Rise Of The Anti-Zoom – Why I Never Zoom With A Zoom Lens

Zoom lenses were made so you could stand in one place, point in any direction, zoom and capture the perfect composition. Right? 

Well, maybe. But not for me.

Instead I see a zoom lens as a small, highly portable set of prime lenses. Here’s why, and how I use them.

19479926028_2fe028397b_b
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

For the first four years or so of shooting film, I only had one zoom. It happened to come attached to a Pentax ME Super I found cheap, and I gave the lens away almost immediately.

So my history of shooting film (and using the same vintage lenses digitally on my Sony NEX) was almost exclusively with primes. 

This honed my technique of getting used to the particular field of view of a particular lens, as there was simply no way to adjust it. I like this consistency – it’s one less setting to adjust, a great help when I was starting out with film especially, with all the other adjustments you can make.

Then one day I read a review of a reputedly excellent Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro.

The review – and the subsequent photographs I found online – made the lens too good to ignore, despite it being a zoom.

So I bought one.

Essentially, being a bit intimidated by the range of focal lengths (though 35-70mm is modest for a zoom!), I set it to 70mm and started to experiment with the NEX.

17431642943_e75e6ae597_b
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

 

Another factor for choosing 70mm was this was the end at which the “macro” focusing was available. I love finding the close up detail and beauty of objects.

The MD Zoom turned out to live up to its reputation, I was very impressed.

19045388134_59f5620fb4_b
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro lens

More recently I picked up a Tamron with C/Y adapter, in fact very similar in spec to the Minolta. To give it its full name, it’s the Tamron 35-70mm f/3.5 CF Macro BBAR MC.

Whilst not as great as the Minolta, it’s still pretty good, and again I stuck it on 70mm and went off to explore.

31712887584_8af6fd0183_b
Yashica FX-D, Tamron 35-70mm f/3.5 CF Macro BBAR MC lens, Fuji Superia 100 expired film

Again, not being so keen on any lens wider than 50mm, and wanting to explore the closer “macro” focusing of the lens, in effect I treat it as a 70mm prime with close focus.

Very recently I acquired a Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 Macro. You might be noticing a pattern here. 

Turns out that this lens, on my Sony a350, has blown me away. And again I’ve only used it at the 70mm end.

32504362950_a034c7ff9f_b
Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

I found the MD Zoom very impressive, and I think this Minolta is even better. And the images in this post are straight out of the Sony Alpha, converted from RAW to JPEG, and no other post processing. I’m loving those Minolta colours!

Anyway, back to the point of this post. 

Taking for example the Minolta AF 35-70mm, I see this mostly as a 70mm prime.

32636708880_d5856b3d9d_b
Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

But I could also use it as a 35mm prime. And a 50mm prime. Or a 40mm prime, 60mm prime, or anything between. But let’s keep this simple for my argument and stick to 35, 5o and 70mm. Also because those are the three numbers marked on the barrel and easiest to set.

What I don’t do, on a photowalk, is this –

Stand in one position, look all around me, spot something interesting to photograph then point my camera and zoom in or out until it fills the frame as I wish, then take the photograph.

Before I begin the walk, I already decide what focal length I’ll use, set the lens to that, and then treat it as a prime.

By doing this I can focus on how the world looks at that focal length, with that lens. I have a consistency, a uniformity to work with.

Also there’s the distortion factor. 

Put simply, the same subject, filling the frame in the same way, will look quite different when photographed at different focal lengths. This post and collage of images is a great visual demonstration.

For me personally, I don’t want a set of images from one photowalk with one lens where they’re all distorted in different ways.

I’d find this confusing and frustrating.

This is mostly down to my inexperience in using a wide range of focal lengths (my default and most used by far is a 50mm lens) but partly my desire to keep things simple and clean with photography.

If I introduce too many options, too many variables, it takes away the escapist and immersive pleasure of photography. 

32239366283_889e057a1c_b
Sony a350, Minolta AF 35-70mm f/4 lens

With digital photography lately I’m trying to simplify further too, and so by using a particular lens like the Minolta AF 35-70 always at 70mm, with the same ISO setting on the camera, and keeping all other creative options neutral, it allows me to just focus on composition, and, er, focus.

Rather than for every shot drowning in a myriad of decisions and options before I even press the shutter button.

So it becomes more like the simple and joyful experience I feel when using film cameras.

Next, I’m looking forward to going out and using this Minolta at 50mm. Given its performance at 70mm, I’m hoping it will be pretty formidable at 50mm too, and might even surpass and supplant some of my current 50mm favourites.

But for now I’ll stick with treating it as my favourite 70mm prime.

How do you use zoom lenses? Do you find most shots are at a similar focal length or do you use the full range of the zoom?

Let us know in the comments below.

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

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.

21642355531_27aabfb949_b
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.

25759175424_e837b4b6d3_b
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.

27174662542_0a200dcf97_b
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.

27129015332_0e42b42f57_b
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.

27129014332_ac984b3978_b
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.

28268533775_f56cb6c436_b
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.

28268534165_bd5760c40f_b
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.

31877465180_8626a8be4b_c
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.

29343375614_0221517757_b
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.

26620394123_c5686bc6c1_b
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.

With Eyes Reborn

Whilst my first SLR was 35mm (a Praktica BMS Electronic), I reached a point around three years ago where I discovered that certain 35mm film SLR lenses could be used on certain digital cameras, some directly, others via cheap adapters.

This was a game changer for me, and, perhaps perversely, actually fused and intensified further my love of vintage cameras and lenses.

After an initial disappointing foray with a Pentax K-x DLSR (capable enough but tiny viewfinder and very plasticky, so a huge let down coming from cracking little Pentax SLRs like the ME Super), I discovered the Sony NEX range.

So since the summer of 2014 I’ve been experimenting with different vintage lenses on a used NEX 3N, and very recently with a few lenses on a Sony a350 DSLR.

31382935803_71a038406c_c
Sony NEX 3N, Cosina Auto Cosinon 135/2.8, LightRoom preset

With most lenses, you’d assume that if they’re good on film, they’ll be good with digital cameras too. But some have surprised me.

I don’t want to get too much into the practicalities of actual use of vintage lenses with the NEX and a350 (that’s potentially another post), but instead look at a few lenses that have been only average to good on film, but, to my delight, have excelled digitally.

Of course, you won’t find any scientific evidence here, no shots of brick walls or pinned up newspapers, or 100% detail crops. That’s not my style, or interest, at all.

But what I do hope to share here are three of the gems I have found, then a few of my own speculative theories about why they seem to have performed so well via a digital sensor than a frame of 35mm film.

First, three of the best lenses.

1. Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro

19479926028_2fe028397b_c
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro

I bought this lens because certain reviews felt it was as sharp as a prime lens. And Minolta prime lenses are indeed very sharp.

Up to this point, 90% of my photography was with 50/55/58mm lenses, so I was interested in experimenting at both the 35mm and 70mm ends of the MD Zoom. If it lived up to its reputation, this plan was cheaper than buying an equally good 35mm and 70mm lens.

Plus the lens focused pretty close (around 0.33m), something I always appreciate and enjoy.

I tried the lens with my Minolta X-700 body.

If you don’t know, the X-700 has one of the greatest, brightest viewfinders ever seen on a 35mm camera. With a Rokkor 50/1.4 or 58/1.4 lens it was breathtaking.

But with the MD Zoom and its maximum aperture of f/3.5, it was still good but obviously not so bright and clear.

The size of the lens, though compact and relatively lightweight for a zoom, seemed bulky and clumsy on the X-700, especially as I’d been used to 50mm primes.

The whole experience was kind of awkward and I wanted it to be over quickly. Like trying to make conversation with the husband of one of your wife’s best friends, at a wedding neither man really wanted to be at.

On the NEX though, the lens was a revelation. 

The size was very appealing. Because of the slimness of the NEX, the entire camera virtually became the lens. Or the other way around. Changing the focal length (ie zooming) and focusing was easy and smooth.

The pictures blew me away – the colours, the sharpness and the deliciously smooth bokeh, none of which seemed to ever be possible with the X-700.

This shot is straight out of the NEX with zero processing except an export from RAW to JPEG.

17431642943_e75e6ae597_c
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro

This lens was the last Minolta SR mount lens I eventually sold when I decided to focus on just M42 and Contax/Yashica mounts a while back – outlasting even the glorious and beautiful MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4. Which is testament to how much I loved it using it. But only with the NEX.

2. Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7

Yep, another Minolta, who made a long line of 50 and 55mm lenses, which can seem baffling similar. In short, all you need to know is they’re all pretty fabulous.

I’d already had some of the older version from the late 60s and early 70s, and been impressed by their build, smoothness and performance (on both film and digital). I got this MD attached to an X-300 body I wanted to try as an alternative to the more sophisticated X-700 mentioned above.

24502687974_8a0a0926f1_c
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD 50/1.7 lens

This MD 50/1.7 is from a later era (mid 80s I think) where the legendary Rokkor name had been dropped, as well as many of the metal parts.

On the downside, the lens felt a bit plasticky compared with something like its MC Rokkor-PF 55/1.7 predecessor – still one of the most luxurious lenses I’ve used in any mount.

On the plus side, the MD is very small, and very light. Which, matched with the NEX, made a whole lot of sense.

This lens wasn’t bad on film, in fact it was very good, and if you put photographs made with the MD 50/1.7 next to those made with something like the aforementioned 55/1.7, I’d struggle to identify which was which.

But because of its size and light weight, and because somehow it seemed to be even better digitally than the others, it stands out as one of the best lenses I’ve used with the NEX.

24506540293_d1076ef431_c
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD 50/1.7 lens

3. Cosina Auto Cosinon 135mm f/2.8

As mentioned before, my default focal length is 50/55/58mm. In an effort to widen my experience, and because they are plentiful and cheap, I decided to explore some 135mm lenses, in M42 mount.

A few weeks later, I ended up with four.

The Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Electric Sonnar 135/3.5 and Jupiter-37A 135/3.5 are both glorious and rightly have lofty reputations. If you want a 135, either will no doubt delight you.

Another I came across was a Reveunon 135/2.8, with beautiful big blue multi-coated glass, which proved to be very decent in performance, but let down by its not very close focus. So that one went.

A little later I found a Cosina Auto Cosinon 135/2.8, which a friend mentioned he had used and been impressed with, plus it was super cheap (something like £12).

32154994416_c5d788fe77_c
Sony NEX3N, Cosina Auto Cosinon 135/2.8, LightRoom preset

On film, or digital, the Sonnar and Jupiter-37A are wonderful. Trying the Cosinon on film, I was distinctly underwhelmed compared with the other two, despite enjoying using the lens.

Then one warm day last summer I decided to try taking some shots of the kids playing in the garden, and picked the Cosinon.

The results absolutely delighted me, and though I must have taken thousands of photographs of the children in their short lives, these were instantly up there amongst my very favourites.

Again, straight out of the NEX, no post processing.

dsc01680-2
Sony NEX 3N, Cosina Auto Cosinon 135/2.8

Since that day I’ve kept the humble Cosinon, and though I’ll probably never bother shooting film with it again, I know its potential with digital will put a smile on my face many times in the future.

So these are three examples of lenses that have highly impressed me with digital photography.

What about the theories as to why?

First, the part of the lens that is being used.

The NEX, like my a350, has an APS-C crop sensor. The surface area of the sensor is only about two thirds that of a frame of 35mm film.

So compared with shooting the same lens on film, with the NEX/Alpha, it’s like taking only the central part of the photo.

Imagine having a large photograph, then putting a frame with a thick border on top. You crop the image from its full size and lose the outer edges, all the way around.

The benefit of this is that for most lenses, when they start to show flaws and failings, its at their outermost edges, at wide apertures.

Pair the same lens on a crop sensor and you instantly remove those outer edges and use only the central part of the lens where it performs at its optimum. Stop it down two or three stops and you can create stunning sharpness, contrast and colours.

Second, the physical handling of the lens.

Whilst this doesn’t directly impact the final image, it goes a long way to how we the photographer are able to get the best from the lens.

Put simply, the lenses you love using most are the ones you’re going to shoot most with, and try hardest to get the best images with.

Any lens that’s frustrating or indifferent in use isn’t going to inspire the photographer to be at their best, or try to find the best compositions.

So lenses like the Minolta MD Zoom, which for me were ungainly, even annoying, on a film body, came into their own with something like the little NEX, where almost all your physical contact is with the lens, and they suddenly become far more comfortable and natural feeling.

Third, the character and construction of the lens.

Some say that there are no bad 50mm lenses, because the relatively simply construction of the elements of the lens is hard to get wrong. You just get different degrees of excellent.

So I wonder if for other lenses, their internal design is somehow better suited for digital sensors. Part of this might be down to theory one, and the optimal part of the glass being used.

And/or it might be that for some lenses, the character – and the unique way they shape and interpret the light that flows through them – is better syncopated with the way a digital sensor (or in my specific experience a Sony APS-C digital sensor) also shapes and interprets the light that hits it.

As I explained at the start, I don’t have the science behind this, it’s just my theories based on my experience and limited knowledge.

19045388134_59f5620fb4_c
Sony NEX 3N, Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro

To get to the point of this whole post.

Even if you shoot loads of film, it’s well worth getting a digital camera that’s easily adaptable to vintage lenses (my own experience would recommend Sony NEX or Alpha).

First you have a cheap (after the initial, modest, outlay) way to experiment with all kinds of lenses with immediate feedback and the ability to get to know a lens in a matter of hours, rather than the weeks it might take with film.

Second, because, like I have, you may well find some absolute gems of lenses that are overlooked on film due to merely adequate performance, but really come alive on digital.

I always try to come back to the core purpose and message of 35hunter – “Hunting for balance and beauty, camera in hand”.

Hunting for beauty sometimes means grabbing your favourite film camera and lens and exploring some of the most amazing places you know.

And sometimes it means picking up an obscure vintage lens or two from eBay or a charity shop and playing with it in your back garden to see what you coax from it.

Either way, that pursuit of beauty – and the enjoyment along the way – always makes the experience worthwhile.

What has been your experience of using vintage lenses on digital bodies?

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

7x7-1-2

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.

31048358696_a664e3a5fc_c
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.

28099283881_876ec591b2_c
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!

28711764361_d3cb0b6e63_c
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.

28768976183_6a32e331fb_c
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.

28875784945_23868fb541_c1
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.

30712108091_8aa7f54cf0_c
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

yashica-fx-d-fx-3
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.

26508808654_50acb52d99_c
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.

27290171325_2abc45dcbe_c
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.

27368925781_d85cecaba3_c
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.

26774789483_7b156a208a_c
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.

29486806574_634def2b5b_c
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.

27973173744_6efc375f71_c
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.

26831629304_823584fbd5_c
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.

28875784945_23868fb541_c
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.

27250249100_34e389eea0_c
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.

27582524843_f3e7a52d8f_c
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.

28483673202_d9180a6362_c
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.

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