Presenting the Penta J

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Jul 31, 2015.

  1. Having recently posted some stuff on the early Minolta SR-1, I thought I'd do something similar for another camera of that era, the Yashica Penta J.
  2. The Penta J, also known as the Yashica Reflex 35 in some markets, was released in 1962, two or three years after the SR-1, and was Yashica's first M42 screw-mount SLR. The first SLR, the Pentamatic, had a proprietary Yashica mount, but I guess Yashica saw the writing on the wall and wisely abandoned the mount in favour of the universal M42/Pentax thread. The camera was the first of the Yashica "J" series SLR's, being followed by the J-3 and the J-5, both of which grace my collection, and several derivative models, culminating in the J-7.
    The Penta J is a heavy, well-built camera, with a cloth horizontal focal plane shutter with speeds ranging from 1/2 to 1/500 plus "B". Both of the cameras in the photograph have working shutters, both very quiet and accurate, possibly one of the quietest and smoothest designs I've come across in a camera of this era. The frontal position of the shutter release is a little odd, but after having grown up with Prakticas with a similar release I find it comfortable enough, and with that bulky meter mounted on the camera it's hard to know just what else the designers could have done. The selenium-powered meter is still quick and reasonably accurate; coupled to the shutter speed dial it indicates what aperture the user should select for any given shutter speed. The hinged back is opened by upward pressure on the rewind knob, and film loading is conventional, aided by a nice chunky take-up spool with wide film slots.
    Here's an early ad for the camera. I guess the "Tri-Way" focusing refers to the excellent combination of matte screen and circular ground glass with a micro-prism central area.
  3. The lens is both great and awful.
  4. Optically, this 50mm Auto Yashinon f/2 is only a fraction short of superb, to the extent that there seems to be quite a cult following for this odd little lens, and sale prices are rising. The term "Auto" is a little far-fetched, and therein lies the "awful"; before each shot the aperture on the lens has to be cranked open by the use of the cumbersome knob on the side, and when the shutter release is depressed the aperture blades bang closed to the selected aperture. There's a fair spring pressure involved here and the whole thing is clunky in the extreme; luckily the shutter release has two stages, the first tripping the aperture and the second, the shutter. I got into the habit of pausing for a fraction between the two pressures, allowing the camera (and my nerves) to settle down before the exposure was made. OK, so the lens shuts down "automatically", but you have to remember to open it up each time; in some ways I prefer the old pre-set system! While there is the usual wild speculation over the origin of the lens, it seems to be generally accepted that it's a product of the early association between Yashica and the Tomioka Optical Company.
    It's often been remarked that this lens is almost a dead ringer for the 55mm Takumar f/2.2, and at first glance they are very similar indeed. However, the internal construction is quite different, the Takumar having several more aperture blades, for a start. I guess many components, such as the cocking knobs, were "off the shelf" components of the Japanese camera industry. However, there's no denying that the Yashinon can produce very fine results, and at some stage I might post some images captured on the full-frame Canon DSLR's, using this lens. Meanwhile, here are a few samples from a roll of Kentmere 100, mainly photographed between spells of ghastly winter weather, the film developed in PMK Pyro and scanned on the Epson Perfection V700.
  5. Fine results, Rick. Of course I've seen ads for the Yashica Penta J in old photography magazines, but one place I never expected it was in an old 1965 Allied Electronics catalog that belonged to my dad. While the catalog was mostly components (resistors, tubes, capacitors, etc.) and hi-fi equipment along with ham radio gear, there were a few pages with camera gear. Not much, but a Yashica J, Yashica Lynx 5000, and a Minolta 7s. Thanks for an enjoyable post.
  6. Very nice presentation. Excellent lighting on your pictures. I am envious of that ambience ! Thanks for posting. sp.
  7. Nice results from the Yashica. I've got a couple of early ones, sadly consigned to the dead camera box for different reasons. But not one with the semi automatic aperture. How quickly things changed at that time.
  8. Beautifully presented, Rick with much good information and a set of excellent example images. Thanks!
  9. Rick, excellent presentation. If you keep this up, we'll all know our way around your hometown without ever having set foot there.
    The shutter release is pushed front-to-back, toward your face, is that right? That seems a bit awkward. The same motion as the Argus Seventy-Five, which I found conducive to blurred pictures. But that's waist-level viewing, so I suppose this is better--at least the results say so.
  10. I'm at my cottage so I can't confirm this, but I am pretty sure I have a very nice black J5 at home. I can't remember which lens is on it. I have to admit I have never run a roll of film through the camera in the 20 years I've owned it. I'm found of the older Yashica camera, especially the Elector series rangefinders and SLR cameras. Their lenses were and are superb as your pictures do show. Nice work with an old camera. Viva la'film! John W
  11. Another superb review by Rick of a camera that I imagine was part of the transfer at that time of many amateur camera users from folding cameras and medium format to 35mm. The excellence of the Yashinon lens, I wonder if it was a precursor for the extremely fine and often underestimated lenses of the ML series under later Y/C (Kyocera) production or were those lens formulas (examples of the 21mm f3.5 and 28mm f2.8) later evolutions?
    Rick, I am always impressed not only by your well balanced compositions (essential subject matter) but also the rich B&W tone of your photos (lighting is a contributing part of that), such as that of the white chair or the last image. Can you share with us the type of film and processing you use, and how you do the negative to digital transfer?
  12. Thank you, Rick. Interesting post and beautiful pictures as always.
    The Penta J was my first 35m camera, bought new back in 1962. I sold it a few years later to fund the purchase of a 4x5 so I could be like Ansel (which it turned out I couldn't) and later wished I'd kept it. I now have two of them, one good as new and the other with a stuck-in rewind button, which doesn't prevent its functioning. Here's a picture from last fall.
  13. Thank you for your responses! Mike, those old publications with their miscellany of advertisements seem to be a thing of the past; in the '60's down here we read Popular Science and Popular Mechanics avidly, to get some idea of life in the USA. Thanks, SP, we're moving out of the middle of winter with it's long shadows, but they're the only thing I'll really miss about winter. Thanks, Louis, and Alan, I really must start moving further afield before I have to post a street map for people such as yourself, to show you where the pics were taken. Please let me know if it's getting insufferably boring! In my opinion the release is just fine where it is, and it's more comfortable than having to crook your index finger up and over for a top-mounted button. You just alter your grip slightly and squeeze...
    John, the black J-5's are quite rare and deemed most desirable by Yashica aficionados. Viva la film, indeed! Kent, I've fixed the sticky rewind button on a couple of these cameras; the spring that holds the button out seems to be rather weak. Removing a couple of screws frees the base of the camera, and a little bit of delicate working with a pair of fine-nosed pliers and some lighter fluid frees up the button. A drop of machine oil and the job's done. Your greyhound pic confirms the quality of the lens.
    Arthur, I've stepped back in time to the use of pyro-based staining developers over the past 18 months, and now use them almost exclusively, mainly PMK Pyro or Pyrocat HD. Certain films accept the stain better than others, and I tend to use Kodak Tri-X 400 or Ilford HP5 for medium format work, and Ilford FP4, Kentmere 100 or Arista EDU100 in 35mm. There is some loss of emulsion speed with these developers, and slower films like Pan F become a little limited in their use. I'm fairly content with the quality of the scans I get from an Epson Perfection V700 Photo.
    Regarding the Yashinon lenses: Yashica acquired Tomioka Optical fairly early in the piece, and some of the best Yashinon lenses resulted from this merger. The later ML series were produced in the relationship with Zeiss, and that's a subject worthy of a whole article, if another one is needed! In my humble opinion the finest Yashinons were the remarkable DX series, difficult to surpass in their combination of construction, finish and optical quality. I'll post an image of some I've managed to acquire.
  14. Sweet,the early Yashicas really do look good, and they have a feel that I think is very specific to Yashica. The shutter makes a unique sort of chink,and the cameras are really nice to handle and focus.
    I think that we are all keen on Yashinon's and my 50mm F2 has a beautifully smooth focusing action. Your winter may be bad, but the combination of the lens, film and pyro has realy brought out some lovely tones.
    I think that Spring is just around the corner here as all the Wattles are flowering in abundance.
  15. You're right, Tony, there's just something about the way these early Yashicas handle... Our wattles are also flowering, a great burst of yellow to perk up a grey day.
  16. Lovely series of images Rick. I have to admit, I've not heard a lot of talk about older Yashica SLR's and lenses. I'll have to keep my eyes open for any good deals. Just what I needed, something else to spend more time on eBay looking for. ;-)
  17. Lovely camera, Rick, and lovely shots from it. Gee, I really missed I need to shop up more often. It's just the lack of time is killing me. It's good to see you guys all here still posting frames taken with these classic beauties.
  18. Thanks, Kris, good to see you back. Good luck with the hunt, Les, it all sounds vaguely familar... You'd better put a Yashica on the list. And thank you John Seaman, having overlooked you in my first acknowledgements! I'm relieved that the semi-auto aperture was short-lived. Cory, I know the problems full well... Nothing like sieving through the auctions to fill a dull evening...
  19. Rick, thanks for the repair tip. I tried removing the bottom plate and frowning severely at the parts inside, but that didn't help. I'll have a go at your method.
  20. Thank you for this - as always informative and entertaining, and great images both "of" and "from" the camera! I know its really a standard SLR design, visually - but there is something subtly different about the way the lens mount panel curves into the penta prism housing. to my eye it is evocative of traditional Japanese architectural design elements. Perhaps its my brain putting the car before the horse, but its a very Japanese looking, very pretty camera.
  21. Peter, you have a knack of observing things a little outside the square... Now I'm going to have to consider cameras in relation to the traditional design elements of the countries and societies in which they originated...It's a shame I'm not looking for a subject for a thesis, but there could be a lot of fun involved in putting together some sort of case for cultural influences in camera design. Just don't get me started... Perhaps you'd like to do it?
  22. But then you would be DOCTOR Rick! (sorry - I presume too much, perhaps you already are - just another feather in the cap then?). I think there is something to it - when I look at Praktica's they have a certain Teutonic angularity combined with a minimalist aesthetic that hints at the shunning of imperialist ideas of material wealth and decadence.
    Of course any such theory could be defeated by someone holding up the Photomic finder;)
  23. "....I look at Praktica's they have a certain Teutonic angularity combined with a minimalist aesthetic that hints at the shunning of imperialist ideas of material wealth and decadence."

    Great start, Peter; keep it up! And no, my cap remains un-feathered...​
  24. On this theme about design.. Teutonic Japanese.. chicken and the egg etc.. just speculation that evolution
    of aesthetic deisgn features of influence and innovation theme and variation.
  25. I think the Yashica 50mm/2.0 lenses in M42 mount, including the DX and DS versions, kept the same optical formula. In a non-Yashica M42 camera body, the rear of these lenses might run afoul of the aperture actuator and/or mirror when the lens is focused at or near infinity.
  26. Hello Rick. Wonderful article and I must compliment you on your two very fine Yashicas! Outstanding to see the Penta J and the Reflex 35 J side by side. Your lens is just a few weeks older than mine. My Penta J's lens serial number is 120410. The body serial number is 2215951. Curious as to what your body serial numbers are. I'm pretty sure my camera has the original lens mated with the body from the factory. My newer Penta J body's serial number is 4219225. I'm pretty sure that there is a date code in here. The 221 and 421 on my two J's are Feb 1962 and Apr 1962. The "1" is a place holder or a model ID. The remaining numbers are the production sequence numbers... 5,951 and 9,225. The lenses were made at the Tomioka Optical factory in Tokyo as Yashica hadn't acquired Tomioka yet (1968). The 'J' models are... Penta J, J-3, J-4, J-P & J-5 and finally the J-7. My serial numbers are a theory at this point and are consistent with the serial numbers of the Pentamatic. Regards, Chris

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