Yashica MF-1, or how to definitely kill an iconic brand

Famous for TRLs and luxury compact cameras with Zeiss lenses, the brand has apparently been resurrected only to launch cheap toy cameras for a hefty price.

The world-renown Japanese photography brand Yashica has recently come back from the dead with a few projects for some retro-looking camera that stirred the analogue photography world.
I somehow missed that comeback and the drama that followed, so when I first came upon a new IndieGogo campaign for a new Yashica point-and-shoot analogue camera, a couple of weeks ago, my interest was instantly piqued. Ten minutes later, I was let down and, frankly, angry about the whole operation. Some details about the project, like the shabby phrasing of the campaign copy and the bad photoshopped product pictures, had already raised some red flags. A little Googling confirmed my suspicion: the new Yashica projects are utterly bad, and anyone who has any interest in retro-photography should stay away from any recently manufactured Yashica product.

In 2005, Kyocera stopped producing all analogue cameras under the brands Contax and Yashica. Three years later the company sold the trademark rights of the Yashica brand to JNC Datum Tech International, an obscure subsidiary of MF Jebsen Group, both Hong Kong-based companies.

In 2017, almost ten years after the trademark acquisition, JNC Datum Tech started a crowdfunding campaign for the Yashica Y35, a “digital film” camera that raised more than 1 million dollars on the Kickstarter platform. After repeated production delays and a severe lack of communication from the company, the Y35 cameras were delivered to the 6,935 backers. Instead of modern remakes with a retro flair, though, they received cheap, plasticky cameras that were toy-like in the way they looked and, above all, in the way they worked (or didn’t work, most of the time).

“Backers were expecting a faithful revival of the famous Yashica brand, but were instead surprised when they received a cheap and unreliable plastic camera with the brand name featured on the front,” wrote PetaPixel in October 2018, reporting about the backers’ backlash after the first Yashica campaign. “The price tag of $150+ also makes the failings of the camera difficult for backers to stomach.”

The second IndieGogo campaign is already closed. It raised three times the HK$100,000 requested by the campaign owners, although it’s hard to say whether the money was raised from actual users or if it was pumped into the campaign from the company itself to use the project as a publicity stunt, as the number of backers seems weirdly low and the comments page only reports a handful of comments from disgruntled customers asking for a refund.

Whatever the case, the project was the tombstone of the Yashica brand, which was brought back from the dead only to haunt photography enthusiasts and trick them into buying an overpriced toy camera. A sad story that shows the dark side of nostalgia-driven marketing and serves as an example against similar brand-resurrection operations in the future, especially if they suddenly pop-up on crowdfunding platforms. Building a respected brand takes years of hard work while destroying it is faster and easier. The only silver lining here is that if you’re still interested in analogue cameras, the old, gorgeous Yashica Mat 124g or T4 are still easy to find online on the secondary market and, if anything, the return (and death) of the brand could probably make new people discover what the name Yashica really stood for back in the day, when the company still designed its amazing cameras. 

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