Saturday, October 11, 2014

Yashica FR Review

Stock Photo
This is one of two cameras that were given to me by a very gracious Sister-in-Law; the other being a Yashica Lynx-14, of which I now have two. I immediately wanted to start using the FR, simply because it feels so well built, with a very strong metal exterior, and a sense of quality throughout. I could tell that the light seals had deteriorated over time, and so I sought out a case wrap-around for the bottom half, and immediately scored a very similarly sized Yashica FX-3 - a piece of plastic junk by comparison. Besides the case, I also got a smoother working 50mm f1.9 kit lens, an "Image" brand 80-200 Zoom, and a flash unit, all for $80.

"113" With Yashinon 50mm f1.9 Lens Wide Open
The image quality is both totally unique and magnificent. Even though the "Bokeh" (that out of focus region that results from close focussing on a subject with the lens wide open) is a little rough, showing that this isn't a Zeiss Lens, I immediately fell in love with the rich colours. I was expecting something a little more "Yashica" in character - and for me that means the lens built onto my Lynx-14, but such is not the case. These are two very different lenses.

"Cormorant", taken with the Image 80-200 Zoom

I didn't use the Zoom a whole lot, but very glad I had brought the FR, with this lens attached, on a little trip down Pugwash way recently. This bird was striking up quite a pose! In fact, he was posing for so long, he allowed me to take a pic using my digital pocket cam too, to allow me to make yet another film - digital comparison:

Lumix DMC-LX5 With a Lot of Digital Zoom 
The Cormorant was now joined by his mate! I know I'm comparing apples and bananas here, but the digital shot has better white balance - a digital camera always seeks perfect WB when set to Auto-WB, but with film, you take what you get - which was Daylight Film on a cloudy day. I could have corrected it with software, but I tend to leave my film shots untouched. I think that neither of these is perfect, but there are simply two very distinctive "looks". Somehow, the film shot provides more natural "weight and roundness" to the lamp and lamp-post, and yet, the digital, although a bit blurred due to the digital-zoom (crop), managed to show up more detail in the bird's feathers - totally lost in the contrast of the film shot.

"1962 Morris Minor" - Yashica FR With 50mm f1.9 Kit Lens
This shot of an original Morris Minor came off perfect - it was a very hot, bright sunny day, and I recall using 1/1000 sec and an f4 Aperture, pushing the 400 ISO film well into overexposure, yet all shadow detail was captured (note the tire-tread), but no highlights are blown out - this is where film still trumps digital with real honest Exposure Range. Absolutely nothing about this fine camera and lens stood in the way of letting this shot come out perfect.

"Horse and Barn"
If you're a fan of even more vintage horsepower, here's another over-exposed shot in which all shadow and highlight detail is naturally preserved, with no HDR digital funny business.

Although the Yashica FR SLR camera and lens makes wonderful image quality, almost rival to a Yashica Rangefinder, I must say I was disappointed in the way this camera's controls are executed. The worst part is the primitive electronic metering. At the very right edge of the viewfinder, you are given a green light in the middle, and two red lights - one at the very top of the frame and one at the very bottom. It is extremely difficult to visually locate these indicator lights, which simply mean "correct, over and under-exposed", but nothing tells you by how much. I really prefer a moving analogue needle - something which the much older Lynx-14 provides, both on top of the camera body, and within the viewfinder. Another usability issue is having both a micro-prism and split-image focussing aid in the middle of the viewfinder window. At first, I though I was going to love this feature, but in real life, I found it confusing for some reason.

In real world usage, both of these issues got in my way and slowed me down. The Yashica Lynx-14 Rangefinder camera has far better indicators for exposure and focus that are a pleasure to use, and do not slow down the process of getting the shot quickly.

I'll end this review with a few more shots, to show off the image quality of what could almost be the best film SLR camera of the 1970's:

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