The Yashica Inquisition

Yashica FX-D Quartz, Yashica FX-3

When you have the option of Contax SLR bodies like the 139 Quartz or 167MT, is there any value or purpose in owning a Yashica body in the same C/Y mount?

Earlier this year, I discovered the Contax 139 Quartz. It was a complete game changer for me.

Previously I’d loved Pentax with their Spotmatics and S1a in M42 mount, and KM, K1000, ME, ME Super et al in K mount.

Takumar lenses are probably still my favourite I’ve ever used, and Pentax-M lenses like the 50/1.7 and humble yet hugely capable 50/2 aren’t far off the Taks either in performance or smoothness.

But the Contax was simply a different class, the most deliciously luxurious SLR I’d ever used.

Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens

The Yashica ML 50/1.7 lens I had initially for the 139 Quartz was a bit of a slow burner, and I wasn’t sure I liked it at first.

But now I’ve gathered more than enough favourite shots with it to feel it’s earned its place on a Contax body.

Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 expired film

Not long after the 139 Quartz I came across its close cousin, the Yashica FX-D Quartz, first in silver, then a black version.

If I’d never used a Contax SLR, the Yashica FX-D would easily be my favourite SLR I’ve ever used. 

Even with my Contax bodies (which now number five), the FX-D is still 95% as great and as smooth to use, and is a true class act.

So I always have half an eye out for similar FX bodies.

Very recently, along came an FX-3, looking somewhat tired and in need of some TLC, with a DSB 50/1.9 lens.

I’ve had the same lens before, and whilst it was certainly more than competent, I didn’t feel it rivalled the ML 50/1.7 somehow.

Looking back now at the shots I did get though, I’m pretty happy with the best of them, and having browsed photographs others have taken with the same lens, I’m excited to give it another chance.

Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica DSB 50mm f/1.9 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

As to the camera, I’ve read much about the FX-3, mostly that it’s thought by many to be the most robust, reliable, practical and affordable route to using Zeiss C/Y lenses, not to mention the none too shabby Yashica range of lenses, in particular the ML (Multi Layered) versions.

But now to the core question of this whole post.

With five Contax bodies – two 139 Quartz, a 159MM, 167MT and 137MA – is there any point in having a Yashica C/Y mount body at all?

I think there are some strong arguments.

First, let’s consider the FX-D.

Yashica FX-D Quartz, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens mounted via M42 > C/Y adapter

As I said, it’s really a close cousin of the Contax 139 Quartz and feels similarly well made. The viewfinder also looks looks nearly identical. It’s a fraction less bright, but still very good, and one of the best I’ve experienced.

The FX-D has similar operation in that you push a button where you forefinger rests on the front of the camera to engage the lightmeter, the wind on is very smooth, and the shutter button has a luxurious soft touch action like the 139.

Yes, if I had to pick the FX-D or the 139, I’d pick the latter, for that extra maybe 5% of smoothness it offers, plus a depth of field preview button and aperture readout in the viewfinder.

But when you consider cost, the choice changes. 

Both FX-Ds I’ve had were fully working and cost around £20. The Contax 139s cost around £55, as did nearly all of my other Contax bodies. Still not expensive for what they offer, but obviously far more than £20.

If you’re on a tight budget for an SLR, the FX-D is a steal. I wouldn’t look at anything else. 

Alternatively, that £35 difference could go towards a(nother) lens. The excellent Yashica ML 50/1.7 I have cost this side of £30. The optically near identical 50/2 versions are very common, as well as being a little lighter, and can be had for under £20.

Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Truprint FG+ 300 expired film

So for £40 you could have a fully working FX-D plus ML 50/2 lens that will be a joy to use and take fabulous pictures all day long.

It’s an incredibly tantalising prospect.

Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

Especially when the Contax 139 and Zeiss Planar 50/1.7 equivalent set up will likely cost you four times that.

What about the FX-3? 

From my initial experience of the FX-3, despite appearing very similar to the FX-D, it’s a very different camera.

Not surprisingly as I believe these were based on a Cosina camera already in existence, and presumably  the FX-3 was made by Cosina, rather than the Kyocera parent company that made both the FX-D and the Contax 139 Quartz.

If you’re looking for a similar quality and feel to the 139 or FX-D, you’ll be in for a let down. The FX-3 is primitive and no nonsense, pure function over flair.

If we put the feel of the camera aside (as many do), it’s not without considerable pros.

First, it’s fully mechanical. 

All five of my Contax bodies, plus the FX-D are battery dependent and are useless without them.

The FX-3 needs batteries only for its meter – all its core functions are mechanical.

Also, it’s lighter than the FX-D or Contax. Paired with something like the Yashica ML 50/2, it makes a very compact and nimble set up. 

The viewfinder is not up there with the FX-D or 139, but it is still very respectable and usable. Plus it’s more stripped down with nothing to clutter the main compositional rectangle if you’re not using the meter, and even if you are, just a simple +, – or green LED to indicate exposure.

Being mechanical,  and with that minimal meter display, you can easily use it either shutter or aperture preferred.

True, the camera won’t automatically select the aperture or shutter speed for you. But if you choose either your required aperture or shutter speed in any situation, then adjust the other until the green exposure light is on, it’s simple yet flexible.

Last but not least, is its cost. 

My fully working FX-3 (including the meter!) came with a DSB 50/1.9 lens, also in full working order and very clean, for less than £10. Well, £8.77 to be precise.

This is a cost that would make the cheapest of cheapskates smile.

My aforementioned previous 50/1.9 DSB lens gave me some decent pictures before (especially with a few months distance from them), and I want to give this example a few more opportunities.

Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica DSB 50mm f/1.9 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expireda film

One aspect I haven’t mentioned is the M42 option.

The reason I tried a Contax 139 Quartz in the first place was because after using Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Konica, Minolta and more, I’d decided that overall my favourite lenses were M42 mount. So I wanted a compact, classy, aperture priority body to use them on, when I wasn’t guessing Sunny 11 exposures using my all manual Fujica ST701 or Pentax Spotmatic F bodies.

A simple adapter is available that allows M42 lenses on Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount bodies.

This M42 set up has given new life to the likes of my Takumar and Helios lenses, as well as given me the Zeiss option that ties in back in with the Contax heritage. 

My Contax 139 with Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens is pretty much the most perfect SLR set up I’ve yet experienced.

Contax 159MM, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 lens, Fuji Superia 100 film

The Pancolar 50/1.8 and Sonnar 135/3.5 M42 lenses I also have make up a near unsurpassable trio.

And all were considerably cheaper than their C/Y mount Zeiss equivalents.

Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film

So going back to the FX-D or FX-3, if you want to use the widest and arguably most competent range of lenses ever made, invest in an M42>C/Y adapter for around £15.

Looking at lower cost options than the M42 Zeiss trio, a Takumar 55mm is a superb lens and probably the smoothest handling lens I’ve ever used. The 55/1.8 version should cost around £25 upwards, but for better value seek out a 55/2 which is near identical and will give you indistinguishable results, for £20 or less.

I have an Cosinon Auto 135/2.8 that was £19 and has given stunning results when experimenting on my NEX. Yes, this is a digital image, but I felt it justified to show what the Cosinon can do.

Sony NEX 3N, Cosina Cosinon Auto 135mm f/2.8 M42 lens

The M42 option then offers a whole other world of lenses – some of the best every made – and at very affordable prices.

The outcome of this Yashica Inquisition is it all comes down to your needs, and budget. 

If you’re looking for a super frugal set up that will give you excellent photographs in a robust, light, compact, reliable and flexible package, then the FX-3 cannot be ignored.

In short, the FX-3 may be a little primitive, but in many ways this is its strength in being a no frills, functional and very capable photographic tool.

Lens wise, depending on budget, a 50/1.9 DSB lens – supposedly the same optical construction as the more expensive ML lenses, but with a simple coating (ML = Multi Layered coating – can be had for next to nothing.

An ML 50/2 is fractionally more, but potentially slightly has the edge in performance and smoothness, and is lighter.

Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/2 lens, Fuji Superia 200 expired film

Or, if you spend out on the M42 adapter, there are a huge range of fabulous M42 lenses around beginning at £20, maybe less if you’re patient and/or lucky.

If the feel and perceived luxury of a camera is more important to you, the FX-3 is likely to feel a pretty lacklustre experience.

Go for the FX-D, simply my favourite SLR I’ve used (including Pentax, Canon, Olympus, Konica, Minolta and Praktica) that doesn’t have CONTAX on the front, even though it does have a huge amount of Contax in its bones and blood.

Lens options as before, but if you want the simplicity of aperture priority with auto stop down, go for a DSB or ML lens rather than M42.

As mentioned before, a fully working FX-D plus DSB or ML lens can be had for under £40.

If I went out and shot half a dozen rolls each with the FX-3, FX-D and 139 with the same lenses and film, then mixed the images up, I would not be able to tell you which camera took which shots. They are equally capable.

But, if you’re really choosy, and as well as photographic ability you want that extra 5% of luxury, it has to be a Contax. There is no comparison – the five Contax bodies I have are the five greatest SLRs I’ve ever used. 

The lenses they were really made for are the Zeiss C/Ys, like the Planar, Distagon and so on.

Beyond my budget, at least for now, though I did have a Planar 50/1.7 briefly that I returned to the seller as it was optically full of fungus when sold as clear. I didn’t shoot with it, but the quality of the body did not impress. On this limited experience, I would take an M42 Zeiss any time, and save money too.

So the answer to my question right back where we began – Is there any value in owning a Yashica C/Y body? -even for me as such an avid Contax lover, is a resounding Yes!

Whatever you choose, it’s safe to say that in the Contax/Yashica family, there’s lots to offer at any level of budget, from a mere £10 to 50 times that… 

I doubt I’ll ever return to any other system.

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