Exploring the Edinburgh Fujifilm Photo Trail with a Yashica T4 and Fuji Superia 400

Exploring the Edinburgh Fujifilm Photo Trail with a Yashica T4 and Fuji Superia 400

2000 1125 James Tocchio

In 1993 Fujifilm and the Edinburgh Tourist Board published a booklet titled The Fuji Phototrail of Edinburgh. The idea was brilliant in its simplicity: to provide visitors with a route to visit 25 famous landmarks of Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, alongside some tips and tricks to take better pictures. The authors grouped together 21 places into two separate routes, with four additional viewing points on the outskirts town. Moreover, 25 round brass plaques were embedded into the pavement around the city to help hasty sightseers easily find the exact spots for “successful snapshots.”

Today, more than thirty years after the publication of this booklet, the Phototrail has been almost completely forgotten, and the only tangible evidence that it ever existed are the tiny plaques scattered all over Edinburgh. It was precisely thanks to one of these that I came across the Fuji Phototrail in the first place.

After carefully studying the booklet, I decided to try to visit all 25 landmarks, armed with a nifty point-and-shoot camera from the early ’90s and some rolls of fast color negative film.

Almost a stumbling stone

Last winter, on one of those miserable rainy days that the Scots might call “a dreich day,” I was walking around the Old Town and stumbled upon a curious metal object right in the middle of the pavement. At first, I thought it was some kind of Stolpersteine, literally “stumbling stones” that can be commonly found on the streets of cities like Berlin or Rome. But then I saw that the object in question, unlike Stolpersteine, wasn’t square, but round. This brass circle also bore the inscription PHOTOTRAIL, a stylized image of an SLR camera, the old Fujifilm logo, and what I later learned was the emblem of the Edinburgh Tourist Board.

After a brief search, I learned the significance of the strange, brass plaques, and found a group of local photographers who post images made from the spots on Flickr. Though overall info was sparse, I found a detailed online map that marked the routes and landmarks found in the original Phototrail brochure, which I learned is now an incredibly uncommon object. I did some more digging and found that a library next to my office still had a printed copy of the original booklet. For a bookworm such as myself, I had no choice but to go there and take a closer look.

The librarian was accommodating, though she had never heard about the Fuji Phototrail despite being born and raised in Edinburgh. It took her quite a while to locate the tiny booklet, which was misplaced and almost lost between the dusty volumes of Burns and Scott’s finest writings. But the wait was worth it, for this 16-page brochure had much more to offer than I had originally anticipated.

The booklet

The booklet itself is divided into two main sections: a succinct introduction to the very basics of film photography, and an annotated list of 25 landmarks both in Edinburgh and in the surrounding countryside. As an avid shutterbug and a film photography enthusiast, I was particularly interested to know what kind of advice this 30-year-old Fuji guide had to offer to the photography newbies of yesteryear.

The booklet’s anonymous author opens with some handy tips on how to choose the right film stock. Bearing in mind the well-known moodiness of the Scottish weather, it’s suggested that we use an all-rounder film, such as the now defunct Fujicolor Super G Plus 400. The back cover displays the whole range of Fuji’s consumer film stocks of the time, from a relatively slow Super G Plus 100 to an incredibly fast for today’s standards Super HG 1600.

Once the film is chosen, the author suggest the use of a compact point-and-shoot, ideally a Fuji camera featuring their drop-in loading system and DX coding. After all, shooting film should be as seamless and easy. To quote the booklet once more, “it doesn’t matter if you don’t know an f-stop from a bus stop.”

All jokes and marketing talk aside, I believe that this tiny booklet could still offer some useful tips for a better image taking experience. It invites you to take your time and get used to the focal length of your camera’s lens before you start taking pictures. It even gives you a few neat pointers on how to improve your composition, like using foreground to give some depth to your photographs. Some of these pointers are quite entertaining as well, like the one on how to use a wide angle lens “Most [camera] models are fitted with a wide angle lens which has the habit of rendering subjects smaller in the picture than you’d expect. To counteract this, apply a special accessory available only to you – your feet!”

The booklet briefly covers main lighting situations, touching on frontal-, side- and back-lighting, and it explains in layman’s terms how to use each to your advantage. It also takes into account different weather conditions and how they may affect the image quality of your photographs. All in all, this tiny brochure offers a photography novice a clear and concise introduction to the very basics of film photography. Combine it with a selection of Edinburgh’s 25 most iconic views, and you will get yourself a neat recipe for taking perfect pictures. At least, that was what I was thinking at the time.

Embarking on the Fuji Phototrail 30 years later

Thanks to my research fellowship, I was lucky to spend more than just a couple of days in Edinburgh. I could take my time to explore the city, to follow the Phototrail at my own pace. An old city like Edinburgh is liable to change, and some of the places originally featured in the booklet are no longer available to be photographed due to the natural constant and inexorable alterations to the cityscape. Moreover, I couldn’t locate a good number of the brass plaques. So, in order to photograph the every one of the original locations, I had to rely on quite vague and terse captions accompanying the pictures in the booklet, along with my own photographic instincts.

Choosing between the available color negative film stocks, I thought that it fitting to use a Fujifilm emulsion to capture the beauties of the Fuji Phototrail. Additionally, the winter season in Edinburgh with its very scarce natural lighting limited my options to only films with higher ISO sensitivity. Given the fact that the original Fujicolor Super lineup had been discontinued a long time ago, and it was virtually impossible to find a single roll of not-expired Fuji Pro 400H, Superia X-TRA 400 was my virtual de facto choice.

At the time, hearing all those rumors about Fujifilm discontinuing yet another film stock and supposedly replacing it with repackaged Kodak Ultramax, I was worried about not being able to experience the authentic Fuji tones and colors. I wanted to shoot the original Superia emulsion one more time before it went away forever. As of today, I’m afraid that my worries weren’t so groundless.

Once I chose the film, the last thing to do before going on the Phototrail was to find the right camera. I gathered that using my trusty Nikon FM2 with a small collection of prime lenses would be in stark contrast with the casual spirit of the Phototrail, so I decided to step into the completely new-to-me world of point-and-shoot film cameras.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t track down any of the Fuji point-and-shoot zoom cameras from the time, but I did own a functional (albeit slightly worn) Yashica T4 that I had acquired shortly before my arrival to Edinburgh. What I lost in terms of authenticity and flexibility was compensated for by the solid optical performance of the Yashica’s Carl Zeiss T* 35mm f/3.5 Tessar lens and a pleasant shooting experience. The tiny camera is slick, well-designed and, apart from its annoyingly zealous flash, it is a pure joy to shoot with. It accompanied me throughout my whole stay in Scotland, and it never let me down no matter how hasty or inconsiderate I was. As a reward for its loyal services, I want to spend a few words to describe the qualities that I value the most in this camera.

It is true that the Yashica T4 has a notoriously high price tag for what it offers in terms of built quality, controls and maximum aperture. It’s made of plastic, like much cheaper point-and-shoot cameras, and (at least on my copy of the camera) the back door has poor fitment. You can’t manually choose the aperture, and you have to almost completely rely on the auto-focus. Lastly, the Tessar lens has a rather slow maximum aperture of f/3.5, so forget about “creamy bokeh.”

Nevertheless, after shooting with the Yashica T4 throughout the long Scottish winter I can counter all these points. This tiny camera is surprisingly robust and, despite a little wiggle and play, it’s weatherproof. Though in challenging lighting conditions its auto-focus may struggle to deliver a sharp image, my experience shows that it is much more reliable than the AF system found in the Contax T2. There’s also the Landscape mode, which forces the lens to focus on infinity, for those rare occasions when you might want to shoot through the window or another translucent obstacle. Moreover, the minimum focusing distance of 0.35 meters gives you a lot of freedom to compose your images and though the maximum aperture of f/3.5 precludes shallow depth of field, you’ll still be somewhat able to separate your subject from the background at such a short distance. And finally, for indoor shooting you can always resort to the built-in flash unit.

All of that weighed, I admit that the hefty price tag of $500 or more can hardly be justified. Especially, when there are so many other similar but more affordable options, like the Olympus Mju or the bulkier Yashica T3 featuring an even faster Carl Zeiss T* 35mm f/2.8 Tessar lens. But I digress, and these technical matters should be addressed in a proper camera review. I just wanted to outline the features that made me enjoy carrying and shooting the Yashica T4 on a daily basis.

The egalitarian fallacy of the Fuji Phototrail

Looking back at the photos I took on the Fuji Phototrail gives me rather mixed feelings. I can’t shake the impression that these photos are somewhat trivial and even redundant, but at the same time I did enjoy going outside on short Scottish winter days in search for another shiny plaque and a new photograph to bring home. I really liked this tiny booklet and, to tell you the truth, I still do. I truly appreciate the simple and egalitarian idea it’s based on – that everyone can create their own memories by following just a few simple instructions. The only problem with this idea is that those memories aren’t completely yours.

Soon after I had started taking pictures on the Phototrail, I realized that most of the places indicated in the booklet weren’t appealing to me. Moreover, when I finally got my lab scans, I couldn’t feel anything but disappointment. I didn’t like the final results, not because of the poor image quality (the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens lived up to all my expectations), nor because of Fuji’s famous tones, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed because my pictures were lacking some elusive artistic quality. What I couldn’t stand was the intrusive feeling of having photographed something that wasn’t interesting or important to me.

As photographers, we each observe reality differently, and we develop our own unique tastes and ideas about what we consider to be worth being photographed. With something like the Fuji photo trail, the subjects of your images have already been chosen for you, and as with a point-and-shoot camera, you have a very limited set of controls – you can still decide when to take you pictures or how to compose them, but that’s about it. So, I believe that the main value of this experience, at least for me, lies not in the final result, but rather in the process of achieving it, in realizing what your limitations are and how to overcome them.

The bright side of the plaque

I think that a smarter person could’ve understood from the very outset that there isn’t such a thing as a recipe for a perfect photo. I also think that such a person would’ve not bothered to go out on this Phototrail, hoping to be able to easily take beautiful photos. Well, I guess that I have to accept the fact that I’m not that type of person, because if I hadn’t embraced with enthusiasm the idea of going on the Phototrail, I wouldn’t have a chance to take many other photographs.

Walking and photographing the Fuji Phototrail prompted me to explore the place I lived in for almost six dreich months. It taught me, a seasoned SLR shooter, that a point-and-shoot camera can not only be fun to use, but that it can also be an apt photographic tool on a par – at least in some situations – with a more professional, fully mechanical film camera.

I always had my Yashica at hand, even when I was only going out to grab something to eat at the nearest shop, or to pay a visit to the Central Library. It would’ve been much more inconvenient to bring my Nikon FM2 along on all these seemingly small and unassuming occasions. So, apart from the photos of monuments and iconic views of Edinburgh that I took on the Phototrail, I was able to capture some ordinary yet intimate and important moments that made up the very essence of my experience in Scotland. These images will continue to remind me of the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying a new tool or a different approach to photography.

For this rare moment of revelation I will be always grateful to that round brass plaque embedded in the pavement somewhere near the Edinburgh Castle, which one dreich day drew my attention to the Fuji Phototrail.

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Daler Fergani is a full time shutterbug and a language fiend who never leaves home without a film camera and a good old paper book. In between photographic escapades, Daler tries to work on PhD research in Linguistics. To enjoy more of Daler’s images, please visit Instagram here.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Merlin Marquardt June 29, 2024 at 1:06 pm

    Very nice article.

  • Great article to read, really really interesting. Cheers

  • Wonderful article. Edinburgh Is one of my favorite cities, and I didn’t know about the photo trail. Now I have an excuse to go back.

  • Peter Bidel Schwambach July 1, 2024 at 10:29 am

    Great read, and great subject, even if it left you somewhat underwhelmed in the end.

    It reminded me of an annual event that used to be held in my hometown until a couple years ago, aptly named “night at the museums”. The whole gist of it was that, for a few nights during the winter months, local art and natural history museums would stay open until the wee hours and admittance was free. There were guided tours organized by schools and local art colleges, and it really got people to go see the exhibits. The way they advertised it was by placing large wooden frases around popular vistas in the city, a pretty creative way to maybe show people that art was part of our daily lives, but to me it just screamed photo scavenger Hunt.

    There was no guidebook, they changed the frames around every year, and some of those frames were really hard to get to, but I did manage to get a few shots in the two years that I hunted them down, made some pretty great pictures too… I wish they’d bring it back for another go

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio