AZ-1 [1977 - 1980#]

The AZ-1 was the early 1978 Fujica line-up's replacement for the ST901, and sold alongside the ST801, ST705 and ST605 (as can be seen in these 1978 dealer guidance notes): that is, until the ST605n and ST705w came along, and the ST801 was discontinued later in 1978.

 

Many Internet sources describe the AZ-1 as the last M42 Fujica, but obviously it wasn't: the ST605n, ST705w, and ST605 II were yet to come. While the AZ-1 began to appear for sale in 1978, it was officially launched for export in June 1977, and so predates the ST605 II by a whole year.


Like its predecessor, the AZ-1 offered aperture-priority TTL metering and an electronically controlled continuously variable shutter. At first glance, the ST901 specification appears to have been modestly simplified. The shutter speed range was reduced to 1/2 to 1/1000, and there were only three mechanical speeds of 1/60, 1/250 and 1/1000 (with no metering). BUT, while the ST901 offered fully-automatic exposure, the AZ-1 provided reduced-automatic control, as a consequence of the AE lock; a detail turned to a virtue in AZ-1 literature.


So long as the AZ-1's shutter release button remained half-depressed (activating the meter), the initial shutter speed setting became locked-in, regardless of subsequent changes to the brightness of the scene, or the user's adjustment of the lens aperture setting. Thus a fresh reading had to be made after making exposure adjustments (e.g. via a change of aperture). By contrast, the ST901's auto-exposure system continuously responded to changes made or occurring while metering was active.


Advertising literature described the benefits of the AE lock in the context of back-light control, whereby the fractional exposure controls could be deployed (i.e. adjusting the automatic shutter speed by +2, +1, -1, or -2 stops via the shutter speed dial). However, I don't believe this is a feature the amateur buyer of this camera would have relished.

 

Some Internet reviewers are puzzled by the limited range of mechanical shutter speeds, but these need to be considered in the context of the era. Other popular auto-exposure cameras - for example, the 1977 Pentax ME - had a single mechanical shutter speed, so the AZ-1's three settings were actually quite good.


The AZ-1 also introduced changes to its forerunner's defining characteristic: the viewfinder display became a bank of 7 LED lights, indicating the camera's shutter speed on a reduced and approximated scale of 1/2 to 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000 (compared to the ST901's 14 point digital LED scale).


The AZ-1 was the first SLR to be bundled with a zoom lens as standard. This was the Fujinon-Z 43-75mm f3.5 - 4.5 (7 elements in 7 groups), but Amateur Photographer magazine's test report rated their test lens' performance as "poor" overall ... although they might have had a duff lens. Alternatively, the camera could be purchased with a Fujinon 55mm f1.8 (6 elements in 4 groups), or 50mm f1.4 (7 elements in 6 groups) lenses (see the Fujinon lenses page for more details). The AZ-1 also had the facility to connect the new Fujica Auto winder, plus there was a dedicated Fujica Auto Strobo AZ flash gun.


With a recommended price tag of around £228, fitted with the zoom lens, this was not a cheap camera. Neither was the Auto Winder, with a price tag of around £90.

 

(#) I had assumed an AZ-1 production end-date of 1980, because that's when the AX series cameras were launched, but a trawl of on-line Popular Photography magazines has revealed that the AZ-1 was still being sold in the USA as late as 1985.

 

At some point in its production, the AZ-1 appears to have received a make-over. The "Auto Electro" pentaprism badge of the ST901 was revived, and the prism housing got an inset cover, the idea being borrowed from various other camera models, but I think it looks rather good. The second version introduced a black finish option. Internet images of this variation seem to be less numerous than the naked-prism version, and are predominantly black models.


I have a first version AZ-1 in my collection, but I've always felt a bit ambivalent about its inclusion with the other M42 models. I tend to regard it as not being a child of the ST901, but more of a parent to the 1980s AX models with their programmed exposure modes facilitated by an electronically timed shutter. It's the ancestor of a family of Fujica models that followed, rather than led innovation.

 

Below: Internet images of the two versions with a silver finish - the first version AZ-1 with the 43-75mm zoom lens, and the second  version wearing an f/1.8 55mm lens and auto winder.

fujica AZ-1
az12.jpg

Rex Hayman's 1977 Amateur Photographer magazine's test report on a pre-production model did not seem to favour the AE lock either.

fujica az-1 test report

A 43mm lens might appear to be a bit of an oddity, but it's actually a very logical focal length.
The focal length of a lens is a measure of how strongly it converges or diverges light. Short (wide angle) focal length lenses bend light rays strongly to bring them to focus over a shorter distance. Conversely long focal length lenses (telephotos) are weaker, and bend light rays more feebly to bring them to a focus over a greater distance. In other words, these two types of lens produce an expanded or contracted field of view that distorts perspective.
The most optically normal lens is one that reproduces a field of view that matches that of the human eye, and so generally looks natural. While humans have a peripheral field of view of about 180° on the horizontal, and something less on the vertical, the area we focus on is about 55° on the diagonal.
In 35mm film photography, a focal length that would produce a 55° diagonal field of view is 41.6mm. The size of the diagonal of 35mm film is 43mm, so that's the nearest logical focal length.

45mm lenses were once the standard focal length, but it was apparently easier to make faster lenses (with larger apertures) at slightly longer focal lengths, and for this reason 50/55mm lenses became standard. With the increase in popularity of SLRs, larger apertures were desirable since they offered improved viewfinder brightness.

The table below is the timeline of the entire series of M42 mount ST cameras.

futime.jpg