Gear Review: Yashica FX-3 35mm Film SLR
The Yashica FX-3 35mm Film SLR is the first film SLR I've ever owned. I've had a bunch of point and shoots before and since, but this model was the first all-manual, all mechanical film SLR that has ever come into my posession, and it was very special because it was given to me by my sister, who used it in her photography classes in high school in the 1980s.
I had been shooting digitally for many years, shooting exclusively digital since getting my first digital point and shoot in 2002, graduating to a Digital SLR in 2004, and never looking back. Knowing that I was doing photography and spending more time on it, and even making some money at it, she decided to give me her old Yashica.
Though with digital, I knew how to expose a frame completely manually and had been doing so for years, the Yashica felt somewhat alien to me in it's all-manual workings, but at the same time I felt connected to a heritage and history of photography, to a time and craft that came many years before. I was instantly drawn to it and intrigued by it, and after fiddling with the knobs and levers for only a few minutes, I had a solid understanding of how it worked--which was not difficult, because this is a dead simple camera model that was sold and marketed to students!
The body is quite a common model seen in the 80s, as it was actually designed and manufactured by Cosina, and branded and marketed by Yashica, using the Zeiss-designed Contax-Yashica Mount, also know as the "C/Y" mount. The Yashica FX-3 is essentially the least expensive way one can get into using the highly desirable Zeiss T* optics that were created in the C/Y mount, although Yashica and many other third-party manufacturers created lenses in this mount as well. Other companies such as Vivitar also marketed the same body manufactured by Cosina in other mounts, such as the Pentax PK mount, as a way to attract beginners, students, and photographers on a budget into the camera market as a less expensive alternative than buying the "bigger" manufacturer's bodies.
The FX-3 is known to be very durable and dependable camera, owing a lot of that to it's dead-simple, all mechanical design. While it has a light meter that requires batteries to operate, the camera can still expose a frame without batteries, since the shutter is mechanical and requires no power source to fire. It has a metal chassis with a plastic top, and while it feels nice and solid, and fairly heavy, it is quite small and I certainly wouldn't have too much confidence in it holding together if I were to drop it, especially onto its plastic top portion.
Yashica FX-3 - Top
The film advance lever is plastic and does feel like given enough force, it might snap off, but I've used mine plenty with no issues. Making the top and advance lever metal certainly would have added to the cost of this model, so it's only natural that some corners are cut in construction to keep it as a budget model, but I've never had any real issues with those things in practical use when shooting with this camera.
The camera does have some widely known weak points. The leatherette covering was known to flake off after some years; when my sister gave me this camera in 2010 the leatherette covering could be brushed right off, leaving behind some gooey adhesive that has broken down over the years. It's best that this stuff get removed and replaced. I bought a great, easy-to-apply kit from Aki Asahi. Also, like virtually any camera of this age or older, the light seals got gummy and and left an oily, black residue that is potentially damaging to the internal chamber of the camera were it to fall off and get in the shutter curtain--not to mention possible light leaks with poor seals.
It's advisable to replace the light seals right away, either by doing it yourself (here's a great guide to do that) or by having a camera repair shop could do it. It can be a laborious task but can be considerable savings over having a repair shop do it; at the time, I didn't have the confidence to replace the seals myself, so I had a repair shop do it at a cost of $60. Doing it yourself can cost you an hour or two of your time (most of that time spent removing the old light seals) and about $9 to $12 for a replacement kit from Ebay.
My final nitpick would be that the meter is a + or - LED readout in the viewfinder, not the more helpful match needle type found in other manual SLRs.
The Yashica FX-3 is a spectacular camera considering it's budget/student model origins and a fun, simple camera to use. The fact that it fires completely mechanically without the need for a battery, and the fact that it has a built in light meter makes it a great all-around package for someone looking for something cheap and reliable. Any FX-3 you buy on Ebay or wherever will very likely need a little bit of TLC in the way of a replacement covering and light seals, but once you take care of those using better materials than originally used in manufacturing, you'll likely never need to do it again. Because the shutter is a metal-bladed curtain, it is a little loud and can introduce some camera shake a lower shutter speeds. It doesn't have mirror lock-up but again, that's not what this camera is for. Oh, and it's small. It's not Olympus OM-system small, but it's tiny compared to the Canons, Nikons, and Minoltas of the same era. Many of these can be found with it's commonly paired "kit" lens, the 50mm f/2, and while it's doesn't have the sexy-fast f/1.4 aperture, it's still plenty fast and very sharp, even wide open.
Find one, shoot one, you won't regret it--and keep it around to pass on to your kids.