Sometimes Thinking Doesn’t Just Get You in Trouble

We’ve discussed the merits and limitations of the Yashica Samurai Z here before. After shooting several rolls of various color films with it, Your Humble Filmosaur has frankly been at a bit of a loss as to just how to use this particular camera effectively, meaning in such a way as to produce satisfactory images with reasonable consistency. Half-frame 35mm produces a pretty small (18x24mm) negative, meaning that grain and softness that might be acceptable in full-frame 35mm or larger quickly become problematic in half-frame.

Now, you might be asking, why this sudden concern about sharpness and resolution? Isn’t this the same Filmosaur who was just recently extolling the virtues of Tri-X and pre-war lens designs? If I wanted razor-sharpness and lack of grain, I’d be out buying modern lenses and film emulsions, right? Well, my preferences for the classic over the latest-and-greatest still hold true, but there comes a point where grain and/or a lack of sharpness becomes less about achieving a certain look and ends up just being distracting. The latter condition is what I’ve found with more of the Samurai’s photos than I would prefer. Something had to be done.

A potential solution came about not as a result of deep thought or some sort of startling revelation. The reality is far more mundane: I spotted some short-date Kodak T-Max 100 on sale at my local camera shop. Much of what I’d heard about T-Max, including from at least one of the employees at that very shop, was not exactly complimentary: it was far pickier about exposure than Tri-X, it looked clinical and lacked Tri-X’s character, and it was expensive.

So why buy it? Well, as I thought about what camera I might conceivably use it in rather than Tri-X, the Samurai came (eventually) to mind. Once that clicked all the basic objections fell away rapidly. The film was cheap because it was on sale and about to expire, plus I’d get 48 frames rather than 24; the Samurai being auto-exposure only and TTL metered, it should be exposed accurately; and the sharpness and fine grain that could detract from a larger negative might just help to mitigate the grain and softness I’d been trying overcome with the half-frame Yashica. So I grabbed a couple rolls.

Being a half-frame camera, even a short 24-exposure roll takes forever to finish. But when I finally got it done and saw the results, I realized that I had chosen wisely.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100

And that’s an unsharpened 1200dpi scan; I could probably tease out a little more from a higher resolution scan with a bit of subtle post-processing. Regardless, the quality right off the scanner is far higher than I’ve seen from anything else I’ve tried in this camera.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100

I think it’s always a good idea to click the photos for the higher resolution view, but I really recommend it for these. I find it frankly startling how much detail is visible out of such a small negative.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100

The vignetting on the wider shots is the result of experimenting with a lens hood on this camera in an attempt to improve overall image quality. Apparently I need to go to a wide-angle hood to avoid this problem.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak T-Max 100

The lens on the Samurai doesn’t produce the prettiest out-of-focus effect, but honestly the clarity of the in-focus areas is so drastically improved from what I’ve been seeing that I don’t really care.

Film choice matters; anyone who shoots film knows that. But my experience with T-Max in the Samurai has reinforced the importance of matching film to camera (or lens), at least if you’re interested in getting the most out of both. I hadn’t been particularly happy with the results I’d seen with other films I’d tried in the Yashica, and I don’t think I’d like the more modern look of T-Max in with my old cameras and lenses, but this combination works, and works well. Apparently owning more cameras than you need and opportunistically buying cheap old film can actually teach you something, if you’re willing to actually stop and think for a minute or two.