I probably should have added it much earlier….
the Index of all cameras reviewed in CamerAgX,
including group reviews and side by side comparisons.
I probably should have added it much earlier….
the Index of all cameras reviewed in CamerAgX,
including group reviews and side by side comparisons.
Lenses with interchangeable mounts were developed primarily to solve the inventory management problems of the photo equipment retailers of the late 50s.
After Asahi launched their “Pentax” single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses in 1957, German and Japanese camera makers jumped on the band wagon and started releasing their own lines of SLR bodies and lenses.
They formed two camps – vendors like Mamiya, Petri, Ricoh, Fujica, Chinon, Yashica followed the example of Asahi and Practika and adopted the 42mm “universal” screw mount – with the promise of inter compatibility between brands. On the other hand, Canon, Exacta, Leica, Minolta, Miranda, Nikon, Topcon and a few others brands each decided to develop their own proprietary bayonet mount.
Those were the early days of the SLR, and the pace of progress was fast. Manufacturers had to revise their lens mounts every few years, in order to support new features such as the automatic diaphragm, full aperture metering and various exposure automatism implementations.
Imagine the nightmare for a retailer – having to stock expensive lenses for each variant of each of those mounts.
There was an opportunity for an inventive manufacturer to produce a line of universal lenses designed to be fitted with the lens mount adapter needed by the customer at the last minute, in the store, when he was ready to buy. The retailer could serve almost any customer need with only one copy of each universal lens, and one lens mount adapter per camera brand.
Of course, the photographer buying one of those “universal” lenses could also play Lego himself – and use his lens with camera bodies of different manufacturers (if he happened to be transitioning from one camera brand to another one, for instance).
Tamron is widely credited for being the first to market such a solution in the late 50s (with their T mount lenses), but Soligor and Vivitar also adopted the T mount and developed their own lines of lenses.
In order to keep up with the increasing complexity of the lens mounts, they regularly launched new lines of adapters and matching lenses : Tamron with the Adaptamatic (in 1969), Adaptall (in 1973) and the Adaptall 2 (in 1979), Soligor and Vivitar with the T4 and the TX system.
The progressive generalization of automatic cameras with multiple auto-exposure modes made the lens mounts much more complex and delicate. The growing use of electronics and the autofocus revolution of the mid 80s presented technical challenges of increasing difficulty that could not be overcome at a reasonable cost. And the concentration of the autofocus SLR market into a handful of players (Canon, Minolta, Nikon and Pentax) made inventory management easier for the retailers. As a result, the interchangeable lens mount system was gradually abandoned by its manufacturers in the 90s.
Today, does it make sense for a photographer using manual focus SLRs to buy interchangeable mount lenses ?
and specifically for the Fujica X bayonet (manual focus SLR bodies: ST-X and AX-1, AX-3, AX-5): tamron adaptall 2
This blog is about photography. About old film cameras, and the pictures you can still make with them.
Like anybody else, I use digital cameras. They’re convenient. But I also love shooting with film cameras. It’s a different experience, and using different tools make you see the world differently.
Nobody makes new film cameras anymore. But there is such an ample supply of nice second hand cameras that finding one you like is not a problem.
Film cameras are now extraordinarily cheap, and as long as you’re in no hurry to see your images and don’t take too many pictures, using SLRs or rangefinder cameras from yesteryear is a rewarding experience.
In the nineteenth century, photography did not kill watercolor painting and cars did not drive horses to extinction. In the nineteen eighties digital watches did not kill mechanical watches, and vinyl records are making a comeback 20 years after CDs were launched.
People paint, ride horses, wear mechanical watches and play vinyl records for a multitude of reasons, some of them unsuspected 150 or 20 years ago. And they will still be shooting film 10 years from now.
I love taking pictures, I love old cameras, and that’s all it is about. If you’re in the same frame of mind, welcome.
Most photo labs propose scans in 3 resolutions: 1000×1500, 2000×3000, 4500×6700. The scans are saved as jPEGs, with some labs also offering to save 4500 x6700 scans as TIFF files.
In theory, those resolutions correspond to an image of 1.5 Million points (1.5 MP), 6 MP, and 30 MP respectively. In general,
Storage constitutes an indirect cost – which doesn’t hurt until you run out of disk space, and have to upgrade your PC, your home NAS or you online backup plan. But if storing 36 images at 1.5 Mbytes will not break your storage budget, 36 high res TIFF images represent almost 3 Gbytes. The exact size of a JPEG file is difficult to predict (JPEG is a lossless compression format), but in general, the file size of each type of scan falls within those brackets:
I wanted to have a few pictures I had taken a long time ago scanned, and I asked the lab to scan some images in 2000 x 3000, and some in 4400 x 6700. The pictures had been taken with a Minolta 7xi and the famous Angenieux 28-70 f/2.6-2.8 zoom, on Fuji Reala film (the 100 ISO “professional” color film Fujifilm were selling at that time). The pictures had originally been enlarged on photographic paper, and I expected the scans to be good.
I also had a series of images taken recently with a zoom from the early seventies, that had been scanned by the lab at 1000 x1500, that I asked the lab to rescan at 2000 x 3000.
Once the jPEGs were ready, I downloaded them in iPhone and iPad photo galleries, in Photoshop and Lightroom on a laptop, and on WordPress, in order to compare the perceived quality. A reminder of the resolution of a few devices compared to print.
Scanning at 2000×3000 is a good compromise for 35mm film, and my choice when I have film processed. It works fine with any support I use day to day (iDevice, laptop, 8 x 11 prints), is not too expensive and generally produces a visible difference with the 1000×1500 scans.
If I wanted to print a really great picture, an image compelling from an artistic point of view and almost perfect technically (fine grain film, sharp lens, subject in focus, no shake), I would have it scanned at the 4492 x6776 resolution, and saved as TIFF. It would give me no guarantee that the print would be great (there are so many variables), but it would give me the best chances of success.
Launched in 1978, the A-1 – the top of Canon’s A line of cameras, (also composed of the AE-1, AE-1 Program, AV-1, AT-1 and AL-1), was the first single lens reflex camera to offer three auto exposure modes (Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Program) in addition to the semi-auto mode. The A-1 accepts all Canon FD lenses and (stopped down) can also work with older FL lenses. A feature loaded and intimidating camera with a very “muscular” design, it was in fact well thought and easy to use. It sold in the millions.
The AX-5 was the top of Fujica’s new line of bayonet mount 35mm film cameras, launched in 1979 to replace the ST605, ST705 and AZ-1 screw mount cameras. Coming one year after the Canon A-1, the AX-5 offers almost the same feature set, but in a smaller and much more restrained package.
The AX-5 accepted all Fujica’s newly launched “X-Fujinon” bayonet lenses but could only access the Shutter Priority and Program auto exposure modes when paired with X-Fujinon “DM” lenses (which have the “A” position on the aperture ring). Lesser camera models (the AX-3 and the STX-1) were usually bundled with “FM” lenses, deprived of the “A” setting.
Back then: how did the two cameras compare?
The Canon A-1 has a serious fan club, photographers who consider it the best film camera ever built. A few examples:
Film cameras are interesting objects. They appeal to collectors who will desire them for their historical importance, their pleasant esthetics, and for their scarcity, and to active photographers, who make their purchase decisions based on the feature set, the availability of good lenses, and the quality of the user experience.
The least desirable cameras (and therefore the cheapest) are characterized by an abundant supply of working but unremarkable bodies with a meager selection of lenses, the most desirable by a limited availability of cameras in working order, combined with an interested set of features, a pleasant user experience, and a broad selection of good lenses: in other words, cameras of great systems (Canon, Contax, Nikon, Leica, Olympus, for instance) that are scarce because they sold in small numbers, and/or because they did not age gracefully, with few of them surviving in working condition.
Let’s focus on the 4 Japanese brands I know best.
Manual focus Canon cameras were mass produced (Canon was the constant best seller except for a few years when Minolta took the lead), and generally reliable. Because the autofocus EOS product line is totally incompatible with the older manual focus cameras, users of autofocus Canon film cameras (and of modern digital EOS models) were not tempted to carry an old manual focus SLR in addition to their modern autofocus camera, and the offer of second hand manual focus cameras from Canon has always seemed to exceed demand. As a result, prices have tended to be low.
Fujica (the AX bayonet mount line)
Fuji’s screw mount cameras sold in respectable numbers in the 1970s, and aged relatively well. They were replaced in 1979 by a new generation of bayonet mount cameras that did not sell very well and had reliability issues. A Fujica SLR such as the STX or the AX-3 in working condition is not as easy to find as a Canon AE-1 or a Nikon FE, for instance, but at the same time it does not qualify as exceptionally difficult to locate. The truth is that those cameras don’t seem to be interesting collectors (lack of aura) or active photographers (lack of lenses). Except maybe for the AX-5.
Very few Nikon cameras qualify as “scarce”. Nikon cameras generally sold in high volumes (within their class of products) and are extremely reliable – a lot of them survived. Some of the cameras designed for professional photographers (the F3, the FM2) had production runs of almost 20 years. You will have to look for specific variants of a mainstream model such as the F3p or the F3AF to reach the level of scarcity that commands high prices (above the $1,000 bar). That being said, Nikon cameras of that vintage are very pleasant to use (they ooze build quality), they benefit from a huge supply of lenses and accessories (Nikon have been using the same bayonet mount since 1959, and the current flash system is downwards compatible down to the FE2 of 1983), and they take great pictures. They have a great usage value, but a limited collector’s appeal. A few exceptions:
In the 80s, Olympus had a line of low end “two digit cameras” (OM-10, OM-20, OM-30, OMG..) for amateurs and a line of single digit cameras (OM-2s, OM-4) for the discerning enthusiasts. The two digit cameras are extremely abundant, but unremarkable. The OM-2s and OM-4 are relatively easy to find, but are plagued by lousy battery management issues that limit their attractivity. At the end of their production life, the “single digit” cameras were upgraded to become “T” or Ti” models, which solved the electronics issues of their predecessors, and switched their brass top-plates for Titanium ones. Those T and Ti cameras are highly attractive for the active photographer (small size, unique light metering capabilities, broad system of lenses and accessories) and for the collector – they’re beautiful and are in limited supply. The OM-3Ti – the semi-automatic version- was produced in very limited quantities (6,000 units according to zone-10.com) and was selling at the same price as a Leica M6. The OM-4t and Ti had a long production run, but they were launched in the middle of the autofocus craze, when the large majority of the enthusiasts were busy converting their equipment to Minolta Maxxums, Canon EOS or Nikon N8008.
Except for commemorative models (they often never leave the box they were shipped in), Leica SLRs models of all generations typically sell in the $200.00 to $800.00 range (the R4 are the cheapest, the R6.2 the most expensive). Contax models benefit from the aura of the Zeiss lenses, and sell in the same range as the Leicas.
Fuji Photo was a late entrant in the single lens reflex market – they launched their first SLR, the ST701, in 1970. It was followed by a line of innovative high end models (ST 801, ST901), and by good entry level cameras (ST601, ST605, …). But those cameras were still using the old M42 “universal” screw mount that almost everybody else had abandoned.
In 1979 Fuji had to bite the bullet and finally launched a new line cameras with a new proprietary bayonet (the “X” mount), and a series of new X-Fujinon lenses (not to be confused with Fujifilm’s current XF mount, which is designed for digital cropped sensor cameras, is completely different and totally incompatible).
The “X” cameras had to face a tough competition (Canon’s AE-1 and its derivatives in particular), and were not helped by a reputation of poor reliability.
The AX-1, AX-3, AX-5 were well thought and compact cameras, but they were plagued by reliability issues (the electro-magnetic shutter release was a particular weak point, followed by the electronic components in general). The three models shared the same body, and while the AX-1 was a bit stripped down, the AX-3 and the AX-5 were full featured cameras, and looked virtually identical.
In the important West-German market, local constraints obliged Fuji to team with a chain of photo stores – Photo-Porst, and the cameras were relabeled and sold as the Porst CR-1 (the STX), CR-3 (AX-1), CR-5 (AX-3) and CR-7 (AX-5).
In 1983, the Fujica cameras were rebranded as “Fuji”, and the product line simplified with only the STX-2 (a limited refresh of the STX-1n with a black body and 1/1000s shutter) and the AX-Multi, an evolution of the AX-1 offering only three program modes (normal, optimized for fast moving subjects, optimized for small aperture) and no other way to control the exposure parameters.
Minolta launched the Maxxum 7000 in 1985, and made medium level manual focus cameras like the AX series immediately obsolete. Fuji finally pulled the plug on its SLR line of products in 1987.
Unless you’re an avid collector of anything Fuji, there are few reasons to look for Fuji’s X cameras:
Fujica’s m42 screw mount lenses can be mounted on the Fujica X cameras with an adapter (they have to be used at stopped down aperture), and Fujica’s “X-Fujinon” lenses can be mounted on modern Fujifilm “X” cameras such as the XT-1 or the XT-2 via an adapter (Kiwi and Fotodiox have one, I’ve not tested them yet).
Buying a Fujica X camera today
The AX-3 appears to be the most widely distributed of the Fujica AX line, and is relatively easy to find on eBay, very often in the $30.00 to $70.00 range (for a fully tested camera). The STX and AX-1 are marginally cheaper – while the top of the line AX-5 is really hard to find, and can be proposed for prices in excess of $150.
Considering the well known issues of the AX cameras with the electronics and the electro-magnetic shutter release, it is advisable to buy only cameras that the seller has tested with a battery.
Except for the 50mm f/1.9 FM standard lens which is fairly common, X-Fujinon lenses, in particular the multi-coated EBC models, tend to be rare and very expensive ($200 to $600). Lenses from third party manufacturers such as CPC, TOU, D-Star, Hanimex and Porst’s GMC lenses are far cheaper (in the $25 to $50 price range) and easier to find. An interesting option is to use Tamron Adaptall 2 lenses – the Adaptall mount for Fujica X film cameras is still available (sometimes it’s New Old Stock), and Tamron lenses are generally easy to find at prices much more reasonable than original Fujinon lenses.
More about the AX-3 and the AX-5 in a few weeks…
Fuji Photo Film, Fujica, Fujifim, Fujitsu…a bit of history
You’re shooting film. Assuming you don’t have access to a dark room for film processing, and don’t want to invest time and money in your own scanning equipment, you will have to rely on photo processors to develop and scan your film. Most labs propose the choice between 2 or 3 scan qualities. What should you order?
Our perception of the “minimum acceptable quality” has changed over time:
Resolution of the scan of 24×36 film needed for a print or to fill a screen:
In theory, it’s pure math. Photoshop will prepare images for printing at 300 or 600 dots per inch (DPI). If you want to fill a 10×8 page at 300 dpi, you’ll need an image dimension of W=300 x 8 and L= 300 x 10 that is 2400 x 3000.
Photo processors generally offer scans in three levels of resolution:
Let’s compare two images taken in the Atlanta High Museum of Art with the same type of film and the same camera, and scanned at different resolutions:
The lower resolution picture is visibly less detailed (look at the hardwood floor, look at the grain in the shadows). A resolution of 1024 x 1544 is very limited, even for a WordPress blog.
However, the image size alone is not enough to determine the quality of a scanning service.
First, an image with 1200 x 1800 pixels has not always been scanned with a scanner resolution of 1270 Dots per Inch (36mm = 1.42in; 1800 pixels for 1.42 in = 1270 dpi) – it could have been scanned at a lower resolution and enhanced with interpolation.
Secondly, even with the same scanning equipment and the same resolution, images can be massively different, depending on the settings of the scanner and the skill of the operator: as an example, let’s use two pictures taken on the same type of color film and processed and scanned by two different Wolf Camera in-store labs in Atlanta:
The second picture looks much more grainy than the first one, even if the JPG files delivered by the minilab contain the same number of pixels in both cases.
I had noticed the same phenomenon with Costco a few years ago – in the same store, you could get very different results from one day to another one, depending on the experience and skills of the operator on duty that day.
The labs, the services, and the cost
Almost nobody operates in-store minilabs anymore. Pharmacy chains or large retailers that used to process film in-store are now contracting the work to a few centralized labs. They target the amateurs using disposable cameras and 35mm color film.
The enthusiast photographer crowd will be better served by a few large mail to order processing labs such as The Dark Room, The Old School Photo Lab , or North Coast Photo Services (NCPS). They offer a wider range of services and also process color slide and “true” black and white film (such as Kodak’s Tri-X Pan or Ilford’s HP5), in many formats.
I’ve been using The DarkRoom and the Old School Photo Lab a few times. Their prices are roughly in the same ballpark. They develop and scan a 135 film cartridge for $11.00 (the base price includes postage, and The Dark Room provides low resolution scans for free). Medium and High resolution scans are available at extra cost ($4 to $5 extra for 2048 x 3084 scans, $ 9 for 4492 x 6774 scans). The scans are posted on a Web Gallery (no need to wait for a CD to come back through the Postal Service) and can be downloaded to a PC or a Mac as jPEGs (TIFFs are available at extra cost). A free app is also made available to visualize the images on a smartphone.
The differentiator between those services is what happens to the film after it’s been processed:
Other vendors package their offer differently but the prices are roughly in the same ballpark.
A general issue with all those services is the lead time. You seldom get your scans on line in less than 10 calendar days (135 film, negative color film). Speciality items (slide film, black and white, medium format) may take a few days longer. But we don’t have much choice anymore, do we?
As a conclusion, if your pictures are important to you, learn to know your lab
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Fuji Photo Film has been in the photo business since 1934, but only entered the single lens reflex camera (SLR) market at the beginning of the 70s. At that time, Pentax, Minolta, Nikon and Canon had been selling SLRs for more than 10 years.
Fuji introduced important innovations – the Fujica ST701 was the first SLR using a silicon photo-diode for exposure metering, and in 1974, the ST901 was the first camera to use numerical LEDs to show the selected shutter speed in the viewfinder.
But Fuji bet on the wrong lens mount – their first SLR had a “universal” m42 screw mount that only supported stop down metering at a time when the market was already demanding full aperture metering. They rapidly had to create a proprietary derivative of the “universal” mount to support it. Their implementation (a protruding tab on the outside of the aperture ring to transmit aperture information to the camera) was clever and maintained the inter-compatibility of the lenses with the cameras of other vendors (I tested Fujinon lenses on Pentax and Yashica cameras – and there was no problem).
In 1979, Fuji was the last major vendor to abandon the screw mount, and finally launched a brand new proprietary bayonet, the “X” mount, supporting all types of auto-exposure modes.
Switching to a new lens mount is always a difficult exercise for a camera manufacturer, as it’s a powerful signal sent to its installed base that the investment they’ve made in the lenses of the brand is going to be worthless; at some point, the photographer will need a new camera to replace the existing one, and that day, he/she will also have to buy a whole new set of lenses. But if you have to buy everything anew, why stay with the brand that “betrayed” you?
The m42 bodies (Fujica ST 701, 705, 801, 901) were technically innovative and were praised by the press, but the bayonet mount cameras (Fujica STX, AX-1, AX-3, AX-5) were nice but unremarkable me-too products that never found much traction on a market place dominated by Canon and Minolta. When Minolta launched the first modern autofocus SLR, the Maxxum 7000, in 1985, Fuji was already folding down its SLR business, and did not even try to launch its own line of autofocus SLRs. They left the market for good in 1987.
Today, some of the Fujica screw mount cameras are highly regarded by the supporters of the m42 Universal mount. They were very modern when they were launched, and are far more pleasant to use than cameras of the same generation such as the Pentax Spotmatic.
Fujica AZ-1 and Fujinon-X f/3.5-4.5 43mm-75mm zoom – the AZ-1 was the first mass market SLR bundled with a zoom instead of the standard 50mm lens.
It leaves us with the ST801 and ST705 (both semi-auto cameras with full aperture metering), and the ST605 (an entry level semi-auto camera with stopped down metering and a slower shutter).
Fujinon lenses have an excellent reputation in the world of m42 lenses and apart from the 50 or 55mm lenses which are abundant, they are pretty rare. As the result, they’re probably the most expensive m42 screw mount lenses you can find on eBay. In particular, they are significantly more expensive than equivalent (and similarly highly rated) Pentax screw mount lenses.
Tamron used to sell an Adaptall 2 ring specifically designed for Fujica’s full aperture metering system. Tamron Adaptall lenses are more abundant than Fujica’s, and are an interesting option if you don’t want to spend $500.00 on a Fujica EBC Wide Angle lens (for instance).
The ST801 was the top of the line of Fujica in the seventies – it was significantly more expensive (maybe 25% more) than the Pentax Spotmatic F – which would have been its closest competitor in the word of screw mount cameras, and was probably in the same price bracket as Nikon’s Nikkormat.
Conclusion – for a camera of the early 70’s, the Fujica ST801 is much more usable than equivalent models from Nikon or Canon. The viewfinder is brighter, the metering system is modern and reactive, and the body is comparatively smaller and lighter. The contrast with the Pentax models of the same era (Spotmatic) is also striking. Maybe it’s because of the sorry state of most of the copies of the Spotmatic you can find today, but a Pentax feels really clunky compared to the ST801. The Fujica is much more satisfying to use.
In my opinion, the ST801 is the best screw mount Fujica camera, and arguably the best 42mm screw mount semi-automatic camera to reach the mass market. Ever.