Or, put another way, 49.
Part of the origins of the title of this blog – 35hunter – are about me hunting for beautiful things to photograph.
The other part is about me hunting for the most delicious and desirable (to me) 35mm cameras to pursue and capture these pictures with.
With SLRs, a complete game-changer for me was discovering the Contax 139 Quartz.
When this occurred, all previous SLRs I’d tried – including ones from Canon, Fujica, Konica, Olympus, Pentax, Praktica and Zenit – fell by the wayside. Nothing before had felt as smooth, as luxurious, and well, just so right in my hands as the Contax 139Q.
So I bought another as a back up.
And then a 167MT. And so this evolved, until now I have all the Contax/Yashica bodies I wanted.
The total I have also turns out to be my favourite number, seven.
Which is also the number of essential lenses I’ve come to settle on too.
I do still have a few other SLR cameras and lenses, but I expect these to be further phased out. The C/Y clan are my clear favourites.
Here’s a quick rundown on each camera body and lens.
Contax 139 Quartz. My original, and where the C/Y love affair began for me. Ideal size, weight and feel, with a lovely bright viewfinder with intelligent info, a delectably smooth wind on and instinctive soft touch shutter release button. I could have stopped here, and in truth the other cameras here really are slightly less ideal versions of the 139.
Contax 139 Quartz. As above. This back up version arrived from Germany with a terribly flaky leather skin and smelling like it had been submerged in a deep fat fryer for a month. After plenty of airing and an excellent new skin from Milly’s Cameras it smells fresh, looks even better than my original and is equally as smooth in use.
Contax 159MM. The evolution of the 139, it puts a very strong case for being the best camera I’ve ever held. Some days it is. Metering via a half press of the shutter button rather than a separate button on the front, shutter speeds to 1/4000s and Program and Shutter Priority modes improve on the 139. But somehow the 139 retains the edge for me in feel. Maybe because it was my first.
Contax 137MA. Essentially a slightly larger 139 with motor drive and AA batteries. Although more bulky, the handling is still very good, and the automated wind on is smooth and eager at the same time. An excellent choice when I want slightly more weighty feel and the laziness of not having to use my right thumb.
Contax 167MT. In a word, fierce. Like a supercharged 137MA. Extra features over the 139 like exposure bracketing, spot metering, continuous shooting and six exposure modes (three program, plus Av, Tv and M) mean this is the camera I turn to when I want to experiment with exposing film. Or simply when I want to use a camera that feels like a tank but drives like a Roller. It also sports my favourite VF in all the cameras here as I switched it for a plain matte one. Oh and the exposure compensation dial I think has the best weight and feel of any switch I’ve ever used on any device!
Yashica FX-D Quartz. I joke that this is the best SLR I’ve ever used that doesn’t say CONTAX on the front. And it’s true. The FX-D is a delightful little camera and 95% as fabulous to use as the Contax 139. The FX-D loses depth of field preview and aperture read out in the VF, but retains an almost as smooth wind on and shutter button, and an almost identical VF (ie bright, clear and a joy to look through). A genuine little cracker and my black one cost me about a third of what any of the Contax bodies cost.
Yashica FX-3. Certainly the odd one out here, as it feels less refined by far and is very simple. But this simplicity its ultimately what makes it most endearing. The VF is still bright and very usable, and actually, along with the 167MT, it’s the purest and least cluttered VF here. It’s comfortably the lightest body, the joint smallest, and whilst it has a simple lightmeter, the core functions are purely mechanical so it will carry on when every other camera here has run out of batteries. Mine cost me a ridiculously low price, complete with lens, and due to the inevitable shabby skin, I’ve ordered a new one from Milly’s Cameras to restore its former looks and so it can nestle proudly amongst the others C/Ys.
Yashica ML 50mm f/1.4. I had one of these, along with a 50/2 and 50/1.7 and tested the three head to head. The difference in the performance was so negligible I decided to keep just the f/1.7 and sell the others. But then this second f/1.4 came along too cheap to resist, and the bigger glass just looks better (in my eyes) as well as making those already bright VFs even brighter.
Yashica ML 35mm f/2.8. I’ve been after one of these for ages and finally found one in good condition and at a sensible price. Initial (digital) shots are promising, and I hope to use it on my film bodies soon. 35mm is a focal length I love and have used extensively with compacts.
Yashica DSB 55mm f/2. Reports suggest that the DSB Yashicas are optically very similar (if not identical) to the MLs, just the latter have a more complex coating (ML = Multi Layer). Also there isn’t an ML lens in 55mm, which I like due its “lifesize” image in the VF compared with 50mm lenses. Not as smooth to use as the MLs I’ve had, but good enough, especially if the results continue to impress as they have done so far.
The original aim that led me to the Contax 139 Quartz was to find a small, classy SLR to use M42 lenses with, via an adapter. These are the M42 lenses that make the meagre investment in the adapter more than worthwhile.
Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4. Simple the best performing lens I have ever used, or, put another one, the one that gives me the highest number of “keepers” and “oohs” and “aahs” per roll of film. Comparing this over time with the ML 35/2.8 will be intriguing.
Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8. Again in terms of the final image, probably the greatest 50mm I’ve used. Mine has a lazy aperture that needs some TLC so when funds allow I’ll be sending it to Miles Whitehead who recently serviced my Flektogon and made it feel like new. Really very sharp and lovely colours.
Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC S (Sonnar) 135mm f/3.5. Completing the Zeiss triumvirate, the Sonnar which, like the other two, can create sumptuous images. It’s very compact for a 135mm too, which fits well with the smaller bodies above like the 139Q, 159MM and FX-D.
Asahi Super-Takumar 55mm f/1.8. Probably the smoothest lens I’ve ever used or will ever use, and the images are equally delicious. A while back I had a (large) handful of 50/55mm M42 lenses, but the Pancolar and Takumar are all I need.Like the DSB 55/2, I like the slightly larger than life image in the VF a 55mm gives versus a 50mm.
Do I really need all these cameras and lenses that give 49 different permutations?
Of course not.
If I had to choose just one I think it’d a Contax 139 Quartz plus the Yashica ML 50/1.4, just because it’s the lens that not only performs excellently itself, but being native C/Y mount and the fastest lens I have, allows the camera to perform at its best too.
Second choice would be the 159MM plus Flektogon 35/2.4.
If I was on a very tight budget, the FX-D plus the DSB 55/2 would give excellent results and cost me less than £30 combined.
Is there anything left on the wishlist?
Whilst I like the range of experiences the above give me, the one camera I haven’t had yet – mainly because it costs about the same as all these others combined – is the Contax S2.
Lens wise, whilst the C/Y Yashicas are really very good, the Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses are very tempting. Something like an MM version 50/1.4 Planar, which would not only be fast, capable and allow all the modes of the 159MM and 167MT to be used, is very enticing.
But again it comes down to cost, and I can’t see the cheapskate within me forking out £200+ for a single lens or body any time soon…
What’s your favourite SLR mount, camera and lens, and how do they make you feel?
Let us know in the comments below.
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14 thoughts on “Seven By Seven”
You’ve convinced me to add both the Contax 139 and the Yashica FX-D to my wish list.
I can’t say I have a favorite system. I love my Pentax ME and all my great SMC Pentax lenses. And I really enjoy my Nikon F2 and F3 and their lenses. But I enjoy them for different reasons, and use them for different things. I think what I’m most enamored of is having so many tools in my toolbox, if you know what I mean.
Jim, thanks for your comment.
My favourite system previously was Pentax-M. But I found my favourite PK lens was the SMC 55/1.8, which was the same as the M42 Takumar 55/1.8 (which I already had) but just in PK mount.
I was using M42 lenses on the M bodies more than the PK lenses, so that started me wondering if there was a different option to use M42 lenses on. Which led to the Contax 139 Quartz! The feel of it was just a different level to the Pentax Ms.
If you get the Contax, there’s really no need for the Yashica FX-D. But if you want something cheap but excellent to use, I would recommend the FX-D all day long.
As I said, you should be able to get one for around $20, plus either the M42 adapter for around $10-15 to use existing M42 lenses, or something like the very good Yashica ML 50/2 for around $20, maybe less.
That’d give you a compact, smooth and very capable set up.
Dan, you made me curious 😉
After buying a Contax RX I read your post and decided getting a Contax 167, 159, 139, besides a Yashica FX-3 and FX-D 😉
Equipped with three Zeiss lenses, I already made a nice day in Prague with some really nice pictures with the 159 and the 28mm lens. The handling of that camera was fantastic. It simply falls into hand.
As the 159 and 139 have bad light seals, this is the next step, trying to substitute the seals.
If all goes well, many many more rolls of film will follow 😉
Wow Reinhold, we’ll have to call you Mr C/Y! So glad you’ve tried some others and like them. The Contax bodies are simply the best SLRs I’ve used. Glad to encourage others to discover them too!
No no, please … I only got motivated by your insiring articles about the Contaxes and I already heard many stories about the famous Contax Zeiss lenses 🙂
As mentioned above, both, the 139 and 159 had broken – or non existing – light seals.
Besides that, the 139 and the FX-D needed a new cover.
Fixed it all – the 139 and FX-D are now really beauties – and now the next roll of film is waiting to see if I was finally successful with the light seals 😉
Reinhold, yes I’ve recovered a Contax 139 Quartz, a Yashica FX-D and an FX-3. The leather was not the finest, or at least the glue they stuck it on with!
Have you had issues with the photographs because of the light seals?
Which three Zeiss lenses do you have? I recently got a Planar 50/1.7 and though it was very capable, I was expecting more. I wouldn’t put it in the same class optically as my M42 Zeiss – Flektogon 35/2.4, Pancolar 50/1.8 and Sonnar 135/3.5. The build was disappointing too – not as good as the Yashica ML 50/1.7 or 50/1.4s I’ve had. And the Yashicas are about a third of the price! So I sold it on again!
Indeed, there was some strage coloring 😉
You can see it here https://www.flickr.com/photos/rgiw/31461563673/in/album-72157675393770273/ (hope the link works).
The (now) four Zeiss lenses are 2.8/28, 1.7/50, 2.8/85 and 2.8/135 and I so far used the 28mm.
Let’s see how the others perform.
I like that red effect on the water in the bridge photo, but yes you wouldn’t want that in every photo, the novelty would wear off!
I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on the other Contax lenses. The Planar 50/1.7 is very competent, I just expected more, for the price. There are at half a dozen, maybe a dozen 50/55mm lenses I’d choose ahead of it, regardless of price.
Yes, as a on-time effect it’s not looking that bad 😉
I find your rating of the 1.7/50 interesting. I’ll come back to comment once I’ve shot a role with it.
OT: Do you know, why I can see the ‘reply’ link only under your first comment?
The Planar 50/1.7 is a very capable lens, it just didn’t meet the expectation I had from its cost and the reviews online.
Plus a supposed quality 50mm lens that feels very average in terms of build and only focus down to 0.6m are major shortfalls for me.
Re the reply link, I think it’s just in built in WordPress so the indents don’t go too far across the page and ends up looking really messy and squashed!
Got a 137MA Quartz question if you don’t mind. I just picked it up cheap and while it shoots like a dream it did not recognize the end of the film roll. I also didn’t remember that I had put a 27 exposure roll in and shot it to 36! Once it would no longer advance the film counter I tried to rewind but got too much resistance and started ripping the film. Is this a known issue that can be fixed. I absolutely loved the camera!
Hi Jonathan, thanks for your comment and question.
The 137MA is from that transitional era of film cameras where they were becoming more and more automated. With the 137 they had the auto film advance figured out, but still manual rewind.
Check the manual (you can see a copy online here – http://www.cameramanuals.org/contax/contax_137.pdf) – and read the part about reaching the end of a roll and rewinding.
If the camera isn’t detecting the end of the roll (I think all it does is sense greater resistance and then doesn’t try to wind on any further), it’s no big deal, especially as it’s manual rewind. Just remember how many shots are on the roll of film you load, then when you reach that, rewind it manually, even if the camera hasn’t stopped trying to wind on.
Make sure you press the rewind button to disengage the auto wind on before you try to rewind. It’s under that little arm that swings out to reveal it.
They are wonderful cameras, let me know how you get on!
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