Review

Pentax Q

It’s been a long time between posts in my blog – far too long, etc, etc.

Enough apologising already, let’s cut to the chase in this year of the Snake.

Regular readers will know my love/hate relationship with point & shoot cameras. I love the size and portability, I hate the compromised results they give. However, I have been persevering, and even took an Olympus XZ-1 as a pocket camera in a recent sojourn to the USA. It did OK in the main, but I missed far too many shots while waiting for the damn thing to focus, decide on the exposure, warn me about stuff, etc. My main workhorse, a Canon 5D2 with an L zoom was too big and conspicuous to push into people’s faces as a street candid, and so I lost even more shots.

Maybe I now have  the answer – enter the tiny, tiny Pentax Q, fitted with a fast prime lens. Meet my new buddy:

Pentax Q with the extras

You can see here how small it really is, even when fitted with a viewfinder (it needs one as I hate arm’s length snapping), and a lens hood. The SD card should give you a suitable visual scale clue. It makes my Olympus EP-2, itself diminutive, look oversized even when that one wears its Lumix 20mm f1.7 prime. I guess Pentax takes being smallest very, very seriously. It even makes the 1950’s vintage Leica IIIf look huge.

The lens is fast – it’s a 5 element unit with an f1.9 aperture – and it is sharp at that opening. Because the real focal length is so short – 8.5 mm, pretending to be a 47mm focal length standard lens – everything has a tendency to be in focus  most of the time. To overcome this, a pet hate of mine, Pentax has equipped the camera with the smarts to have a setting (“BC” for blur or bokeh control, you can see it right there on the front control wheel ) with which to blur the background and separate out a foreground subject as no other tiny sensor camera can actually do.  I am still coming to terms with this feature.

Here is a picture grabbed from the web showing it next to an old Pentax 110 SLR – they are about the same size (yes, I used to have one, even fitted with a motor drive. It’s such a pity that the 110 film format was so crappy.)

It powers on quickly, it focuses quickly and it takes a picture quickly. The only gripe I have so far is that when saving both DNG RAW – yes, it can produce raw images – and large JPGs together it takes a second or two to write to the SD card, eve with a Class 10 speed card. To cut the write time down, I have been breaking my own rule and not saving images in raw format, but relying on the camera’s JPG engine – yes, it’s that good.

Pentax even provides firmware updates for both the camera and the lens.

I will post some snaps with it in a day or two. You will then be able to see what wonders Pentax (now owned and managed by Ricoh, and it’s easy to see Ricoh’s influence on both the design and firmware support, a great leap forward – I so do like Ricoh) have managed with such a tiny sensor.

The latest body firmware (vn 1.10) also adds focus peaking which will be a boon for manual focus control, and yes, even this feature is well implemented. It just awesome what power is packed into this tiny marvel. Another Ricoh benefit.

The Voigtlander finder pictured above is actually a frame-lined as a 75mm unit, but beyond the lines it shows a standard lens field of view. Maybe the Voigtlander Kontur finder (see a couple of posts ago) is what should be fitted until I can find a cheap Leitz SBOOI finder unit at the right price – if you want to sell me one (or a 50mm Voigtlander unit), feel free to contact me.

More soon, dear readers, and I will have proof for you of what I write.

Footnote – The lens hood in the picture is an old German metal unit originally made for a Zeiss Sonnar for a Contax, of 40.5 mm diameter screw fitting. I called around to see if I could buy locally a rubber collapsible hood of the same diameter – guess what – not bloody well available, it will have to be a Chinese unit off the web. What is wrong with camera shops these days?

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Ricoh R10 – the GRD’s little brother

Let me say right off that I like Ricoh products. A lot. It is a quirky manufacturer off on its own direction in a sea of identical hardware with features copied from each other now providing almost no differentiation between makers’ offerings. I own a brace of old Ricoh 35mm cameras that go back a fair way, and I like them for the same reasons – for example, my old 500G has a back door that covers the whole of the rear of the camera, having a cut-out for the viewfinder, a very individual (and functional) approach to solving this problem instead of the me too! approach taken by everyone else in Japan in the 1970s for film doors. Ricoh seems to be a quiet achiever, and with little fanfare it has produced about 50 successful compact digital cameras in the past decade with almost no outlets through which to sell them, at least in my city, the capital of Australia.

A while ago I got my hands on a GRD II to try it out and see what all the fuss was about with the evolution to digital of the classic GR film cousin. Sadly, I never really got on well with it. It was a case of being (for me) too slow and not having a great deal of utility in poor light situations. I got rid of it, but then I regretted this move almost immediately. I was increasingly haunted by the wonderful user interface, its sheer usability, its tiny size, and above all its incredible build.

Suddenly, along came a Ricoh R10, just about the bottom of the species from Ricoh, with no pretensions to greatness, but my Ricoh hunger came flooding back and I thought I would give it a go and see if it had anything to offer to me. What a surprise it has turned out to be! It’s actually great!

It is tiny.

It is extremely well built.

It has a wide lens, starting at 28mm.

It has a long zoom – more than 7x range.

It has anti shake built in via sensor agility.

It starts up quickly.

It is fast in operation.

It has brilliant ergonomics.

It seems to be invisible as it is black and tiny and therefore probably not a threat as a street camera.

It is exceptionally cheap (brand new in Australia they cost just $149, or about US144…, a long way down from the original $450).

Best of all, it produces quality images pretty darn quickly. Here’s a snapshot from it taken at a local burger van, shot with absolutely no care:

Gritty realism (above)

Smooth (below)

And its just, oh I don’t know, just so cool.

It has a 3 inch screen, and seems to be able to shoot from shot to shot pretty quickly. JPEGs only though, unfortunately. Rich has provided good support for firmware updates over its three year market lifespan. It reeks of good design – the 7x zoom collapses almost entirely back into the surprisingly thin body. It has (laser engraved?) lettering describing it embossed into the top metal cover instead of gaudy metal foil stickers all over it. The body seems to be predominantly metal. The list goes on – and remember this is a mass-market utilitarian model camera.

Although I am not a big fan of P&S cameras, I have been hankering for a cheapie to keep in a pocket and not worry over much about. It seems that the R10 ticks all of the obvious boxes for me, and it best of all as it seems to be on an end-of-life run out making it now cost about a third of what it was 2 years ago. It’s so inexpensive that it won’t cause me any grief it it eventually gets damaged by being taken everywhere. And this is the real point I am making, I guess – it is a perfect camera to have to get those shots we all miss by not having a camera with us. I am prepared to put aside my loathing of small sensors and their endemic infinite depth of field on the basis of my chance meeting with the R10.

It is also a lot of fun. I wonder what a GRD III might have been like? Here’s a lifted promo banner from the Ricoh web site to further whet your appetite, accompanied by some tasty specifications:

r10

28-200mm 7.1x optical zoom Effective 10 million pixels Large 3.0-inch HVGA LCD monitor CCD shift image stabilizer 1cm macro Face recognition mode High- sensitivity ISO 1600 Long operation approx. 300 pictures 54 MB internal memoryPRINT Image MatchingExifPrintPictBridgeSDHC

Breaking News (8 November 2012) – The price on new R10s has dropped yet again – now A$128 at Officeworks. Incredible. 

 

Voigtlander Kontur Finder

I have a terrific friend, Zoran, who from time-to-time lends me bits and pieces, some rare, some expensive, some commonplace, so I can try them out and see if I like whatever it is.  This time around he has loaned me a remarkable bit of kit – a viewfinder that has no view – the strange but effective Voigtlander Kontur finder. I have borrowed it in my seemingly never-ending current quest for an accessory finder for my Leica IIIf with a 50mm lens.

I believe that the Kontur was made for the Voigtlander Vitessa fitted with an accessory shoe as an alternate finder to optical finders for quick snapshot use (although my version doesn’t sport one). Here it is fitted to my favourite Canonet (a QL19 that took me a month of lunchtimes to repair, hence the red leather skin, but that’s another story for another post):

It is a chunky black plastic cube, with an eyepiece at the rear, and no obvious viewing window on the front, just a black nameplate in a metal frame that notes it is for 24×36 and 35mm – yes, a viewfinder without a view. Check that again – a viewfinder with no view. When you pick it up and look through it with the customary one eye open, one eye closed viewing arrangement most of us use, all you you see a black field, outlined with a solid white frame line and a dotted parallax frame. Oh yes, and a white dot in the center. A very strange unit, this, for a finder. If you switch eyes, you see the same thing:

Not very promising, eh? But now if you open both eyes, all of a sudden the design reveals it brilliance, a breathtakingly simple and blindingly clever finder for fast work. This is an approximation of what you see (I hope that it is an internet first):

Clever, eh? All you do is set the lens to a suitable hyper-focal distance, and shoot away. It is fast, just perfect for street shooting.  I believe that the viewing lens allows you to focus on the back illuminated frame lines – the central dot is to give your eye something to look at to make it all work in focus (but there is no straining to see the image at all). The other open eye sees the scene, and the brain superimposes the images, “seeing through” the blackness to give you a pretty damn fine rendering of the scene in front of you. Photo-journalist’s heaven. The finder works very well in dim conditions too. Confusingly, the numbers on the finder’s front screen mean that it is for a 35mm camera with a frame of 24 x 36mm, however this model gives a view of a standard lens – a 50mm unit on a 35mm camera, and not that of a 35mm lens.

Zoran might have a hard time getting this loaner back off me – I love it.

Bringing the Olympus 35 SP back into service

Olympus 35 SP

A couple of weeks ago I got my claws on a nice but not-quite-functional Olympus 35 SP rangefinder. If you look back at the lead photo in my post about this camera, you will see that the silver filter ring around the front of the lens is dented. This in itself was of no concern to me, but it was preventing a very necessary spot of maintenance on the lens being performed. You see, the front rings (aperture, speeds, etc) were loose and very wobbly, making it exceptionally risky to use them in the face of unseen internal damage from poorly meshing clockwork controls. This meant that until this was fixed, the camera was effectively a very pretty brick.

The dent in the filter ring meant that the collar inside that ring holding the guts of the lens in place could not be unscrewed. Without access, it would simply stay wobbly. So, I found the wooden filter ring dent-bashing die I had made to fix an earlier rescue, and started judiciously tapping the dent out with a light hammer and a wooden dowel as the drift. Two hours of tapping, being careful not to stretch the aluminium eventually allowed me to unscrew the retaining collar, and then I got the access I needed.

What had happened to make the front cells of the lens wobbly was simply a result of the failure of the Locktite (or whatever) that Olympus used to hold the three front cell screws tightly in place. The screws had wobbled loose, allowing the lens to flop around.

A few turns of a cross-head driver and they were tightly locked back in place. The shutter speeds were thankfully perfect before the surgery, and there was no trace of the dreaded oil on the aperture blades syndrome either, so I had to dig no further into the shutter mechanism. It all screwed back together well.

Time to test the meter. In with a zinc-air cell. Nothing. In with some packing around the cell to keep it centered. Nothing. In with a wad of aluminium foil to make a better electrical contact. The meter sprung to life! It seems to be pretty spot-on at 100ASA according to my Sekonic meter. I have noticed that the ASA / ISO adjustment doesn’t seem to make any difference, so I think it will need surgery under the top cover to fix that problem. It seems that the ASA adjustment is supposed to alter the size of the eyelids that cover the CdS metering cell, and this doesn’t happen when I rotate the adjuster. Oh well, I guess this is gummed up. Into the top cover tonight.

A quirk I have discovered is that there is no off switch for the meter, meaning the battery will drain if it is left in the light. The switch is actually the (n)ever-ready case – covering the meter cell by closing the case kills off the current, so this is one camera that needs its case to be in good shape. Luckily, Olympus didn’t scrimp with the case. Instead of the usual cardboard case covered with glued-on  decaying vinyl, the case is actually a beautifully constructed sewn leather, steel and velvet affair that has lasted the distance, and still does what it is supposed to do – protect the camera, and work as the meter switch.

Still to go after sorting the ASA adjustment is checking the rangefinder accuracy so it focuses perfectly (a trivial job), and replacing the usual sticky goo that the light seals have now become. Again, this is a trivial job, so it won’t be too long before I put a few films through to see how wonderful the seven element G-Zuiko 42mm lens actually is – I wonder if it will live up to the hype abounding on the internet, that has made this camera so desirable and expensive?

Keep watching for more progress…

26 August 2011 – The ASA adjustment was easy to sort out – I removed the top cover, and found that the spring that pushes the cam follower against the ASA adjustment cam I predicted would be there was not fitting properly. A two second fix-up and hey-presto, the eyelids over the CdS cell now work properly. The exposure value for 125 ASA reads the same as from my digital Sekonic meter, so I am very, very happy. The spot meter works properly too. I still have to hunt down some light seal foam for the back door to get it sorted fully. One minor annoyance did made itself known. Every 35SP I have seen is missing the spot meter button fitting from the back plate, and now I know why. The black plastic button surround was originally fitted via a single screw onto the top internal deck. In my camera’s case, someone has been in before, and overtightened the screw, breaking the fitting, rendering it available to loss. I will be building the missing plastic up with two pack rock-hard-when-set adhesive (Araldite), and using a Dremel to shape it back to how it is supposed to be, then drilling and fitting it back properly.

Batteries are easy – the SP was designed to use a now-outlawed and therefore unavailable 625 mercury battery. If tou use an alkaline unit instead there is a voltage drop over its life that affects meter accuracy, so instead I use zinc-air hearing aid batteries, fitted in with an O-ring for diameter size and pack it with cooking foil.

Three views at 125 ASA – left, the camera showing an EV of 7; center. the camera set to an EV of 7 – note that one of the possible exposure pairs is 1/4 sec @ between 5.6 and f8 ; and right, finally my lightmeter reading looking at exactly the same scene – guess what -1/4 sec @ f8 for 125 ASA Pretty darn good for 40 year old camera running on a deaf-aid battery..

28 August – Light seals. What a mess. Lighter fluid (for Zippos) works to assist in dissolving these into a sticky, black, tarry mess. Reminds me of raw road bitumen, but way nastier. It gets stuck to everything it touches when it is scraped off and marks it, so be careful if you undertake this job. I used orange sticks as scrapers to get the dead collapsed foam out. It took about an hour of persistence to clean it up, but now it’s done and I will put in new seals as soon as I get some suitable black foam. I noticed that the 35SP has a seal at the top of the back door, but not along the bottom. I wonder why? Is the top seal actually really necessary? Does anyone know?

29 August – This is getting too easy by far, I must be heading for a problem. Light seals are now sorted. Three small pieces of dense black felt have been glued into their rightful places. Cut to size and glued in with craft glue, a clear, acetone-based flexible fast-drying compound is holding the new seals bits in nicely.  Not much to do now.

New felt light seals fitted. The shiny pock-marked bit is the film pressure plate

The felt seals are at the top and left hand side of the door.

1 September – As predicted, the spot meter switch fell out, fortunately right in front of me. This will be the absolute priority to sort, with then only the rangefinder check / calibration to go. Perhaps a Domke strap will be added – I have an Olympus 49mm hood to use already.

4 September – The spot meter button surround is now sorted out. I found some 2 pack epoxy and added a section of plastic where the original was broken off. Judicious use of the Dremel,  and Hey Presto! as good as new, and fitted nicely back into the camera. The meter now functions properly, switching between average and spot modes. You will need a battery to get it going – I use hearing aid Zinc-Air batteries – 5 bucks for a pack of 4. Same voltage as an outlawed mercury PX625 cell, lasts for months. They only need a bit of foam or an O-ring to fit size-wise, and a bit of cooking metal foil as packing to make a good contact. Only the rangefinder now left to check.

6 September – And hopefully the last. The horizontal alignment was spot on, i.e. at infinity focus the rangefinder patch showed infinity. Perfect. Less-than-perfect was that the rangefinder patch was not aligned vertically – most off-putting. How to fix it? There is not much info on the web about this adjustment, and nearly all of it is wrong. It is not the cross head “screw between the three light meter diodes” as suggested on the normally reliable Rangefinder Forum. It is in fact a knurled adjuster on the right-hand side of the central pane of the internal viewfinder. Rotate this forwards and the patch drops, and vice-versa. Be careful as it looks very, very delicate. I used tweezers – make sure you don’t slip or you will damage the viewfinder… Good luck

I have bought some Ilford HP5+ 400ASA film for this beautiful little gem of a camera. Cross your fingers.

17 September 2011 – Hmm. The lightmeter eyelids jammed again. Out with the film, and off with the top, and a couple of tiny spots of oil on the places it sticks have fixed this issue (I hope). I use a small syringe sold for diabetics to inject insulin as an oil can – with the hypodermic needle I can get an absolutely tiny drop in the right spot. I also cleaned the viewfinder internals, and it is now beyond incredible, just a brilliant view. I am now having trouble deciding whether to use this or my M6 – what a quandary.

Olympus 35 RD – at last

Olympus 35 RD

The power of he internet has come to the rescue for the subject of today’s post – one of my adoring fans contacted me and as a result I am happy to reveal my new buddy, the venerable (and beautiful) Olympus 35 RD rangefinder:

This is the brother of the fully auto 35 DC I showed a few weeks ago, but is a manual as well as automatic, aperture priority unit. It shares the same 6 element 40mm f1.7 Zuiko lens, the same basic body, and well, just about everything else that is wonderful about the DC model. This one, though, has speeds down to 1/2 second, not the paltry (but realistic) 1/15th that limits the DC’s available light use.

Here are the twins together so you can see how much DNA they share:

The 35RD was introduced in 1974, and was was the last ‘classic’ fully manual mechanical shutter fixed-lens rangefinder to be introduced by Olympus. The RD’s 40mm focal length is closer to the “ideal” standard length of 43mm – the diagonal measurement of a 35mm frame – than most SLR standard lenses of 50mm. This is true for most of the classic fast rangefinders of this era, such as the Canon QL17 GIII, the Yashica Electro 35, and my available light secret weapon, the Yashica Lynx 14E.

This one needs some minor attention – light seals, a rangefinder clean, and the usual oil-on-shutter-blades syndrome. When sorted, this will be a beautiful object from nearly four decades ago that can compete and still outclass the current crop of midget sensor P&S cameras. With a fine-grain film, my Nikon 500ED scanner allows this (and all of the others too) to be a 21 megapixel full-frame camera capable of producing nice bokeh – try that with your G12…

The cameras from the Olympus 35 line that I hold span a fairly lengthy family timeline of production.

Olympus introduced the 35LC in 1965.  This was the father of the beautiful SP that followed, as it featured the same fast f1.7 Zuiko G seven element prime lens, but had less ability than the SP as it was equipped with automatic exposure.

 

 

The Olympus 35SP, my earliest, ran from 1969 to 1975. You can see the beauty of this fantastic camera earlier in my blog entries.

 

 

 

The 35RC, the smallest fully automatic rangefinder of the time, appeared in 1970, and was still in production after 1975 when I bought mine.

 

 

 

The 35DC followed in 1971.  The introduction of this model seems to mark a very similar genesis as the earlier LC and SP models before it, as this and the RD that followed a couple of years later shared the same body and lens, but the earlier camera had an auto exposure system that limited some functions in comparison to the line leader that followed some time later. Perhaps this is a model that Olympus likes to follow in camera development?

 

The 35RD was introduced in 1975, using much of the 35DC’s DNA, thereby replacing and effectively retiring the SP as Olympus’ top of the line classic fixed lens rangefinder. This was a generational change, and the RD model lasted until the end of the 1970s when the 35 line as it stood was killed off and replaced by the innovative and ground-breaking XA series in 1979.

During this amazing period of activity and innovation, Olympus still had time to introduce perhaps the longest- lasting quality camera ever, the Trip 35. This first went on sale in 1968.  The TRIP 35 became very popular as a camera that combined ease of use, reliability and a low price with excellent performance. It remained a best-seller for many years, and over the next 20 years over 10 million were produced. I have four of these amazing little workhorses, all of which still work all these years later.

I have been hanging out for a very long while to find a 35RD, and hey presto, one walks into my life with no effort. The internet is truly capable of making magic…


Olympus 35 SP

Olympus 35 SP

This is another great find, but this time I paid $10 for it instead of my customary five dollars. “Why so expensive?” you might be thinking. Because it is a very special Olympus rangefinder, possibly the best fixed lens 35mm rangefinder camera that was ever made. This one dates from between 1969 and 1974.

The Olympus 35 SP  has two unique features, raising it head and shoulders above the common herd – switchable light metering that provides a spot meter facility as well as three more common center-weighted averaging method, and a seven element G Zuiko 42 mm f1.7 lens with unit focusing. This combination – of an exquisitely sharp and contrasty distortion-free prime lens combined with very precise metering – has made it a very sought-after little camera. I say little, but it has grown a fair bit beyond the 35 RC’s svelte form. It is perhaps a quarter-inch longer than the mighty Canon QL17 GIII recently featured here, but it has a better lens making the slightly bigger size well worth putting up with. Here it is:

Left to right, here’s the relative sizes of the SP – DC – RC:

The 35 RC on the right is absolutely tiny. The comparative sizes displayed  in this image makes the 35 SP appear as a behemoth, but trust me, its not. It’s still small in comparison with a Leica M. Talking of Leicas, the spot meter on the 35 SP appeared in 1969, years ahead of the spot meter in the Leica M5, which doesn’t have a center-weighted alternative mode. Score 1 to the SP. The purists will cry, but the G-Zuiko is every bit as good as glass of the same era from Wetzlar. The G designates seven elements, as it is the seventh letter… The camera that came after the 35 SP, the again lusted-after 35 RD (yes, I want one too) was a great camera, but it only was given an F Zuiko – yes, a 6 element lens. The SP has a 7th correcting element, making this one absolutely outstanding and just about unique. (The middle camera above – the 35 DC – is the same size as the RC version.)

The viewfinder is pure Olympus rangefinder. However, instead of displaying aperture and/or shutter speeds, the viewfinder top line shows – exposure values. Arcane in this digital day, but to anyone who grew up with an exposure meter this is pure gold. All you do is set the EV reading from the viewfinder onto the scale on the lens barrel. The pairing of exposure against shutter speed is fast and accurate – open the lens one stop, reduce the exposure by half – the same EV results. My first SLR, my dad’s Zeiss Icon Contaflex Super had the same system, and it worked very, very well.

Footnote – The background to these images is the cover of the vinyl version of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. I thought it appropriate as it is from the same era as the 35 SP. It’s a classic, too.

They’re both worth more than ten bucks. I love them.

Postscript – See a later blog entry – 25 August 2011 –  about the rehabilitation of this beautiful camera, covering many, many issues – wobbly lens, light seals, rangefinder alignment, removing the top, light meter, and batteries.  If you have one of these cameras in less than perfect condition, don’t despair – either consider getting it fixed, doing it yourself (but be very careful), or contact me and I might take it off your hands.

From Genesis (Canonet) to Revelation (QL17 GIII)

Another five dollar beauty – and it works

The five dollar Canon Canonet QL17 GIII in all its glory

This is the Canonet QL17 GIII I scored at the same time as the Nikon FM I have blogged about a week or two ago. It is a great little camera, and  it is in absolutely perfect condition – the lens is clear, the shutter works, all speeds seem OK, the auto exposure side functions properly, it is cosmetically perfect, and it even came with the original printed book and the correct lens cap. Those of you that know me understand that I have a particular lust for Canonets, and the GIII is the daddy of them all.

I like small rangefinder cameras for a special reason – this class of camera has become a favourite of mine, as they represent Oskar Barnack’s ideal small pocketable camera which can easily be taken everywhere. According to Canon, the development of the high-grade 35mm camera had been its great milestone from the start of the 1950s constituting Canon’s mission – these cameras are typified by the Canon P and 7 Leica screw mount bodies. During the late 1950s there was an effort made inside Canon to produce a simpler camera that could be used by anybody. That effort would be the development of the 35mm lens-shutter camera.

It all began in 1958 when there were heated discussions within Canon as to whether the company should take the route confined to the manufacturing of high-end cameras typified by the then-current Canon  VI-L and VI-T models, or whether it should also enter the market for intermediate-class cameras. Gradually, the voices of young engineers expressing the opinion “we want to make cameras we can afford” gained strength. This resulted in a tentative decision to produce a prototype of an intermediate-class camera before the company’s overall policy guidelines could be developed. With this background, the development of the 35mm lens-shutter camera started. This camera was the “Canonet,” which swept the entire camera market with the slogan “anyone can buy it ,and anyone can an take pictures with it“.

Although the plan was to market the Canonet camera in August 1960, its debut was delayed until January l961 because of strong criticism from Canon’s competitors complaining that the price of under 20,000 yen was too low to compete with. When the camera was introduced for the first time at the display and sales counter on the 7th floor of Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, the number of people interested in seeing the camera was so great that they overflowed onto the staircases. The total inventory for one week was gone within 2 hours after the sales counter opened. Its sales were so astronomical and its customer acceptance so overwhelming that the February 6, 1961 issue of Shukan Bunshun (a popular weekly magazine) covered the sensation in the article entitled “Go To Hell!! Canonet.”

The Canonet was a mid-priced camera that could be manufactured at high volume and low cost; the 1961 sales price was ¥18,800 or $55. The Canonet was technologically superior to any other Japanese camera at that time, and given that it was mass produced it was a technological marvel. Amateur Photographer (in October1960) called it “one of the most ambitious” cameras introduced at the 1960 Photokina Show in West Germany. Canon challenged accepted production methods through the use of new mass production techniques. Precisely because the process innovation used to make the camera dramatically cut total production costs, the market for the Canonet, and thereby high-quality cameras, was significantly broadened due to the increased affordability of the new Canonet. Canon in effect challenged other firms to follow suit or lose market share.

The other firms did not let the Canonet challenges go by unnoticed. They criticized Canon claiming that the Canonet’s retail price was in violation of the manufacturers’ agreement of October 1959 to fix prices industry wide. This behaviour – that of a cartel – surprised me when I learned of this fact. It was brought about as competition among the JCIA member firms had intensified throughout the 1950s to such an extent that between 1957 and 1961 ten firms were forced to declare bankruptcy. Part of the problem was an incessant proliferation of new camera models and aggressive retail price cuts. The instability that this had caused motivated the JCIA – with the support of MITI, the all-powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry, to agree to fixed retail prices. Canon’s competitors were also highly critical of Canon because the Canonet was introduced in West Germany at Photokina, not at the Japan Camera Show in Japan. The JCIA member firms, including Canon, had agreed to biannual product introductions at the Japan Camera Shows beginning in March 1960, meaning that new products were to be introduced in Japan, not overseas. This upset the photographic cartel.

To settle things down, in a show of good will and in the spirit of cooperation, Canon agreed to withhold the camera from the Japanese market for six months while the other JCIA members caught up. When on January 24, 1961, the Canonet was finally introduced at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo, all 300 units sold within 30 minutes. Despite the efforts of the JCIA, Canon succeeded in scooping the market changing the competitive playing field.

The effect of Canon’s move was to intensify efforts among the Japanese companies to cut production costs and increase production levels. The result of this effort was clear by the end of the 1960s. Manufacturers that did not begin to use mass production methods but instead sought to compete using traditional and far more labour-intensive production methods lost market share. Canon set the trend for decades to come, and in doing so, just about doomed the German camera industry.

The original Canonet, and the Demi – note the bottom level wind on the Canonet

While the boom sparked by the Canonet had not quite cooled off yet, the “Canon Demi” camera was introduced in February 1963. It was a compact and lightweight half-frame camera that permitted twice as many pictures per roll of film. This camera was also a hit with its catch phrase “let’s draw our ‘Demi’ from our pocket.” Also released in October of the same year was the “Color Demi,” which was popular among users because it was available in three different colours: red, blue and white. With the debut of the Demi”series, the variety of the lens-shutter cameras increased. The important thing was that the technologies acquired during the development of these 35mm lens-shutter cameras were fully fed back into the products that followed.

The original  Canonet was well-featured – it had a very fast 1.9 lens, EE shutter-priority auto exposure and full manual operation, and a price tag consumers could sink afford – it was priced at 18,800 yen, which was about fifty 1961 dollars, a price low enough that it actually angered other camera companies! No wonder then that the Japanese camera industry went into an uproar upon learning that Canon, maker of high-end cameras, was to introduce a mid-class 35mm camera with a fast f/1.9 lens for less than 20,000 yen. When the Canonet went to market in January 1961, and a week’s worth of stock was sold out in only two hours, it marked the start of the Canonet boom. Two and a half years later, a million Canonets had been sold.

Many models appeared in later years, all sired by the original Canonet, leading to the introduction of the final model – the venerable QL17 GIII – in 1972.  The “G” in the camera designation stood for “Grade Up” which referred to the quality improvement, although surprisingly, all were made in Taiwan. The “III” indicated the third-generation of the series, following the original Canonet and the New Canonet lines. Manufactured from spring 1972 to summer 1982, it was a long-selling bestseller over 11 years. About 1.2 million units were made.

There’s a reason why Canon sold so many of this particular model in their long line of successful 35mm rangefinder cameras: this is definitely a high end camera, and a breathtaking lens and rich feature set are only two factors in its success. Introduced in 1972, the GIII designation indicated the third in a series of successful compact rangefinders of this type; this is one of the models most avidly sought after by collectors and users of fine compact 35mm rangefinders of the ’70’s era. It was the most refined and improved of the three, being the culmination of continuous enhancements and strengthening to produce one of the slickest cameras of its time, one that was justifiably referred to more than once as “a poor man’s Leica”. It’s not without its quirks, however, as you’ll see shortly.

The camera is noticeably larger than the really compact 35mm rangefinders of that time, along with the Konica Auto S2, Olympus 35 RD and Olympus 35 SP: each of these cameras was aimed solidly at the high end market, professionals wanting a second camera without compromises, and serous amateurs wanting the best, most full featured cameras they could afford as non-working photographers. These cameras all distinguished themselves to that end with lenses that were typically a full f-stop faster than more compact ones (F/1.7 or 1.8 were the norm for these lenses); the larger physical diameter and length of these lenses in made them distinctive in appearance (they also provided aperture, shutter speed and focusing rings that were easier to grip and move with certainty). The faster lenses, coupled with the typically longer range of working shutter speeds on the low end made these cameras wonderful low light shooters, greatly enhancing their desirability. The camera bodies themselves were correspondingly larger too, as more features were packed into them, and beefier, stronger parts for long life and rugged reliability were used: all this required a larger body to make it all work. Still, the cameras are not that much larger, and remain very light: at the end of the day, you still barely notice their presence hanging from your shoulder strap.

The lens itself is the heart of the camera: a slightly wide, 40mm F/1.7 optic composed of 6 elements arranged in 4 groups gives razor sharp and nicely contrasting photographs, with a very nice focusing range of 2.6 feet to Infinity (most cameras of this type normally close focused at 3 feet). The metering cell is located at the 12 o’clock position in the lens barrel, offering automatic filter factor compensation with 48mm screw thread filters mounted. The lens barrel becomes the “control centre” for the camera, in a sense, as 90% of the operating functions are selected from one of three rings mounted on the outer periphery: (from outside in toward the camera body) shutter speed selection ring, aperture/guide number selection ring, and focus ring.

The Copal leaf shutter offers speeds ranging from a low of 1/4 of a second to a top end of 1/500th of a second, with a B(ulb) time setting included. The shutter speeds are click stopped along the ring, marked in white, with the 1/30th of a second position marked in blue. The Bulb setting has a stud lock further along the lens ring to prevent accidentally selecting this setting when working with the camera at your eye: press and hold the lock in while rotating the shutter speed ring to the B setting.

Just behind the shutter speed ring, a small window appears in the lens barrel sleeve displaying the selected film speed in ASA. This is one of the quirks of this camera: the film speed is indicated only in ASA: no metric DIN equivalent is indicated. Even odder is the fact that the guide numbers offered are indicated solely in meters, not in feet: very unusual for a camera of this quality and particularly in light of the extensive attention to detail given to numerous other features throughout the design. Further along the lens barrel sleeve is a small, notched stud protruding from a slot cut in the sleeve: slip a finger nail in the notch, press down and hold while sliding the stud one way or another to line up the desired film speed against an indicator in the film speed window. Release the stud to lock in the setting (it is click stopped). The range of ISO speeds available to be selected is a broad 25 to 800 (many cameras offer only 25 -400), further enhancing the Canon’s ability as a low light shooter.

The aperture ring immediately behind the film speed selection window allows you to select apertures from F/1.7 down to a standard F/16. An “A” for automatic setting sets the camera into shutter preferred exposure mode: you select the shutter speed, the exposure system automatically selects the best aperture. Bear in mind, as with most cameras of this type, when selecting the aperture manually, the exposure meter is disengaged; only the “A” setting provides exposure control and indications. Further along the ring are 3 numbers marked in blue:28, 20, and 14, all metric guide numbers for the built in, flashmatic flash exposure control system (American equivalents are 92, 66 and 46, respectively, for ISO 100 film). Just to the left of the F/16 aperture setting (looking down on the lens barrel, as in the photograph above) is a small lever protruding from a slot: the self time actuator. Slide it to the other side of the slot with the shutter cocked, press the shutter release button and it will count off approximately 9 seconds delay before opening the shutter. Like most cameras of this type, the mechanical self timer cannot be cancelled in mid-operation. There is no “Off” position for power to the CdS exposure metre photocell, so, as with most cameras of this type, the lens cap serves as the “off” switch to conserve power by covering the lens.

The inner most ring is the focus setting ring, the thick black index mark for which is actually engraved in the metal of the camera body itself, just below the left end of the rangefinder element glass. Distances in feet are marked in an eye-catching forest green, while metric equivalents directly underneath them are marked in black. The silky smooth focusing is aided by a thick, half-inch long lever protruding from the focusing ring on the left side (as you’re holding the camera in shooting position). The idea is to grip the lever between two fingers and simply rock it up or down; with a minute or two of practice, you can quickly “snap” focus with spot on accuracy in a split second. This is an enormously attractive feature; if you’re new to cameras, you’ll fall in love with it, and miss it on other cameras that lack it. In actual use, though, I found it downright disconcerting: I’ve spent years using cameras without it, and have grown strongly accustomed to the traditional, Single Lens Reflex (SLR) method of focusing whereby you cradle the camera in your left hand, with the tips of your thumb and forefinger gently pinching the focus ring. The focus lever on the Canon makes this almost impossible, so if you’re at all like me, it will take a wee bit of getting used to. Fast shooting photographers and journalists love it, however, and it remains a unique and extremely useful feature.

The viewfinder is a joy to work with (or through, as the case may be), being roomy, bright and clear with a large, easy to pick up yellow rangefinder focusing patch dead centre. A yellow vertical strip on the right side shows the F/stops, indicated by a floating black needle; red over- and under-exposure warning patches at the top and bottom of the scale give you a good indication of why the shutter won’t trip in Automatic exposure mode: if the needle is in either of those areas, the shutter release button locks to prevent badly exposed photographs. There is no indicator in the viewfinder when the flashmatic system is engaged, which is a bit disappointing on a camera of this calibre; not having shutter speeds indicated is also a puzzling omission, given the level of sophistication that went into the design and engineering of this dream camera, but then again, I did indicate at the beginning of this article that this camera is not without its quirks. On the other hand, this is one of the very, very few compact 35mm rangefinder cameras ever made that had bright frame lines that moved with the focus lever to provide automatic parallax compensation: kudos to the engineers on this one!

Many relatively small things, at first glance, seem to have been thoughtfully designed to provide the easiest to use camera Canon could make; they grow on you quickly as you begin to realize exactly how fully featured and comfortable a camera this is to use. Take the top deck, for instance: beginning on the far right side, the film advance lever has a large, comfortable black plastic extension for fast and reliable film advance. The “stand off” position is more than adequate, and the single stroke, short throw lever is very smooth; the lack of a ratchet film advance, while unusual, is not a major factor here. There is a tiny bit of side to side slop in the large shutter release button (threaded for a universal cable release), although it releases the shutter crisply at the bottom of its stroke. The button is noticeably stiffer than other cameras: you won’t take a picture accidentally with this camera. The metal ring concentric to the release button provides a very comfortable rest for the entire pad of your fingertip.

Immediately to the left of the shutter release button is a large film counter window, and what a pleasant surprise it is to note that the glass in the window slightly magnifies the numbers for easier visibility, a very nice touch indeed. The flash hot shoe has spring clips under each wing to help clamp the flash foot into place more reliably; a second, smaller electric contact in the shoe is for the dedicated Canolite D electronic flash unit that was marketed for the camera: totally automatic flash control was possible with this unit simply by slipping it into place (it used the flashmatic feature of the camera, but the second electrical contact signalled the camera that a Canolite D unit was being used, which meant that the shooter could leave the aperture ring set in the “A” position and not have to set a guide number; removing it returned the camera instantly to Automatic exposure control).

Even something as simple, and almost universally standard as the film rewind lever and knob has been made a touch differently: instead of traditional flat sides, the metal on either side of the fold down crank has been milled away to provide a nicely sloping surface on this large, easy to grip knob. Mere styling? No…should the folding crank ever break off, the easy grip knob will allow you to carry on with minimum fuss; what a wonderful thought for anyone who has ever endured the frustration of a broken rewind crank. Pulling up on the rewind crank/knob assembly unlatches the back cover for film loading and unloading.

On the far left side of the camera body, just behind one of the two extremely sturdy camera strap lugs, is a small, oval, spring loaded plastic cap. Gently pull out on the end closest to the viewfinder eyepiece and swivel it down 90 degrees to reveal the PC flash synch cord contact socket; it will swivel back in place when the cord is removed, providing an efficient dust cover. I believe the Canon was the only one of the classic compact 35mm rangefinder cameras of the ’70’s to ever have this feature.

Just to the left of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small red button with a tiny blue light bulb above it, both centred under the word “Check” in white letters. Press the button in briefly and the blue light will light up to indicate a good battery. Still along the back deck, directly under the tip of the film advance lever, is a small rectangular window with alternating red and white strips showing in it: the band of stripes move as the film is wound, providing positive indication that the film is properly threaded onto the take spool and moving through the camera – another wonderful touch, and one whose utility will become even more apparent in another moment. Just to the right of that is a smaller, square window that shows red when the shutter is cocked; it returns to white when the shutter is tripped, something very rare on cameras of this type.

The bottom deck is graced with a traditional film rewind button (press this in to disengage the clutch prior to rewinding the film back into its cartridge at the end of a roll; it will pop back out again and the film counter will reset to zero once the back is opened). In the centre is a tripod socket, and just to the left of that is another really nice design touch: a spring loaded rectangular battery chamber door that requires no coin or other tool more sophisticated than a fingernail to open. Simply place your fingernail into the slot, slide it to the left and pull down to open. A tug on the clear plastic leader will slide the PX-625 type battery (or it’s equivalent) out for easy replacement. At last: a battery cover that doesn’t need a coin or screwdriver to unscrew, and no more unsightly scratches or mars to the finish when it slides out of the inadequate slot in the traditional circular screw in covers of

I’ve saved the most unique feature of this camera for last, and will now reveal the meaning behind the “QL” designation of these cameras: Q(uick) L(oading). The only camera of it’s kind at the time to have it, the GIII has a unique quick film loading feature that is both fast and positive. When you open the camera back and look to the right side, you’ll notice that the take up spool is covered by a metal plate, and the door only opens out 90 degrees from the closed position. Place your film cartridge in the left side chamber as usual, gently push the door further open to a 180 degree position, and an odd looking take up spool with strange looking, spring loaded lugs on the shaft will appear. Directly under this is a small bright orange rectangular index mark; stretch your film leader out across the lens chamber and lay it across the spool, with the end lined up at least half to 3/4 of the way across the orange index mark. Now return the film back to the 90 degree position, so that the metal plate is closed over the take up spool chamber (a nice little illustration plate secured to the inside of the back cover clearly shows the process involved). Look through the little cut out window in the left side of that metal plate and verify that the sprocket holes of the 35mm film are actually engaged by the teeth of the white plastic film advance spool. Close the door completely until it latches, and you’re set: simply wind the shutter and release it twice to advance the leader to a fresh piece of film (watch the red/white striped band in the film advance window discussed earlier to verify proper film advance) and you’ll be ready to take photographs. This was one of the most innovative features ever put in a 35mm camera, and the Canon was the only one like it in this regard.

In actual use, I find a lot to love about this camera: It’s slightly larger size makes for a comfortable and sure grip, and a slightly faster and more positive operation of the controls. The extra f-stop of speed, coupled with two more shutter speeds than many other cameras provided at the time makes it better to use in lower light situations, as does the extended ISO film speed selection range. The viewfinder is a joy to work with, although the addition of a shutter speed readout would have greatly improved operation. Focusing is faster than I would have thought possible by just the addition of the focusing lever. The QL feature is undeniably superb, as is the overall fit, finish and incredible attention to design details. It’s no wonder this camera was a favourite of working professionals and serious amateurs alike.

The G-III QL17 was made in both a brushed silver and a “professional” black finish; they turn up on eBay regularly in mint to excellent condition for between $60 and $120 for silver, while black ones routinely fetch $200 – $300 in the same condition. The matching Canolite D electronic flash unit is a highly recommended accessory, as is the special, made specifically for this model, Canon lens shade (it is uniquely designed to not intrude in the viewfinder area when attached, and will actually lay flat on a table.