Yashica Samurai X3.0 Review

One Roll, One Camera

This is my first One Roll, One Camera review. The idea of these reviews is to take a film camera or an odd lens and shoot a roll of film with it and write a review about it. Most of my cameras are from the 80s or 90s and I will be going through them in this blog series. In this article, I’ll shoot a roll with a fully automatic Yashica Samurai X3.0. It is an SLR film camera released in 1987 or 1988. The biggest plus about this camera is that it shoots half frames, so with one roll, you get 72 pictures instead of 36. There are some caveats though. Without further ado, let’s see what I learned testing this camera.

The Samurai is an odd bird. It's a film SLR with a fixed zoom lens, half frame shooting, unwieldy design and looks so ugly that it's almost beautiful. Almost.
The Yashica Samurai X3.0 is an odd bird. It’s a fully automatic film SLR with a fixed zoom lens, half frame shooting, unwieldy design and looks so ugly that it’s almost beautiful. Almost.

The Specs

Straight from Camera-wiki:

  • Film/frame format: 35mm / 18×24mm
  • Lens: Yashica Zoom Lens 1:3,5-4,3/25-75mm using 14 elements – 35-105mm full frame equivalent (filter thread: 49mm)
  • Shutter: Electronic central shutter with speeds 2 to 1/500 sec.
  • Autofocus lock with half-press on shutter release
  • Integral electronic flash, activates automatically
  • Sequence-shooting and 10 sec. self-timer drive modes
  • Optional date/time imprinting at bottom right of image; three date formats
  • DX code sensing, ISO 50–3200 (default ISO 100 for non-coded cassettes)
  • Eyepiece diopter correction, +1 to -4
  • Battery: 6v lithium (2CR5)

Additional thoughts

The Samurai is fully automatic, which means you can’t do anything manually. You point and you shoot. It’s not a bad thing when you are shooting a niche camera. It allows you to focus on the composition and the subject. You just have to embrace a mindset that every exposure might be ‘off’ somehow. The camera seems to have pretty nice metering system, my pictures were exposed pretty well.

The camera uses DX coding, so if you are shooting, say Ilford 3200 @ ISO1000, you have to “bypass” the coding by doing some custom labels on the film cartridge. A bit of a hassle, but a reality with many compacts.

I like the rather bright zoom lens and it offers a nice range too. The lens is nice and bright and I like the deeper depth of field I get with the half frame format. Autofocusing seems to be a bit more reliable due to it. When zooming with the lens, it makes a crude sound and also the autofocusing feels like it kinda “hammers” it in place. BZZT THUNK!

The flash fires, although you can turn it off by switching on “the night mode”. I tried to avoid situations where the flash would have fired, I generally don’t like the integrated flashes. The manual recommends using tripod when doing so. You can also shoot 3 shot sequences (I think 3fps). I didn’t try it as it doesn’t really feel like a smart thing to do with a film camera.

The User Experience

I shot a roll of film (Ilford HP5 ISO400) with the Samurai, and I have to admit I kinda liked it, even though the camera falls short on many occasions. The biggest minus comes from a malfunction. The camera often exposed an image when I clicked the wide zoom button. This defect made me waste about 5-6 exposures on my roll of film. It didn’t do it every time, but annoyingly often. The viewfinder is dreadfully small and you really have to aim down on it, like using a scope. If your eye is oriented even a bit poorly, you’ll see only black. Also if you want to shoot two half frames in portrait mode, you have to turn the camera sideways and then the VF is even harder to use. You do get used to it and it gets easier over time. The autofocus focuses on the center spot and I think the closest I could focus was 1 meter.

Shooting portraits
Shooting portraits, looking goofy as heck.

Love-hate Relationship

What I liked about the camera, is the form factor (love-hate relationship with the design). I grew up in the nineties and saw these kind of gadgets in magazines and tv-commercials. It feels nostalgic even though I had not known of this particular camera model before. I feel like an eighties yuppie with this thing.

According to the manual, this is the proper way to shoot with this camera. Use two hands and operate the zoom with the upper hand.

I did enjoy using the camera, the two-handed grip really makes the shooting more steady. It looks goofy, but hey, who cares? The camera was in good condition as I shot it, even though the handle had broken earlier. I applied some glue to it and it stuck pretty nicely. This one of the biggest gripes I have with old cameras, they tend to break. At least the cheap plastic cameras are often at the very end of their life sycle. I’ve had two compacts break on me the last few months. They are cheap, so you can’t really complain, but still! 🙂

The Half Frame

The first half frame cameras were introduced in 1960’s. The most famous line was the Olympus Pen -models. Half frame meant smaller cameras without specialized film type. Half-frame format was successful in Japan but in the western countries they did not gather much following. The half-frame camera boom ended when cameras like Olympus XA and Rollei 35 made it clear that you could have a small camera with full frame capability. The Samurai X3.0 is the most advanced half frame film camera.

Every roll of 36 exposures means you get 72 half frame exposures. There is a black bar separating the half frames. Normally the image ratio of a film frame is close to 3:2, but with the black bar taking space, the half-frames are of ratio 5:7. With half frames, you also have to consider the crop factor in focal length and in depth of field. The image quality is of course poorer with smaller film sensor area, though it doesn’t bother me much, since my prints aren’t that large anyways . The reason I shoot film is certainly not the image quality. It’s more about taking the time to plan my shots and to develop my shooting insight. So I don’t really mind “poor” image quality. It’s nice lesson to learn, that an image can be good with poor technical quality.

Film isn’t actually cheap nowadays and if you are shooting and scanning and/or printing small, half frame cameras can be very viable options. Though they are much more rare (but not more expensive) than regular full frame cameras. It’s actually a bit difficult to find a Yashica Samurai. The selection on ebay is very limited.

A single frame shot with a half frame camera

A single frame with a normal camera

The Original Review (1988)

davLast time I was at my camera association’s dark room, I started perusing the old camera magazines (Kamera-lehti) there. The stacks of magazines dated back all the way to the late 70’s. I found one issue which had a review/article of Samurai X3! It was published in a summer issue (6-7/1988). I asked for permission to post a copy of a page of the article here.

The article gave some background information on the camera. It had sold 60 000 copies in the first three months it was on sale in Japan. The camera was popular among younger than 40 year olds and the main selling point was the 3x zoom, secondary reason being “attractive design”. The article mainly listed the camera’s properties and explained how the camera’s light metering system works. Apparently it has a dual silicon light sensor, and if the lighting contrast is too large, one of the sensors deactivates which somehow improves the metering result. The Samurai was marketed as being able retain details in heavy backlight. I took one shot in heavy backlight and indeed it did save some information on the foreground. The picture itself was poor, but it shows to demonstrate the lighting abilities of the camera.

The camera cost about 2000 Finnish marks in 1988, converted to modern currency about 580 euros and the accessory handle cost about 22 euros equivalent. The article appreciated the camera’s form factor and  stated that the two-handed operation and the accessory handle added more stability to the shots. The review gave the camera a good price to quality ratio.

The sun is shining straight at the lens and there are still some details visible on me.

The Image Quality

The Yashica Samurai X3.0 does have a fairly good automatic metering system. I had plenty of failed shots in my roll of 72, but none of the images were poorly exposed. When I shot with the Samurai and its half frame, I tried to steer away from shooting single pictures and shoot them in sets of two. The image pairs give me a new angle on my photography and even though this roll wasn’t my proudest one, I still like the idea of shooting a subject with two pictures. Two separate shots make up a single picture.

I think the lens is pretty sharp and the deeper depth of field allowed by the half frame makes it easier to nail focus. Its like shooting an APS-C camera. Below are some of my shots taken with the camera. See for yourselves. My scanner is acting up so the pictures have a line splitting them. I’m getting it repaired but for now, there’s nothing I can do.

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img310-2 picture of a yard taken with Yashica Samurai X3.0 img312

Conclusion: Yashica Samurai X3.0

The Yashica Samurai X3.0 is a nice camera and you do get a couple of special features with it. You get the form factor, which may or may not be a good thing. More importantly, you get a good light metering system and a half frame format, which allows for deeper depth of field, better autofocusing and more exposures on a roll of film. That’s money saved even though you can’t print really large images. If you can get a good copy of Samurai, I’ll recommend it.