CamerAgX

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.

March 1, 2017

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

Filed under: Fujica Cameras, Gear — Tags: , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 10:15 pm

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)

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