The Fujica Half – Snapshot Ace

Fujica Half 2.8

This Fujica Half was actually one of the very first film cameras that I bought. At John’s Camera in Blacksburg Virginia, I saw this tiny little metal chunk sitting on a back shelf gathering dust. I knew next to nothing about film cameras, or indeed cameras in general at that time, but it caught my eye because it was a pretty little thing among the great lumps of SLR.

When I looked closer, I noticed the badge ‘Fujica,’ and I was immediately interested, because my recently purchased digital camera was a Fuji X-100 and I had no idea that Fuji/Fujifilm had a heritage of film cameras. I asked John if there was a connection between this Fujica and the same Fuji that made my X-100, and he confirmed my suspicion. It’s the same company, just more than a half a century between this camera, and my digital Fuji.

I could immediately see that the X-100 drew some influence from this little camera, and I had to have it. It turned out that the little camera wasn’t even working. John spent a few minutes playing with it, and I offered him $20 for it if he couldn’t get it working. John smiled, and handed me the camera. Whoops. Now I have a non-working film camera to play with and absolutely no intention of this camera being a paperweight… me and my big mouth.

Having ZERO experience working on cameras, digital or film, I immediately set to work tearing it apart. Or rather, being an adult, I started by analyzing what was working, and what was not. To the internet!  First of all, I noticed that the little built-in Selenium meter was working, and damn near accurately (rare that).

A Selenium meter is a photo-electric meter that relies on the chemical reaction (photovoltaic) that the element Selenium has with light. Because the Selenium meter produces it’s own electrical charge, there is no need for a battery! Unfortunately, these meters are usually more than 40 years old, and at that age, wiring corrodes, the electromagnet that reads the current from the meter wears out, and so-on. As a result, finding a selenium meter that works accurately and reliably today is no easy task.

Going down the list of possible culprits for my non-working camera. I found that the film advance lever worked just fine, and that the shutter made a clicking sound, but the shutter didn’t open. The next place to check is the self-timer. Most old cameras have a clockwork spring-wound self timer, and over the decades, this spring becomes weak and gets slow, or even stuck. One rule that I quickly learned about vintage cameras, is that you should never fiddle with the self timer, because it can jam up the shutter and on some cameras requires a full service to get the timer unstuck.

On my little Fujica Half, the self timer was jammed tight. Aha… there’s your problem! Luckily, on the Fujica Half, I don’t have to take apart the whole body to access the self timer assembly. It’s a top mounted wheel-shaped timer under the rewind lever. I unscrewed the rewind lever, undid a pin, and the whole self-timer assembly exploded out of the top of the camera with a SPROING. I then tried the shutter without the self-timer. It works! Success! Who needs a self timer anyway? So I put the whole shebang back together minus the internal gubbins of the self timer, and I had a working camera.

SPROING

Self timer on the left!

Some Specs:

Shutter: Seikosha-L 1/30-1/300 +B

Lens: Fujinon 28mm f/2.8, 5 elements, coated, filter thread 22.5mm

Focus: Zone Focus, with close focusing to a little under 2 feet (about 0.7m)

Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22 full click stops

Operation: a Selenium Auto mode that selects a coupled aperture and shutter combo. (Full manual control of aperture and shutter possible.)

Wind: Single stroke top-mounted lever.

Flash Sync: Yes, standard X plug. Cold shoe only.

Picture size: ‘Half-Frame’ 12x18mm, 72 pictures from a standard 135/36 film.

Some History:

One of the range of great Olympus half-frame c...

One of the range of great Olympus half-frame cameras. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Canon / Bell & Howell Demi half frame camera

Canon / Bell & Howell Demi half frame camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fujica Half was launched in 1963, in response to the extremely popular Olympus PEN half frame cameras. The Canon Demi, another Japanese half frame, was launched the same year as the Fujica Half, with a similar body design and features. These half frame cameras were mainly designed for the point-and-shoot audience, and they all had some degree of automation, and built-in selenium or CDS meters. All three competitors featured light, compact, stylish bodies, and solid metal construction. Half frame cameras weren’t a new invention in the 1960s, but the high expense of color film (vs. B+W) back then made the film economy of 72 frames on a standard roll of film very attractive indeed. The smaller negative size makes the pictures from a half frame camera slightly grainier than a full frame 35mm camera, but not significantly so on standard prints (enough for snapshots, and far better than 110 film). They all sold extremely well in the early 1960s, which is why you can find them almost everywhere. There are a few half-frame oddities, but most of the Japanese models are pretty common, and thus inexpensive to buy today.

The price of color film steadily decreased throughout the 1960s, and full frame cameras got smaller and smaller…the Rollei 35 for one example. This combined pressure eventually eroded the half-frame market, and by 1969, most of the half frame cameras were gone, or considered obsolete.

My Take:

One thing that you immediately notice about this camera when you pick it up is that it just feels right. The proportions seem a bit blocky in photos, but everything falls to hand nicely (to my small hands at least). The vinyl covering is somewhat rough, and the camera is easy to hold in one hand. The wind lever has a very short ratcheted action that feels excellent, and allows for some very rapid picture taking if you feel like it.

Compared to some of my other 1960’s cameras, this one contains lots of info in the viewfinder, with shutter and aperture info along the left side of the window.

Annoying things about the camera? The shutter release travel is pretty long, and it’s very heavy. I suspect this is because of the coupled selenium meter. The film counter is on the bottom of the camera, which isn’t too annoying, since 72 shots feels like a lot and I never felt the need to look down to check. The manual shutter speed selector is also on the bottom of the camera, and if my auto mode didn’t work so well I would be a bit annoyed by that. As it is, I used Auto mode most of the time.

At least the film counter resets when you open the door.

Shutter speeds and film counter on the  bottom.

In Use:

Zone focus is just a fancy word for guess focus, and you’d think that half of my photos would be a blurry mess of shattered expectations and underexposed junk, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got my photos back, and about 90% were in good focus. That’s actually a better ratio of sharp photos than some of my rangefinders! Part of this is the wide 28mm lens. It’s a pretty forgiving lens as far as focusing is concerned, and most shots are actually at infinity. It’s also much faster for snapshots than some cameras. Between the auto mode and the forgiving guess focus, it’s a pretty carefree camera actually.

My Selenium meter was spot on, and was only fooled in a few backlit locations, where I think my modern digital would have trouble. Note that this is primarily a daylight camera. The ISO indicator on this camera only goes up to 200 (indicative of the slow film of 1963), and the 2.8 lens isn’t super fast.

This camera is perfect for use with a hand strap, and that’s how I used it. A full neck strap would just be wasted on this small light camera.

Performance:

This is where I was most surprised about this camera. With it’s simplified controls and unassuming price of entry, you would think that the lens on this camera would be O.K. at best… perhaps lomo territory. However, I found this little Fujinon 28mm lens to be absolutely fantastic! I haven’t used the camera with black and white film, so I can’t speak to how the contrast fares in B+W, but the color, sharpness, and contrast with color film are absolutely superb for such a tiny package. At f/2.8 the lens is slightly soft (portraits turned out nice), but at f/4 and above, the lens is very sharp indeed. Below are some scanned pics from my school’s trip to the Seoul Zoo. Some are cropped and rotated, others are left in their scanned form, with two to a single scanned frame. Note, this was from a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 with a mediocre scan.

93040033 93080007 93080017 93040014

at 2.8 it's a bit soft.

at 2.8 it’s a bit soft.

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