I own a lot of cameras. It’s no secret. I started collecting them about 15 years ago. Most of them I’ve bought, but I have many that were given to me. Ask anyone who shoots film these days; when people hear that you shoot film, you’ll often times get approached by someone who found or inherited a camera that they don’t know what to do with…and it becomes yours. When this happens to me, I will gladly accept whatever photography related item someone needs to find a home for. If it works, great. If not, maybe it can be repaired or used for parts. Either way, I’m happy to take it off of their hands and offer it a new place to call home, most times placing my new treasure on the shelf to evaluate more another day.
A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing the camera shelf. I seem to do this every month or so. I’ll look through the cameras to see if something catches my attention. Not every camera on the shelves has been evaluated to see if it’s operational. This time, while looking through the cameras, I picked up one I knew I’d never shot. I couldn’t even recall testing it out. I wound and fired the shutter. It responded with a pleasing clack of the mirror. I figured what the hell. If the meter didn’t work, I could shoot it using “Sunny 16”. This would be the next camera I’d shoot.
The lucky victim was a Yashica FR2 (the name on the front of the camera technically states “FR II”, but this looks as if it should be pronounced “free” or “fry”. which is weird, so for this article, I’ll refer to it as “FR2”). I recalled seeing a recent Instagram post from a fellow film photographer that featured a Yashica FR1. This could have been the reason this camera caught my eye. Either way, I grabbed the camera, a fresh battery and a new roll of film.
It didn’t take much to clean the camera up and get it ready for use. I remember this camera being fairly clean when I got it almost 15 years ago. A quick wipe and it was ready to load. I was also pleasantly surprised when the meter responded to a new battery. I was 2 for 2. The Kodak Tri-X 400 loaded without incident. In less than 15 minutes, this camera had gone from being a “shelf queen” to being loaded up and ready to shoot. I wondered why I hadn’t shot this camera before and couldn’t come up with a good reason, but not matter. It was ready to go now.
The Yashica FR2 was introduced in 1977 and remained in production until 1981. It was based on the FR1, the main difference being the lack of the FR1’s manual control. The FR2 is billed as a fully automatic camera, but is basically an aperture priority camera. When not in the available Bulb or Flash modes, the FR2’s electronic shutter is controlled by the camera’s TTL metering system. This made shooting easier for beginning photographers who did not want or need full manual control of the shutter. As the aperture is adjusted, the shutter speed (available shutter speeds are between 4 seconds and 1/1000th of a second) chosen by the camera is displayed in the viewfinder, but only when activated. The needle can be activated in two ways; a battery check push button on the top of the camera near the rewind lever or a slide button on the rear of the camera near the film advance lever. Both are lockable with the film advance lever slightly cocked. These two options allowed the shooter to choose between using their left hand or the right hand respectively to activate the meter. I personally preferred the slide button as it is larger than the push button and was easier to locate without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. Requiring the meter to be manually activated also helps extend the camera’s 4LR44 battery.
Lenses are attached to the FR2 via the C/Y bayonet mount and could accept a variety of the Yashica/Contax lenses. The lens on my camera is the Yashica Lens DSB 50mm f/1.9 lens. The aperture has 6 blades with a minimum aperture of f/1.9 and a maximum aperture of f/16. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 0.5 meters (just under 20”) and has threads that will accept a 52mm filter. The user manual also lists the following lenses as standard: Yashica Lens ML 50mm f/1.7, Yashica Lens ML 50mm f/1A, and the Yashica Lens ML 55mm f/1.2. All of the Yashica lenses stated here have an automatic diaphragm.
The FR2’s self-timer is activated via a lever on the front of the camera. When activated, the shutter will fire 7 seconds after the shutter button is pressed. Speaking of the shutter button, it is described as a “feather-touch electromagnetic release” shutter button, and I did in fact agree with the “feather-touch” description. If you tend to grip the camera tightly when shooting, prepare yourself now for some accidental fires. There is also an auxiliary shutter release connection on the rear of the camera body next to the exposure check slide button .
The ISO range for the FR2 goes from 12 to 3200 and is selected via the rotating dial beneath the film rewind lever. The FR2 also has the following exposure compensations: ¼, ½, 1x, 2, and 4.
Other standard camera features also found on the FR2 are the camera strap lugs, tripod socket, and lens release button.
Now that all of the technical specifications are out of the way, how did the camera perform? In one word: BEAUTIFULLY! When I’m not shooting in full manual mode, I tend to gravitate towards aperture priority mode over any other available option, so I felt right at home shooting the FR2. I found the f/1.9 lens to produce a pleasing bokeh wide open while still providing a crisp image on the subject in focus. Closed down, I found the images to be fairly sharp and on par with comparable lenses from the same era.
The camera has a size and weight I found to be ergonomically pleasing. Aesthetically, the FR2 has the classic sliver/black look that makes it easily recognizable as a 1970’s SLR. In fact, it looks right at home sitting on the shelf next to my Minolta X-370, also from the late 1970’s
As stated earlier, I tested the camera using 400 speed Kodak Tri-X film. This roll was then developed in Rodinal (1:100 dilution, 1 hour Stand Developing) then scanned on an Epson flatbed scanner. I did all of my shooting outdoors on a mostly sunny to full sun day, and did not find a shooting situation where the camera chose a shutter speed requiring a tripod, meaning the FR2 is a great walking around camera. For my next roll, I may take advantage of the available hot shoe and try my hand at indoor flash photography to see how the FR2 fares in that environment.
My only problem with my particular camera was that the frame counter didn’t work. This seems to be a common problem with this camera and is caused by a broken gear. To be honest, the frame counter is one of those camera features I seldom pay attention to. With my eyesight now requiring me to wear glasses while reading (which I never wear when I shoot), I typically can’t read the frame counter anyway. And honestly, for a 40+ year old camera that was found on a thrift store shelf, I really can’t complain.
So, will I be shooting the Yashica FR2 again anytime in the near future? You bet I will! And if you come across one for sale for less than $40-$50, I suggest you do the same!