Mmmm classic pre-Pentax Asahi goodness...
Before there was Pentax there was Asahiflex. Saburo Matsumoto, the founder of Asahi Kogaku, decided that he wanted to make cameras, but in a market already dominated by Nippon Kogaku (later Nikon) and Canon copies of Leica rangefinders, he decided that the SLR was the future of cameras. With only a couple of examples to draw design ideas from, he and a team of experts culled from pre-Konica Konishiroku came up with the Asahiflex after years of R & D. A breakthrough invention of his own was added in the Asahiflex II - the instant-return mirror, the first ever in an SLR.
Later models have a pentaprism, and there is a rare version with an M42 mount, possibly a prototype for its later incarnation. The evolution of the Asahiflex was the new flagship product from which the company would later take its name, reportedly taken from the words Pentaprism and Asahiflex, the Pentax. As you probably know, this then evolved into the Spotmatic and later the K1000, two of the longest-lived and best-designed mechanical SLRs in the history of cameras.
This is a treasure of a camera, with a smoothness of operation and machining tolerances I've never really experienced in person before. I can only imagine it's as close to the quality of early Leica, Canon, and Nippon Kogaku as I'm likely to hold anytime soon. The body is squat, as were the rangefinders of the day, and very solid. Later Asahi cameras have the same unique octagonal footprint, from the Pentax to the Spotmatic to the K1000. The back is hinged, the controls are well-placed. This is obviously a camera into which much thought was given to design.
I'm lucky to have received this and a boxed extension tube set as part of a donation from a fellow collector in our northern neighbor, Canada. Thanks Bud for your generosity!
Shutter speeds are out of adjustment, I think the first curtain spring has lost some tension so the effective speeds are higher than they should be. A CLA would probably be in order for a classic like this. Anyone have a repair manual?
Tips & Tricks
Sorry, it's a non-standard 37mm thread mount, so no typical Leica, Nikon, or Soviet lenses will fit. Rats! Adapters are available...somewhere...? (NOTE: a reader pointed out that early Leica lenses were 37mm, good luck finding those :))
This is an old-school pin-and hole shutter, so like on the FSU rangefinders you must cock the shutter before changing shutter speeds. Lift the dial and turn. Slow speeds are in a separate dial on the front like the Leica II, set the top dial to 25-2 (meaning 2nd dial) and adjust the front slow speed dial which has 25, 10, 5, 2, and T.
Other stuff: manual-set frame counter, lift-up rewind knob, separate galilean eye-level finder and waist-level SLR finder. Hinged back though! And the light seals are string and felt. Too bad most Japanese camera makers switched to foam somewhere along the way.
- Great history of Asahi Kogaku by Peter Jonkman
- If you're into old Asahi cameras you must know Sherfy's excellent page
- PENTAX today