Warning – long post. We’ve just had a few days of quite heavy rain. After one of the storms (once upon a time I thought that the word storm meant strong winds, heavy rain, thunder, lightning etc., but apparently nowadays what I would once have called a rainy day is now referred to as a storm) I went down early in the morning to our house in Westchester to see how it had weathered the “storm”. I was waiting for my wife to join me, but since she isn’t always an early riser I knew that I might have a few hours to kill. What to do? I really felt like taking pictures, but foolishly had forgotten to take a camera with me. It occurred to me that I could go to a CVS and get a single use camera. Or was there another alternative? I knew that there was a Goodwill store close by. Sometimes they have cameras. I could check that out – so off I went. There were three possibilities: a Praktica SLR, a Ricoh SLR and a Yashica SLR. The Ricoh looked nice but both it and the Praktica were completely frozen up. The Yashica was much better. Shutter seemed to fire OK. Focus was smooth. Meter appeared to be working. Aperture ring turned without any problems. How much I asked? $9.99 was the reply. A Kodak one time use camera from CVS costs $11.99 (it does come with a film though). The Yashica came with the body, a 50mm f1.9 lens, a 52mm skylight filter, a strap and a working flash. What could I lose.
As it turned out I spent so much time walking the dog, looking for fresh batteries and film for the camera that I didn’t have any time left to take pictures that day. I wasn’t able to get out again for a couple of days and this gave me time to do some research on the camera. It’s a fully manual Yashica FX-2 with a built in coupled meter, but no autofocus or auto exposure. Back when this was made Yashica worked with Carl Zeiss to produce the Contax SLR. The two camera lines share the same lens mount. Yashica made two series of lenses for this mount: the not so great DSB, which is what this camera has and the much better ML. There was also the tantalizing possibility of using the legendary Zeiss Planar 50mm 1.4, which has the same mount.
Sounds good so far? Not for much longer. Fiddling around with the camera I discovered that the aperture is in fact stuck wide open at f1.9. Not so great, but it’s still possible to take pictures if you choose your lighting and subject appropriately. I dug out an old black and white film and went to try it. Total disaster! Of the 24 exposures only about six came out. The rest were completely blank. This is one of the few:
Checking the negatives it looked as if, in addition to the stuck aperture, there’s also a shutter problem. At some speeds the shutter wasn’t opening properly (or not at all). Unfortunately I hadn’t kept notes on what shutter speed I’d used for what shots.
Since I had an adapter for my NEX 5n I decided to try the lens on that. The next picture shows the result. Not too shabby.
Looking through the back of the camera and trying each speed in turn it looked as if the 1/000 second speed was not working. Since the aperture was stuck at 1.9 I’d used the 1/000 setting a lot in order to expose correctly. This was probably why so many of the shots hadn’t come out. Time to try again. I found another old black and white film and and off I went. It was a bright, sunny day: not the best of days for a camera with an aperture stuck at f1.9 and top shutter speed(s) not working. However, the results were much better. I kept notes this time and, as I suspected, all of the speeds were working except 1/1000 second. This time 23 of the 24 shots came out: all but the one taken at 1/1000. Some of the results are below:
Was it worth it? I would say so. Even if the camera had been a total dud the strap, the flash and the skylight would have offset the low cost of the camera. And I had great fun for a couple of days reading about this camera and trying it out. I can live without the 1/1000 shutter speed (many of my old cameras only have a top speed of 1/500 and sometimes less). More problematic is the stuck aperture. Since this lens isn’t the best available for this mount I could just junk it and get one of the ML lenses. Or I could fork out $300-$400 for the Zeiss Planar. Not actually a lot considering that the same lens in Canon or Nikon mount costs around $800 and up and an equivalent Leica lens (e.g. 50mm 1.4 Summilux) costs from $3,000 upwards. Or I could try to fix the aperture problem.
I’ve decided to consider both options. I’ll keep the old lens and may try to repair it. I’ve found detailed step by step instructions with pictures on how to do this so I might just give it a try. If I ruin it I haven’t lost much. I found a $9.99 50mm f2 Yashica ML on eBay (Coincidentally from Goodwill Maine). It just arrived, but that’s a topic for another post. And I’ve still got my eye on that Planar.
P.S. for those who don’t already know GAS means ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’: a term used to describe an urge to acquire and accumulate lots of gear