the Ugly Duckling

It isn’t a great way to start off a post about one of your cameras, but it’s appropriate. Especially a camera that I’ve been chasing for a long time and had an interest in since the late 1970s. My first 35mm SLR was a Yashica TL Electro X (purchased new in 1972) with an Auto Yashinon 50mm f1.7 M42 lens (screw mount). I loved that camera but wasn’t a fan of having to screw-in the lenses whenever I wanted to change focal lengths. I saw other photographers quickly attach and detach their lenses quickly (Canon, Nikon) and wanted a new camera that could do the same. But Yashica in 1977 wasn’t sexy enough sitting alongside the other SLRs for sale in the Navy Exchange store in Yokosuka, Japan. The Canon, Nikon, and Minolta reps were better prepared than the Yashica guy to present their products to cash flush Sailors looking to spend their hard earned dollars on new cameras, stereos, and watches. I vaguely remember looking at the then still new Yashica-Contax RTS in the Exchange catalog but wasn’t captured by its specs or looks. The Yashica FR and FR I versions didn’t capture my attention either. By this time I only wanted to get my hands of the Canon F-1 and Canon FD lenses not to mention all of the goodies you could add on to the F-1 (motor drives, a winder, finders, data backs…). So when I got to the store I didn’t even pick up the RTS.

Fast forward to the present and that RTS I didn’t think of much way back then I just purchased 44 years later. I want to see if the Contax RTS is a worthy camera that I missed out on or did I make the right choice. I still own that F-1 I purchased in 1978 and it’s held up beautifully over the years and followed me around the world.

Almost all present day RTS bodies share a common trait – peeling leatherette (or whatever that stuff was). A quick look at the online selling sites will show that it’s a rare camera that has complete original coverings and if it does look good and well attached then there’s a good likelihood it’s been replaced by aftermarket skins (I have some ordered).

My new to me RTS peeling skins and all. Most importantly, it works. Being an all electronic camera if something goes wrong it’s a paperweight. It uses the still easy to find A544 6V alkaline battery to power everything.
Not only does the leatherette peel away from the metal body but it dries out and shrinks a bit too which makes it nearly impossible to simply dab some glue behind the upturned edges.
It was super easy to peel away the covering on the film door – my guess is that it’s been reattached at some point before with contact adhesive. I cleaned any residual adhesive from the camera with isopropyl alcohol (70%) and some Q-tips and a rag.

Stay with me on this series of posts as I bring this ugly duckling back to life (appearance wise) and put it through some actual film tests. But first, I need to find a lens for it that won’t break the bank. The Carl Zeiss lenses designed to compliment this model are way over my paygrade so I’ll turn to the less expensive and maybe equally competent Yashica ML lenses in the C/Y mount. I have a sharp ML 50mm f1.7 on the way. BTW, RTS stands for Real Time System.

What the covering is supposed to look like.

Comments are always welcomed as I’ve learned quite a bit from reader feedback. As always, thanks for stopping by and while you’re at it, feel free to visit my camera shop at (CC Design Studios hosted by Etsy). – Chris Whelan

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4 thoughts on “the Ugly Duckling

  1. I was given a Yashica FX-3 years ago, which had the same problem as your camera, with the leatherette. I cut a replacement set from a set of leatherettes I’d taken from an old Yashica rangefinder – the main difference was the thickness.
    John Farrell

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It was by far the easiest to remove. I’m not sure I’ll pick an offbeat color but I want to get the right feel. Actually, with the skins off it feels kind of industrial ATM.


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