This camera’s lens is simply incredible. Just look at that sharpness and clarity! And this is with the lens either nearly or fully wide open, thanks the the dim antique-store light.
When I restarted my collection in 2006 I intended to collect fixed-lens rangefinders. I had bought eight or ten of them when someone gave me an SLR they no longer wanted. The SLR bug bit me hard and that was pretty much that for my rangefinder obsession.
As I shrink my collection through Operation Thin the Herd I will to keep just one or two rangefinders — ones I will use and love. If I had to guess right now, I think I’ll wind up with my Canonet QL17 G-III and my Lynx 14e.
Not that either camera is in fully working order. The Canonet has always needed new light seals. The Lynx 14e’s meter is off by a stop. But for cameras I’m going to keep, I’m willing to invest in repairs.
I wished I had an f/1.4 lens for my Nikon F2 last month when I visited the classic car museums in Auburn, Indiana. My f/2 prime would have left me with a mighty narrow in-focus patch; I wanted that extra stop of exposure. I had just had good luck with my Yashica Lynx 14e indoors in available light, though, so I decided to give it another try.
I also wanted to shoot black and white, given that I’d shoot endless color with my Canon PowerShot S95 on the trip. I had just bought a ton of Arista Premium 400 so I loaded up a roll. This film is heavily rumored to be rebranded Kodak Tri-X. It behaves much the same to my eye.
And then the light in these museums moved frequently and quickly between bright areas and deep shadows. I knew getting good exposure would be tricky, and that the Lynx’s viewfinder would not help me figure it out. I really wished I had an SLR for its through-the-lens viewing.
All day, I framed shots and hoped for the best. After the photos came back from the processor, several were beyond saving. These turned out all right, though. This photo of an Auburn’s fender and wheel required no Photoshopping.
That luck didn’t last with photos of a pair of step-down Hudsons in the National Auto & Truck Museum. Light blasting in from intermittent skylights left deep dark areas in what had once been the Auburn factory. My Lynx did the best it could.
Despite the difficult light hiding many of this Hudson’s details, I like the mood that lighting creates here.
Dim, even lights in the National Auto & Truck Museum basement meant wide-open exposures and the narrowest in-focus patches, but with care I made some of them work. Here’s a 1952 Chevrolet.
I lingered over this wine-colored Nash Healey, the first one built.
Inside the neighboring Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg museum, shooting away from the enormous plate-glass windows gave the best chance for good exposure. Always a contrarian, I tried a few shots facing them. This was the best of them; the rest could not be salvaged.
Getting down and close worked, too.
Here, I made one of the great windows work to my advantage.
Upstairs, faced with illumination entirely by spotlight, I all but gave up on the Lynx. I did manage this one photo.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed the challenge in this difficult light. But I’d face this frustration again, because I want to prove I’m photographer enough to handle it.
For years, my short list of must-have cameras has included either the 1965 Yashica Lynx 14 or its integrated-circuit-driven younger brother, the 1968 Lynx 14e. None of the other big fixed-lens rangefinder cameras I own have these cameras’ enormous namesake f/1.4 lens, which is fabled for its sharpness as well as its low-light capability.
These cameras usually go for way bigger bucks than I like to spend, so I patiently scanned the auctions for several years looking for a bargain. I usually have good luck buying that way, but not this time. I ended up with both a 14 and a 14e with stuck shutters, weak light meters, and various other minor ills. I tried to repair them myself to no avail.
Reader Derek Wong offered to make my two Lynx 14s into one working one, and repair another of my cameras, in exchange for me sending him a bunch of cameras I won’t shoot again and have run out of room to store. It was a great trade. Not only did Derek get the 14e working, but he replaced the light seals and gave it a solid clean, lube, and adjustment. When I got it back, it looked and felt like new.
The enormous 14e weighs a whopping two pounds and stands taller and wider than my Nikon F2 SLR. It feels extremely well built, and all of its controls work smoothly but lack that silky feel you get with pro equipment. The front-heavy 14e is dominated by its 45mm f/1.4 Yashinon-DX lens, of seven elements in five groups. Its Copal SVE leaf shutter operates from 1 to 1/500 sec. I thought I’d wish for 1/1000 sec, but even shooting indoors I never needed it.
The 14e’s light meter is powered by two odd-duck PX640 mercury batteries. Fortunately, Amazon sells alkaline cells of the same size, and they work well enough. The meter’s CdS cell is on the camera body next to the Yashica logo, so if you shoot with filters you need to adjust exposure manually to compensate. The 14e takes 58mm filters and accessories. I gather that this lens is prone to flare, and that a lens hood is recommended. But who has a 58mm lens hood lying around?
Inconveniently, most of the camera’s controls are on the lens barrel, and one control doesn’t feel different enough from another to choose them by feel. I kept twisting the aperture ring when I meant to focus. But because aperture is stepless along its f/1.4-f/16 range, I couldn’t just click it back to where I had it. I always had to reset exposure from scratch.
Strangely, you activate the light meter by pressing the “Switch” button on the camera’s face. My fingers always fumbled to find it, and it’s hard to hold in while you adjust aperture and shutter speed. While you do that, the words OVER and UNDER appear in the viewfinder. When they disappear, you have a good exposure. I checked my 14e against my iPhone’s light-meter app and found that my 14e was underexposing by one stop, so I compensated by setting the camera’s ISO one stop lower.
You might think I’m about to pan this camera. You would be wrong. Because oh my gosh look look look at these results!
The Lynx 14e was born to take photographs inside in available light. It just killed every time. And you can cut yourself on these images they’re so sharp! These photos are on Kodak T-Max 400.
The Lynx 14e did all right outside, too, but to look their best all of those shots needed a little tweaking in Photoshop.
Once adjusted, clarity, detail, and tonality turned out good, but not better than on any of my other fixed-lens rangefinder cameras.
Truly, this camera’s killer use is indoor available-light work. Look at this creamy shot from Stockton Mill, an 1850s grist mill in northeastern Indiana. The light play is just outstanding.
This wagon was made in my hometown, South Bend, as it says on a part of its back panel that didn’t make it into the photo. I shot it because the light on the barrels was good.
This lens does have a flaw: barrel distortion. You can really see it in this shot, but it’s evident in some of the others, too.
But as long as you’re not shooting something with obvious, edge-to-edge horizontal lines, you might not notice the effect. Here’s a shot of the Houck Iron Bridge in Delphi. The barrel distortion is barely noticeable.
One other quibble: the Lynx 14e’s viewfinder adjusts automatically for parallax, but I found that my close-up shots were not as centered in the frame as I composed them. I cropped them back to right in Photoshop.
I almost gave up on my broken Lynx 14 and 14e. I’m so glad I took Derek up on his repair offer! The Lynx 14e’s usability challenges are worth grappling with again just to get to know this wonderful lens better. I just ordered a bunch more black-and-white film, and I’m sure some of it will make its way into my Lynx 14e.
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