I know. It’s provocative. But don’t buy a Yashica FX-3 without ensuring first that you have a good hair dryer in one of your bathroom cabinets.
Google and a hair dryer to the rescue
When I received the FX-3, the camera seemed to work perfectly with no lens mounted, but as soon as a lens was in place, the reflex mirror was refusing to return into its normal position at the end of the shutter release cycle, making the camera unusable. But as soon as I was removing the lens, the mirror was returning back into its normal position.
Google is my best friend, and I rapidly learned that the Yashica FX-3s are renown for their sliding mirror problem. Over time, the mirror (which is glued to a part I’ll call the hinged mirror holder) tends to slide forward, and after some time (years? months? weeks?) it has moved so much that it hits the back of the lens, preventing the shutter release cycle from completing. The solution? Use a hair dryer to soften the glue, and gently push the mirror a few tens of a millimeter back, to the top of the mirror holder. I tried, and it worked. I can now use the camera – I just don’t know how long this fix will operate, and how often I’ll need to give the camera a hair do.
Yashica’s FX-3 series
The FX-3 Super 2000 is the final declination of a line of simple semi-automatic, manual focus cameras, released by Yashica between 1979 and 1986. Before the FX-3, Yashica had launched two FX models, but they don’t belong to the same technical family – the early FXs were largely derived from cameras sold before Yashica adopted the Contax/Yashica bayonet mount: the FX-1 from 1975 (an aperture priority automatic camera), and the semi-automatic FX-2 from 1976 still incorporate CdS cells for metering and require mercury oxide batteries. The FX-3, like the FX-3 Super and the FX-3 Super 2000 that followed, incorporates a silicon cell and is powered by a pair of ubiquitous SR 44 silver oxide batteries.
FX-3, FX-7, FX-3 Super, FX-7 Super and FX-3 Super 2000: the differences
The black bodied FX-3 and its chrome finished sibling, the FX-7, are semi-automatic SLRs, with a silicon cell meter activated by a dedicated push button at the back of the body – in the Yashica tradition. Their fastest shutter speed is 1/1000s, and their meter is coupled from 12 to 1600 ISO. Exposure information is communicated to the photographer by 3 LEDs in the viewfinder. And thanks to their Contax Yashica bayonet lens mount, they accept any Yashica lens from the ML, MC, YUS and DSB series, as well as Contax Carl-Zeiss lenses. Older screw mount Yashica lenses can probably be used, provided you can locate a 42mm Universal to C/Y mount adapter.
On the “Super” versions, the meter is activated by a light press on the shutter release button, and a (very) small vertical grip has been added on the front right side of the body.
The Super 2000 is only available in black, its shutter speed now peaks at 1/2000 sec, and the meter is coupled from 25 to 3200 ISO.
Considering that old lenses tend to be more luminous than the zooms we use today (manual focus 50mm f/1.4 lenses are very affordable) and that 400 ISO film is often easier to find than 100 ISO stock, having a faster shutter speed is an important plus – I picked the Super 2000 for that reason.
Is it another derivative of the Cosina CT-1?
Check Wikipedia and similar sources – you’ll see the FX-3 is generally presented as a Cosina-designed and manufactured camera.
Before they bought and relaunched the Voigtlander brand, Cosina was selling is own line of compact cameras and SLRs, but was primarily known as a sub-contractor of the big camera makers – at some point, Canon, Nikon and Olympus were all selling, under their own brands, cameras that were manufactured (and to a large extent) designed by Cosina.
The fact is that Cosina was very good at deriving unique designs from a common base – the Cosina CT-1 semi-auto SLR is generally seen as the common basis for cameras as different as the Canon T-60, the Nikon FM10, the Olympus OM-2000, and Cosina’s own line of rangefinder products (the Voigtlander Bessa R series).
As far as Yashica is concerned, it is not absolutely certain that the cameras of the FX-3 series were made or designed by Cosina, and if they were, I doubt that were CT-1 derivatives: as we’ve seen, some of the quirks of the FX3 (the sliding mirror syndrome) seem to be unique to Yashica – I’ve never read of a Nikon FM-10 or an Olympus OM-2000 misbehaving in such a way.
Contax Carl-Zeiss lenses share the same C/Y bayonet as Yashica’s own lenses, and they’re without a doubt the best lenses you can mount on the FX-3. They tend to be on the expensive side, though. Yashica ML (multi-coated) lenses generally have a good reputation – which reflects in their price on the second hand market. The Yashica DSB and YUS series were designed for “price conscious amateur” – a polite way to say they should be avoided if possible.
Lastly, the C/Y mount of the FX-3 is totally different from the Yashica AF lens mount (a screw drive autofocus mount similar to Minolta’s) and from the Contax N lens mount of the early 2000s (an all electric autofocus mount very similar to Canon’s EF).
Shooting with the FX-3 Super 2000
The first thing you notice about the Super 2000 is its cheap construction – the lens mount and the back of the camera are made of metal, but all the other components that photographers will touch are made of plastic. As a result, the camera is light, but it does not feel reassuringly solid. The commands (wind lever, rewind crank, shutter release button) are obviously not mounted on ball or bronze bearings – you can feel the friction between the parts inside the camera.
The viewfinder is rather dim, with a short eye relief (roughly similar to the Nikon FM/FE series, which means not that great). I was disappointed not to find a depth of field preview lever, or a shutter release lock: the camera can’t be turned off.
All in all, it feels like a cheap (really cheap) camera, not quite as bad as the horrible Fuji AX Multi or STX-2, but still miles away from equivalent models from Canon (AT-1) or Nikon (FM, FM2), or from automatic SLRs designed for amateurs like the Pentax P30. Compared to other cameras attributed to Cosina, the FX-3 does not look as nice as the Olympus OM-2000 but the quality of the mechanics of the OM-2000 had not impressed me either. Interestingly, the FX-3’s reflex mirror does not seem to generate the same strong vibrations as the OM-2000’s at long shutter speeds – it’s probably usable hand-held down to 1/30s – a feat that the OM-2000 is incapable of.
Contax or FX-3 Super 2000?
The FX-3 Super 2000 is a very simple entry level camera, made out of plastic, and designed to a very low manufacturing cost point. It’s very light – that’s its saving grace – and that could somehow justify carrying an FX-3 in a photo-equipment bag next to a Contax SLR, as a backup. But buyers of Contax cameras or lenses were people of means, who had spent a serious amount of money for the privilege of mounting high quality lenses on a well thought and beautifully designed camera – it’s difficult to imagine them happy with a FX-3.
Honestly, I’m not a fan of this camera, and it’s definitely not one of my keepers. To my taste, it’s too plasticky, technically too limited, and this sliding mirror issue is simply unacceptable. Even for a backup camera.
Place a FX-3 next to a Canon AT-1 or a Nikon FM, and you’ll immediately see and feel the difference. Place it next to a Contax camera, and you can’t believe they were designed and manufactured under the control of the same corporation.
Does it make sense to buy a FX-3?
- As a backup camera? Maybe – compared to a high end Contax camera (RTS I, II or III, ST, RX, AX), the FX-3 Super 2000 is much smaller, lighter, and although it’s not as elaborate or pleasant to use (by a wide margin), it does the job when you still want to shoot with Zeiss glass, but can’t carry a very large and very heavy rig.
- As a primary camera? Sorry, I don’t think so. Zeiss lenses have an undisputed appeal, but they’re expensive, and even Yashica ML lenses are not exactly cheap. So, if I started from scratch and wanted a good quality set to shoot film for not too much money, I would probably pick another system (Canon FD, Nikon F, Pentax K) with a wider and cheaper supply of great camera bodies and lenses. And if the lure of Zeiss lenses was too strong, and I was to spend serious money on lenses of the Contax/Yashica family, I would also spend a little more on the body, and pick Contax 139 Quartz, or a late Contax model such as the S2, the S2b or the Aria – they’re compact and hopefully devoid of too many technical issues.
A semi auto camera from the mid-eighties, with a fast shutter and a lens mount accepting lenses known for their high quality, the FX-3 Super 2000 is not going to be cheap: its price is influenced by the current Contax-mania, and by the preference of film photographers for simple semi-automatic, manual focus cameras.
It’s obviously not in the same category (build quality, performance) as “high-end” semi-auto cameras such as the Contax S2, the Leica R6.2, the Nikon FM2, or the Olympus OM-3, but it often sells for more than Cosina CT-1 derivatives like the Olympus OM-2000 or the Canon T-60: a patient and lucky photographer can probably find a working FX-3 Super 2000 for less than $50.00, but I’ve seen ugly copies proposed for more than $100.00, with the nice ones approaching $200.00.
More about the FX-3:
Solving the mirror problem: https://www.thephotoforum.com/threads/yashica-fx-3-super-mirror-problem.293840/page-2
of the need of a hair dryer (courtesy of Jorgo Photography)