Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Old glass: Yashica ML 75-150mm f/4

Many of you know that I like old things, and that includes camera lenses.  I love using inexpensive, old, manual-focus glass on my new DSLR bodies.  This is the second in an ongoing series of posts in which I highlight one of these old beauties.  This time, the spotlight is on my Yashica ML 75-150mm f/4 zoom lens.  It's an uncommon and inexpensive lens, even my my standards, but it still gets lots of use.

Yashica is a Japanese camera manufacturer founded in 1945.  They've used a variety of lens mounts over the years.  In 1961, they abandoned a proprietary bayonet mount in favor of the M42 screw mount.  In 1974, Yashica partnered with the German manufacturer Contax to produce a new camera line using a common mount, known as the Contax-Yashica (C-Y) or Yashica-Contax (Y-C) mount.  Contax, along with its high end Carl Zeiss T* lens line, was definitely the senior partner in that relationship.  Yashica provided low- to mid-range offerings, bringing a much larger consumer market to Zeiss lenses through the new C/Y mount.  Contax and Yashica both introduced new, incompatible mounts for their autofocus models (Yashica's AF Bayonet mount appeared in 1987), but the manual Y/C mount was still manufactured by Yashica on some models until 2005.

The C/Y lens mount
Although it lacked the reputation of Contax/Zeiss, Yashica was not without its own high-end offerings, especially with lenses.  Yashica's consumer grade "DSB" and "YUS" lenses were only single coated.  The "ML" and later "MC" lenses (both multi-coated; the change was for marketing) enjoy great reputations as professional grade glass.

I currently own only one Yashica lens:  an ML 75-150mm f/4 zoom.  I found it at a local pawn shop.  I had gone in to buy a cheap 50mm for $10.  The shop owner wanted to get rid of the last vestiges of his manual focus stock, so he offered me his three remaining lenses for an additional dollar.  I walked out with a Konica 55/1.7 (the lens I went in for), a Minolta 45/2, a Minolta 2X teleconverter, and this Yashica ML 75-150/4 for a combined total of US$11.  Of those, the only one I still use is the Yashica.  Two of these lenses have appeared on eBay recently; neither sold at the $20 and $30 asking prices.  However, many Yashica ML lenses seem to fetch slightly lower prices than their Takumar counterparts.

Old lenses are so colorful!
I like this little lens.  At 75-150mm, it has a relatively narrow zoom range, and that's its primary downfall.  It's no great challenge to find an 80-200mm or 70-210mm f/4 lens.  However, this Yashica has several advantages over its competitors.  For starters, it's considerably smaller than the other telephoto zooms in my bag.  It also has the advantage of being rather sharp wide open at f/4, with smooth bokeh and few discernible aberrations on high-contrast edges.  I'll cover each of those in more detail below.

This lens has some of the smoothest bokeh of any of my lenses -- almost as nice as my uber-creamy Tamron 90/2.5 (52B) macro.  In the following shots, notice the out-of-focus traffic lights and the very busy background plants to see how softly the edges are rendered.  As with all the images on this blog, click the thumbnail for a larger version.

Chromatic aberration on high-contrast edges is virtually non-existent at 150mm, even at f/4.  At 75mm, there is some CA near the edges, but it's not bad and should be easily fixable in post.  You can see it in the cropped photo below.

This lens is fairly sharp, but not wicked sharp like some of my lenses (my Super-Takumar 50/1.4 and my Micro-Nikkor 55/2.8 come to mind).  It's quite sharp at 150mm; f/4 is almost as sharp as f/8 at this focal length.  That's great when shooting in low light.  Fast lenses are worthless if you have to stop them down to f/8 just to get decent image quality.  At 75mm, it's a little softer, and the difference between f/4 and f/8 is more noticeable.  This is also the end where CA appears, you'll recall.  Below, you'll find 100% crops from the unretouched 8MP JPEGs.  I used 10x LiveView to focus on the Ramo's Pizza sign, which was about 150 meters down the street.  I think this lens has about average contrast.  The subject matter pictured below was pretty low contrast even to the naked eye.

150mm f/8, full frame
75mm f/8, full frame
150mm f/4, 100% crop (click)
75mm f/4, 100% crop (click)
150mm f/8, 100% crop (click)
75mm f/8, 100% crop (click)

Like many other manual focus zooms, and like the new Canon 100-400mm lens, this 75-150mm uses a single ring, push-pull ("one-touch" or "trombone") style zoom/focus control.  Turning the ring adjusts the focus distance, while sliding the ring fore and aft adjusts the focal length.  In my opinion, one-touch lenses are the only way to go with manual focus zooms.  Having to jump between two different rings on anything but the most sedentary subjects would be an exercise in frustration.

Because only one adjustment is needed along the entire barrel, the knurled grip on the ring is huge -- over 2" (50mm) long -- which makes it quite comfortable.  The lens barrel does not change length when zooming, although it does grow about 1/2" (12mm) when focus changes from infinity to minimum (4.9' / 1.5m).  The lens rotates about 190 degrees throughout that sweep, which is just about perfect from an ergonomic standpoint, as it allows fine tuning while still allowing you to cover the full range without adjusting your grip.

One oddity that I've noticed is that the aperture ring rotates in the opposite direction from most of my other manual lenses.  The ring must be rotated clockwise to open it up wide (f/4), and counter-clockwise to close it down to f/22.  It clicks at every full stop.  Speaking of aperture, this one has eight blades.

Wide open at f/4
Eight blades at f/11

I've encountered some confusion regarding the lens specs.  I found an image copy (in German) of the original sales brochure for what appears to be this lens.  Thanks go to Dave Pfister and Google Translate for converting it to English (the full translation follows this post).  However, while the picture of the lens on that brochure certainly looks like my lens, and the title matches, the dimensions given indicate a much larger lens than my copy.  Another online source gives numbers which match my own lens.  (That OlyPedia site, originally in German, has lots of great info on a variety of Yashica ML lenses.)  Below are the brochure specs, my measured specs, and those for a new Canon 70-200/4 lens, for comparison:

BrochureMeasuredCanon 70-200/4
(infinity focus)
192.5mm 115.5mm 172mm
68.5mm 63.5mm 76mm
Weight 805g 485g 705g
Filter 52mm 67mm
Min Focus 1.5m 1.2m
Optics 12 elements
in 9 groups
16 elements
in 13 groups

Michael Tait of the Newsboys,
performing at the 2009 Nebraska State Fair
In environments where I can afford to give up an extra stop of light, I frequently choose this lens over my excellent Nikkor 135/2.8.  The Yashica isn't that much larger, physically, and even a limited zoom range can be a great asset in many shooting environments.  It's great when watching the kids run around the yard, where I've got plenty of light, as the zoom range allows me to sit in one spot and still get well composed shots with a tight DOF.  I've even used it at concerts when I'm not too far back, and my blue ribbon will attest to the image quality it can produce in low light.  Focusing can get a little tough in that light, though -- especially with a little Rebel viewfinder.

Unlike most of my other manual lenses, I don't have any film bodies that will accept this lens.  I mount it onto my Canon EOS DSLR bodies using a C/Y-EOS adapter.  The C/Y mount's 45.5mm register distance allows for a nice, thick adapter when mating to the 44mm EOS bodies.

One thing I've been unable to learn about this lens is the date of manufacture.  There are detailed tables for Nikon and other manufacturers which allow you to compute the year the lens rolled off the line, given its serial number.  If anybody knows of this info for Yashica lenses, PLEASE leave a comment below!  My serial number is A8417214.  Given the cosmetic style & build construction, I'd guess this lens was designed in the early 1980's, but that's only a guess.

If you're in search of more info on other Yashica lenses (or bodies, for that matter), the following links could be of use:

YashicaForum.com is an active community of Yashica users, some of whom are definitely experts on the topic.  This thread attempts to compile a definitive list of all Yashica lenses ever produced.

The Yashica SLR FAQ, maintained by Cees de Groot and originally posted in the Usenet group rec.photo, has lots of good info, but reportedly hasn't been updated since 1999.

Louis Lam has compiled a great list of Yashica lens data, although my 4/75-150 is not among them.

The Camera-Wiki page on Yashica talks about Yashica bodies and lens mounts, but not much about lenses.

And of course, you can't bypass the CameraPedia web site's page about Y/C lenses or Yashica in general.

The English translation from the aforementioned German marketing brochure follows.
"This compact telephoto zoom lens covers the most used focal distance from 75mm to 150mm.  As the perspective in this zoom-region are relatively easy to capture, one obtains wonderful, naturally soft-drawn pictures, which lends itself optimally to portraits.  Additionally it features a compact build and an easy-to-use "One Touch" zoom and focus function which are useful in landscape and outdoor photography which requires mobility, for example mountain climbing.  The good cost/utility ratio of the lens stems through the utility and sensible construction.  The multi-layer coating ensures sharp pictures at every focal length.
Focus / zoom setting

Focusing is done by turning the zoom / focusing ring, while one retains the subject through the viewfinder in the eye. For easier focusing, it is advisable to first set the lens at the watch your focal length (150mm), so that the subject is greater.  However, it is also possible to first focal length and then adjust the distance. To select the  desired focal length and framing it simply pushes the zoom / focus ring according to order Back before, while it retains the subject through the viewfinder in the eye. The set focal length can be read on the scale for zoom control.

Infrared Photography

Infrared images for the lens to focus first on a normal manner, then set over and against the corresponding distance of the infrared compensation mark (red dot), and take the shot. Please refer to the information sheet of infrared film.


* Yashica 52mm filters are available, which are screwed into the front lens.

* If you leave the lens attached to the camera housing and not shooting, you should cover it with the lens cover. If you remove the front camera lens housing, remove both the anterior and the posterior caps.

* Dust and dirt with a blower or a soft lens brush to remove fingerprints removed by gently wiping with lens paper. (Do not rub too hard.)

Focal Length: 75mm-150mm
Optics construction: 12 Elements in 9 groups
Negative format: 24x36mm
Visual angle: 32deg -16 deg 30'
Lens mount: Contax/Yashica fitting
Aperture: fully automatic
Aperture settings: 4-5.6-8-11-16-22
Shortest focal distance: 1.5m
Focal lengths: 75-100-150
Filter: 52mm (screw-in type)
Lens filter: 54mm (slide-on type), 52mm (screw-in-type)
Dimensions: 68.5mm wide, 192mm long
Weight: 850 g
Accessories: Lens cover 54mm (slide-on type), rear cover
Lens case: 70B-2 (with straps)

Well, that's about all I can tell you about this little gem.  As always, if you have any questions or other remarks, please leave them in the comments below.  If you want to read about more old glass, check out my Takumar article or my Tamron 90/2.5 article.  The behind-the-scenes info on how I took this post's title illustration is available here.


  1. Is a Contax/Yashica bayonet mount lens and a C/Y lens the same thing?

    1. Yes, they are. Yashica used to make lenses with the M42 screw mount. In 1973, Yashica partnered with Zeiss and created a new bayonet lens mount for their new, joint offerings. The first camera bodies with this new C/Y bayonet mount were the Contax RTS (1974) and the Yashica FX-1 (1975). Lenses switched from the old M42 to the new C/Y mount at about this same time. Any lens listed as having the C/Y or Y/C mount will be the newer, bayonet style.

      For a decent history of Yashica, check out the Camerapedia article: http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Yashica

  2. I just bought a 80-200 ML, and have a number of yashica prime (stole the camera and lens' from my dad) I was wondering about the markings on the barrel. With the primes when you adjust the fstop it gives an indication of what the new focal range is, but with the zoom it just has a curved line marked R going from center to the right. Any idea how that works, or what it is indicating?


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