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Amateur Photographer Test Report - Yashica FX-D Quartz

March 1981

by Bruce Black

 


 

WHEN there's camera talk in the air, several names come to the fore, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and Minolta, the big five. When the chats become more intimate other names leak out, Yashica, Fujica, Mamiya for example. Yashica has never been a name to instil raptures and spasms of ecstasy, although they have been responsible for a number of innovations - including the first SLR with aperture priority automatic metering [reference to the AX, although it wasn't actually the first].
Recently, Yashica has suffered from cameras which were heavy, bulky and left on the market too long, becoming outdated, resulting in the name being looked upon with less respect than it deserves.
Much was made of the Yashica tie-up with the German Zeiss Contax firm, and the important association with the Porsche designers. Yet it has taken a long time to get an up-to-date model bearing the Yashica name. This came with the manual FX-3 a year ago, a smart design with excellent handling characteristics. Now Yashica has followed up with the aperture priority FX-D Quartz designed along the same lines as the FX-3. Athough the FX-D will run currently with the other Yashica Aperture priority cameras, the FR and FR-1,these are obviously not to be around for much longer - being forced into redundancy by this charming little model.

DESIGN
The first fruits of the Zeiss Contax/Yashica tie-up appeared in 1974, the Contax RTS. Zeiss had a concept for a new camera but not the production facilities and, by coincidence, Yashica was working along similar lines of design. The link is still productive, with Zeiss taking care of the optical side, including the viewfinder and mirror systems, and Yashica pushing its expertise into the electronics. The Porsche design team is still on the payroll, primarily designing the Contax and positioning the controls. The ideas are adapted to the Yashica system, to give each brand some degree of identity.
The FX-D full name has Quartz tacked on to the end to designate the timing system. A spokesman for the importers of Yashica, Photax, said that unlike some systems which use only the Quartz timing for the shutter thus making it gimmicky, Yashica uses the Quartz system for all its systems both mechanical and electronic. Much of the mechanics has been replaced by Quartz timing making the construction simpler and the body lighter.
When picking up the FX-D, you are immediately aware of one of the Contax/Yashica hallmarks, the body covering. Although it's a small point and not one to influence the final result of the picture, it helps to make the camera comfortable to use. The covering is spongy so your fingers sink into it, like the seats on a 928 Porsche [little did Mr Black realise the cover he was praising would quickly disintegrate to mush]. The body is the same size as the Contax 139 (among other resemblances) although it looks and feels considerably smaller because Yashica has whittled away the square corners.
The top plate is uncluttered with the minimum of dials. On the right of the prism is the shutter speed dial; this is serrated on the edge to make changing speeds easier. It projects slightly over the front of the top plate so the finger can be rolled along the dial, rather than using a finger and thumb from the top. Each setting is click stopped with the AE for automatic shutter speeds and the X sync (1/100sec) more so than the others. The dial can be rotated through 360deg. Recessed in the centre is the release which requires only the slightest pressure to fire the shutter.
Further along to the right is the film advance lever with a 130deg travel an a very positive stand-off position. The operation is smooth, quiet and comfortable in use.
At the other end of the top plate is the standard rewind system. The release button is depressed on the baseplate and the folding crank whirled around. Lifting the rewind knob opens the back to reveal the same scene as you would find in a Contax 139. All that's missing is the LED that couples up to the Contax Data back. You would expect some parts of both systems to be the same as they roll off the same production line. The film loading system is standard without any innovations. The take-up spool is plastic with six slots and the film chamber cut away at the bottom.so the cassette can be easily loaded. The camera back cannot be removed.

METERING
Two metering systems are available, the easier with shutter speed selected automatically or setting both the shutter speed and aperture manually. The SPD (silicon photo diode) sensing cell is positioned just above the viewfinder pentaprism. With the shutter speed dial set to AE, the speed is set automatically and shown in the viewfinder by a bank of LEDs. As the aperture is altered, so the shutter speed is changed accordingly. The coupling between the lens and the camera body is mechanical to transfer the set aperture through to the electronic exposure system.
The meter is turned on by depressing a button on the right front panel. This multi-purpose device is also used for locking in a particular exposure on automatic and the self timer. When the outer ring of the button is set to 0 and depressed, the reading will be indicated in the viewfinder for 10 seconds. When set to the AE lock, the meter reading is continual although the setting remains the same, and if left on will drain the batteries. When the self timer is set, the camera gives a double beep every second, for eight seconds, accompanied by a large flashing LED on the front, with continual beeping for the final two seconds. It can be switched off at any time. Although it is a good idea having the exposure meter switching off automatically, it happens too quickly for my liking. If you are the type of person who enjoy taking your time over an exposure, it can be a bit disconcerting when the LEDs in the viewfinder go out. Not being used to the position of the meter switch, causes a panic. A press of the shutter release to get the LEDs back is to no avail, and instead you get an exposure. The meter button fits neatly under the third finger and again it takes a bit of getting used to - actually using this finger.
The shutter speeds are indicated down the right side of the viewfinder in black. If against a dark area scale is very difficult, if note impossible, to read. Each speed, over exposure, LT for speeds longer than two seconds and B is indicated by an LED. If used on automatic, these are lit, but if used on AE Lock they flash. When used on manual, the set speed flashes in the viewfinder while the speed for the correct exposure remains constantly lit. It is quite common for to LEDs to light when the shutter speed is somewhere in between. If over exposed and a faster shutter speed than 1/1000 is required, the appropriate LED in the viewfinder flashes and the camera again beeps.
The viewfinder is quite dark compared with the Contax's and it could make focusing difficult. The centre of the screen is a horizontal split image with a fine mircoprism around the collar. I did not find the focusing easy.
The film speed is set on the dial surrounding the rewind knob. A small button on the back of the top plate is depressed and the setting aligned on the index mark. On either side are two settings for one or two stop compensation for out-of-the-ordinary lighting, which seems to occur all the time. The dial is not click stopped, but cannot be inadvertently moved as it locks into position.
All of the camera's operation is electronic, which means no mechanical back-up speeds for those who forget to check the battery condition. But it has the sensible device of a battery warning, rather than a battery check. When the LEDs in the viewfinder start acting up by blinking erratically, the batteries are on the way out. If you are using silver oxide batteries, there is enough power for about five films, with alkaline, about two. The two 1.5V batteries are housed under a plastic screw top cover in the baseplate.

ACCESSORIES
Currently, the popular accessories, which are suggested as an integral part of a good photograph, are the auto-winder and dedicated flash. These are not specifically designed for the FX-D, the winder is the same as for the Contax 139 and I found it bulky and detracted from the elegant lines of the camera. The price has just dropped from about £67 to about £52, making it a more attractive proposition to the Yashica owner.
The ergonomic design of the winder with the curve front and release button at the right end id comfortable to use vertically but not horizontally. The lump at the end gets in the way and it's difficult to know where to put your hand.
The winder gives a maximum speed of two frames per second (FPS) with shutter speeds between 1/60 and 11000sec. The power is provided by four AA cell batteries but unfortunately Yashica has not been farsighted enough to utilise this power source for the camera. This by-passes the camera power source and draws on the power from the winder. The sliding power switch is on the back and as the winder is operating, an LED lights. To check if the batteries are operating, a test button next to the two electrical contacts on the top of the unit is depressed. Both the mechanical and electronic contacts are uncovered.
The dedicated flash is CS-201 with a guide number of 20m 100 ASA [GN=20 if you're old school]. When coupled to the camera, the flash automatically sets the shutter speed to 1/100sec when set on AE. A small green lightening flash lights in the viewfinder when the flash is fully charged. The CS-201 does not have a thyristor so the recycling time is upward of six seconds. When the flash is recharging, the camera reverts to normal metering to give a correct exposure.
The power source is four AA cells housed under a sliding cover in the side of the gun. The head is fixed and the hot-shoe the only connection. On auto, the unit operates from 1m to 5m at an aperture of f4 for 100ASA [i.e. the GN varies from 4 to 20]. A sliding switch on the back selects auto or manual operation.

CAPABILITES
Although the Yashica FX-D Quartz is not startling or revolutionary, it is a competent camera. But what it lacks in new techniques it makes up for in the quality appeal of the handling. The results from the shutter speed test were very accurate with on deviation from the quoted speeds. The difference in the EV rating is so slight it would not be noticed in the results.
Although we were not able to do the usual ship pics because of the weather, we did test the lens with the Paterson test chart. Definition was very good although there was noticeable fall off towards the edge at the maximum aperture.
With these specifications, there is little more you could want. A sync socket for off-the-camera flash could be useful and a depth of field button for determining how much is in focus at a particular aperture would appeal to some.
I found using the camera effortless and simple once I had grown use to the idea of switching the meter on the front of the camera. I did not like the viewfinder - the screen was too dark, the 'crystals' of the microprism not enough and the shutter speed scale faded into obscurity against a dark background.
The competition is stiff for this type of camera in the price range between £100 and £150 with really very little to choose between them.
The Pentax ME Super has the advantage of the near universal K bayonet, but the peculiar button arrangement for the shutter speeds is not to everyone's liking. The Minolta XG-9, like the Yashica, handles extremely well but has the drawback of not metering on manual. The Fujica AX-3 is high on specifications, but the lens mount may affect your choic with the limited number of independent lenses.
The FX-D fits into the range available and gives those who want the Yashica/Contax mount a competitive model, with up to date features, rather than the now outdated FR series. With this current design concept, we can look forward to even more interesting models in the future [sadly, Mr Black, that never happened].



The article compared five cameras. The Minolta XG-9 was the least favoured model. The Yashica FX-D was assessed to be equal to the Pentax ME Super and Cosina CT-4. The best camera was judged to be the Fujica A-3.