidate for the Point and Shoot Pity Party.  It cost me next to nothing, and was no camera that I'd had an eye on previously.  It also had no novel features of note...unless you count one not so insignificant detail, namely its Tessar lens.

A rare juxtaposition is a $2 price tag coupled with a camera bearing a Zeiss lens. 

This one facet more or less in itself takes the Yashica T2 from cheap castoff to coveted collectible. And yet here, in the bargain bin of the Goodwill, there was little to the untrained eye that might discern this rather unremarkable looking boxy camera from the Kodak Star which was accompanying it, a detail which may have aided in it remaining unsold for nearly a week at such a bargain price until I happened upon it on this chilly January evening. Despite knowing almost nothing about this camera save for its occasional appearance in my online camera browsing habits, it was a no-brainer to bring this camera homeward, and embark on a bit of research on this Yashica point and shoot.  Still, it was too revered of a camera model to simply toss into the queue for the Point and Shoot Pity Party.

The T2 represents an interesting era in the history of Yashica.  A product of the era of the Back to the Future movie and "Walk Like an Egyptian," it debuted in 1986 when autofocus was still largely in its infancy.  By this point, the Yashica of just 15 years prior had undergone a rather unique metamorphosis, first entering into a collaboration with Zeiss in 1973, and then being acquired a decade later by Kyocera.  The result of this progression is very evident on the T2, which carries a significant amount of various branding and logos both on front and atop the small boxy camera body.  Of those, the one which is the eye-catcher is the "Carl Zeiss Tessar" adjacent to the lens. 

With a Zeiss Tessar lens to its credit, one might expect a very fully featured camera with a repertoire of options at the shooter's disposal, but instead, the camera puts forth a very minimalist feature set.  This is truly a point and shoot in nearly every meaning of the term. Aside from a self-timer, the camera offers only the option for fill flash or flash override. There is no bulb mode, no exposure compensation, no multi-exposure, and no switch to allow a change between spot metering and evaluative.  Aside from the flash options, the only other means of coercing the camera is the age-old method of pre-focusing on a subject with the shutter release part way down and recomposing.  

 The top of the Yashica T2 has a mere 5 elements of control: power switch, shutter release, self timer switch, and a pair of tiny buttons to force flash on or off. 

As I would come to find out, the lack of some of these features was no great loss, thanks in large part to a particularly accurate metering system on the T2.  Still, with a shutter speed slowing down only as long as 1/8 of a second, this Yashica was a bit limited situationally. Knowing this in advance, I didn't bother to attempt any early morning time exposures, as it seemed this little shooter was not exactly a competent companion for after dark landscapes.  
The viewfinder of the T2 is pretty clear and simple, and uses nicely superimposed icons to depict focusing distance.  Notice a discrepancy?  It's explained a bit further down. 

One interesting feature on the T2 is the lens cover, a piece of smoky plastic that protects the lens, quietly retracting the moment the shutter release is pressed.  At first, the presence of this feature confounded me, as I expected this cover to acquiesce when the camera is switched on, similar to other cameras of more recent vintage with a protected lens in a clam shell case.  I momentarily thought I'd gotten a dud until I did a little testing to realize the discreet way in which this function works. Neat.

The lens cover tends to make the T2 something of a prairie dog among cameras.  This short video shows how the cover quickly retracts when the shutter is released.  

Shooting the T2 was admittedly a somewhat lacking experience.  Armed with the Zeiss lens, I kept wanting to exploit it to its fullest, or at least have some ability to command the camera a bit more, only to feel as though the camera was making too many decisions for me.  I kept wanting to find a flip up panel cover that would reveal a button for an extra feature or two, but the options remained limited to the two simple buttons for fill flash or flash override. And despite using only 2 buttons for features, the buttons themselves are particularly tiny for the space allotted, seeming to have been re-purposed from left over buttons from one of those 1980's LCD wristwatches with the calculators on the face.  Remember those?  

The viewfinder, while nice, led to a bit of concern about the accuracy of the autofocus. Despite nicely illuminated graphical indicators for three different focusing ranges, it seemed as though whenever I focused on a subject about 10 feet away, the camera would indicate a focusing distance for the "landscape" setting.   It seemed as if most attempts to focus on a more intermediate subject with a distant background behind, the camera opted to focus for the background scene.  As it turned out, I had to employ a method of focusing on objects of similar distance from the camera and recomposing on some shots.  It wasn't a huge burden, but it certainly wasn't the optimal work flow, particularly coming from a camera with a particularly good reputation like the T2.  

I took the T2 out on a January afternoon to give it a try, with my main point of interest in trying to see just what the fuss was about.  I loaded it with a film that was new to me, some Adox CHS II 100 that I wanted to try, and while this film lacked DX coding, I was lucky in that the T2 defaults to 100 speed when no DX coding is detected. 

Knowing the limited feature set, I wasn't expecting quite the shooting experience that I might have initially wanted,  and expected that the results would offer the payload that gives the T2 its admired reputation.  I anticipated some excellent sharpness from the Tessar lens, provided that the exposure and focusing systems were up to snuff. 

A late afternoon photo in Thurmont certainly illlustrates the sharpness possible with the T2.  
A quick shot taken from the car window as I coasted over a railroad crossing came out with no motion blur at all, though the "ghost" in the lower right hand corner made me wonder if the cover is really fully out of the way when exposures are taken. 

Steeped in shadow, this scene rendered as well as I could have ever expected. The Tessar does offer a sharp result.

Focused on the distant house, this shot was the only one of the batch to exhibit a bit of overexposure, minimized somewhat in post-processing. 

One pain point concerning the T2 was the challenge of achieving focus on objects at intermediate distances.  Despite the metal parts being in the center of the frame, every attempt to focus traditionally met with the camera indicating focus distance at a "landscape" rather than "group" distance.  It was only after I pointed the camera squarely at the wheel in the foreground, locking focus on the "portrait" setting, and recomposing, was I able to get the image above.  When focused normally, the focus was set on the far distance, rendering the desired near details as mushy.

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Yet again, the T2 renders sharply.  The tree branches are very well defined across most of the frame, with some softness evident in the upper left hand corner.  

The biggest surprise of the roll was this image.  Pointed almost directly into the sun, I expected a result that was underexposed and suffering from significant flare.  Instead, I got a perfectly exposed negative that seemed to reap the benefit of a nicely recessed lens that resists flare.  In all honesty, I highly doubt that an advanced SLR camera would have handled this scenario as competently as the little Yashica! 

Another "quick, traffic is coming behind me" shot that came out just perfectly.  If there is one thing the T2 excels at, it's the ubiquitous grab shot for a landscape shot. 

A row of telephone poles tracing the route of the Hagerstown and Frederick trolley line out to Thurmont show impressive sharpness and good exposure. 

Another image that took some pre-locking of focus and recomposing to achieve the desired focus point.  Despite my desire to have been able to select aperture, the camera does a good job of getting great focus on the subject and muting the background nicely.  

I finished my roll on the T2 with this shot, which the camera's sharpness combined with the tonality of the CHS II combined to make a lovely image.

By and large, the results from the Yashica T2 did not disappoint in the areas of sharpness and exposure accuracy.  For the person looking for an easy to shoot camera for sharp daytime flicks with built in flash, the T2 is a suitable choice, provided they can do workarounds in regards to the finicky focusing.

For me however, the T2 would be the kind of camera that would eventually drive the control freak in me totally nuts.  Having to go with the aperture selected by the program is the toughest aspect of working with the T2 for me, though my only real gripe with the exposure system is the limited shutter speed availability on the slow end.  And with no ability to adjust film ISO for non-DX coded films, the camera seems better suited to those who only shoot mainstream commercial film and wish to stick to box speed.

At a price of under $2, I certainly have no regrets about picking up the T2, but despite the sharp and well-exposed results, the lack of versatility in this otherwise well-made example of tacky looking 1980's technology will limit just how often I might use it in the future.  It might make a nice "family outing" film camera to tag along, but the single focal length rather limits compositions.

This camera may be too "pretty for pity" but its limitations themselves are a pity, given the quality glass that has gone into this camera to produce such sharp and well-exposed results. The T2 model would later be supplanted by T3, T4, and T5 models that progressively shun the more dated look of the T2, but add little to nothing in the way of functionality.  Of these, the T3 benefits from the fastest lens of the lineup, sporting an f/2.8 lens.  However, the later models tend to come with a more inflated price tag, which if anything, makes the somewhat ungainly looking T2 the better bargain from a cost/benefit standpoint.

If you have to have one of these cameras, you shouldn't be disappointed in the image quality that it produces.  However, you should certainly be aware and accepting of its limitations and basic functionality.  

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