Fujica ST801 [1972 - 1978#]

The ST801 (September 1972) was Fuji's second pioneering SLR. It built on the features of the ST701 by adding open aperture metering (ahead of the rival Pentax Spotmatic F), and was also the first camera to use viewfinder LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) instead of a needle-pointer metering system or miniature lamps seen in the Yashica TL Electro X (which are often mistaken for LEDs).

Exposure is indicated by seven LEDs. It's a centre the light system, where the three lights on either side of centre indicate whole stops of under or over exposure. LEDs glow through a range of brightness levels, which allows some degree of sensitivity to the meter readings. Two LEDs equally lit (say the centre and one above) is an indication that exposure is half a stop over. If the centre LED is bright and the one above dim, this shows exposure is a quarter of a stop over, etc.

The aims of this metering system were faster performance, and elimination of meter deviation caused by shock or mechanical failure. It was also good in low light situations. However, I rather suspect another strong driver was a growing demand for electronic wizardry in all things. Regardless, the ST801 design paved the way forward for newer generations of cameras: other manufacturers just added more and more LEDs (the 1979 Pentax ME Super has eighteen).

The Fujica also boasted a fast 1/2000th sec., top speed from a self-lubricating Teflon shutter; a whole stop higher than the Spotmatic's. This was very quick for a horizontally travelling cloth shutter. The camera retained the lovely bright viewfinder used in the ST701, and added a shutter speed information display window.

Thankfully, the ST801 took nickel/zinc or silver oxide batteries, so there are no problems using it today.

(#) The ST801 was still in production early in 1978 (as can be seen in these 1978 dealer guidance notes), but was discontinued later in the year, when the ST605n and ST705w were launched. No modifications were made to the ST801 during its lifetime, save for a slight styling change in the first year of production, when it lost the raised chrome Fujica logo, and gained an engraved and painted one - just as the ST701 had.

Open aperture metering required new Fujinon lenses, which were modified to allow transmission of the lens aperture setting to the camera. This was accomplished by a small tab that protruded from the perimeter of the lens. The tab rode in a shallow groove at the outer edge of the camera body lens mount flange (the shiny circular plate), and engaged with an outer movable ring on the lens mount flange that rotates against light spring pressure. The position of the tab, relative to the camera body, changed for each aperture set (i.e. it moved with the lens aperture dial), and so communicated aperture information to the camera body. The new camera lens mount also featured a lens lock, which was a small depression in the mating surface that accommodated a tiny retractable stud on the camera body.

The camera could accept other M42 lenses, but they had to be used with stop-down metering, facilitated by the ST801's DOF button. Once pressed, this could be locked by a slight twist, which freed the user's finger to operate the shutter release for metering.

According to advertisements in a 1974 edition of Amateur Photographer magazine, the cost of the Fujica ST801 with an EBC* f/1.8 lens was about £125.00, £10 more than a Pentax Spotmatic F with a similar lens, although there were considerably fewer dealers selling the Fujica. The ST801 came in chrome or black finishes.

* EBC stood for "Electronic Beam Coating"; a Fuji process for applying up to eleven coatings to their lenses, ensuring sharper, clearer and brighter pictures.

fujica st801
fujica st801 leds

How the viewfinder LEDs show -over exposure in this example - in quarter stops.


A diagram of the ST801's meter circuitry, according to the June 1973 edition of Popular Science magazine.

fujinon modified M42 lens

Top: ST801 lenses had a revised look, with a black aperture dial, and rubberised focus grip. The design remained in production until 1980.

fujica st801

My Fujica ST801 in chrome with a non-EBC f/1.8 55mm lens.

fujica st801

A second version ST801 in black (internet image).