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.

Advertisements

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.