Five Pointed SLR


Despite having four more SLRs than pictured here, these are my latest incarnation of the core kit I love and need.

I’m tired of having more, and always switching batteries, straps and lenses around.

Here’s why I love these five, and plan to keep them and sell the rest –

Contax 167MT

As fierce as it is handsome, it does all I possibly need from an SLR, efficiently and seamlessly.

Contax 167MT, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.5 lens, Northern Film Lab Kodak Vision 3 ISO1.6 film

This is the one I reach for if I need a wide ISO and shutter speed range (ISO6-6400 and 1/4000s to 16s respectively), exposure compensation (+/- 2 in 1/3 stops), exposure bracketing (+/- 0.5 or 1 stop), continuous shooting and automated wind on.

It also has the purest viewfinder (VF) of any camera, pure matte, bar the simple central circle.

Though I don’t yet have a Zeiss lens with MM modes, the 167MT supports these so offers shutter priority and three program modes, as well as the fully Manual (M) and Aperture Priority (Av) modes that can be used with an C/Y lens. With the M42 > C/Y adapter I can use any lens I have (I now only have M42 and C/Y lenses!) on the one camera.

Also, this is the only camera here I don’t have any “if onlys” about. It has everything.

Contax 139 Quartz

My favourite SLR I have ever used.

Simpler than the awesome 167MT, but with that comes smaller size, lighter weight and a more straightforward, arguably more immersive experience.

Contax 139 Quartz, Carl Zeiss Jena DDR Pancolar 50mm f/1.8 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film @ISO125

Excellent VF, Av and M modes, and the smoothest wind on and shutter button I’ve yet experienced in any SLR, make it an absolute delight to use.

With the aperture read out as well as shutter speed in the VF (that remain easy to see, yet don’t obstruct the main composition), plus a depth of field (DOF) preview button, it has all I need for 95% of my photography.

I might argue the button on the front for exposure check is less instinctive to use than a half press of the shutter button, but the 159MM has that, as well as a wider range of capabilities, yet somehow I don’t like that model as much as the 139 Quartz or the 167MT.

Canon EOS 500

This still feels a very strange choice for me, and a real oddball in that it’s relatively modern (1993-96), very plasticky, not made by Contax or Pentax, plus I have no native lenses for it.

But despite my long reluctance – disdain even, at even picking up an EOS, I finally succumbed when this came along and still left me change from a fiver.

For the money it’s an incredibly useful, versatile and easy to use camera.

Canon EOS 500, Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 M42 lens, Fuji Superia 100 film expired 2003 @ISO64

The ergonomics are surprisingly good, it’s very light, and in many ways is even more capable than the 167MT, equalling the ISO6-6400 range of film speeds, plus whilst the top shutter speed is a stop slower at 1/2000s, the max is an impressive 30s!

The VF, if not a revelation compared with the Contax cameras, is really very good for a camera designed purely with AF lenses in mind.

Talking of which, with a native EF lens you have the option of auto or manual focus, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program modes, as well as further portrait, landscape, macro and sports modes, and a very fancy A-DEP (Automatic Depth of Field) setting which apparently lets you choose two points between which you want everything to be in focus, then the camera chooses the right aperture to do this. Wow!

I’m very tempted to pick up a 50/1.8 EF lens to explore these modes, and then I’d have an SLR that covers every mode from fully manual (ISO, focus, aperture, shutter speed) to fully auto and everything in between.

Oh and the exposure system is excellent, I’ve been delighted with the shots I’ve got with the EOS and my M42 lenses so far. As well as the M42 > EOS adapter I have a C/Y to EOS adapter so again like the Contax bodies I can use any lens I have on this camera.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F

The most classic, most endearing, best built and smoothest to use M42 SLR I’ve tried. Indeed it’s the best mechanical camera I’ve used full stop. Just a joy, especially with the Takumar lenses.

Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, Auto Chinon 55mm F/1.7 M42 lens, Ferrania Solaris 200 expired film

Whilst the meter does work in mine, I just use it Sunny 16 (Sunny 11 in the UK!) and get along fine.

The camera I reach for when I want battery-less old school simplicity, elegance and fine mechanical engineering.

Contax 139 Quartz

Same as the other one, just this one has been re-covered. Aside from that they’re equally delicious to handle and use, and it’s the only camera I love so much I feel I need a back up!

Contax 139 Quartz, Yashica ML 50mm f/1.7 lens, FujiFilm Superia 100 film expired 2012 @ISO125

Writing about these five has been enlightening.

It’s compounded the fact that the three Contax and the Spotmatic are absolute keepers and cameras I adore owning and using.

But surprisingly, more than that, it’s reminded me how versatile the little EOS is, and how it’s the lightest and arguable most versatile body of all here. An AutoFocus EF lens (50/1.8 or maybe 35/2) seems very tempting, which would extend its versatility much further still.

Which is almost unbelievable, especially given it cost me about a tenth of what the other four here did!

The conclusion, to my own shock as much as anyone, seems to be that for those who want a light, adaptable, capable and super affordable film SLR, get an EOS and an M42 adapter!

What are your favourite SLRs? Have you had any of the above, or similar? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

10 thoughts on “Five Pointed SLR”

  1. Funny, I’d just re read your Contax/Yashica ‘7’ post when this came up live. I have an fx-d and Yash 1.9 on their way to me because y

  2. Oops. Because of your post. Do try the EF 50, lots of bang-per-buck usability, in the same way as your 500. Cheers

    1. Stu, the FX-D is a fantastic little SLR, I love them! I had two for some time, one chrome, one black. Tremendous value too, usually about a third of the price of the Contax 139 Quartz and, as I’ve written elsewhere, about 95% of the pleasure in use. The Yashica lenses are great too, and again excellent value compared with the Zeiss counterparts. I’m sure you’ll really enjoy both.

      It’s just my inner minimalist gets twitchy and can’t see the point of having half a dozen cameras that are near identical, like the Contax/Yashica clan I have. So I’ve honed it down to the very best, and it’s a surprisingly easy decision to keep two 139s and the 167MT over the other others, as great as they all are.

      Plus the money I can hopefully get for those I sell can be invested in different/better lenses (a Zeiss Planar has been on my wishlist for a long time!) and/or film and processing.

      I have been looking at the EOS 50E a lot lately, funny you should mention it! I think though the EOS 500 I have already has way more functions than I use, so the EOS 50 would be an unnecessary purchase, and I’d rather put the money towards maybe an EF lens to unlock more of the 500’s functions first. We’ll see!

  3. I meant the EF 50 lens rather than EOS 50 body, though I do have an EOS 30E, which can be great fun but is not often used currently. Like you I find fewer controls desirable again lately.

    I’m looking forward hugely to the 1.9 ML, I suspect it’ll carry the kind of character I enjoy – whereas the EF 50 1.8 is so neutral it leaves me nowhere to hide and obliges me to work harder to show what I want to. Interesting. Also it’s great for making photos for those people who want a lower contrast look, but with that almost crystalline clarity, say for their website bio. Really versatile.

    Thanks as always for your posts – they help me process my own thinking when I want to do that

    1. Sorry Stu, I misread and assumed you meant the EOS 50. I’m wondering if the EF 50/1.8 will be a bit too “bland” for me, compared with my favourite vintage 50s, like the Zeiss Pancolar 50/1.8, Super Takumar 55/1.8, and even the very capable Yashica ML 50/1.4 and 50/1.7 I have. I might look at a 35/2 EF lens instead, it’s a focal length I have less examples of.

      I haven’t tried a 50/1.9 ML, though I have had the f/1.4, f/1.7 and f/2 versions, and all are excellent. I did a head to head test of the three with a roll of film and there was virtually nothing between them. I expect the 50/1.9 to be equally capable.

      Thanks for saying about the posts. I actually find quite a few end up being me thinking out loud about cameras and lenses I have. Like this one, where the EOS was almost an afterthought in my top 5 initially, then the more I wrote about, the more versatile and impressive I realised it was/is!

  4. Do absolutely pick up the 50/1.8 EF. Expect to pay about $85. If you get one in good condition for less it’s a bargain. The Mark I has a metal mount, the Mark II has a plastic mount. You can tell the Mark IIs because they say “EF 50mm f/1.8 II” on them. There’s also a newer 50/1.8, the STM. I can’t vouch for it but it returns to the metal mount and has seven aperture blades to the II’s five. The optics are said to be the same among all three lenses though. Anyway, I have a 50/1.8 II and I so enjoy it. It took me some time to find the right EOS body for it, though. I cycled though a couple entry-level Rebels, both busted, before realizing that semi-pro bodies are available for peanuts.

    1. Thanks Jim. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that I have (and have had) so many excellent vintage 50/55mm lenses, I’m concerned the EF 50/1.8 might be a bit bland somehow. I’m taking a close look at the Yongnuo lenses – they do a 50/1.8 and 35/2 which both have favourable reviews compared with their Canon counterparts and are somewhat cheaper.

  5. Again, this has led me to think in more depth about what I use, and when and why.

    When I’m shooting for myself I pretty much always use old stuff; same if I’m making photos as a gift.

    When I’m photographing for others – for instance official shots for a film screening or a website bio page – I find that the EF50’s neutrality is helpful in making lots of shots that a wide range and large number of people can all get something from, while still maintaining my own way of seeing and describing a scene. Mine’s the STM btw, smallish, quiet and very fast af. I feel similarly about my old FD lenses, I don’t use them all that often but once in a while they’re exactly right.

    I guess I’m just saying it’s another really useful tool for me, like all my keepers are in different ways.

    Anyways, I really enjoy what both of you, Dan and Jim, bring to the web, and to my thinking about photogging too. Thanks

    1. This is what it’s all about, exploring different kit and finding what works for us, for our different needs. I’m part way through a new post on this very topic in fact!

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