Fujica ST-605N: Small, simple and pretty good

Fujica ST-605N front view
A front view of the Fujica ST-605N with an old 7-Up crate, a railroad spike and an aluminum Kodak 35mm film canister. This thing is really solid and only a few little quirks keep me from truly loving it. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Fujica ST-605N is a solid, sensible 35mm SLR camera. It’s got a lot going for it, and it just has a few little foibles that keep me from really loving it.

The thing is, there’s really nothing actually wrong with it. But using it bugs me in a teeny tiny, subliminal way. It’s almost as if Fujifilm went out of their way to differentiate themselves with slightly-off features.

Fujica ST-605N shutter speeds
The shutter speeds available on the Fujica ST-605N are a little odd — all the way up to 1/2 sec., but not 1 sec., and all the way down to 1/700 sec., but not 1/1000 sec. Not bad — just a little weird. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The slowest shutter speed, for example, is a half second — rather than the one second that virtually every one of its competitors featured. And a fast shutter speed of 1/500 sec. was common enough, but typically 1/1000 was the next step. The Fujica, however, tops out at 1/700 — only a half stop faster than 1/500 — which makes it harder to calculate for.

And the kit lens — at least, I assume it’s the kit lens — is a 55mm focal length. Look, it’s not unheard of, but it’s not all that common, either. What’s more odd is the maximum aperture — f/2.2. It is exactly one half stop faster than f/2.8, sure. It’s the only f/2.2 lens I’ve had in my collection.

But don’t all that fool you — I’m still pretty impressed with this thing.

Features and things

The Fujica ST-605 and ST-605N are reliable, mid-sized SLRs with basic but sturdy features. The “N” model includes a shutter speed display in the viewfinder, but otherwise the two models are identical.

Like the Pentax Spotmatic, the ST-605N uses an m42 lens mount, making a wide variety of inexpensive, high-quality lenses available.

Fujica ST-605N lens
The Fujica ST-605N came to me with what I assume is a kit lens — a Fujinon 55mm f/2.2. It seems pretty decent, despite the slightly-off focal length and maximum aperture. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 I used for my tests is clearly not a spectacular lens, but it’s not bad. “Not quite amazing, but really not bad” is a pretty apt description for the whole package.

The front element of the lens is pretty small and unimpressive, but this one is superbly clean and clear. It’s surprisingly sharp, too, especially considering it’s not designed to be a top-shelf lens. Distortion is minimal, and there’s no notable chromatic aberration in my test shots.

The lens also has a very fine focusing action, which I love. Of course, that means you’ll have to turn the lens further than you might like to quickly move from close focus to far away, but it means that you have very fine control of the exact focus point, especially close up. It does feel a bit plasticky — probably because it is.

As I mentioned above, the camera’s horizontal-travel, rubberized silk-curtain focal plane shutter features speeds from 1/2 sec. down to 1/500 sec, as well as the funky 1/700 sec. “bonus speed.”

The ST-605N was released in 1977 and uses an early silicon photodiode light meter and stop-down TTL metering. There’s a button on the right side of the lens mount (as you hold the camera for use) that, when depressed, stops down the lens and activates the meter, giving both an exposure reading and a depth-of-field preview. The film speed is adjusted by lifting the knob and can be set from ASA 25 to ASA 3200.

Civic Center cherry trees
Cherry trees in bloom at the south end of Civic Center Park in Denver, behind the Greek Theater. (Daniel J. Schneider)

Also on the front right is a roughly 10-second self-timer lever, and on the left is a PC socket for flash sync. The lever conceals a tiny shutter release button that is revealed when you set the timer and which must be used to use the time-delay — pressing the normal shutter release is still instant, regardless of whether the timer is wound.

The film take-up spool release button is on the bottom cover, where you’d expect it. There’s a hot shoe on top of the viewfinder, too. Oh, and the shutter release button is threaded for a cable release.

Cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms, Denver Civic Center Park. (Daniel J. Schneider)

One feature that really recommends the ST-605N is the fact that it uses two SR44 batteries — commonly available at drug stores and the like — making it a great choice if you’re looking for a fully manual m42-mount camera and you want to avoid the mercury battery problem.

The viewfinder is big, bright and clear, and the focusing screen has a nice split image with a microprism ring, and nice, sharp ground-glass around that. It makes focusing very easy.

My findings

I have very little negative to say about the ST-605N, honestly. As I said above, it’s just got a few foibles that are the only things holding it back from being ideal.

One genuine complaint — the mostly-metal camera has a plastic rewind knob and shutter-speed knob. The capstan shaft and flip-out rewind lever are both metal, so why did they cheap out on the knurled knobs? They both work fine, true, but they just don’t have the same feel of solidity that the rest of the camera does. It seems like a silly way to save a few cents on manufacturing after spending the money for better materials in so much of the rest of the camera.

Sun reflected on Sheraton
Afternoon sunlight reflected from the twin buildings of the World Trade Center Denver illuminates the brutalist architecture of the downtown Sheraton in Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)

In use, the Fujica is a breeze. The shutter release is smooth and easy — but not so easy you’ll be tripping it by accident. The mirror isn’t exceptionally quiet, but it’s not loud and sloppy, either.

The meter and shutter speed displays in the viewfinder are clear and unobtrusive, but eminently usable. The green needle on the shutter speed display is dark enough that reading the speed indicated can be difficult against a darker background, but you should still be able to see the speeds above and below and work it out.

The film advance lever has a hinge in the middle and the plastic end flops in and out when you’re not advancing the film. I found it a little annoying at times, with it occasionally being hard to get a hold of the lever without fiddling a bit. The shape of the lever is comfortable against your thumb once you get a hold of it.

If you are, like me, habituated to hooking your thumb behind the film advance when carrying the camera (you’ll develop this habit with Nikon or Pentax cameras that turn the meter on when the advance lever is pulled out a notch), you may have issues here. If you put much outward pressure at all on the advance lever after the shutter is cocked you’ll find it locks the shutter release.

Moon, antenna, water tank
The moon above a tall antenna near the water tanks in Thornton, Colo., near Thornton Parkway and Washington Avenue. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The spool release button is big and easy to activate and the rewind knob has a long handle that’s easy to wind quickly. Loading is easy, too, thanks to a simple slip-in slot system on the take-up spool.

I found the ST-605N’s stop-down meter/depth-of-field preview button easier to use than most any other I’ve tested. It’s right under the middle finger of my right hand, which is ready and able to depress the button.

Others, like the Spotmatic, have a button or switch on the left side of the lens, which winds up being sort of by my left thumb (the rest of the hand is cradling the camera and fingers are resting on the focus ring of the lens). My left thumb isn’t terrible busy, but anything it does affects the rest of that hand and interrupts my focusing motion and upsets my grip on the camera. I’m not saying it’s a big complaint, but the Fujica’s design manages to reduce the impact of metering on my photographic style.

The silicon photodiode light meter responds faster than a CdS cell, and adjusts to rapid changes in light more quickly as a result. Fuji claims it was first to develop them, though its period literature refers specifically to their use in SLR cameras. The system was first used in the c. 1971 ST701 model 35mm SLR.

The overall size of the camera is modest, which I like. It’s not terribly small, but it’s far from big. Very similar in size to the Olympus OM-G, and just a tiny bit smaller than the Spotmatic.

Conclusions

So the ST-605N isn’t all peaches and cream, but it’s pretty snappy and I can totally recommend it for a lightweight carrying-around camera. No guarantees, but I might be hanging onto this one awhile.

Here are the rest of the example images I made, using some TMax 100 and Kodak Gold 200 film:

Clothes at Voorhies Memorial
Clothing strewn about the walkway at the base of the Voorhies Memorial in Denver’s Civic Center Park. The bag present makes me wonder if it was stolen and gone through in a hurry. (Daniel J. Schneider)
16th street busker
A busker with a guitar against a blank wall along the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Lil Red Truck side
The flared bed sides and tailgate of the 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express Truck featured wood paneling. (Daniel J. Schneider)
City of Thornton water tanks
A mural by Rod Hennig of Hennig Mural Designs adorns twin water tanks in Thornton, Colo., near Thornton Parkway and Washington Avenue. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Sleeping in the park
Among the most common sights in Civic Center since the days of the Occupy Denver protests are people sleeping in the park. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Outside Pavilions
Bike rack and panhandlers on the sidewalk outside Denver Pavilions on Glenarm Place, just off the 16th Street Mall in Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Lil Red Express Truck side
A 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express Truck. Based on the Adventurer 100 package, it was among the best performing consumer vehicles of its day. (Daniel J. Schneider)
1600 Broadway
The 1600 Broadway building in downtown Denver. The original concrete facade was covered with the current metal sheet in 2014, very successfully modernizing the building’s appearance. (Daniel J. Schneider)

UPDATE Jan. 6, 2016: A commenter pointed out that my information on the light meter was incorrect. I have updated this article to reflect the correct type of light meter.

UPDATE Jan. 16, 2017: A commenter pointed out that my I’d miscalculated the stop difference between 1/500 and 1/700. I have updated this article to reflect the correct difference (one half stop).

Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Fujica ST-605N camera
Author Rating
41star1star1star1stargray
  • Amanda Raney

    Yay! (even though I like the camera better than you do.) I haven’t had to use the 55mm that came with it, since the whole reason I bought the camera was to utilize lenses I already had.

    I am glad you appreciate the meter activation/stop down button, as do I. I love it! I thought the “floppy” plastic part on the advance lever meant mine was broken – I don’t understand why it’s like that!

    • Don’t get me wrong — it’s really a good little camera. I’m super impressed. I did give it 4 stars! But, you know, with an F2 and my FM2s and a Pentax 6×7 in the stable, it’s up against fierce competition. I definitely think this review will lead to an article strongly advocating m42 cameras for beginners because of all the great, cheap lens options.

      I really do like the position of that button and how easy it is use! It’s pretty much the only way in which the Fujica beats the Spotmatic. Well, maybe the batteries. But that’s not a huge deal on the Pentax.

      I’m actually glad to hear yours is floppy, too. I wondered about the design. But I suspect it was a way to keep the end tighter to the body so it didn’t catch on things. Maybe? I dunno. It’s okay once you get used to it, but it’s really weird at first. I didn’t say this above but i wonder if a bit of 3M super epoxy on a toothpick wouldn’t help a little… :P

  • jla

    The Fujica ST cameras don’t use CdS photoresistors, they are silicon. The ST701 was in fact the first camera to abandon CdS.

    • Too right. I’ve confirmed this, updated the story, added a link to supporting documentation, and added a correction note. Thanks for pointing out the error!

  • R Madrid

    Another review with a camera I own and have the same sentiments about. This is a very handy M42 camera. Although I prefer my first Spotmatic.

    • I’m partial to the Spotmatic, too, although the stop-down meter button on the Fujica is much more convenient. Still, the lenses available for the Pentax are far superior.

  • Richard

    Just wanted to point out that 1/700 is actually 1/2 stop faster than 1/500. Remember shutter steps are logarithmic.

    • Quite right. What on earth was I thinking? I’ve updated the article. Thank you!

  • J Grzinich

    I love my ST605N! It was my travel SLR for a while because of its size. I use it with all kinds of M42 lenses, but I have a Fujinon 55mm f/1.8 that is splendid. And the meter on mine is snappy and responsive which is always nice. I agree about the top shutter speed. Why couldn’t they just make it 1/1000th like every other camera of the day? I also have a lovely ST801 which feels like the Mercedes of the M42 world with its top shutter speed of 1/2000th of a sec, but its a tad larger and heavier than the ST605N.

    • I’ve since sold the 605, but it was a very good m42 camera, for sure. I’ve seen good things said about the 801, but I’m working to rid myself of cameras rather than acquiring more, at this point … want some?? :P

      • J Grzinich

        Don’t tempt me ;) I’m ready to start cutting back myself now that I have some stable favorites.

  • daniel keating

    Another hidden plus about the Fujica 605/605n models is that they flawlessly feed UNperforated microfilms . The camera drives by the takeup hub and not by the sprocket drive. No having to drill holes, fill with epoxy etc etc. Slap a russian Helios lens on that baby & with the fine grain microfilm/duplication film you can get some tack sharp grainless shots

    • That is a cool tip — I had no idea! If I still had it I might consider spooling some 828 film I have into a cassette and trying it with the Fujica. But it has a good new home now so I’ll probably just sell the 828 film instead. ;-)

      • daniel keating

        I scored some microfilm duplication film a 1000ft roll for $5–gonga deal and it gobbles it up with even frame spacing

  • Neil Kesterson

    Same thoughts I had about the camera. When compared to all the other fine cameras I had, it just didn’t stand out (except for the weird shutter/f stops you mentioned). I would give it to a student in a heartbeat or keep it in my car if I didn’t think the film would burn up. I bought it for $5 at a thrift store and eventually sold it for 25 or 30. Fujicas are pretty solid, they’re a big player in the pro video world.