I know what you’re thinking. Has Your Humble Filmosaur slipped from the arduous labors of heavy, demanding manual cameras to slacking around like some hipster, randomly aiming a simple point-and-shoot with one hand so he can hold on to his artisanal double organic soy latte with the other? Or maybe you’re just wondering what a Yashica J-Mini is. Well, either way, answers will be forthcoming.
This is another one of my father’s old cameras, dating from around 1990. It is the height of simplicity: a fixed-focus lens with a close-up switch, auto-loading, auto-exposure, auto-advance, auto-flash. It’s plastic, that 1980s plastic that managed to feel like it was about to break even when it wasn’t. The very definition of point and shoot.
Of the face of it, this is not a promising start. I did, after all, just buy several medium format, fully manual cameras, and I have a collection of LTM lenses in various focal lengths; in other words, I like options, control, and quality. This is probably why it sat on my shelf for quite some time after I got it.
Fast forward to a little while ago. I became aware of a fiendishly-conceived contest to win a Leica IIIc over at the fine 35mmc blog (there’s some really good content over there as well – I’ve added it to the links on the right), but to do so required submitting a photo taken with a point-and-shoot camera worth no more than $15, film included. The pure genius of this diabolical duality intrigued me, so I dug out the J-Mini, as it was the only thing I have that fit the bill (if you doubt the valuation, check the sold listings on ebay), and went to work.
To say my expectations were low would be a significant understatement. I figured I’d be completely underwhelmed, not by the photos, but by the experience. When it comes right down to it, any functioning camera is capable of taking satisfying pictures, but enjoying the process is another question. I expected frustration.
But that’s not what I got at all. It took a little while, but I quickly realized that what I was feeling was a sense of liberation. Just pointing the camera and pushing the button, without worrying about exposure at all, was the photographic equivalent of being unshackled from a large boulder and allowed to run naked and free in a meadow of wildflowers. It felt strange and invigorating, right and wrong at the same time. Had I spent too much time worrying about the details to see the forest for the trees? And was I really naked?
The photos did not help me to dispell the idea that I had been wasting a lot of energy doing things the old fashioned way. For the most part, they were properly exposed and more or less what I had intended them to be. If this little plastic box could do this, why is anyone bothering with expensive equipment and manual controls?
Looking a little deeper at the camera’s specs, I realized it wasn’t quite as basic as it seems at first glance. True, the lens is fixed focus (except for the close-up position, actuated by a small lever below the lens), but it’s also quite wide (32mm), not too slow (f/3.5), and a more-than-basic optical formula (four elements in three groups) with modern coatings. Yes, it vignettes pretty much all of the time – doesn’t bother me. It’s not the sharpest thing ever, but it’s more than adequate, and the color rendition isn’t bad at all. To wit:
As much as I enjoyed shooting with the J-Mini though, and as pleasantly surprised as I was with the photos, in the end it simply doesn’t scratch my control freak itch. With the very deep depth-of-field of the 32mm lens, pretty much everything is in focus, which is a blessing and a curse – it can get boring after a while. There’s no control over the two-speed shutter, so there’s no way to regulate what motion blurs and what doesn’t. And there’s nothing more infuriating than having a flash automatically fire when you don’t want it to (though I must say the J-Mini was fairly restrained in this regard).
Sure, it’s fun to throw off the responsibilities of control every now and again, but after spending some quality time at the office party, having a few drinks, wearing a file folder on your head, and making out with the cute girl from accounting, you shake yourself off, clean yourself up, and go back to work. The J-Mini offers a great little low-stress diversion, but deep down you know it isn’t going to last. If you want things the way you want things, you have to take it upon yourself to ensure that they end up right. The J-Mini may be calling you back to the party for one more drunken make-out session, but those TPS reports aren’t going to finish themselves.
If perchance you want to help Your Humble Filmosaur win that Leica, head on over to the competition page at 35mmc before 20 March 2015 and vote for my photo. It’s #6 on the list, and it looks like this: