The league of the $5.00 film cameras

How cheap can it get?

The price of used film cameras on eBay is racing to the bottom. No brand is immune – not even Nikon or Leica –  only a few models seem to be worthy of the consideration of the buyers  and still sell for more than $100.00:

  • single digit Nikon F models,
  • Nikon FM2 or  FM3A,
  • Contax 159mm or ST,
  • pristine and tested Canon T90 or Canon New F-1,
  • all rangefinder cameras from Leica and a few of their SLRs,
  • Olympus OM-3t / OM-4t.

The very last high end film auto-focus SLRs of Canon, Minolta and Nikon – such as the EOS-3 and EOS-1 V, the Maxxum 7 and 9, and the F100 and F6 – are also in a a category of their own. As the “ultimate” film SLRs, very close technically from the current dSLRs of the same brand, they can be sold for anything between $200.00 and $2,000.00.

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Olympus OM-2000 – a beautiful member of my $5.00 league

The rest is trending towards being virtually free, and autofocus SLRs fare even worse than manual focus bodies: I recently paid  $3.25 for a nice N6006, a Nikon SLR from the early auto-focus era and $15.00 for a beautiful Minolta 9xi with a good lens,  its original catalog and user manual. We already passed the point where the shipping costs exceed the sale price of the camera, and where a set of batteries can be many times more expensive than the camera itself – the lithium battery of the N6006 cost me $12.00, almost 4 times the price of the camera.

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Nikon N6006 – a very competent auto-focus camera, to be had for less than $5.00 on eBay

For the photographer starting to shoot with film, there has never been a better time to buy a good camera on the cheap. Collectors are more attracted by pro or high-end cameras which were expensive when new, and still are in top condition. The  “last pro or last high-end film cameras manufactured by a given brand…” fare particularly well: a tested and working Pentax LX, a beautiful Olympus OM-4Ti or a Canon EOS-1 V are relatively rare and can sometimes reach prices between $400 and $1,000.

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Canon AV-1 – It was part of a $8.00 bundle which also included 3 other cameras. In all fairness the other cameras were all defective, but this one worked pretty well.

SLRs  originally positioned as mid level cameras for enthusiasts or experts provide the best opportunities, in particular if you’re willing to accept a few scratches or blemishes on the body: they tend to be much more usable than entry level cameras (they’re almost as feature rich as the high end models, if not as solid), but don’t catch the attention of the collectors because they’re too ordinary and too easy to find.

On my short list of recommended cameras:

Manual Focus cameras: strangely enough, manual-focus cameras from big brands tend to be more expensive than most of their auto-focus SLRs.

Although not as expensive as a T90, a FM3A or an OM-4Ti, the three cameras listed below can still command prices in the $70.00 to $100.00 range. They are very competent tools, they benefit from a large supply of good lenses, and are a great way to move one step higher with  film photography:

  • Canon A-1
  • Nikon FE2
  • Olympus OM-2n
they could be bought in 1983
Nikon FE2 – Canon A-1 – certainly not cheap cameras – but still a bargain at the current price level

You can find cheaper manual focus alternatives – the Olympus OM-2000 is one of my $5.00 cameras, but I’d be more prudent with brands like Fujica (and other brands which did not have strong following on the expert or enthusiast markets). Not that they did not make good cameras – but good lenses are going to be more difficult to find – and without a set of good lenses, a SLR camera is not really worth having.

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Fujica AZ-1 – the camera can be had for cheap, but apart for the ubiquitous 50mm lens and the zoom shown here, Fujinon EBC lenses (operating at full aperture) are rare and expensive.

Auto-focus Cameras: manufactured in the early to mid-nineties by the big four (Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Pentax), they are mature technically, with a good multi-sensor auto-focus, matrix metering, and a long eye point viewfinder. The lenses are still somehow  compatible with the current dSLRs of the brand – and they’re incredibly cheap.  A few examples of the “expert” or “enthusiast” category:

  • Minolta 600si
  • Minolta 9xi
  • Nikon N90s
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The “prosumer” cameras of the early to mid eighties – they can be yours for $15.00 to $25.00 now, with a (good) zoom included.

Auto-focus cameras designed for amateurs (such as the Minolta 3xi or the Nikon N6006) are the cheapest of them all, but the price difference with the “expert”, “enthusiast” or “prosumer” model of the same brand is minimal (the price of their disposable Lithium battery, roughly). Don’t hesitate. Go for the top of the line.

As usual,  I only recommended cameras I’ve used and liked. I’m sure there are very good auto-focus cameras from Canon (EOS mount), and great manual focus cameras from Minolta (MD mount) or Pentax (K mount). They’re all supported by a great line of lenses and will also constitute very good buys.

One last word…of caution

When you buy a camera for less than $5.00, you don’t always win.

  • shopgoodwill.com  is a very good source for cheap equipment, but you have to consider it’s sold as is, by people  who – generally –  have absolutely no clue of what they’re selling and can’t describe it in any useful way.  To me, it has been a bit of a hit and miss – cameras from the 90s (the Olympus OM-2000, the Minolta 9xi, the Nikon N90s) were diamonds in the rough, and after a good cleaning, they worked perfectly. Older cameras (a Spotmatic, a Fujica AX-3) were broken and could not be fixed. The older the camera, the riskiest it gets. But most cameras are sold with a lens, and even if the camera is defective, the value of its lens alone sometimes makes buying the set a good deal.
  • eBay – thanks to the system of feedback, sellers tend to describe their items with some level of accuracy. In my experience, if you stick with sellers with an almost perfect feedback score (99% or better), and read the item description extremely carefully,  you won’t be disappointed.

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Dogs playing. Nikon N90s – Fujicolor 400 – The Nikon N90s nailed the exposure and the focus perfectly.

 

Olympus OM-1 or Fujica ST-801?

They were launched at the same time (1972), and were both highly innovative. In different areas.

The Olympus OM-1, the first of a family of cameras which  sold until the end of the twentieth century, was remarkable by its small size, its impressive viewfinder, its great built quality, and its very good ergonomics.

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Olympus OM-1n MD – a very clean copy. A triumph of industrial design.

The Fujica ST801, although not a large or heavy camera by any means, looked bulkier and more primitive in comparison, but in 1972 it was very advanced technologically – the first to combine the use of Silicon diodes for metering with LEDs for the semi-automatic determination of the exposure in the viewfinder. And  – with full aperture metering and a shutter capable of 1/2000sec exposures – it was the most elaborate of the screw mount cameras.

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Fujica ST801 with a Pentax Super-Takumar lens – the camera is compatible with almost any 42mm screw mount lens (with stopped down aperture)

With the OM-1, Olympus introduced a whole new system (new bayonet, new lenses, new motor drives), as compact as the camera itself. The OM-1 was  a starting point.

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Fujica ST801 – the lens mount flange is surrounded by a recessed and spring loaded rotating ring. The little pin on the rotating ring is pushed by the tab at the periphery of the lens.

The ST801 could use any screw mount 42mm “universal” lens, but could only offer full aperture metering when equipped with a new range of Fujinon lenses, which added an aperture transmission mechanism and a locking pin to the standard 42mm mount. The screw mount standard was already at the end of its route when the ST801 was launched, and in 1979 Fuji was the last major camera manufacturer to abandon it for a new proprietary bayonet. The ST801 had no real successor, and the relative short production run of the Fujinon lenses explain why they’re so scarce now.

Back then: how did the two cameras compare?

  • Cost and Availability: Both brands were widely distributed, in brick and mortar stores and by mail order distributors. In 1977, the OM-1 was still the only high quality small size semi-automatic SLR, and as a result Olympus was in the position to extract a very significant premium for it. The OM-1n (with a f/1.8 50mm lens) was selling for almost $300.00 in 1977, when Nikon could only ask $270 for a Nikkormat FT3. The Fujica ST801 (which was at the end of its career) was selling for approximately for $200.00, in the same ballpark as the old SR-T models from Minolta. It was more expensive than the other screw mount cameras from Practika or Vivitar ($170.00) but significantly less than semi-auto cameras of the newer generation such as the Canon AT-1: $ 240.00 (all figures sourced from the Sears catalog of 1977 – courtesy http://www.butkus.org/).
  • Size, Weight, Features and Ergonomics
    Figures can be deceiving. Only 135g and less than one centimeter separate the weight and the height of the OM-1 from the ST801. It’s not a huge difference (the ST801 was significantly narrower and lighter than the semi-auto cameras sold by Canon or Nikon in the early seventies),  but the OM-1 looks and feels significantly more compact than the Fujica. It falls perfectly in the hands. The position of the commands is not conventional (shutter speed ring around the lens mount, aperture ring at the front of the lens, ISO selector where the shutter speed knob generally is) but extremely convenient for a photographer shooting with a semi-auto camera and a prime lens: the right hand holds the camera, the left hand operates the shutter and aperture rings, which are clearly separated by the large focusing ring. Advantage Olympus
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Fujica ST801 – viewfinder (shutter speed on a disk on the left, 5 LEDs on the right)
  • Viewfinder – Even to this day, the viewfinder of the Olympus OM-1 is exceptional. There are very few manual focus SLRs with a finder feeling larger (I can think of the Nikon F3, but it’s a pro camera and it’s bulkier). Every time you bring the viewfinder of the OM-1 to your eye, you’re still impressed. The Fujica’s viewfinder is more informative, and was praised for being luminous when the camera was launched.  But compared to the OM-1, it’s narrower and darker.  Clear Advantage for Olympus
  • Shutter and metering system: Both cameras use a shutter with horizontal cloth curtains. The OM-1’s tops at 1/1000sec, the ST801 at 1/2000sec. It probably did not matter much in 1973 (when 64 ISO was the normal film sensitivity) but a faster shutter speed is a serious advantage today (400 ISO is the normal sensitivity for negative color and B&W film, and photographers looking for “bokeh” use very wide apertures). The OM-1’s metering system is very conventional (2 CdS cells, mercury battery, matching needle at the left of the viewfinder). The ST801 was the first camera to use Silicon photo diodes for metering, and LEDs. Advantage Fujica.
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Olympus OM-1 – viewfinder with the matching needle on the left
  • Lens selection: when the two cameras were launched, the Fujica had the advantage of accepting all the 42mm screw mount lenses manufactured not only by Fuji, but also by Pentax, Yashica, and literally dozens of other brands. Of course, metering was stopped down (only the new Fujinon lenses supported full aperture metering with the ST801). In comparison, Olympus was starting to build a new camera system. A few years later, the situation had evolved – the 42mm standard was being abandoned by all its major proponents, and Olympus had succeeded in imposing its OM system on the market – and the offer of lenses (from Olympus themselves or third party vendors) was abundant.  Tie

And now

  • Reliability: both cameras were launched at a time when the Nikon F, the Nikkormat and the Canon FT/QL were the gold standard for Japanese SLRs. In comparison, both the OM-1 and the ST801 must have looked small, light and fragile. Today, none of the cameras is known to be unreliable- they’re simple mechanical devices – but the oldest copies are now 45 years old. Tie
  • Scarcity:  The OM-1 sold over 1 million units over a long period, and aged very well. A small and beautiful camera, it must have been handled with care by its owners – nice copies of the OM-1 are abundant on eBay, on Shopgoodwill.com, and in the stores of used equipment retailers. The Fujica ST801 – while not as easy to find as the OM-1, is still relatively common – you just have to be a bit more patient if you want to find a nice copy at a reasonable price. Advantage Olympus
Olympus OM-1 (above view)
Olympus OM-1 – the commands layout is unique (large on/off switch, knob for the film sensitivity, a ring on the lens flange for the shutter speed, and the aperture ring at the far end of the lens).
  • Battery: The ST801 uses one 6v silver oxide battery (the same as the Canon AE-1), which is still easy to find. The OM-1 was originally designed for Mercury batteries, which have disappeared from the market a long time ago due to the health hazards represented by Mercury. Mercury batteries deliver 1.35 volts. The simplest option is to use the zinc-air batteries sold by pharmacists for hearing aid devices – they deliver the same voltage, are very cheap and ubiquitous, but have a limited life (a few months at most) once they start being used. Other options exist (like having the camera converted to the voltage of silver oxide batteries – 1.55v) but I don’t like the idea of opening the camera and soldering diodes on the circuitry that much. My take on it: live with the zinc-air batteries, or buy an OM-2.  Advantage Fujica.
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Fujica ST801 – the battery door at the left of the viewfinder – and 1/2000sec on the shutter knob. For the rest, a conventional layout of the commands
  • Lens selection: In my opinion, the ST801 only shines with lenses supporting full aperture metering. Except for the most common focal lengths (50mm, 135mm and the 43-75mm zoom) Fujinon lenses designed for the Fujica ST series are difficult to find, and seriously expensive when you can locate one. A more cost effective option is to use Tamron Adaptall lenses – Tamron developed an Adaptall Mount Adapter specifically for the Fujica ST cameras – the mounts are still available at a very moderate price, and the Tamron lenses are less  expensive than Fujinons. Olympus OM Zuiko lenses have an excellent reputation. They were often offered  in three versions representing three price points (slow aperture, medium aperture, fast aperture) for every major focal length category. Today, while the faster lenses are rare and expensive, the slower ones are still easy to find and comparatively cheap, much more so than the Fujinons. Big advantage for Olympus.
Fujica ST 801 (launched in 1972) and zoom Fujinon-Z 43-75mm (launched 1977). The Z-43-75 was the first zoom bundled with a SLR (the AZ-1) and is easy to find. It’s a very good lens – if you can live with a minimal focusing distance of 4ft (1.20m)

Conclusion:

  • The usage value of the two cameras is the same – both are good semi-auto exposure cameras. the Olympus has the better viewfinder, a significantly wider lens selection on the second hand market, and it looks and feels more modern. The Fujica’s  metering system and its shutter are better, and it works with a myriad of screw mount lenses.
Olympus OM-1 – the lens release and the depth of field preview buttons are on the lens, not on the camera’s body
  • You can argue that the Fujica line of SLRs reached its peak in 1972, with the ST801.  The subsequent screw mount models (ST901, AZ-1) were designed with amateurs in mind (auto exposure cameras without any semi-auto mode), and the last screw mount Fujica cameras were budget models priced just above Practika cameras from communist East Germany. This whole line of cameras and lenses met its end in 1979 when Fuji switched to its new X bayonet.
  • If you consider the whole system, spending your cash on Olympus makes much more sense. The OM-1 is the first member of a large family. It’s a nice camera of high historical importance, but in the OM system, there are even better choices: the OM-2 and the OM-4t.  In semi-auto mode, the OM-2  works exactly like an OM-1. It also operates in Aperture Priority auto-exposure mode, offers a pioneering flash metering system and accepts silver oxide batteries. If you wanted to spend a lot more money, the OM-4t with its 1/2000sec shutter, its very elaborate metering system and its titanium top plate would be my recommendation.  It was sold until 2002, and is often considered the pinnacle of 35mm manual focus SLR design.

More about the other Olympus OM cameras in CamerAgX: the OM-2 Series, the OM-2 S Program

More about the  Fujica screw mount line of cameras in CamerAgX:

As usual, MIR is a very good source of information about cameras of the seventies and eighties: Olympus OM-1 and OM-2

Hilton Head – 2010 – Shot with an Olympus OM camera.

 

A final word about the Fujica “X” cameras of the eighties

When new, the Fujica AX cameras did not make a huge impact – the attention of the press and of the buying public was focused on the cameras of the big four, and on the duel between Canon and Minolta.

Fujica AX-3, AX-5 and AX Multi Program

There is not much information on the Internet about those cameras (and even fewer pictures), and since I’ve been enough of a fool to buy a few of them recently, I’ll go through a quick comparison of three models – with plenty of pictures.

Fuji launched the “X” bayonet mount in 1978-79,  with 4 models:

  • Fujica ST-X – a close derivative of the semi-auto ST605 of the previous m42 screw mount generation, updated with the new bayonet and full aperture metering. Designed for a low price point, with a shutter speed limited to 1/700 sec., it shares very little with the AX models (except for the bayonet, of course)
  • Fujica AX-1 – if it was a car, we could say that it shares its platform (or chassis) with the other Fujica AX cameras. Designed for people with no interest in the technical aspects of photography, it offers a simplified set of controls, and only works in a fully automatic program exposure mode, with no manual or semi-manual override.
  • Fujica AX-3 – a conventional “enthusiast” SLR, with all the functions needed by a knowledgeable photographer (aperture priority automatic exposure, semi auto and manual modes, depth of field preview, aperture and selected shutter speed information in the viewfinder). The AX-3 is a good surprise – it’s a compact and light camera, with well thought ergonomics  (an embryo of  control wheel replaces the conventional shutter speed knob) and all commands grouped on the top plate. All the features a photographer will need (depth of field preview, AE Lock, semi-auto mode in addition to the aperture priority auto exposure) are present and easy to find. It’s one of the easiest cameras to use without a manual. The compactness and light weight of the camera come at the cost: the viewfinder. It’s informative: shutter speeds with corresponding LEDs on the left, periscopic view of selected aperture on top, but a bit dark, with a short eye point and a strange barrel distortion if you wear glasses. The viewfinder is worse than what you find on Canon cameras of the same vintage, and than its Fujica predecessors (such as a the ST801).
  • Fujica AX-5 – the top of line, it adds a shutter priority mode and a program to the AX-3. The aperture and the shutter speed information are displayed in two columns on the left of the viewfinder, which is a bit confusing at first. The Fujica AX-5 was analyzed in detail in the comparison with the Canon A-1 recently added to this blog.    In my opinion, it draws a bit above its weight. The underpinnings of the camera (shared with the AX-1 and the AX-3) are more suited to a beginner’s or an enthusiast’s model, and the AX-5 feels (and probably is) too small and fragile to compete with the Canon A-1, and too limited technically (its shutter speed can’t exceed 1/1000sec, the viewfinder is the same as the AX-3’s) compared to the multi-automatic cameras that Nikon or Pentax proposed in the last years of its sales career.

In 1983,  Fujica cameras were rebranded as “Fuji”, and the the STX-1 was replaced with the STX-2 (the same with a black body, a 1/1000sec shutter and exposure information provided by LEDs instead of a galvanometer’s needle).

The Fuji AX Multi Program – here with the 43-75 f/3.5-4.5 zoom. The body shell is in plastic.

The three AX cameras were discontinued, replaced by the AX-Multi Program, a derivative of the AX-1, supposedly designed for people totally ignorant of the basics of aperture and shutter speed determination. To make their life easier, it offered 3 different program auto exposure modes, and no manual or semi-auto mode. Having 3 programs (one normal, one for action scenes, one for landscapes) was not a bad idea, but the execution was sure to alienate the very type of user the camera was trying to reach:

  • the 3 programs were not designated by a symbol corresponding to the intended use (normal, sports, landscape), but by obscure initials (P, DP, HP) and the possible aperture/shutter speed combinations were only documented on a diagram printed on the back of film loading door.
  • there was absolutely no indication of the shutter speed in the viewfinder – a single LED was supposed to blink when the shutter speed was too low, but what constituted “too low” was never clearly defined, and the camera could take pictures at 1/30sec with a tele-objective without a warning for the photographer.
  • There was not even the +2EV push button proposed by many simplified cameras to help photographers with back-lit scenes.
  • The camera used many more plastic parts than its predecessors, and was shouting “cheap” very loud.
The three programs (DP to maximize the depth of field, HP to maximize the shutter speed, and the default P) are described by this diagram on the back of the film door. Not very beginner friendly.

The AX-Multi Program was one of the many over simplified SLRs launched at the beginning of the eighties. The sales of SLRs had been going down for a while, and the camera makers, seeing that potential buyers were attracted by easier to use point and shoot cameras, tried at first to make the SLRs less intimidating by removing controls – but by doing so they did not make their  cameras more “intelligent”, they just deprived photographers of ways to override the basic automatic systems when they were obviously off the mark.

The fantastic success of the Minolta Maxxum 7000 proved that cameras had to be made more accessible to the public at large not by removing features and  controls from the photographer, but by adding better automatisms that made it easier to get good pictures, even in the most difficult situations.

For Fuji, the writing was on the wall, and they left the SLR market in 1987.


The viewfinders:

Fuji AX-3. The viewfinder shows the selected shutter speed. The aperture value is displayed at the top (not visible on this picture).
Fujica AX-5 – The viewfinder shows the aperture value (left column, yellow LED) and the selected speed (right column, red LED).
Fuji AX Multi Program Viewfinder – the LED only shows which one of the three programs is being selected.

 

The top plate

The top plate of the AX Multi Program is simplified – the three programs (DP, P, HP) are the only choice left to the user

 

The AX-3 and the AX-5 share the same command layout. The AX-5 represented here is in Program mode (Automatic Exposure on the control wheel, and diamond position on the lens)

The bayonet mount

The mount on the AX-5 is almost identical to the AX-3’s. A tiny sensor is added at the bottom right of the flange.
The mount is almost identical to the mount on the AX-5
The bayonet has been simplified on the AX Multi: the aperture value selected on the lens can not be transmitted to the body.

The FM and DM lenses

Fujinon 50mm DM (on the left) and FM (on the right). They look the same but the aperture ring of the DM has an extra position for the shutter priority and program modes (marked by the orange diamond). It is protected by a push button lock.
The X-Fujinon FM was bundled with the STX-1 and the AX-3, the DM with the AX-1, AX-5 and AX Multi Program.

One last picture…

Fujica AX-5 with the X-Fujinon 43-75mm zoom. The zoom is identical to the screw mount model sold with the AZ-1. Good lens but with a very long minimal focusing distance (1.2m or 4 ft)

More information about the Fujica “X” system on CamerAgX

User manuals and catalogs for the Fujica cameras (and many other cameras of the same vintage) on butkus.org

A thank you note to The Casual Photophile – for telling me how to take pictures of the inside of a viewfinder – the answer? use an iPhone.

Canon A-1 or Fujica AX-5?

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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 Manual 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.

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Fujica AX-5 (with Tamron 28mm f/2.5 lens).

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?

  • cost and availability
    • the  “A” line of SLRs from Canon was a best seller (probably more than 10 million units were sold), the A-1 representing approximately 1/4th of the total volume. The cameras were widely distributed and competition between retailers played its role: the prices were very similar from one store to the other one, and moderate when compared to the AX-5.
    • Fuji’s retailer network was narrower than  Canon’s, and the AX-5 was the least successful model of Fujica’s “X” line. Retailers did not seem particularly interested in stocking or promoting it, and as a result it was significantly more expensive than the Canon A-1.
Canon A-1 vs Fujica AX-5 – the Canon is bulky and looks “professional”. The Fujica’s design is a bit toned down.
  •  size, weight, features and ergonomics
    • The AX-5 was available with a black or a silver finish, and is smaller and lighter than the A-1. It looks almost “feminine” next to the black-only and larger A-1, with its removable hand grip and its multitude of switches and levers.
    • The feature set of the two cameras is largely identical, with the Fujica only missing access to low shutter speeds (slowest is 2 sec, as opposed to 30 sec for A-1)
    • But the Fujica has far fewer switches and buttons and seems simpler to use. The implementation of the Fujica’s shutter speed and auto mode selection is inspired by the Canon’s, but marginally different:
      • in both cameras, the shutter speed knob has been replaced with a control wheel and the selected shutter speed is shown on a disk, visible through a small window on the top plate.
      • With the A-1, the aperture ring of the lens has to be set on the “A” position to operate in any of the automatic exposure modes (Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Program). There is a toggle switch on the front plate of the camera to chose between the Aperture Priority or the Shutter Priority and Program modes. When the photographer switches to Aperture Priority, the desired aperture is selected by rotating the control wheel, and displayed through the same small window on the top plate.
      • To operate in Aperture Priority mode with the AX-5, one has to set the aperture ring of the lens on the desired value, and select the Auto Exposure position with the control wheel. To operate with Shutter Priority or Program modes, one has to set the lens on the  “A” position, select the shutter speed (Shutter Priority) or a full Auto Exposure mode (understand Program) with the control wheel. .
    • On the AX-5, there are two positions on the control wheel for the Auto Exposure command: AE – the camera adjusts the exposure until to the last second, and AEL (auto-exposure lock): the camera will keep the exposure setting determined by the photographer as long as the shutter release button stays half pressed. Very convenient. The Canon A-1 has an exposure lock button on the left of the lens mount to the same effect.
    • The commands of the AX-5 don’t feel as solid as the Canon’s (and the Fujica’s control wheel is too small and protected by a tiny push button lock – not  pleasant to use).
a battle scared Canon A-1 in program mode (lens aperture ring on “A”, mode selector on “Tv”, control wheel on “P”
  • Viewfinder
    • Canon: numeric LEDs – easy to read even in the dark
    • Fujica – strange barrel distortion when wearing glasses – noticeable but not really penalizing when shooting pictures. speed and aperture scales and LEDs intertwined on the left of viewfinder – legible but a bit confusing at the beginning.
viewfinder
Canon A-1 – viewfinder (source MIR)
Fujica viewfinder (source: the Fujica brochure – 1979)
  • Shutter and metering system
    • horizontal cloth – comparable – 1/1000 sec synchro at 1/60e. A-1 goes to 30sec, Fujica up to 2sec only.
  • Lens selection:
    • Canon – uses Canon FD lenses (or FL stopped down). Canon’s catalog of FD lenses was very wide and had something for all types of photographers – from amateurs looking for zooms, up to pros looking for the lens that will make “the” picture that will differentiate them from their competitors. Naturally, compatible lenses of all levels of quality were also available.
    • Fujica X – Fuji’s catalog of lenses included 20 different models, primarily primes lenses from 17mm to 400 mm, and three zooms. The AX-5 could also use screw mount “universal” lenses with an adapter; most of the big vendors of third party lenses (Tamron, Makinon, Soligor, TOU, Komine…) manufactured lenses for the “X” mount, but if the scarcity of lenses today is any indication, anything other than the standard 50mm and the 135mm tele-objective sold in extremely low volumes.
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Fujica AX-5 – here in Program mode (AE set on the aperture ring of the lens, AE set on the shutter speed control wheel). Note the little shiny button on the left of the control wheel. It has to be pressed to leave the automatic modes.)

Now

  • reliability
    • Canon: built more solidly than the rest of the “A” series, – not only on the outside, but also inside (people who have opened both can testify that the A-1 contains more metallic components than its lesser brothers). The textile shutter may require some TLC (the cameras are almost 40 years old now)
    • Fujica : reliability was questionable back then, with an electro-mecanic shutter release that did not age well at all  (capacitor issues after a few years). Today, unless you’re only looking for a paper weight, only buy a camera tested by the seller, with fresh batteries. The batteries are of a very common type, and “not having a battery to test” is not a valid excuse.
  •  scarcity
    • Canon A-1 – relatively easy to find – they were produced in huge numbers and have been reliable – there are still plenty of them waiting for you.
    • Fujica AX-5 – difficult to find in good condition, in particular in the US. More abundant in Germany and central Europe, sometimes under a retailer’s label such as Porst (the AX-5 is the same camera as Porst’s CR-7). Because the market is so small,  prices for models tested and in working order can go up to  $150.
  • battery
    • Both cameras use the same 6v battery- still widely available today in alkaline, silver oxide and lithium variants. Silver Oxide is probably the best compromise.
    • None of the cameras works without a battery – no shutter release, no film advance – lots of people must have believed that their camera was broken when it was just asking for a new battery.
  • Lens selection
    • Canon: Abundant offer of great lenses at reasonable prices (Canon FD). Equally abundant offer of third party lenses, including in very exclusive brands like Angenieux.
    • Fujica: The AX-5 was launched in parallel to a new line of lenses, and none were really successful on the marketplace. Today, it is difficult to find anything which is not a 50mm or a 135mm lens. When you can find them, original Fujica X-Fujinon lenses with the renown EBC coating are expensive. Wide angle lenses or fast zooms are even more scarce and reach Leica R or Contax price levels.

Conclusion:

  • For an active film  photographer, it’s a no brainer – Canon A-1 cameras are abundant, lenses are easy to find and relatively cheap, and the A-1 is not inferior to the AX-5 in any significant way. The A-1 is the most satisfying pick in Canon’s “A” line, and the best choice in today’s comparison.
  • Fuji is a respected brand in the photography business (their medium format cameras and their current digital offerings have a cult like following). But Fuji’s aura does not extend to the Fujica AX cameras, who have lived an obscure life. For the collector of anything Fuji, the AX-5 is an interesting challenge: finding one that works is not super easy, and buying lenses is outright difficult. For an active photographer, the Fujica AX-5 has good sides: the camera is perfectly usable, it is light and compact, and presents simple and logical commands – but it does not feel as solid as the A-1, and looks more like a souped-up mid level SLR than a true enthusiast or pro camera. And in any case, because of the scarcity of X-Fujinon lenses,  – the real good ones have even become an object of speculation – none of the Fujica “X” cameras can be considered a reasonable choice for an active film photographer.

The Canon A-1 has a serious fan club, photographers who consider it the best film camera ever built. A few examples:

http://lewiscollard.com/cameras/canon-a-1/

https://www.casualphotophile.com/2015/04/20/canon-a-1-camera-review/


Rooftop terrace – Atlanta skyline – Fujica AX-5 – Tamron 28mm f/2.5 – Kodak Ektar

The most expensive manual focus SLRs of the 1980 generation

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.

Canon

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.

    • There is one glaring exception, the F-1, with nice copies proposed above $400.00 (Canon also produced limited editions to commemorate events like its  50th anniversary that command prices above $1,000). Another interesting Canon camera is the T90.
Canon T90 – LCD and control wheel – Source: Wikipedia
  • T90: the poster child of a second hand camera which checks all the marks, but is penalized by its lack of reliability:
    • On the plus side, it’s  very interesting from a historical point of view : it was designed with the input of Luigi Colani’ studio, and its ergonomics study is a precursor of the Canon EOS cameras and of almost all camera currently sold
    • Its sales volume was relatively limited  (for a Canon camera): it was an expensive high end camera, only sold for 2 years, when Canon had no autofocus camera to propose and was getting a beating from Minolta and Nikon on the marketplace.
    • The T90 was part of a very broad camera system, very popular with professional photographers. There is large supply of very good lenses, for cheap. Historical interest, relatively low sales volume, broad system – it should command high prices.
    • But on the other hand, the T90 did not age well: some of the components deteriorate if the camera is not used frequently, others have a limited lifespan, and Canon stopped servicing those cameras a long time ago – in fact, a lot of them display an “EEE” error and simply don’t work.
    • Therefore, there is not a strong demand for the T90. It commands prices starting in the $150.00 range for a tested model, which is less than what is asked for an  A-1 or even a AE-1 Program.

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.

  • AX-5 – it was the full featured top of line, and was proposed at prices higher than the Canon A-1 it was supposed to compete with.
    • On the Plus side, it’s really a scarce camera. At any given time, no more than two or three are offered for sale on eBay, worldwide
    • On the Minus side, it’s not a very “interesting” camera: it’s a me-too product largely inspired by Canon’s A-1, with a toned down and more “feminine” design
    • the whole Fujica “X” product line has a reputation for being fragile (electronics)
    • there is very limited supply of lenses (good or bad), and the ones you can find are seriously expensive.
    • the market of second hand AX-5 cameras is too small – and there is not enough sales volume to establish a price of reference: I’ve seen working copies proposed above $150.00 but actual sale prices seem much lower.

Nikon

Nikon FA detail of the shutter speed knob and PSAM selector
Multi-Mode Automatic models tend to scare the active film photographers – they tend to prefer simpler models (here, the Nikon FA – which does not sell for more than the simpler FM2).

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:

  • F3: a regular F3 camera is becoming expensive – $200.00 to $400.00 for a nice one. The  F3P (a derivative for Press Photographers) sells in the $400.00 to $500.00 range, and the AF models of 1983 (with their dedicated viewfinder and lenses) can easily reach $1,200.00.
  • FM2 – the workhorse (or the perfect backup camera) of generations of Nikon photographers. Usable models are available below $200.00, while models popular with collectors (the FM2/T with a titanium body) start at approximately $500.00 to reach up to $1,500.
  • The FM3A was only produced for a few years, in small quantities. It’s a recent product with a high usage value (it’s an automatic which can also operate without a battery at any shutter speed) and it commands prices between $300.00 and $600.00.

Olympus

The Olympus OM-4 exposure controls – Source Wikipedia

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.

  • OM-3ti – proposed for any price between $1,200 and $4,000.
  • OM-4ti – proposed for any price between $250.00 and $800.00

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.


Jules – French Bouledogue – Nikon F3 – Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 AI lens – Fujicolor 400

 

 

 

The Fujica X cameras – the bayonet mount SLRs (1979-1987)

Fujica AX-5 (left) and AX-3 (right). The bodies were identical – the AX-5 just had more auto-exposure modes.

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).

Fujica AX-3 – the bayonet mount.

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 STX, STX-1 and STX-1n cameras were just an update of the venerable ST601 with the new bayonet mount and silver-oxide batteries. They were entry level semi-auto cameras, with a spec’d down shutter (1/2 sec to 1/700 sec). Being based on proven components and on a simple mechanical design, they were probably the most reliable of the new line of  “X” cameras.

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.

  • The AX-1 is a simplified Aperture Priority automatic exposure camera, a successor of the Fujica AZ-1 and comparable to the Canon AV-1 I recently tested (there is no semi-auto exposure mode and the photographer cannot impose a specific shutter speed).
  • The AX-3 is designed for the “enthusiast”: in addition to the Aperture Priority mode, it also operates in semi-auto mode, has a depth of field preview lever and supports older M42 screw mount lenses with the help of an adapter.
  • The AX-5, designed to compete with the Canon A-1, it adds a shutter priority and a program mode to the feature list of the AX-3.

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).

Fujica AX-5 – here in Program mode (AE set on the aperture ring of the lens, AE set on the shutter speed control wheel)

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 AX cameras may seem abundant on eBay or on the web sites of charities like Goodwill, but few of them are actually in working order.
  • when new, those cameras were generally purchased by people who did not feel the need for other lenses than the standard 50mm lens that came with the camera. As a result, lenses other than the 50mm are hard to find and yes, surprisingly expensive.
  • The best lenses were without a doubt the copies labeled “X-Fujinon EBC DM” – as they benefit from the EBC multicoating treatment – which had a very good reputation when it comes to reducing flare and increasing contrast, and from the “DM”  version of the X lens mount (supporting all auto-exposure modes).
  • But Fuji was eager to multiply the price points, and also sold non multi-coated lenses as well as one version of the 50mm standard lens (the F/1.9 FM) which did not support  Shutter Priority or Program auto-exposure modes. Fuji also included in their official line-up lenses made by third parties such as Komine, under the X-Fujinar and X-Kominar labels.
  • Their German distributor Photo-Porst relabeled a few of the Fujinon EBC DM lenses (sold as the “Porst UMC X-M” lenses), but not all Porst lenses were made by Fuji: Porst also relabeled lenses from miscellaneous third party manufacturers: they were sold as the Porst GMC X-M).
Fujica AX-3 - the bayonet is designed to support stopped down metering with 42mm screw mount lenses (the lever on the right controls the diaphragm of a Fujinon bayonet lens, the lever on the left controls the stop down mechanism of 42mm screw mount lenses (if mounted with the Fujica 42mm to X adapter).
Fujica AX-3 – the bayonet is designed to support stopped down metering with 42mm screw mount lenses (the lever on the right controls the diaphragm of a X-Fujinon bayonet lens, the lever on the left controls the stop down mechanism of 42mm screw mount lenses (if mounted with the Fujica 42mm to X adapter).

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

Fujica AX-5 (left) and AX-3 (right). Unless you absolutely need Shutter Priority or Program auto modes, the AX-3 is the best pick.

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

  • Fuji started its life in 1934 as “Fuji Photo Film”
  • Interestingly, it renamed itself “Fujifilm” recently – although photographic film only represents 3% of Fujifilm’s business today.
  • It’s a diversified group involved in document management, imaging and cosmetics.
  • Fujica: Fuji Cameras were sold as “Fujica” until the mid eighties. After 1985 their film cameras were sold under the name “Fuji”, and now  their digital cameras are branded “Fujifilm” – go figure.
  • Fujitsu is a totally different company and has nothing to do with Fuji or Fujifilm (and so is the company manufacturing Fuji  bicycles)

Mable House – the Kitchen of the plantation (Mableton, GA) – Fujica AX-5 – 50mm f/1.9 lens. Fujicolor film.

The Fujica film cameras – the best screw mount SLRs ever?

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.

Fujica ST 801 (launched in 1972) and zoom Fujinon-Z 43-75mm (launched 1977).
Fujica ST 801 (launched in 1972) and zoom Fujinon-Z 43-75mm (launched 1977). In my opinion, the best screw mount camera from Fujica.

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.

  • I would avoid all cameras requiring Mercury batteries (ST 701, ST601) as  they are not compatible with the silver oxide batteries that most other cameras of the same vintage accept (as does the Pentax Spotmatic, for instance).
  • The ST901 is an interesting curiosity (the first camera with a numeric LED display in the viewfinder), but it’s 1.0 implementation of the feature and the camera only has an aperture priority auto exposure mode (no semi-auto exposure control).
  • The AZ-1 is a derivative of the ST901, without the numeric display in the viewfinder, and was the first SLR from a major vendor to be equipped with a zoom as its standard lens. But it does not constitute a reason to buy an AZ-1 now, as it offers very little control of the exposure parameters to the photographer (the exposure metering only works in the automatic exposure mode – there is no semi-automatic mode, it’s automatic or fully manual).

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 as the standard lens.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).

  • the ST 801 boasts a silicon diode cell for metering, LEDs in the viewfinder, silver oxide batteries, 1/2000 shutter, and a very bright viewfinder. It was produced from 1972 to 1978. It’s still perfectly usable today and can be found at reasonable prices (less than $50.00) if you are patient and wait for a good opportunity.
  • The ST605 is really abundant and cheap ($10 to $30), but is very limited (slow shutter and stopped down metering). The ST705, which looks like a good compromise on paper, was only produced for two years, just before the launch of the Fujica X mount cameras. As a result, it’s much more difficult to find.

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).


ST 801

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.

Fujica ST801 with a Pentax Super-Takumar lens - the camera is compatible with almost any 42mm screw mount lens (with stopped down aperture)
Fujica ST801 with a Pentax Super-Takumar lens – the camera is compatible with almost any 42mm screw mount lens (with stopped down aperture)
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Fujica ST801 – the battery door at the left of the viewfinder – and 1/2000sec on the shutter knob.
  • The ST801 had a long career (1972-1978) and no real successor in the Fujica line up. The Fujica AX cameras that followed benefited from multiple automatic exposure modes and could be fitted with a winder, but their shutters and viewfinders were not as good as the ST801’s.
  • Its modern metering system was distinguishing the ST801 from its competitors (silicon metering cell, LEDs in the viewfinder – no fragile galvanometer- , Silver Oxide batteries). The ST801 aged well in that regard.
  • It’s a very pleasant camera to use – the viewfinder is very bright and clear, the eye relief is OK for a camera launched in 1972. It’s easy to compose and focus, the commands are few and logical, and the camera is relatively small and light.
  • It works at full aperture with Fujinon lenses. Full aperture metering really makes a difference in ease of use. If possible, buy Fujinon lenses, or if you can’t find them, Tamron Adaptall lenses with the specific Fujica mount.
  • It meters stopped down with non-Fuji 42mm screw mount lenses. It’s a bit acrobatics as usual – press simultaneously Depth of Field lever to stop down the lens and  the shutter release half way for metering – it works but there is an issue: when the DOF lever is pressed, the shutter release becomes over-sensitive and it’s very easy to take a picture inadvertently while trying to do a metering.
  • No motor drive – not an issue today but could have been in the mid seventies.
  • It has a reputation for being a “delicate” camera – I don’t know if it’s justified – Olympus OM-1 cameras were also shunned by press photographers because they were “fragile”. It could have been a reaction from people used to the large and heavy Nikon  cameras of that time – so solid that you could (supposedly) use them to drive nails in a wall.
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Fujica ST801 – a close up. The “LED” logo reminds of the LEDs of the semi auto exposure metering system in the viewfinder. Contrarily to all other 42mm screw mount lenses, the Fujinon lenses were locked into position by a pin on the lens mount. The black button with the white arrow has to be pressed to released the lens.

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.


Singer and Videographer working on a clip - Mable House - Mableton, GA - (Fujica ST801, 43-75 Fujinon zoom)
Singer and Videographer working on a clip – Mable House – Mableton, GA – (Fujica ST801, 43-75 Fujinon zoom)