CamerAgX

March 23, 2017

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

 

 

 

March 15, 2017

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

Filed under: Fujica Cameras, Gear — Tags: , , , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:00 am

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.

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