The Fall Of The 50s Philanderer (Or How I Found The Perfect 50mm Lens)

I’ve shot far more photographs with 50mm lenses than any other focal length. But switching 50s more often than underwear can become an exhausting and hollow experience.

Here’s why my 50s philandering days are done, and how I’ve settled on my ideal.

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Pentax MZ-5N, SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

It took me a while to realise, but after something like seven or eight different mounts and over 50 lenses, I realised that in the final image, there’s not a huge amount of difference between one 50mm prime and another.

Some of the lenses I considered humble and expected little of, impressed me greatly.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So when so many 50mm lenses can produce very satisfying results, should we just pick the first decent one we come across and look no further?

If so, why didn’t I do this four years ago?

This wouldn’t be a bad plan at all. But the curious and lustful side of me kept want to try more, to see if they were different.

When the basic optical performance is more than good with even the most mundane sounding lenses (like my three underdogs mentioned above), I started to look further at what separates them.

What makes one lens a forgettable fling, and another destined for a lifelong romance?

Photography for me is very much about how the equipment feels, the whole sensory and tactile experience. The final image is only a fraction of the appeal, for me.

Also, this is as much a reason (probably bigger) as to why I use and love vintage film cameras over digital, in comparison with the end look film photographs have compared with those made via megapixels.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens

So I started looking for two things.

First the luxuriousness of the lens, for want of a better word.

And second, some indescribable aspect of the final image that made a particular lens stand out from the pack.

This led me to the two favourites I have now.

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8, M42 mount

On the luxury front, the Pancolar is ordinary, at best. But in the final image it delivers something special.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 film

For a long time I was sceptical about Zeiss, and thought that any decent lens would give similar results. Which is true. But, somehow, the Pancolar has something more.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 film

Two other Zeiss I have in M42 mount – the Sonnar 135/3.5 and Flektogon 35/2.4 – bear this out too. Neither are the smoothest or best built I’ve used, but both give a secret something to an image not seen in their rivals.

Arguably these three are the only three lenses I ever need.

Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8, M42 mount

The Takumar is in a different league to the Pancolar in terms of feel. It’s just delicious to use, and oozes quality and charm. It’s quite probably the smoothest lens I’ve ever handled and used.

In the final image, it’s one of the best too.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

With the Takumar, it’s not down to drop dead sharpness. The Pancolar in my experience outguns it in that area.

But, similar to the Zeiss, the Takumar images have something special that I don’t see with other lenses.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

Conclusions and Recommendations

If you’re relatively new to film photography and/or vintage lenses, what would I suggest, based on my own 50s philandering experience? Would I recommend you rush out and get a Pancolar and Takumar?

Well, not necessarily. What works for me might not for you.

If you’re keen to shoot film and you’re not too fussed about the camera you use, as long as it takes decent, well exposed photographs, then any of the major brands have a body and a standard 50/1.7 or 50/1.8 lens that will give great results.

Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, Konica and Yashica all qualify.

If you’d like a camera that’s small, light, and don’t mind having a later, more plastic body, the Canon EOS are very hard to argue against.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

They’re compact, light, ergonomic to handle, offer reliable metering with a very usable viewfinder, if not as big and bright as some of the 70s SLRs.

The major trump card with the EOS system is their adaptability.

With cheap adapters (around £10) you can use M42, Contax/Yashica or Pentax K lenses, to name just three.

They offer tremendous value, and combined with something like a Super-Takumar 55/1.8, Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8 or Fujinon 55/1.8 in M42 or a Pentax-M or Yashica ML 50/1.7 or 50/2 lenses can give you stunning results.

You can read in more depth why I like them and how to get started in film photography for just £27, with a Canon EOS at the heart of the set up.

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Canon EOS 500N, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you go with the EOS system, you can then also add a digital option at a later today (early EOS digital bodies are currently £50 upwards) and use exactly the same lens(es) and adapter(s).

I regularly contemplate selling all my SLRs (currently down to six, less than I’ve had in about three years) and keeping just my EOS 300v plus M42 and C/Y adapters and lenses. It’s all I/you really need.

After a while, the endless chase for 50s became tiresome, and the urge waned.

Now I’m down to five manual focus 50mm lenses.

Seven, if you include my 55/1.8 Super-Takumar (which I have), and my Minolta AF (AutoFocus) 50/2.8 Macro.

I don’t need any others, and each of these gives something unique in user experience, the final photographs, or both.

If I had to pick one, for the final image it would probably be the Carl Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8.

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Fujica ST701, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 lens, Ferranis Solaris 200 expired film

For the joy of using, the Super-Takumar 55/1.8 is a delight, and up there with the best for the end result too.

My days as a 50s philanderer seem to be coming to an end.

Partly because I’ve realised that virtually every 50mm lens I’ve ever used was capable of more than decent pictures, and partly because those that remain are so enjoyable to use and to make photographs with.

Where are you on your adventures with 50mm? Have you tried one, two, or 2002?

Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to make your own 50mm recommendations.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

How To Start Film Photography For £27

One of the major reasons people are afraid to explore film photography is the perceived expense.

They’re concerned that to even get set up you need to spend hundreds of pounds on a capable camera and lens, and that’s before you even think about buying and processing film.

This is largely a myth, and this post is to show you how to get set up and started with some super capable kit for less than £30.

First, the camera. 

Whilst I love Pentax and Contax bodies, if I was starting out with film again, based on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last four years and 100+ cameras, I’d buy a Canon EOS.

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Canon EOS 300V, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 C/Y lens

No, they’re not the most glamorous or exciting to look at, nor do they have the luxury of the aforementioned Contax, or a huge bright viewfinder like a Minolta X-700.

But here’s a list of reasons why a humble EOS makes more sense than anything else. 

  1. Affordable. My first EOS, a 500, I bought for 99p plus a couple pounds postage. The 300V above, one of the last models made around 2002, was around £15.
  2. Plentiful. I just searched EOS in the film cameras category on eBay UK, from UK sellers, under £20 and found over 300 results. Obviously some models are better spec’d than others. I really like the super cheap 500. There are currently 35 of these for sale under £10.
  3. Small, light, compact. The advantage of a plastic (though pretty robust feeling) build is light weight. The EOS bodies are small too, especially examples like the 300V above. Cleverly though, they don’t feel cramped to hold, with a good sized ergonomically contoured handle.
  4. Adaptable. EOS are the compatibly kings, with simple adapters available for any number of other vintage lenses. These typically cost £5-10 each. This means you can have one EOS body and the pick of lenses from Zeiss, Asahi/Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica and many more, just by using a different adapter.
  5. Ease of use. The EOS bodies are easy to handle and easy to use, especially if you’re coming from digital cameras. Most have a similar mode dial, and later ones like the 300V have an LCD display on the back to show the major settings. Film loading and ISO setting is all automated. You can pick up an EOS and starting shooting in minutes, yet still have a depth of options you can explore as you become more experienced and adventurous.
  6. Features. The EOS 300v has an ISO range from 6 to 6400, shutter speeds from 30s down to 1/2000s, +/-2 exposure compensation and excellent metering. Pretty much all the options you’ll ever need. If you don’t know or care what most of this means, just note point 5 above – they’re easy to just pick up and use!
  7. Forward compatibility. If you invest in a film EOS, an adapter or two and a handful of lenses, at a later date you can get a digital EOS SLR and all the lenses and adapters will fit straight on. It’s the same mount. So with two EOS bodies – one film, one digital – and a few adapters and lenses, you you can have a tremendous range of shooting options at your disposal. But let’s get back to this 35 film set up.
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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So we have our bargain body. Next, the lens. 

I would suggest starting with a 50mm lens. On the whole, prime (ie non zoom) lenses tend to give better quality images than zooms. You could go for an AutoFocus (AF) lens in the native Canon EF mount that the EOS cameras use. But I would go for a more vintage option, via one of the aforementioned adapters, which are cheaper, much more satisfying to hold and use, and more fun.

There’s little to choose between the 50mm lenses of the major brands.

And as mentioned above, the EOS bodies are hugely adaptable. Personally I’ve settled on M42 and C/Y (Contax/Yashica) mounts.

In M42 you have a vast range of fantastic quality lenses available, such as the Asahi Takumars, Helios 44 series, Fujinons, Yashicas and Pentacons. Any of these can be had for around £20.

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Pentax MG, Yashica Yashinon-DS 50mm f/2 M42 lens, FujiColor C200 expired film

I paid £7 for my Helios 44-2 and have had excellent Pentacon 50/1.8s for less than £10. Yashicas can be brilliant buys too, again less than £10, like the one I used to shoot the photograph above.

A Takumar 55/2 can be bought for £15 – many turn their nose up at the f/2 version in favour of the f/1.8, but the truth is they are the same lens, just with the max aperture slightly disabled on the f/2. I’ve had both and can’t tell the difference in the final image.

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Pentax MG, Pentacon Auto 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

In C/Y mount the Yashica ML range are a very good buy.

Again most go for the faster lenses, the 50/1.4 (as pictured on the Canon EOS 300V in the first image above), or the 50/1.7. They’re still cheap (I paid about £30 for my 50/1.4, and a shade over £20 for a 50/1.7) but the bargain of the range is again the f/2. Performance is near identical to the other two, and the very common 50/2 can be had for less than £20, even less than £15.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

The Pentax K mount also offer a fantastic range, and the Pentax-M 50/1.7 or 50/2 won’t disappoint. Also very impressive in this mount are the Auto Chinon 50/1.7 and Rikenon 50/2.

Minolta made some very fine lenses in their day too.

If you want a luxurious, weighty feel, go for an older 50, like an MC Rokkor-PF – they’re smoother than virtually all other vintage lenses I’ve used, bar except the Takumars.

If you want comparable performance but in a smaller, lighter package, try one of the cracking later era Minolta MD 50/1.7s. I got one a few months back attached to a Minolta X-300, both fully working, for £15.

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Minolta X-300, Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

So to recap our (lack of) spending so far.

At the cheapest end, a Canon EOS body is available from around £5, and something like an M42 or Minolta or C/Y to EOS adapter start at around £7. If you’re patient, you’ll find an M42 Yashica Yashinon 50/2, C/Y mount Yashica ML 50/2 or Minolta MD 50/1.7 for £15.

This takes your total to £27.

If you want a slightly later body, say a 300V or 300X (though the 500 is stunning value), you might need to spend £15 or £20.

If you want a faster, more sought after lens, like a Pentax-M 50/1.7 or Takumar 55/1.8, you might need to invest £25.

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Pentax MZ-5N, Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The choice is yours, depending on your budget and interest.

This post is primarily about getting you set up with some quality, highly usable and enjoyable kit to shoot film with, so I don’t want to go into depth about film and processing.

I would point out though that a cheap and very capable film over here in the UK is AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200, available for £1 a roll from Poundland.

Expired film can also be very cheap, and give fantastic results.

I get my film processed and scanned to CD (no prints) either at Asda for about £3.50 a roll, or at my photo store up the road which is around £4.50-5 a roll. Having three or four rolls processed at the same time and burned to the same CD saves a few pounds.

It’s not as cheap as digital per shot, but with film, as I hope I’ve shown here, getting set up can be very cheap indeed – under £30.

After that, with a modest budget of £20 a month you can shoot a film a week. Or for £10, one a fortnight.

Which, for virtually all of us, is still a very affordable, and infinitely pleasurable hobby indeed.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

If you have any questions, or any tips of your own, please join the conversation in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

The Mindful Merge Of Mood And Mode

In my quest to find the perfect camera and lens, I’ve been overlooking something obvious.

That is, our moods and feelings are not a static flat line free of undulation, but a rather more mountainous territory, with peaks and valleys, whims, rushes and tides.

After close to five years of shooting film, I thought I’d found the ideal set up.

A Contax 139 Quartz SLR paired with my favourite M42 lenses – a Super-Takumar 55/1.8 plus the mighty Zeiss triumvirate of Flektogon 35/2.4, Pancolar 50/1.8 and Sonnar 135/3.5.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50/1.8 lens, Ilford XP2 Super

And indeed it remains a near perfect set up for me.

But only when I want to shoot film.

With an SLR.

Where I manually focus the lens.

And manually stop down the lens before shooting.

Overall, this is my preferred way to make photographs, but I cannot deny there are others.

Hence, the need to cater for, if not an endless kaleidoscope of moods, then at least a modest rainbow.

In writing this I’m hoping to figure out these different modes my brain (/heart /soul) has, and how the combinations and modes of my cameras and lenses fit. Or don’t.

Let’s start with the most manual set up of all, and work up to the most automated.

1. 35mm film, manual focus, manual metering, manual load and wind on, all mechanical.

In my arsenal – Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, M42 mount.

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Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, Super-Multi-coated Takumar 50/1.4 lens, Fuji Superia X-Tra 400

This is arguably the epitome of film photography, the pure essence.

No batteries, no electronics, no metering. Just metal, glass and your own judgement.

Shooting like this reminds of the raw wonder and sheer sorcery of photography, and gives the most rewarding end result – simply because I know every decision and adjustment was purely down to my own judgement.

Alternatives – Kiev-2A with Jupiter-8 50/2 lens, Voigtlander Vito B with Color-Skopar 50/2.8 lens.

The Kiev takes the experience even further into the past – my example, plus the Jupiter-8 lens, dates from 1956. When I shoot with this I know it’s little different to how its original Ukranian owner shot with it over six decades ago. Which is pretty incredible.

The Voigtlander – also from the late 50s – is a little more compact but not so much you can conveniently pocket it, so it really offers little over the Kiev or Spotmatic, aside from its own character and feel.

2. 35mm film, manual focus, aperture priority (Av) mode, manual load and wind on, manual stop down, semi-electronic camera.

In my arsenal – Contax 139 Quartz, Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount, plus M42 adapter.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Helios 44-2 58/2 M42 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100

The aforementioned Contax 139 is the pinnacle of the some 50+ 35mm SLRs I’ve used.

Everything just feels right, and it oozes class and quality.

I originally came to the 139 in searching for an Av camera to use M42 lenses on, when I didn’t want to use the all manual Spotmatic. After experimenting (extensively!) with Pentax K mount cameras (I’ve owned at least one K2, KX, KM, K1000, ME, ME Super, MV, Super-A, P30, MZ-5N and about a dozen others), I also debated using a Minolta X-300 or X-700, because of their fantastic viewfinders.

But something was missing, and after trying the Contax, it all came together. That indescribable lacking was no more.

With the M42 > C/Y adapter I use Av mode.

This means, in practice, this happens – I open the lens wide to get maximum light in the viewfinder (VF), compose and focus, then stop down the lens until the image looks right in terms of depth of field, quickly check my shutter speed isn’t too slow, then shoot.

The advantage of stopping down manually is you see exactly what the lens sees, and can fine tune the depth of field.

With open aperture metering, you have to press the depth of field preview button/lever (if the camera has one), which can be awkward if you then want to adjust the aperture further.

Some time ago I decided my M42 lenses were my favourite lenses (a major reason in selling my Pentax K cameras and lenses – I was only really ever using M42 lenses on the K mount bodies, and the Contax 139 does a better job of this than any Pentax), so my small collection of these M42s are what I use with the Contax.

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Alternatives – Er, my other Contax 139 Quartz.

3. 35mm film, manual focus, aperture priority (Av) mode, manual load and wind on, auto stop down, semi-electronic camera.

In my arsenal – Contax 139 Quartz, Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50/1.7 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200

As above, but here using C/Y lenses, which gives the following additional automation.

First, they’re open aperture metering, so the lens is always wide open, whatever aperture it’s set to, meaning maximum light into the VF for focusing.

Added to this, the aperture is displayed in the VF, along with the shutter speed the camera will choose, so you are fully informed before making a shot.

This is less “hands-on” than using the Contax 139 with M42 lenses, and sometimes that’s exactly what I want.

Most of the time I shoot at f/5.6, give or take a stop, so having to keep opening up then stopping down with the M42 lenses (and having to either take my eye away to look down and see what aperture I’m at, or to remember the number of clicks of the aperture ring to get to the required aperture) can sometimes be tiresome.

Plus with this method I can use the excellent C/Y lenses I have like the Yashica ML 50/1.4 and 50/1.7, and the Carl Zeiss Planar 50/1.7.

Alternatives – Again, my other Contax 139 Quartz.

4. 35mm film, manual focus, aperture priority (Av) mode, auto load and wind on, auto stop down, semi-electronic camera.

In my arsenal – Contax 167MT, Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica 50/2, FujiFilm Superia 200

The 167MT is just fierce, there’s no better word. Except maybe brutal.

And yet it’s beautiful and elegant and at least as well made as the 139 Quartz. In fact it’s probably the best built SLR I’ve ever had.

The main difference in using the 167MT over the 139 Quartz is the automation of the film transport. But although this the only real difference in how the cameras operate, the 167 feels far more like a ruthless photographic machine, ravenous for dozens for films a day.

Aside from its eagerness and efficiency, it also offers some very handy features like a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000s, a wide ISO range (ISO6-6400) and exposure bracketing.

Another subtle difference with the 167MT is the VF, as I’ve fitted a pure matte screen with no central prism. Looking through this camera’s VF provides an immersive bliss as yet unrivalled in my photographic experience. Which makes it quite probably my favourite VF in any camera I’ve ever used.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50/1.4 lens, Northern Film Lab Kodak Vision 3 film

Alternatives – Canon EOS 300V.

The EOS is in some ways a viable alternative to both the Contax 139 Quartz and 167MT. With simple adapters I can use M42 and C/Y lenses, though on the EOS I have to stop down manually with both types.

The 300V offers Aperture Priority and the metering is excellent.

The main advantage over both Contax bodies is the sheer compactness and light weight of the Canon.

Despite its plasticness, you can’t help smiling when it’s in your hands. Everything about it is very easy and intuitive to use. With good reason – the 2002 released 300V was one of the last EOS film bodies Canon made, after dozens of models over the previous 15 years fine tuned their approach to the ultimate 35mm consumer SLR.

The VF isn’t amazing, especially compared with the Contax cameras, but it’s very usable. And the Canon’s plus points overall make it well worth having.

That sums up the film options I have, without getting into film compacts, which is a whole other world.

More similar are digital bodies that can use the same interchangeable vintage lenses, so let’s take a look at those.

5. Digital, manual focus via Live View screen, aperture priority (Av) mode.

In my arsenal – Sony NEX 3N.

The NEX is an incredible camera. As much as I adore film and the tactile luxury of the Contax three (two 139s and the 167), the little Sony is undeniably a remarkable photography device.

The wide range of adapters available, plus the two key features of its tiltable Live View screen and focus peaking, make it formidable.

Not to mention its very capable sensor.

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Sony NEX 3N, Helios 44M 58/2 M42 lens

I’ve had half a dozen adapters for the NEX, and it’s allowed me great freedom to test and explore different lenses and lens mounts before committing precious film to them.

But the Sony has risen above being just an electronic sandbox, to being a genuinely enjoyable photograph making machine in its own right.

(Strangely I still hesitate to call it a camera. Device or machine sounds more apt.)

There are lenses I now preferring shooting on the NEX than on a film camera, just because they seem to make more sense ergonomically, and perform better.

The Sonnar 135/3.5 comes to mind, in fact any 135mm seems a natural fit with tiny NEX, where the lens body becomes almost the entire surface contact area of the camera.

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Sony NEX 3N, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Electric MC Sonnar 135/3.5

Alternatives – Sony α350 DLSR.

The α350 also has a tiltable Live View screen, and is as easily adaptable to M42 lenses.

With its more than adequate optical VF and great handling, it makes the experience of using vintage lenses much closer to that of their original 35mm film bodies than the NEX.

The Alpha is unquestionably in my eyes a “proper” camera.

But the Sony DSLR can only shoot on Manual mode, which is a little more fiddly. And it doesn’t have the focus peaking of the NEX, which on the whole is very accurate and far easier on the eyes than using a VF.

Plus although it is pretty compact, light and ergonomic, it’s vastly larger than the NEX too. Oh and there’s no adapter for C/Y lenses either.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 50/2.8 Macro lens, LightRoom preset

6. Digital, manual focus via VF or Live View screen, Manual exposure (M) mode.

In my arsenal -Sony α350 DLSR.

I bought the Alpha to try and fill the shortfalls of the NEX, primarily that the latter doesn’t have a viewfinder, and doesn’t really feel like its even a camera, especially compared with my 35mm film favourites.

The 350 is very usable with M42 lenses, via a simple adapter. Plus the sensor is very capable and I like the character of the images it produces.

But where the Sony Alpha has surprised me is with AF lenses, something I never even planned to try.

Which brings us to our final mood/mode.

7. Digital, Auto Focus (VF or Live View screen), Av, Tv, P or Auto modes.

In my arsenal -Sony α350 DLSR.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

To give some background, Sony took on the photographic arm of Konica Minolta in the mid 2000s, inheriting Minolta AF mount first released in 1985 with pioneering SLR cameras like the original Dynax/Maxxum 7000.

Very wisely, Sony decided to keep Minolta’s AF mount, along with their formidable array of lenses, and build their first SLRs and lenses from them. In some cases not even touching the optics, but simply rebranding the outer casing.

Which means for Sony Alpha owners, aside from the expensive modern Sony lenses (as I said, some of them are simply rebranded Minoltas anyway), there exist some 20 years’ worth of Minolta AF vintage lenses to enjoy.

I’ve picked up two – the Minolta 35-70mm f/4 Macro, affectionately known as the “Baby Beercan”, plus the 50/2.8 Macro which focuses down to 1:1 ratio, closer than any SLR lens I’ve ever had.

Both work with all the modes you could wish for on the Sony, plus the camera can switch between manual and auto focus, allowing precision focusing, especially up close.

Using the Sony Alpha with the Minolta lenses has been a revelation, not least of all in the final photograph.

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Sony a350, Minolta AF 50/2.8 Macro lens, LightRoom preset

Which brings us to the end of this exploration of how mood dictates mode, and vice versa.

Although it seems I enjoy quite a range of shooting styles and equipment, I’ve observed a number of underlying commonalities.

  1. The tactile and sensory pleasure of using these cameras and lenses.

    I have stated a number of times that even if you forget to load film (or your SD/MF card!) the experience of using the camera is exactly the same, and to be enjoyed as much as possible. As much as I value and appreciate the rest of my life, wandering the countryside with these cameras is the most joyous escape for me.

  2. The quest for beauty.

    Like the title and tagline of this site alludes to, I’m searching for beautiful things to capture and share with the world, to remind us all that such breath taking sights still exist. These cameras are simply the ones that allow me to do that most effectively, and hopefully most engagingly for others.

  3. A functional uniqueness.

    On a more logical, functional level, the range of my equipment is now actually pretty limited. All of these cameras support interchangeable lenses, and each body can be used with lenses of at least two different mounts.

    I could reduce my lenses down further to maybe three in M42 mount, and a couple each in C/Y and Minolta/Sony AF mount, based on unique qualities. It’s important to me that’s there very little redundancy or duplication – each lens and body offers something special, and where I do have more than one lens in the same focal length say, it offers something different to its direct rivals.

This adventure is of course ongoing, but I do feel my overall arsenal is more compact and honed than any time since I started film photography nearly five years ago. 

As a result I’m seeking different cameras and lenses less than in years too, and instead trying to better enjoy and master what I already have.

What’s also been interesting in writing this – aside from how I’ve fine tuned my favourites – is how much digital has come to feature in my photography now.

By having that connection with the wonderful vintage lenses (my newest lens I think is the Minolta 50/2.8 Macro, circa 1985, and the oldest probably one of the M42 Takumars from the late 60s) I’ve been able to enjoy and embrace the (mega) pixels far more than if I’d have just picked up a NEX or Alpha with a modern kit zoom lens.

How do your different moods influence which cameras and lenses you like to shoot?

Have you found (or do you think you ever will find) one camera/lens that suits your needs whatever you’re feeling?

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

 

Five Pointed SLR

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Despite having four more SLRs than pictured here, these are my latest incarnation of the core kit I love and need.

I’m tired of having more, and always switching batteries, straps and lenses around.

Here’s why I love these five, and plan to keep them and sell the rest –

Contax 167MT

As fierce as it is handsome, it does all I possibly need from an SLR, efficiently and seamlessly.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.5 lens, Northern Film Lab Kodak Vision 3 ISO1.6 film

This is the one I reach for if I need a wide ISO and shutter speed range (ISO6-6400 and 1/4000s to 16s respectively), exposure compensation (+/- 2 in 1/3 stops), exposure bracketing (+/- 0.5 or 1 stop), continuous shooting and automated wind on.

It also has the purest viewfinder (VF) of any camera, pure matte, bar the simple central circle.

Though I don’t yet have a Zeiss lens with MM modes, the 167MT supports these so offers shutter priority and three program modes, as well as the fully Manual (M) and Aperture Priority (Av) modes that can be used with an C/Y lens. With the M42 > C/Y adapter I can use any lens I have (I now only have M42 and C/Y lenses!) on the one camera.

Also, this is the only camera here I don’t have any “if onlys” about. It has everything.

Contax 139 Quartz

My favourite SLR I have ever used.

Simpler than the awesome 167MT, but with that comes smaller size, lighter weight and a more straightforward, arguably more immersive experience.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film @ISO125

Excellent VF, Av and M modes, and the smoothest wind on and shutter button I’ve yet experienced in any SLR, make it an absolute delight to use.

With the aperture read out as well as shutter speed in the VF (that remain easy to see, yet don’t obstruct the main composition), plus a depth of field (DOF) preview button, it has all I need for 95% of my photography.

I might argue the button on the front for exposure check is less instinctive to use than a half press of the shutter button, but the 159MM has that, as well as a wider range of capabilities, yet somehow I don’t like that model as much as the 139 Quartz or the 167MT.

Canon EOS 500

This still feels a very strange choice for me, and a real oddball in that it’s relatively modern (1993-96), very plasticky, not made by Contax or Pentax, plus I have no native lenses for it.

But despite my long reluctance – disdain even, at even picking up an EOS, I finally succumbed when this came along and still left me change from a fiver.

For the money it’s an incredibly useful, versatile and easy to use camera.

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Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 film expired 2003 @ISO64

The ergonomics are surprisingly good, it’s very light, and in many ways is even more capable than the 167MT, equalling the ISO6-6400 range of film speeds, plus whilst the top shutter speed is a stop slower at 1/2000s, the max is an impressive 30s!

The VF, if not a revelation compared with the Contax cameras, is really very good for a camera designed purely with AF lenses in mind.

Talking of which, with a native EF lens you have the option of auto or manual focus, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes, as well as further portrait, landscape, macro and sports modes, and a very fancy A-DEP (Automatic Depth of Field) setting which apparently lets you choose two points between which you want everything to be in focus, then the camera chooses the right aperture to do this. Wow!

I’m very tempted to pick up a 50/1.8 EF lens to explore these modes, and then I’d have an SLR that covers every mode from fully manual (ISO, focus, aperture, shutter speed) to fully auto and everything in between.

Oh and the exposure system is excellent, I’ve been delighted with the shots I’ve got with the EOS and my M42 lenses so far. As well as the M42 > EOS adapter I have a C/Y to EOS adapter so again like the Contax bodies I can use any lens I have on this camera.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F

The most classic, most endearing, best built and smoothest to use M42 SLR I’ve tried. Indeed it’s the best mechanical camera I’ve used full stop. Just a joy, especially with the Takumar lenses.

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Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm F/1.7 M42 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

Whilst the meter does work in mine, I just use it Sunny 16 (Sunny 11 in the UK!) and get along fine.

The camera I reach for when I want battery-less old school simplicity, elegance and fine mechanical engineering.

Contax 139 Quartz

Same as the other one, just this one has been re-covered. Aside from that they’re equally delicious to handle and use, and it’s the only camera I love so much I feel I need a back up!

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2012 @ISO125

Writing about these five has been enlightening.

It’s compounded the fact that the three Contax and the Spotmatic are absolute keepers and cameras I adore owning and using.

But surprisingly, more than that, it’s reminded me how versatile the little EOS is, and how it’s the lightest and arguable most versatile body of all here. An AutoFocus EF lens (50/1.8 or maybe 35/2) seems very tempting, which would extend its versatility much further still.

Which is almost unbelievable, especially given it cost me about a tenth of what the other four here did!

The conclusion, to my own shock as much as anyone, seems to be that for those who want a light, adaptable, capable and super affordable film SLR, get an EOS and an M42 adapter!

What are your favourite SLRs? Have you had any of the above, or similar? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Zwei Kameras

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Or, why you should own at least one Voigtländer Vito B.

A few months back I stumbled across a Werra camera. It was intriguing, but ultimately didn’t work, and the innovative twist of the lens barrel to wind on the film ended up being the downfall of this example.

Allured by the distinct taste of this vintage of German camera, I researched alternatives, and top of the pile came the Voigtländer Vito B.

I found a large finder model for a ridiculously reasonably price, was amazed by the big bright view it gave, shot a roll of film, and was even more impressed with the 50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar lens.

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Voigtlander Vito B, 50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

But as it didn’t fit in my collection of Contax SLRs and plastic AF compacts, I decided to sell it on.

Something made me reconsider at the last moment, and a couple of weeks later, a random browse on the auction site unveiled one of the smaller finder models, with a 50/3.5 Color Skopar.

I put it in a low bid and to my surprise won it, for an almost criminal £2.20 plus postage.

So I now have the pair, and both have the Prontor SVS shutter, though the speed markings are different.

Despite being the same camera at the core, the models do feel rather different. Here’s some reasons why each of them appeal.

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Voigtländer Vito B, large finder, Color-Skopar 50/2.8

Pros – 

  • Huge 1:1 life size finder which has to be seen (through) to be believed. It’s almost like the camera isn’t there.
  • Smooth contours make it very tactile.
  • The long throw and pleasing feel and sound of the wind on lever.
  • Clever linked shutter speed and aperture rings, so once you’ve decided your exposure, you can move up or down the aperture or shutter speed scale without changing the overall exposure.
  • Color-Skopar lens gives surprisingly lovely pictures.
  • Completely manual, so full control and no batteries.
  • Very quiet in operation.
  • Elegant looks and finish.
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Voigtlander Vito B, 50mm f/2.8 Color-Skopar lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

Cons – 

  • Though not a wide camera, the deep lens makes it rather bulky and cumbersome overall – too chunky and bloated to be a compact, yet too small to be as comfortable in the hand as an SLR or larger rangefinder.
  • Not especially light at 620g – again it falls between stools, being a bit heavy for just a wrist strap but too small for a neck strap.
  • Distance scale in feet needs translating for those of us used to metric, though a simple division by three works well enough.
  • Limited top shutter speed of 1/300s might be an issue in bright light with faster film, though the aperture goes down to f/22.
  • Completely manual, so needs some knowledge and experience to get reasonable results.

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Voigtländer Vito B, small finder, Color-Skopar 50/3.5

Pros – 

  • Just look at it. Surely one of the most handsome and beautifully balanced 35mm cameras ever made.
  • Smooth contours make it very tactile.
  • The long throw and pleasing feel and sound of the wind on lever – the part your thumb rests on is larger and even better to use than the big finder model’s.
  • Smaller lens barrel than the big finder model (I don’t know if this is because it’s the small finder model, the slower f/3.5 lens, or both).
  • Simpler layout of aperture, focus and shutter speed rings are more logical and easier to use than the big finder f/2.8 model.
  • I’m assuming the Color-Skopar 50/3.5 will give equally lovely pictures. I’ve seen some excellent examples online, and some say it’s better than the f/2.8 version.
  • Lighter than the big finder model at 480g, and small and light enough to use comfortably with just a wrist strap.
  • Completely manual, so full control and no batteries.
  • Very quiet in operation.
  • Elegant looks and finish. Though the big finder version has a great finish, the looks and shape of the smaller model make it feel so much better overall.
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Voigtlander Vito Bs, small finder model on left

Cons – 

  • Distance scale in feet needs translating for those of us used to metric, though a simple division by three works well enough. Plus the distance scale and depth of field scale are actually easier to see and use on this small finder model.
  • Limited top shutter speed of 1/300s might be an issue in bright light with faster film, though the aperture goes down to f/22.
  • Completely manual, so needs some knowledge and experience to get reasonable results.

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Overall, whilst the bigger finder makes me 50/2.8 model very appealing to compose with, in every other aspect where there’s a difference between the two models, the smaller finder model is the clear victor. 

It’s so much better balanced, it looks stunning, and the controls are a little more straightforward.

If you really value the viewfinder above all else and don’t care what the camera itself looks like then the big finder model is likely the best option.

But despite my own love of big bright viewfinders, the small finder model had my heart from the moment I saw and held it.

Assuming it all works to the point of processing a film, it’s the only one I’ll be keeping.

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Have you owned either of these Voigtlander Vito B models?

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

Seven By Seven

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Or, put another way, 49.

Part of the origins of the title of this blog – 35hunter – are about me hunting for beautiful things to photograph.

The other part is about me hunting for the most delicious and desirable (to me) 35mm cameras to pursue and capture these pictures with.

With SLRs, a complete game-changer for me was discovering the Contax 139 Quartz. 

When this occurred, all previous SLRs I’d tried – including ones from Canon, Fujica, Konica, Olympus, Pentax, Praktica and Zenit – fell by the wayside. Nothing before had felt as smooth, as luxurious, and well, just so right in my hands as the Contax 139Q.

So I bought another as a back up.

And then a 167MT. And so this evolved, until now I have all the Contax/Yashica bodies I wanted.

I think.

The total I have also turns out to be my favourite number, seven. 

Which is also the number of essential lenses I’ve come to settle on too.

I do still have a few other SLR cameras and lenses, but I expect these to be further phased out. The C/Y clan are my clear favourites.

Here’s a quick rundown on each camera body and lens.

Cameras

Contax 139 Quartz. My original, and where the C/Y love affair began for me. Ideal size, weight and feel, with a lovely bright viewfinder with intelligent info, a delectably smooth wind on and instinctive soft touch shutter release button. I could have stopped here, and in truth the other cameras here really are slightly less ideal versions of the 139.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 @ISO125

Contax 139 Quartz. As above. This back up version arrived from Germany with a terribly flaky leather skin and smelling like it had been submerged in a deep fat fryer for a month. After plenty of airing and an excellent new skin from Milly’s Cameras it smells fresh, looks even better than my original and is equally as smooth in use.

Contax 159MM. The evolution of the 139, it puts a very strong case for being the best camera I’ve ever held. Some days it is. Metering via a half press of the shutter button rather than a separate button on the front, shutter speeds to 1/4000s and Program and Shutter Priority modes improve on the 139. But somehow the 139 retains the edge for me in feel. Maybe because it was my first.

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Contax 159MM, Jupiter-37A lens, Expired Fuji Superia 100 @ISO64 

Contax 137MA. Essentially a slightly larger 139 with motor drive and AA batteries. Although more bulky, the handling is still very good, and the automated wind on is smooth and eager at the same time. An excellent choice when I want slightly more weighty feel and the laziness of not having to use my right thumb.

Contax 167MT. In a word, fierce. Like a supercharged 137MA. Extra features over the 139 like exposure bracketing, spot metering, continuous shooting and six exposure modes (three program, plus Av, Tv and M) mean this is the camera I turn to when I want to experiment with exposing film. Or simply when I want to use a camera that feels like a tank but drives like a Roller. It also sports my favourite VF in all the cameras here as I switched it for a plain matte one. Oh and the exposure compensation dial I think has the best weight and feel of any switch I’ve  ever used on any device!

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Yashica FX-D Quartz, MC Praktica Auto Zoom 80-200mm f/4.5 lens, Expired Fuji Superia 100 @ISO80

Yashica FX-D Quartz. I joke that this is the best SLR I’ve ever used that doesn’t say CONTAX on the front. And it’s true. The FX-D is a delightful little camera and 95% as fabulous to use as the Contax 139. The FX-D loses depth of field preview and aperture read out in the VF, but retains an almost as smooth wind on and shutter button, and an almost identical VF (ie bright, clear and a joy to look through). A genuine little cracker and my black one cost me about a third of what any of the Contax bodies cost.

Yashica FX-3. Certainly the odd one out here, as it feels less refined by far and is very simple. But this simplicity its ultimately what makes it most endearing. The VF is still bright and very usable, and actually, along with the 167MT, it’s the purest and least cluttered VF here. It’s comfortably the lightest body, the joint smallest, and whilst it has a simple lightmeter, the core functions are purely mechanical so it will carry on when every other camera here has run out of batteries. Mine cost me a ridiculously low price, complete with lens, and due to the inevitable shabby skin, I’ve ordered a new one from Milly’s Cameras to restore its former looks and so it can nestle proudly amongst the others C/Ys.

Lenses

Yashica

Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4. I had one of these, along with a 50/2 and 50/1.7 and tested the three head to head. The difference in the performance was so negligible I decided to keep just the f/1.7 and sell the others. But then this second f/1.4 came along too cheap to resist, and the bigger glass just looks better (in my eyes) as well as making those already bright VFs even brighter.

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Contax 159MM, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4 lens, Expired Jessops Diamond Everyday 200 @ISO125

Yashica ML 35mm f/2.8. I’ve been after one of these for ages and finally found one in good condition and at a sensible price. Initial (digital) shots are promising, and I hope to use it on my film bodies soon. 35mm is a focal length I love and have used extensively with compacts.

Yashica DSB 55mm f/2. Reports suggest that the DSB Yashicas are optically very similar (if not identical) to the MLs, just the latter have a more complex coating (ML = Multi Layer). Also there isn’t an ML lens in 55mm, which I like due its “lifesize” image in the VF compared with 50mm lenses. Not as smooth to use as the MLs I’ve had, but good enough, especially if the results continue to impress as they have done so far.

M42

The original aim that led me to the Contax 139 Quartz was to find a small, classy SLR to use M42 lenses with, via an adapter. These are the M42 lenses that make the meagre investment in the adapter more than worthwhile.

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4. Simple the best performing lens I have ever used, or, put another one, the one that gives me the highest number of “keepers” and “oohs” and “aahs” per roll of film. Comparing this over time with the ML 35/2.8 will be intriguing.

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Contax 159MM, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens, Expired Fuji Superia 100 @ISO80

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8. Again in terms of the final image, probably the greatest 50mm I’ve used. Mine has a lazy aperture that needs some TLC so when funds allow I’ll be sending it to Miles Whitehead who recently serviced my Flektogon and made it feel like new. Really very sharp and lovely colours.

Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC S (Sonnar) 135mm f/3.5. Completing the Zeiss triumvirate, the Sonnar which, like the other two, can create sumptuous images. It’s very compact for a 135mm too, which fits well with the smaller bodies above like the 139Q, 159MM and FX-D.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR  Sonnar 135mm f/3.5 lens, Expired Kodak Color Plus 200 @ISO125

Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8. Probably the smoothest lens I’ve ever used or will ever use, and the images are equally delicious. A while back I had a (large) handful of 50/55mm M42 lenses, but the Pancolar and Takumar are all I need.Like the DSB 55/2, I like the slightly larger than life image in the VF a 55mm gives versus a 50mm.

Do I really need all these cameras and lenses that give 49 different permutations?

Of course not.

If I had to choose just one I think it’d a Contax 139 Quartz plus the Yashica ML 50/1.4, just because it’s the lens that not only performs excellently itself, but being native C/Y mount and the fastest lens I have, allows the camera to perform at its best too.

Second choice would be the 159MM plus Flektogon 35/2.4.

If I was on a very tight budget, the FX-D plus the DSB 55/2 would give excellent results and cost me less than £30 combined.

Is there anything left on the wishlist? 

Whilst I like the range of experiences the above give me, the one camera I haven’t had yet – mainly because it costs about the same as all these others combined – is the Contax S2.

Lens wise, whilst the C/Y Yashicas are really very good, the Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses are very tempting. Something like an MM version 50/1.4 Planar, which would not only be fast, capable and allow all the modes of the 159MM and 167MT to be used, is very enticing.

But again it comes down to cost, and I can’t see the cheapskate within me forking out £200+ for a single lens or body any time soon…

What’s your favourite SLR mount, camera and lens, and how do they make you feel? 

Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

The Yashica Inquisition

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Yashica FX-D Quartz, Yashica FX-3

When you have the option of Contax SLR bodies like the 139 Quartz or 167MT, is there any value or purpose in owning a Yashica body in the same C/Y mount?

Earlier this year, I discovered the Contax 139 Quartz. It was a complete game changer for me.

Previously I’d loved Pentax with their Spotmatics and S1a in M42 mount, and KM, K1000, ME, ME Super et al in K mount.

Takumar lenses are probably still my favourite I’ve ever used, and Pentax-M lenses like the 50/1.7 and humble yet hugely capable 50/2 aren’t far off the Taks either in performance or smoothness.

But the Contax was simply a different class, the most deliciously luxurious SLR I’d ever used.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens

The Yashica ML 50/1.7 lens I had initially for the 139 Quartz was a bit of a slow burner, and I wasn’t sure I liked it at first.

But now I’ve gathered more than enough favourite shots with it to feel it’s earned its place on a Contax body.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

Not long after the 139 Quartz I came across its close cousin, the Yashica FX-D Quartz, first in silver, then a black version.

If I’d never used a Contax SLR, the Yashica FX-D would easily be my favourite SLR I’ve ever used. 

Even with my Contax bodies (which now number five), the FX-D is still 95% as great and as smooth to use, and is a true class act.

So I always have half an eye out for similar FX bodies.

Very recently, along came an FX-3, looking somewhat tired and in need of some TLC, with a DSB 50/1.9 lens.

I’ve had the same lens before, and whilst it was certainly more than competent, I didn’t feel it rivalled the ML 50/1.7 somehow.

Looking back now at the shots I did get though, I’m pretty happy with the best of them, and having browsed photographs others have taken with the same lens, I’m excited to give it another chance.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica DSB 50mm f/1.9 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

As to the camera, I’ve read much about the FX-3, mostly that it’s thought by many to be the most robust, reliable, practical and affordable route to using Zeiss C/Y lenses, not to mention the none too shabby Yashica range of lenses, in particular the ML (Multi Layered) versions.

But now to the core question of this whole post.

With five Contax bodies – two 139 Quartz, a 159MM, 167MT and 137MA – is there any point in having a Yashica C/Y mount body at all?

I think there are some strong arguments.

First, let’s consider the FX-D.

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Yashica FX-D Quartz, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens mounted via M42 > C/Y adapter

As I said, it’s really a close cousin of the Contax 139 Quartz and feels similarly well made. The viewfinder also looks looks nearly identical. It’s a fraction less bright, but still very good, and one of the best I’ve experienced.

The FX-D has similar operation in that you push a button where you forefinger rests on the front of the camera to engage the lightmeter, the wind on is very smooth, and the shutter button has a luxurious soft touch action like the 139.

Yes, if I had to pick the FX-D or the 139, I’d pick the latter, for that extra maybe 5% of smoothness it offers, plus a depth of field preview button and aperture readout in the viewfinder.

But when you consider cost, the choice changes. 

Both FX-Ds I’ve had were fully working and cost around £20. The Contax 139s cost around £55, as did nearly all of my other Contax bodies. Still not expensive for what they offer, but obviously far more than £20.

If you’re on a tight budget for an SLR, the FX-D is a steal. I wouldn’t look at anything else. 

Alternatively, that £35 difference could go towards a(nother) lens. The excellent Yashica ML 50/1.7 I have cost this side of £30. The optically near identical 50/2 versions are very common, as well as being a little lighter, and can be had for under £20.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Truprint FG+ 300 expired film

So for £40 you could have a fully working FX-D plus ML 50/2 lens that will be a joy to use and take fabulous pictures all day long.

It’s an incredibly tantalising prospect.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

Especially when the Contax 139 and Zeiss Planar 50/1.7 equivalent set up will likely cost you four times that.

What about the FX-3? 

From my initial experience of the FX-3, despite appearing very similar to the FX-D, it’s a very different camera.

Not surprisingly as I believe these were based on a Cosina camera already in existence, and presumably  the FX-3 was made by Cosina, rather than the Kyocera parent company that made both the FX-D and the Contax 139 Quartz.

If you’re looking for a similar quality and feel to the 139 or FX-D, you’ll be in for a let down. The FX-3 is primitive and no nonsense, pure function over flair.

If we put the feel of the camera aside (as many do), it’s not without considerable pros.

First, it’s fully mechanical. 

All five of my Contax bodies, plus the FX-D are battery dependent and are useless without them.

The FX-3 needs batteries only for its meter – all its core functions are mechanical.

Also, it’s lighter than the FX-D or Contax. Paired with something like the Yashica ML 50/2, it makes a very compact and nimble set up. 

The viewfinder is not up there with the FX-D or 139, but it is still very respectable and usable. Plus it’s more stripped down with nothing to clutter the main compositional rectangle if you’re not using the meter, and even if you are, just a simple +, – or green LED to indicate exposure.

Being mechanical,  and with that minimal meter display, you can easily use it either shutter or aperture preferred.

True, the camera won’t automatically select the aperture or shutter speed for you. But if you choose either your required aperture or shutter speed in any situation, then adjust the other until the green exposure light is on, it’s simple yet flexible.

Last but not least, is its cost. 

My fully working FX-3 (including the meter!) came with a DSB 50/1.9 lens, also in full working order and very clean, for less than £10. Well, £8.77 to be precise.

This is a cost that would make the cheapest of cheapskates smile.

My aforementioned previous 50/1.9 DSB lens gave me some decent pictures before (especially with a few months distance from them), and I want to give this example a few more opportunities.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica DSB 50mm f/1.9 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expireda film

One aspect I haven’t mentioned is the M42 option.

The reason I tried a Contax 139 Quartz in the first place was because after using Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Konica, Minolta and more, I’d decided that overall my favourite lenses were M42 mount. So I wanted a compact, classy, aperture priority body to use them on, when I wasn’t guessing Sunny 11 exposures using my all manual Fujica ST701 or Pentax Spotmatic F bodies.

A simple adapter is available that allows M42 lenses on Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount bodies.

This M42 set up has given new life to the likes of my Takumar and Helios lenses, as well as given me the Zeiss option that ties in back in with the Contax heritage. 

My Contax 139 with Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens is pretty much the most perfect SLR set up I’ve yet experienced.

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Contax 159MM, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens, Fuji Superia 100 film

The Pancolar 50/1.8 and Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lenses I also have make up a near unsurpassable trio.

And all were considerably cheaper than their C/Y mount Zeiss equivalents.

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Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

So going back to the FX-D or FX-3, if you want to use the widest and arguably most competent range of lenses ever made, invest in an M42>C/Y adapter for around £15.

Looking at lower cost options than the M42 Zeiss trio, a Takumar 55mm is a superb lens and probably the smoothest handling lens I’ve ever used. The 55/1.8 version should cost around £25 upwards, but for better value seek out a 55/2 which is near identical and will give you indistinguishable results, for £20 or less.

I have an Cosinon Auto 135/2.8 that was £19 and has given stunning results when experimenting on my NEX. Yes, this is a digital image, but I felt it justified to show what the Cosinon can do.

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Sony NEX 3N, Cosina Cosinon Auto 135mm f/2.8 M42 lens

The M42 option then offers a whole other world of lenses – some of the best every made – and at very affordable prices.

The outcome of this Yashica Inquisition is it all comes down to your needs, and budget. 

If you’re looking for a super frugal set up that will give you excellent photographs in a robust, light, compact, reliable and flexible package, then the FX-3 cannot be ignored.

In short, the FX-3 may be a little primitive, but in many ways this is its strength in being a no frills, functional and very capable photographic tool.

Lens wise, depending on budget, a 50/1.9 DSB lens – supposedly the same optical construction as the more expensive ML lenses, but with a simple coating (ML = Multi Layered coating – can be had for next to nothing.

An ML 50/2 is fractionally more, but potentially slightly has the edge in performance and smoothness, and is lighter.

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Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

Or, if you spend out on the M42 adapter, there are a huge range of fabulous M42 lenses around beginning at £20, maybe less if you’re patient and/or lucky.

If the feel and perceived luxury of a camera is more important to you, the FX-3 is likely to feel a pretty lacklustre experience.

Go for the FX-D, simply my favourite SLR I’ve used (including Pentax, Canon, Olympus, Konica, Minolta and Praktica) that doesn’t have CONTAX on the front, even though it does have a huge amount of Contax in its bones and blood.

Lens options as before, but if you want the simplicity of aperture priority with auto stop down, go for a DSB or ML lens rather than M42.

As mentioned before, a fully working FX-D plus DSB or ML lens can be had for under £40.

If I went out and shot half a dozen rolls each with the FX-3, FX-D and 139 with the same lenses and film, then mixed the images up, I would not be able to tell you which camera took which shots. They are equally capable.

But, if you’re really choosy, and as well as photographic ability you want that extra 5% of luxury, it has to be a Contax. There is no comparison – the five Contax bodies I have are the five greatest SLRs I’ve ever used. 

The lenses they were really made for are the Zeiss C/Ys, like the Planar, Distagon and so on.

Beyond my budget, at least for now, though I did have a Planar 50/1.7 briefly that I returned to the seller as it was optically full of fungus when sold as clear. I didn’t shoot with it, but the quality of the body did not impress. On this limited experience, I would take an M42 Zeiss any time, and save money too.

So the answer to my question right back where we began – Is there any value in owning a Yashica C/Y body? -even for me as such an avid Contax lover, is a resounding Yes!

Whatever you choose, it’s safe to say that in the Contax/Yashica family, there’s lots to offer at any level of budget, from a mere £10 to 50 times that… 

I doubt I’ll ever return to any other system.

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