Saturday, 15 August 2015

Fujica ST701: Birthing Scandal Pond-Pool

Ninety million years ago I had fun with some pre-flashed film, and although the Fujica ST605 that I used back then is long-gone I still have some M42 lenses. By chance a Fujica ST701 fell into my hands, so I decided to try it out.

Despite the number, the ST701 was actually the ST605's predecessor. Its posher, smaller, generally more sophisticated predecessor. The specification was typical of the period - top speed 1/1000th, uncoupled electronic TTL metering, manual everything - but the body was smaller than the competition and the meter was apparently more accurate. Alas for Fuji it was launched shortly before the Olympus OM, which was even smaller and smarter. On the whole Fuji's film SLRs didn't leave much of a mark, and nobody remembers them nowadays. They were, I imagine, tangential to the company's film business (the firm's digital SLRs, on the other hand, were frustratingly brilliant).

Unfortunately the ST701 uses long-discontinued mercury batteries, so I had to use a hand-held meter, which was a bother. The camera itself is all-manual, and the battery only powers the meter. Fujica's standard lens was a 55mm f/1.8, slightly narrower than the typical 50mm.

I also used a Unitor 28mm f/2.8 which I got for nothing. It's so soft in the corners at f/2.8 that it's almost endearing. I can't fault it for the massive vignetting - I used a polarising filter - but as a full-frame lens it was worth every penny I paid for it:

Here's what it looks like:

On the positive side the lens looks lovely, with a distinctively blue cast to the coating, and it's built solidly out of metal. The weight is such that if you wanted to drown your neighbour's pet tortoise for your own sexual gratification you could use it to weigh the bag down. Imagine a tortoise slowly drowning, kicking its legs futility as it sinks to the bottom of Hampstead Heath's ladies' pond; imagine tying its legs together or encasing it in a plastic bag so that it can't move. Imagine that. The things you find in the darker corners of LiveLeak.

It's Japanese, the lens is Japanese. It was also sold under the Uni, Photax-Paragon, Revue, Pentor, and Eyemik(!) names. It seems to have originally been built by a company called Mitake, which crumbled to dust long ago.

My ST701 has rusty spots and the light seals had fallen apart, and I don't trust the 1s setting, but otherwise it works just as it did in 1971. In 2015 ancient M42 match-needle SLRs are essentially junk, doubly so in ST701's case unless you happen to be a rabid Fuji collector. The 55mm f/1.8 standard lens is lovely but has a boring specification. Here's what it looks like:

I can't stop thinking about that tortoise. They don't feel pain; they're basically vegetables. Here's how the lens performs versus a modern Canon 50mm f/1.4, which is faster and just slightly wider. It's not really a fair comparison, because f/1.8 is wide open for the Fuji lens, stopped-down for the Canon, but life isn't fair. Life is in fact cruel. Large animals eat smaller animals; adult bears and hippos and rats kill their children whenever the watering hole becomes too crowded, and human beings are essentially animals.

In the middle of the frame the two lenses are soft but usable one stop down, reaching a peak at f/5.6, with the Canon lens generally better overall:

Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 at f/1.8, f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8

Canon 50mm f/1.4 EF at f/1.8, f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8

In the corner the Fuji lens isn't great at f/1.8 or f/2.8, but jumps up a notch at f/5.6 and essentially becomes sharp across the frame at that aperture, notably without any CA:

Whereas the Canon lens - bought brand-new earlier this year - isn't quite as consistent (again, f/1.8, f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8):

If this little test demonstrates anything, it's that standard 50mm-55mm lens design hasn't progressed all that much in half a century. Over the last few years there has been a mini-explosion of posh fast 50mm lenses, but even nowadays the best and most expensive 50mm - the Zeiss Otus seems to be the modern benchmark - are only incrementally better than their distant predecessors.

What film did I use? It was some long-expired Boots 200-speed film that appears to be rebadged Fuji Superia, judging by the code on the negative. It was a nice sunny day.