Yashica Fx-3

5 Frames with a Yashica FX-3 & Kodak Ektachrome 100 – By Floyd K. Takeuchi

There’s always been a bit of snobbery in the world of film photography. Unlike digital cameras, where the latest megapixel monster hanging over your shoulder is like a flashing neon sign, a film camera could last you your entire shooting career. The brand thus became the equivalent of today’s megapixel count – an indication of how serious (read “good”) of a photographer you really were. In that not so long ago era, for the most part, Nikon was “pro” and Canon was not quite, quirky brands like Alpa were interesting, and Leica was as good as it got. And perhaps still is…?

In that stratified world, the Yashica FX-3 was humble, indeed. It was a camera for the family shooter or the amateur on a very tight budget. Simple, utilitarian, the Yashica SLRs definitely didn’t (and doesn’t) turn heads, unlike the more popular Yashica TLR’s or even the Yashica Electro 35 rangefinders.

But in the current upsurge of interest in film photography, where some prices are reaching silly money levels, a clean, well-kept Yashica SLR may represent the best value for the photographer looking to channel the 1970s and 1980s. They are simple, unpretentious cameras that are light, easy to handle, have bright viewfinders, and have a full line up of good to excellent lenses, all of which can be had for the price of a few bricks of Kodak Portra 400. A mid-1980s Yashica FX-3 like the one I own (thanks to my wife, who bought it new to take to college) can be purchased on eBay for between $50 and $100. For that price, I can buy a new lens hood for one of the Olympus primes the I use with my digital work kit. Mine still has its “Passed” quality control sticker, a sure sign of those times.

My camera came with a Yashica 50 mm F2 ML. I filled out the kit by picking up two Yashica lenses – a sweet 24mm F2.8ML, and a 135mm F2.8 ML C. Both are built like lenses used to be built – out of metal, with smooth manual focusing and aperture rings. Current auction site prices: the 24mm is going for under $200 for a clean copy, the 135mm is an even better deal at under $100. Total value for the three-lens kit: about $350 if you paid a premium for condition. It should be noted that the FX-3 body was built by Cosina, of recent Voigtlander fame, in fact using the same basic all-manual design that will be familiar to anyone who has purchased a Cosina Voigtlander Bessa M-mount rangefinder.

My FX-3 lived a gentle life. My wife didn’t use it much, and for most of its life sat in its hard case in a closet. When I came along, like most Yashicas of that era, it’s body cladding had disintegrated. I sent the body and kit 50mm F2 to Yashica repair guru Mark Hama for a CLA and new body wrap. He worked on the Yashica assembly line as a young man in his native Japan. It’s gone to Hama-san once, to repair the shutter, which stopped working on a trip to Tokyo.

The camera hasn’t given me a problem since then. I used it recently as part of a personal project I’m doing on sacred places in Hawaii. It’s an all-film documentary project centered on the Ulupou Heiau, or ancient Hawaiian temple, and the people who care for the area and who are turning it into productive taro-growing lands again. My main cameras for the project are a large format Graflex Crown Graphic from the mid-1950s and a medium format Rolleiflex 2.8F, also of early 1980s vintage.

I used the Yashica on the day Kumu Hula Mapuana de Silva of Halau Mohala ‘Ilima and two of her daughters chanted and danced hula at the base of the three-story tall Ulupou Heiau. The kit’s main benefit – it’s light, with an easy-to-use diode indicator center weighted meter system. It has a flaw that’s common to many SLR’s of that era – mirror slap that can sound like a gunshot!  When Kumu de Silva was chanting, my camera’s mirror slap was loud enough to be picked up by the video mics also shooting the moving scene. Kumu de Silva was a good sport and chanted again for the video crew. I kept my camera slung over my shoulder.

I loaded the Yashica with Kodak Ektachrome 100, the new stuff. Ektachrome in its various flavors was my film of choice from the 1970s until I went primarily digital in 2009. I ran this through the Arista E-6 home processing kit. Despite the kit being all but idiot proof, I had a minor screw up and got the two-developer order wrong. It was only for a few seconds but enough to slightly change some of the saturation. I decided to work with it and in post gave the final images a more vintage look.

Takeuchi-Yashica01: Kumu Hula Mapuana de Silva of Halau Mohala Ílima and two daughters at the Ulupou Heiau, Oahu, Hawaii.
Kumu Hula Mapuana de Silva chants at the base of the Ulupou Heiau.
Performing hula at the base of the Ulupou Heiau.
Performing hula at the base of the Ulupou Heiau.
The Ulupou Heiau as seen from a grove of coconut palms.

While the Yashica is an everyman’s brand, it can go uptown if you’re so inclined. The lens mount is known as a Contax/Yashica mount, which means the mount can take some expensive Zeiss glass if you have the means.  For example, the Zeiss 85mm f/2.8 Sonnar commands prices between $300 and $400. And a rare gem like the Zeiss 35mm shift lens popular with architectural photographers goes for about $1,500.

A friend who is an architectural photographer just got one of those lenses to use with a digital medium format Fuji kit. He’s promised to let me borrow it soon. Meantime, I’m happy with my all-Yashica kit. It does what it’s supposed to do, nothing more, nothing less, and does it well with little fuss. A frugal film shooter can’t ask for much more.

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14 thoughts on “5 Frames with a Yashica FX-3 & Kodak Ektachrome 100 – By Floyd K. Takeuchi”

  1. A great little camera, indeed. I bought the “Super 2000” version new way back as a second body. It ended up, though, spending most of it’s time with various glass attached, travelling with me nestled in a handlebar bag and getting bounced along many a mile of main roads, country lanes and tracks. For the last couple of decades, though, it’s used has been rather infrequent due to family life and the then burgeoning digital age. With my recent resurgent interest in film I dug it out for a spin with a 50mm f1.9 dsb recently bought cheap courtesy of the ‘Bay. It still seems to work as good as ever. The only attention it’s ever had was some time ago, where it had a minor repaint of the top edge of the back due to a little corrosion. Other than that, all good. A humble but reliable machine ????

  2. Great review. I’ve a couple of FX-3 in my Contax arsenal. It’s by no means agricultural , nor particularly refined, somewhere in between. The shutter isn’t in my view especially loud. Any concerns re vibrations can be avoid by deploying the self time which lifts the mirror up well prior to the shutter firing. The EV range of the meter is limited but realistically it only stops working at the point where manual metering or using the Black Cat Exposure Guide becomes pretty much vital. The range of lenses that can be fitted is very wide. Yashica DSB and ML range plus all the Zeiss C/Y AE or MM lenses. Additionally any M42 lens can be used in stopped down mode so legacy Takumars, Helios , Fujica etc etc can used (full focus range possible)

    1. Alexandre Pontes

      Nice article and great shots.
      I have one Yashica FX-D Quartz Lens Yashica ML zoom 42-75mm 1:3.5-4.5 and have had much fun shooting color and black and white film. My Instagram account is @alexpontes1361. Have a nice Day.

  3. Those 1970’s and 1980’s Yashica SLRs are a great and affordable gateway to the Carl Zeiss T* lenses for the Contax/Yashica lens mount.

  4. I have a soft spot for Yashica, which goes back to yearning after their cameras as a teenager. I’ve had a few, from TLRs to SLRs to compacts. Now I am having to switch to autofocus, I have just got a 230af. An rather unfancied set-up by other more popular brands, but early signs using it are encouraging. Go Yashica!

  5. Appreciate the article! I skipped ahead at first to the photos and thought “What the heck did he do to the E100?!?!?!” — then I read your explanation. They look like great early 20th century postcards — good job! I have a batch of vintage Yashica, Ricoh and Chinon 1970’s SLRs and they all work great, and have access to really decent lenses. And they tend not to be used-to-death as the more popular SLRs from that period. And it is great to have a decent selection of these durable and usable cameras and lenses available — and it helps when folks like you share their experiences and their results. Cheers!

  6. Wow, someone used a Yashica SLR and wrote about it. While my go to brand has been Minolta since 1972 I do have many Nikon and Pentax SLRs. However, I do have a soft spot for underdogs like Miranda and Yashica. In fact after my large numbers of Minoltas my second largest group is Yashica. I do have the FX-3 but actually use the FX-D which is the understudy of the Contax 139Q which I also have. All nice cameras and the Yashica ML series are nothing to sneeze at. In the U.S. my FX-3 and FX-D cost a mere $25 before shipping and the Contax was a steal at $50 all including a 50mm ML lens.

  7. Joaquín Cervera

    Muy bueno el artículo y las fotos, gracias. Yo usé mucho la Fx3 , tuve y tengo varias, 2000, fx7, FXD QUE que era igual pero con automatismos, cómo las Contax 139. Tenía y tengo muchas Contax, sin embargo cuando no trabajaba casi siempre utilizaba una Fx3, ligera y con objetivos Zeiss, no necesitaba nada más. Era una cámara manual con exposímetro de aguja o led, según el modelo, nunca entendí porque era la más barata del mercado sin contar con las Zenits rusas. Otras cámaras manuales de Nikon, Contax, Leica etz eran las más apreciadas por profesionales y aficionados avanzados y valían un riñón y yo con esta hacía lo mismo que una Nikon FM o una Contax S. Los materiales eran peor pero a mí siempre me funcionaron perfectamente.

  8. Busqué una Yashica F3 para tenerla como respaldo de mi Contax. La Contax un día dijo ” hasta aquí llegué” y misteriosamente entregó sus lentes a la Yashica, cuyo parpadeo de leds sigue indicando la correcta exposición.

  9. Very nice. I love the effect on the photos so I suppose it could be a happy accident! I have a battered FX3 I bought for $2.50, with the covering worn off and nasty chip in the front element of the 50mm f1.9. These Cosina bodies are surprisingly rugged so it works just fine, and it’s my favorite knockabout SLR. I really like the simple meter with adapted M42 lenses.

  10. I have discovered the awesomeness of the Contax/Yashica line of SLRs this year. The only thing that I knew about Yashica was the MAT 124G that I had picked up randomly about 5 years ago. Then a couple of months ago I came across a Contax 139 Quartz with 3 lenses and accessories for $125. What sold me was that it included the Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.7. I live in Montreal Canada and it’s winter worried me for a battery reliant camera so I picked up a FX-3 and I love it. I added the Carl Zeiss 85mm f2.8. I also added an adapter to mount them on my Sony A7II.

  11. Much thanks to everyone who submitted a response. I appreciated all of them, and I got a good chuckle from some of them — Dana asking himself, “What the heck did he do to the E100” and Michael noting, “Wow, someone used a Yashica SLR and wrote about it.” Too funny.

    One other point that might be of some interest. As noted in brief, I use an Olympus micro four-thirds kit for my pro digital work. I picked up a lens adapter that allows me to use my Yashica glass on my M43 bodies. While it’s an interesting exercise, I find that I don’t enjoy the cobbled together feel of the combination. I was interested in Sacha saying he uses his CY mount lenses on a Sony A7II with an adapter. I’ve got to believe the bigger Sony bodies are a better match than the tiny M43 Olympus options.

    1. I used to have OM-D E-M10 Mark II and did adapt some glass on it but was less of a fan. I don’t know if it is because I had not fallen back in love with analog cameras yet or if it was just the format. I never felt like I was getting the look or result I wanted. I never attempted to adapt to my bulky Canon 7d. I already an L series lens so I didn’t see the point. I ended up flipping both the Canon and the Olympus for my Sony. Since then I have adapted several kinds of lenses and been happy. My dream was to get the Sony 85mm f/1.8 but when I got the opportunity for the Carl Zeiss 85mm f/2.8, I was super happy. I now have an 85mm that fits on 4 of my cameras (1 Yashica, 2 Contax, and the Sony). Vintage lenses for the win!

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