This was my second camera and my first SLR. It’s also one of the few I ever bought brand new. The year was 1989, and I knew I wanted something basic — no auto focus, auto exposure, no auto anything. But by the end of the 1980s, the world had moved on from the era of the all-manual SLR and few options remained. The only ones I knew about were the venerable Pentax K1000 and this camera, made by the Japanese manufacturing giant Kyocera.
When I walked into my local camera store that April day long ago, I knew very little about Yashica cameras, but I liked the look of the FX-3 and it seemed meet all my needs. Besides, they didn’t stock the Pentax. Sold! I paid $300 for the body along with a 50mm f/1.9 lens, and never looked back. For more than a decade, the Yashica was my workhorse camera and it served me very well. In fact, the only other camera I used concurrently was my Petax Espio Mini (reviewed here), which I bought years later when I wanted something more pocketable than a full-up SLR.
The FX-3 has two main virtues. First, it’s simple to use and, second, it’s very lightweight. With its 50mm lens it tips the scales at 588 grams (19 ounces), which makes it the lightest SLR in my collection. As for ease of use, the FX-3 is a pretty typical all-manual camera. The shutter dial is on the top plate next to the film advance lever, and the aperture control is on the lens. Shutter speeds go all the way up to 1/2000 second (hence the “Super 2000” designation). Metering information is presented via a trio of LEDs visible in the viewfinder. A red minus symbol (–) means you’re under exposed, a red plus (+) means overexposed, and a green light means you’re okay. Green and plus means slightly over exposed, green and minus means slightly under. Simple and quick.
The camera utilizes two, readily available LR-44 batteries for the metering system. That means that if the batteries die, you can still use the camera with the Sunny 16 rule. That’s one of the great virtues of a fully manual, mechanical camera. And for those more acquainted with the battery consumption habits of digital cameras, it’s probably worth pointing out out that tiny batteries in cameras like the FX-3 usually last more than a year.
Like many SLRs, the Yashica has a mirror-lock-up built into the self-timer. So, when you engage the self-timer and press the shutter release, the first thing that happens is the reflex-mirror goes up. By the time the shutter fires (10 seconds later), the mirror-slap vibrations have long since died off. I really like this implementation and wonder why all cameras don’t do it this way. (Yes, Olympus OM-1 & 2 — I’m talking about you!)
Criticisms? No camera is perfect and the Yashica has a couple of foibles. Its build quality probably isn’t up there with the best Nikons and Olympus professional OMs. That said, my FX-3 has never failed me and has has worked flawlessly with every roll of film that has passed through it. Some might find the clatter of the shutter mechanism annoying, but it’s pretty typical for a mechanical SLR. Certainly, I’ve heard worse. The aperture control on the Yashica lenses takes a bit of getting used to as well. With most brands (at least on Nikon and Olympus), the aperture numbers increases as you turn the ring from left to right. On the Yashica, it’s opposite. Not really annoying, just idiosyncratic. From time to time I also lament the lack of a depth-of-field preview, but it’s not a biggie for the kinds of photography I do.
One quirk I discovered while taking very long-exposure night-sky shots is that it’s a good idea to disable the light meter by removing the batteries. If you don’t, the red “minus” symbol stays lit, and if your exposure stretches to several minutes, eventually enough of the LED’s light will bleed onto the film to produce a dim, red glow on one edge of the picture. Most people would likely never encounter this problem, but if you like to do astrophotography (as I do), then it’s something to be aware of.
In addition to the 50mm lens mentioned earlier, I also have the 28mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/2.8 Yashica lenses. They seem to work fine — I’ve never noticed a difference in image quality in the photos taken with these lenses compared with those captured with Nikon or Olympus gear, though I haven’t done an exhaustive test. But if you’re leery of Yashica glass, you can always move up to the pricey-nicey Zeiss/Contax lenses, which utilize the same mount. Indeed, the Yashica SLRs offer the lowest price of admission to these reputedly excellent lenses.
The bottom line on the Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 is that it’s a very capable, lightweight, all-manual SLR camera. The fact that it’s not one of the big names (Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, or Canon) means you can often pick up a body and lenses for a song at garage sales and on eBay. If you get the chance, try one out, I think you’ll find its many virtues make it a very useful photographic tool. It might even become a favourite of yours too.
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