Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Fujica STX-1 SLR

 Of all the different cameras that I have handled over the years, I confess that I have not shot with many SLR cameras made by Fuji Photo Film.  In 2007, I briefly shot with a  Fujica ST 801, which is an M42-mount SLR with some nice features. That camera was part of an estate sale that was eventually sold, and I put one roll of film through it.  Last fall, I was going through donations of cameras for the Film Photography Project, and opened a box with a Fujica STX-1 camera and two lenses. We could not get the camera to work, so I brought it home to see if I could get it working.  I opened the bottom plate and saw that a cam was not engaging. I slipped it back into place, and now the camera works just fine!  That gave me the opportunity to shoot with the camera for a bit before it goes back into the FPP School Donation Program.

Evolution of the Fuji SLRs
Fuji Photo Film started producing SLR cameras in 1962 with their Fujicarex leaf-shutter SLR, which was followed by the Fujicarex II in 1963.  They were innovative, with the controls for the exposure and focus made via thumbwheels on the back plate.  The cameras had other quirks, and like most leaf-shutter SLRs from the 1960s, they were limited in lenses, shutter speed, and were left behind by the focal-plane shutter SLRs.  Today, they are somewhat rare, and probably rarely work well.

In the days when many SLR camera manufacturers that were not Nikon, Canon, Topcon, Miranda, Minolta, or Olympus, the M42 mount (or Praktica screw mount, or Pentax Screw Mount, or just M42) was the “other” mount.  Fuji came out with their series of ST models which used the M42 mount.  The ST701 appeared in 1971, followed by the ST 801 in 1973.  The ST 901 appeared in 1974, and featured Aperture-Priority exposure.  The ST 605 appeared in 1976, and the ST 705 came out in 1977. All of these models have cloth horizontal shutters, are well-made, and use match-needle metering visible in the finder.  The exception is the ST 801, which was the first SLR to use diodes in the finder instead of a match-needle and scale.   The Fujica AZ-1 was their last M42-mount camera, which featured Aperture-Priority, TTL auto-exposure, and was the first SLR to be sold with a zoom lens (43-75mm) as the kit lens. 

Nearing the end of the 70s, the demand for more features such as full-aperture metering and easier lens mounting,  led to the abandonment by Fuji of the M42 mount and the adoption of a new mount, the Fuji X-mount (not to be confused with the x-mount of the current Fuji digital mirrorless cameras).  Fuji introduced their new system with the STX-1 in 1979.  There were a limited number of x-mount lenses available, and the STX-1 came with a 55mm f/2.2 X-Fujinon lens.  The odd thing is that the shutter speeds go from B, to ½- 1/700th sec.  Again, a cloth focal plane shutter.  Match-needle metering, visible in the viewfinder.  There is a depth of field preview button above the self-timer arm.  The camera is fully manual, and the flash sync speed is 1/60th sec.  There is a locking collar around the shutter release, preventing inadvertent releases.  The camera has a clean design – I would say that while it is not a “spectacular” SLR, it does what it does well.  The meter is engaged when you press halfway-down on the shutter, and the match needle is easy to see on the right side of the viewfinder.  On the left side of the viewfinder you can see the shutter speeds.  I like the meter markings, which are handy in adjusting the exposure.  As a full-manual camera, it is pretty much perfect.  The film advance lever is well-designed and comfortable to use.   The camera requires 2 S-76  or SR-44 cells to power the meter. The only oddball thing is that the tripod socket is not centered on the camera, and is to the left.   The camera was received with the 55mm f2.2 lens and a 28mm f/2.8 Fujinon-x lens.
Clean design and controls

Through the viewfinder

The X-mount continued with the AX series, which started with the AX-1 in 1980, followed by the AX-3 and AX-5.  These cameras all have more automation and features than the STX-1. The STX-2  was introduced in 1985, and the AX-5 Multi-Program appeared in 1985, and they were the last of the 35mm SLRs made with the Fuji X-mount.  The STX-2 was sold as the Fuji STX-2, and not Fujica.

Fuji Photo Film Co. has produced some amazing cameras over the years, especially in the medium format area.  While first and foremost a film producer, they did produce some very fine lenses and cameras.  I can understand why they stopped producing 35mm SLRs in the mid-1980s.  The market was dominated by Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Minolta and Olympus.  While the Fujica SLRs were reliable, sturdy, and certainly had the typical features that one needed, I suspect that Fuji felt they could produce  cameras where there was less competition – and so we had some excellent medium format cameras and lenses.  In using the STX-1, I found the camera to handle very well, but certainly not much different than any other compact SLRs from the early 1980s.   The 1/700th sec shutter speed is odd, and that was   rectified by the STX-2 with a max shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.  Had Fuji adopted the Copal Square vertical shutter rather than the horizontal cloth shutter, they might have had a longer run with 35mm, but by the mid-1980s, it was pretty much Nikon, Pentax, Canon, or Minolta for people looking to buy a 35mm SLR as a system camera.

You could do far worse than the Fujica 35mm SLRs.  If you are looking for an inexpensive manual 35mm SLR, the ST 801 or the STX-1 are certainly worthwhile purchases.  The X-mount lenses were only produced for about 6 years, so there are fewer of them out there.   The advantage of the ST 801 might be the plethora of M42-mount lenses that are available.   One review makes the case for the ST 801 as the best M-42 mount SLR available. I have to agree, based upon what I have seen over the years.

You should be able to find an STX-1 on ebay for less than $50.

Here are a few samples taken with the STX-1 on Ultrafine Xtreme 400 film.

A few more examples from Kodak T400 CN film (expired) (added 06/27/19).  


Unknown said...

Mark, this review really strikes a sentimental chord in me. My first 35mm SLR was a Fujica ST605 I got for Christmas when I was 15. Lots of good memories there. My first 'real' camera. I can still remember the smell of it when I opened the box! The STX-1 was (I believe) basically the ST605n updated to X mount, plus a few other extras. The ST605 was a great camera to learn on and a terrific value at the time. It's got a pretty bright viewfinder and the silicon cell meter is pretty responsive and accurate. I hear you on the 1/700th shutter speed–kinda odd. I suspect it has something to do with Fuji attempting to have a model in their line that could compete with other entry level cameras like the Pentax K1000. To get the desired price point, Fuji probably had to use a cheaper shutter mechanism. Honestly, I thought the 55mm f2.2 lens it came with weirder. I would recommend the STX-1 (or any of the late 70s Fujica SLRs) to anyone, it's a great camera at a great price for someone wanting to get their feet wet in film photography. Like you suggest, the huge number of M42 screw mount lenses available might make the screw mount models a better value.

PS-As I write this I'm listening to the FPP, catching up on recent episodes. I just heard your Emulsion X review in episode 210!

Unknown said...

The STX-1 was my first SLR camera. Bought in 1981 so I could use it for a photography course.
Unfortunately, it was stolen the night before I graduated High School. Around 1986, my mom bought me the STX-2 and I added a Fuji AX-3 or 5, can’t remember.
Really enjoyed them at the I’m just spoiled with digital :)

Anonymous said...

Just bought an STX-1 a few weeks ago with a 28mm 2.8 a 55mm f2.2 and a 135mm f2.8 X fujinar lenses for $85. Sent a roll of superia in to get developed today to see if it would turn out or if there were any light leaks. The shop owner invited me back to look at the images popping up as the film was scanned. I could not believe my eyes, every image looked gorgeous and perfectly exposed, from a 40 year old camera. Bought for my son, well I'm sorry but it's going to be missing from his bag often.

Anonymous said...

I bought an STX-1n in the mid 80's. Later added lenses when Fuji stopped making them and the local store had a clearance sale. I did make the mistake of buying an AX-5, never as good exposure as the fully manual camera. I did get the F1.2 55 mm lens, and a beautiful 135 mm lens which is ideal for capturing a closeup face shot without intimidating the subject. I still wish there was a reasonable way to convert it to digital.

Anonymous said...

Some X-mount lens adapters are becoming available for digital now. I have just purchased one for my Fuji X-Pro 1 and X-E1. The slightly more expensive version supports aperture adjustment, too.

Unknown said...

I bought a STX-1 in late 1980 when I first got into photography. It had such a simple & intuitive interface, and the controls were laid out well enough that you could adjust them without pulling away from the eye piece. Years later, I added a STX-1N & AX-5.

I have used some of the quality X-bayonette lenses I have on Canon & Nikon bodies by using adaptors, with mixed results.

I would sell all my digital camera gear to buy the camera that had a STX-1 type interface option along with all the AE modes.