One of the Great Ones: the Yashica T4
Late last year I packed most of my stuff into a storage unit in PA and drove around the country, ending up in Portland, Oregon, where I’ve remained since. A couple weeks after arriving my car was broken into during the night… Most of my stuff was inside, but for some reason I’d left a camera bag in my trunk, and thousands of dollars worth of gear was stolen. I was bummed. Not because of all the expensive Medium Format gear (etc) that was now being pawned by a meth addict somewhere on 82nd Street, but because I assumed my mid ’90s model Yashica T4 was a victim of the theft.
Close to $10k in missing gear, and the part that bummed me out most (aside form the mess on my front seat) was the $130 point and shoot, which relied on, get this, film! You see, the T4 was/is probably one of the greatest cameras ever. In fact, I don’t know many mid-90s fashion culture, skate, lifestyle, music type photographers that didn’t have at least one in their arsenal. The rest of the gear was entirely replaceable, and insured. T4’s are not as easy to come by these days.
Last April, after shipping all my stuff to Portland, I happened upon my good ol’ T4 at the bottom of tub of miscellaneous camera stuff I had packed up in my studio before I left. I guess I figured I didn’t need it on my trip with all the other stuff I was bringing on the road. I’m glad I left it behind, as these days T4’s are tricky to find, and they don’t come cheap. I’ve seen them sell on ebay for several hundred dollars… far more than they originally sold for new.
The T4 (or T5 if you live across the pond) could be considered a cousin to the much more expensive Contax T2 which has been refered to as “the Fashion Photographer’s Secret Weapon.” Yashica discontinued the T4 in 2002, rumored to be a result of a licensing dispute with Carl Zeiss.
It’s wide, fairly fast 35mm 3.5 autofocus Zeiss lens is incredibly sharp. Aside from the ability to use a few different flash modes (such as off and slow sync), the T4 is entirely automatic. I’ve found mine to expose even finicky E6 films with accuracy.
One of my favorite features of this camera is the “super scope,” a viewfinder you can use through the top of the camera. So you can either look through the back or through the top, almost like a waist-level finder on a medium format camera. I’ve used this in stealth street photography situations at waist-level, and also holding the camera upside down over my head in situations like a packed concert.
Some of my favorite photos I’ve taken over the years have been with my T4. Long before pocket-sized digital cameras were in every pocket or purse, the T4 was small enough to carry around at all times. I’ve had photos out of this camera published in several magazines and shot a good portion of two different Etnies BMX catalogs with it one season.
The Yashica T4 definitely falls into my top five photo toys of all time, and when you consider the sub-$200 price tag (at the time), it’s even more of a treat.