Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Yashica 230-AF SLR camera

This camera dates from 1987 and was not very successful commercially. It is at the transition from the ‘standard’ manual SLR camera that was usual at the time to the later fully automatic cameras that were usual by the end of the 1980s. Unfortunately for Yashica, their approach to automation was a developmental dead-end – the future lay with the concepts used by Canon in their EOS range of cameras (which also made their appearance in 1987).

Yashica 230AF
There are no manual controls apart from focus. Shutter speed, aperture and film speed can all be set manually but only through the automatic systems. This is much slower and less intuitive than having a shutter speed dial and aperture ring. There are no dials, knobs or rings on this camera. All adjustments are made with a combination of buttons and sliders.

Really, this was the main design flaw here. Where the Canon EOS range introduced the general-purpose dial just behind the shutter release button (which has subsequently been adopted by all DSLR manufacturers), this camera has a slider. To make an adjustment, you repeatedly slide and release – either to the left (to reduce a value) or to the right (to increase a value). Frequently, this requires the left hand to simultaneously press a button which is not as fluid a motion as Canon’s system (I am going to reference the Canon EOS system quite a bit).

Lens mount showing 'screwdriver on lower right
Focus is achieved by a motor just inside the lens mount – this engages with the lens by a small ‘screwdriver’ much as Nikon still use on some DSLR bodies. This ‘screwdriver’ retracts when the focus is set to manual.

Time for a description:

The right-hand end of the top plate is dominated by a LCD display. This contains all the relevant information – not all of which is displayed all the tie. At the front of this display is the exposure mode: Program, Av, Tv or M. In the middle is the frame counter, shutter speed and aperture. Behind this is the drive mode (single, continuous or delayed) and focus mode (AF, CAF or M)

Main LCD
In front of this LCD is the mode selector slider. This is not marked as to its purpose making the manual very useful. In front of the selector slider is the shutter release button. This is a soft rubber. Beside this is a small grey button marked ‘P’ – this small grey button will set the exposure mode to program and turn on the beeper. This is very slightly easier than using the ‘mode’ button and selector slider. Behind the LCD on the back of the top plate is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. This fires the shutter as you release the cable release plunger rather than as you press it.

Cable release socket
In the centre of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. The top of this has a groove on either side to locate the dedicated flash unit – more later. On the front of the pentaprism hump there is a translucent window to provide light for the viewfinder LCD display. When the dedicated flash unit is in place, this window is covered and the LCD is illuminated by three small lights.

Hot shoe with grooves for fitting flash unit
On top of the pentaprism hump is the accessory shoe. This is a hot shoe – it has the standard central contact and so should work with any hot-shoe flash gun. In addition, there are five more contacts used specifically by the dedicated Yashica flash unit.

On the left of the pentaprism hump are the remainder of the controls. Right up to the pentaprism is the on/off slider. This moves all the way forward to switch the camera on and half-way for the AE-L setting – more later. The other controls are buttons, these are used in conjunction with the selector slider on the right of the top plate. They are: mode, AF, drive, +/- (exposure compensation), ISO and beeper. The ISO button is an override for the DX system that reads film speed off the cassette and sets it automatically. This is useful if you want to set your own EV for the film instead of rating the film at the manufacturer’s rating. Also if you are using bulk film loaded into black cassettes.

main control buttons
Just in front of these buttons, on the side of the lens mount, is an unmarked button. This is used in Manual mode to help set the aperture. In manual, the selector slider sets the shutter speed, and in conjunction with this button, sets the aperture. This is quite a clumsy arrangement, to say the least.

Continuing down the side of the lens mount, there is a large button with a red dot. This is the lens release button – when this is depressed, the lens can be rotated anti-clockwise 45 degrees and then removed. Below this is the auto/manual focus selector. Twisting this slightly anti-clockwise retracts the focus ‘screwdriver’ and allows the lens to be focussed manually.

The only item on the front of the camera is the lens mount. This is a three blade bayonet mount – pretty much standard from the 1930s to the present day – with the auto-focus ‘screwdriver’ on the lower right. In 1975, Yashica had joined forces with Zeiss to produce a series of Contax cameras with a new bayonet mount called the C/Y mount (not to be confused with Zeiss Ikon’s 1936 Contax cameras with a totally different bayonet mount). With this camera, Yashica decided to produce a new mount which is not compatible with the Contax mount and is only used on this camera.

Just inside the mount at the bottom is a lever which sets the required aperture on the lens. There is no aperture setting ring on the lenses for this camera – as is now usual for nerly all new cameras. At the top of the lens mount are five electrical contacts. As there are no electrically active components in the lens, I assume these contacts allow the camera’s processor to read zoom and focus positions.

Also worth noting is the fact that the focus screen is replaceable. There is a small catch at the front of the focus screen and when this is released, the frame holding the screen in place swings down and the screen can be pulled out. I am not aware of other screens being available but this facility might be for future development if this camera had sold well (it didn’t).

I only have one lens for this camera – a35-70 mm zoom. This is a fairly useful range on a 35 mm camera. It has a 52mm filter thread at the front. It claims to be a macro lens – many lenses falsely make this claim – and it certainly focusses down to about 200 mm at the 35 mm focal length and a bit closer at 70 mm. This does not give true macro (image size on the film/sensor the same as the subject size) as the smallest subject that will completely fill the 36 mm film frame is 180 mm but it certainly gives close close-ups.

bayonet on lens showing contacts
The lens has four focus indexes (yes, that should be indices) – one in white for normal focusing, one in red for focusing infra-red images at 70 mm, one for infra-red at 50 mm and one for infra-red at 35 mm. The way these indexes work is this: first focus the object normally and read the distance scale by the main white index mark. Next, move the focus ring until that distance is against one of the red infra-red indexes. The image will now appear to be out of focus to the human eye, but the image on infra-red film will now be in sharp focus.

Infra-red focusing indexes

The last item is the dedicated flash unit. This slides onto the hot-shoe from the front (the opposite way to usual). When it is in position, you depress and slightly turn clockwise the red and black button on the rear of the flash unit. This locks it in place firmly and pushes all six of the electrical contacts down onto the corresponding contacts in the hot-shoe. There is a grey slider on the top of the flash unit – sliding this to the right turns on the unit. It is powered by the camera’s battery. At this point, operation is entirely automatic. There is no need to worry about the synch speed for the shutter or which aperture to use. This photo of the kid’s bike was taken with this flash unit with the camera set to Av mode (aperture priority mode).
dedicated flash unit

If you wish to use the camera in manual mode with this flash unit, there is an aperture guide on the top of the flash unit. To use this, you guesstimate the distance to your subject and read off the corresponding aperture. Even in manual mode, the shutter speed is automatically set to the synch speed which is 1/90 seconds.
flash unit in place
cassette chamber with DX contacts

Inside the camera holds no surprises. There is a vertically travelling metal focal-plane shutter. The cassette space is on the left. There is the standard row of six sprung electrical contacts to read film speed and length of the DX code on the cassette. To load the film, you pull the leader to the red line and close the back. When you switch the camera on, the film automatically advances to the first frame. When you want to rewind the film, there is a button and slider on the base – press the button and slide the slider to the right and the film will rewind.
yashica 230AF insides
What else? A couple of things. There is a clear window by the film cassette to you can both see if a film is loaded and if so, what type. On either end of the camera is a strap lug allowing the attachment of a neck strap - but what I have never seen before, there is a third strap lug on the left near the base. This will allow the camera to hang sideways or you could attach a shorter hand strap.

Test film

I have run a roll of Agfa Vista+ colour film through the camera with no hassles at all. The camera turns out to be quite easy to use even if not intuitive. I am quite impressed with the results.

hand-hells close-up in artificial light

Child's bike taken in dark using the dedicated flash unit

indoors hand-held