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Auto Press Minolta

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Japanese plate strut-folding cameras (edit)
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The Auto Press Minolta (オートプレスミノルタ) is a strut-folding camera with a coupled rangefinder, taking 6.5×9cm plates or film sheets, made from 1937 by Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō (predecessor of Minolta). It was an upgraded successor of the Auto Minolta.

Description Edit

The Auto Press Minolta was much inspired by the Plaubel Makina IIS but has a reversed configuration, with the viewfinder on the photographer's left, and has a number of other differences, including some features which were absent on the contemporary Makina.

Configuration, viewing and focusing Edit

The main body is the same as on the Auto Minolta, but reversed. The rectangular front plate is chrome-finished. It is mounted on scissor struts offset to the left, attached to a spring-loaded shaft. There are smaller struts on the right, and a single tripod thread at the bottom.. The camera is opened by a small button placed on the right-hand side of the body, under the leather handle. To close the camera, the scissor struts are unlocked by a button placed between the lens and focusing wheel.

There is a chrome-finished top housing covering the whole length of the body. It contains the viewfinder eyepiece at the left end, providing automatic parallax correction. The viewfinder's main glass element is hinged to the front plate and has a crosshair; the hinge is spring-loaded and the element is maintained in retracted position by a small pin. The automatic parallax correction feature was very novel at the time, and the Auto Press Minolta was perhaps the first Japanese camera to incorporate it. It might have been the main reason to reverse the Auto Minolta's body, to have the scissor struts' main axis just below the viewfinder for easier coupling of the parallax correction device to the focusing mechanism.

The coupled rangefinder is contained in the right side of the top housing. It has two windows at the front and an eyepiece offset to the left, not far from the viewfinder eyepiece. The camera also has a wireframe finder hinged to the top corners of the front part, used in conjunction with a retractable bead placed behind the top housing.

The camera is focused by turning a small knob controlling the angle of the main struts, placed at the left end of the front plate (this layout is symmetrical to that of the Auto Minolta). The distance is indicated by a circular scale rotating around a fixed arrow index. The scale is graduated from ∞ down to 1m, and the central index has depth-of-field indications; the whole device is placed at the bottom left of the lens, as seen from the front. The position of the index varies on the actual cameras found today, and some are reported to give bad distance readings. It is not known if the cameras left the factory with varying index positions, or if these are the result of incompetent repair or accidental drift from the original setting. (One original picture shows the distance index pointing downwards, at about five o'clock,[1] but the standard position on most cameras seems to be at nine o'clock.)

Lens, shutter and flash synchronization Edit

The lens is fixed, unlike that of the Makina. It is a four-element Promar Anastigmat Nippon 105mm f/3.5, made by Asahi Kōgaku (predecessor of Pentax).[2] This lens was similar to the Promar Anastigmat Nippon 75mm f/3.5 lens mounted at the same time on the Auto Semi Minolta. The same company Asahi Kōgaku was already supplying the Coronar Anastigmat Nippon and Actiplan Anastigmat Nippon lenses of other Minolta cameras.

The shutter is a rim-set Crown-Rapid (T, B, 1–400) in #1 size, made by the Chiyoda company itself.[3] The winding lever, at the top of the shutter casing, has a black dot and runs in a slit of the front plate. The self-timer button, going through the front plate, is smaller and has a red dot. The shutter plate is silver and has the words Patents–Nippon engraved at the top, and an aperture scale from 3.5 to 25 screwed at the bottom. The long aperture lever is shaped as a scythe and runs in an indent of the front plate, under the shutter casing. The shutter name CROWN–RAPID is inscribed at the bottom of the speed setting rim.

The main release protrudes at the top right corner of the front standard (as seen by the photographer), and contains a thread for a cable release. There is an indent in the main body, to accommodate the release button when the camera is folded.

The camera has two attachments for a flashgun on the left-hand side of the main body. Flash synchronization is actuated by the movement of the shutter's winding lever, and is effective at 1/50 speed.[4] There is a selector on the front plate, near the main release, with ON and OFF indications, perhaps used to engage or shut the synch connection. The synch contact is transmitted by the auxiliary struts to the bottom flashgun attachment, allowing cordless operation.[5] The Auto Press Minolta was the first Japanese camera synchronized for flash, and was maybe the first camera in the world to have a hot shoe.

Markings, dimensions and weight Edit

The model name Auto Press is engraved in a stylized form above the top housing, and the brand name Minolta is at the front, between the two rangefinder windows, in a similar stylized form, the same as on the contemporaneous Auto Semi Minolta. The model name AUTO PRESS is also embossed on the leather handle, and the brand name Minolta is embossed on the original ground glass hood and film pack holder at least. The body serial number is engraved on the viewfinder's front element support, with an Nr. prefix.

The dimensions of the camera are 140×118×133mm, and the weight is 1,300g.[6]

Commercial life Edit

The Auto Press Minolta was announced in late 1937,[7] and was featured in the December 1937 issue of Asahi Camera.[8] It was displayed in the show organized the same month in the Tōkyō Kaikan by Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō and Asanuma Shōkai to celebrate their new commercial agreements.[9]

The earliest reported advertisement is in the January 1938 issue of Asahi Camera.[10] It shows no picture of the Auto Press Minolta, which is listed at ¥265.[11] This price is very expensive, but is thirty yen less than the Auto Minolta with Tessar and Compur.

The July 1938 catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai shows the camera with the flashgun attached to the side.[12] This camera has the early type of wireframe with straight sides, and is thus an early production example (see below). The price is given as ¥290 in the corresponding price list, including six plate holders and a pack holder.[13]

The advertisement in Shashin Shinpō January 1940 shows another picture of the camera with flashgun.[14] The pictured example already has the later type of wireframe with stepped sides (see below). The price is ¥310, making it the most expensive Japanese camera with the exception of the few Leica copies. The same price of ¥310 is given in the official list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941.[15]

The October 1941 catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai has a page about the Auto Press Minolta, priced at ¥363.[16] The April 1943 government inquiry on Japanese camera production still lists the Auto Press Minolta; this is the last known mention of the camera.[17]

Actual examples Edit

The known surviving examples have a body number in the 23xxx to 27xxx range, accounting for a total production of less than 5,000 units.[18]

Few variations are visible. The very early cameras have a straight wireframe. This was replaced by a newer wireframe with stepped sides very soon. At about the same time, a screw appeared on the front plate, next to the on/off selector, in addition to the screw that was already present around that place.

Some examples have strap lugs on each side of the body, at the top. These lugs are irregularly distributed; they are more frequent on early cameras, and it seems that they completely disappeared after no.25000.

On most examples, the top housing is attached by four screws placed at the middle of each side. The remaining cameras have two screws at the front and two at the rear, near the ends of the long sides. The latter configuration is more frequent on late examples, but no definitive pattern can be drawn.

Cameras showing non-standard variations are not infrequent, probably reflecting the fact that the Auto Press Minolta was used by professional photo-journalists, who had their cameras modified and repaired more frequently than amateurs. For example, some cameras have a synch socket added in the front plate,[19] others have the flashgun attachments removed, one camera is reported with the ON indication of the flash synch selector painted in red, and one has been found with a non original Compur shutter, a Carl Zeiss 10.5cm lens and a heavier focusing knob.[20]

A radically modified example was presented in the October 1954 issue of Shashin Kōgyō. Pictures of this impressive machine, work of Okitsu Takeo (興津武雄), are reproduced below. The fate of this camera is unfortunately unknown.

Production Edit

The Auto Press Minolta were produced in the company's original Mukogawa (武庫川) plant, together with the other bellows models, at a rate of about 100 units per month.[21] The known body numbers range from 234xx to 271xx, in a sequence which is certainly continuous and specific to the model. Total production can be estimated at less than 4,000 units; a number which is consistent with the monthly rate.

Eastwestphoto- Auto press model with Unknown serial # 75,508 can any explain this? Otherwise identical in all known ways.
Z99 Minolta Auto press serial - 75508

Minolta Auto press serial # 75508, WHY?

Accessories Edit

The camera was supplied as a set with six plate holders, a film pack holder and a lens cap.[22] The following accessories were offered separately:[23]

  • lens hood, holding 40mm diameter filters, ¥1.90 in 1938 and 1941;
  • flashgun, ¥13 in 1938, 1940 and 1941;
  • leather case (皮製ケース), ¥8 in 1938, then ever-ready case (速写ケース), ¥8 in 1940, ¥11.65 in 1941;
  • rigid "portable case" (携帯ケース), ¥10 in 1940, ¥11.85 in 1941.

The lens cap is all chrome, and covers the lens only, unlike the lens cap of the Minolta and Auto Minolta covering the whole lens and shutter unit. The ground glass hood and film pack holder have the brand name Minolta embossed in the leather covering, and have chrome fittings.

The flashgun mainly consists of a large leatherette-covered battery compartment, hinged at the front and providing a grip to hold the camera steadily. The bulb holder is at the top, and the circular reflector is attached at the top rear. The device takes two batteries in serial connection. There is a small test light behind the bulb holder, certainly indicating if the batteries have enough power to fire the main bulb. An original document mentions 3V batteries — certainly corresponding to the total voltage of the two battery elements, perhaps sold as a single pack — and a voltmeter (ボルトメーター) — certainly corresponding to the test light.[24] This flashgun is very rare, and only very few examples have been observed.[25]

The ever-ready case is made of brown leather, and closely fits the camera's shape.[26] The latch is at the top, and there is a Minolta logo embossed at the front. The black "portable case" is larger and allows to take the camera with its plate and film pack holders. It is not known if it can hold the flashgun as well. The same Minolta logo is embossed at the front of the case.

The camera and flashgun were sold in separate boxes made of red cardboard.[27]

Notes Edit

  1. Picture in the July 1938 catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai, p.5.
  2. Made by Asahi Kōgaku: "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), lens item N2.
  3. A version with Compur shutter is mentioned in the official chronology "Hensen kamera ichiran-pyō", p.295 of Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (reproduced in this Flickr page by Rebollo_fr). This is certainly a mistake.
  4. Effective at 1/50: advertisement in Shashin Shinpō January 1940 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96, and catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai dated October 1941, p.14, reproduced in this page. McKeown, p.673, says that the camera is synched at all speeds but this is a mistake.
  5. A camera was tested with an ohm-meter to check this.
  6. Scheibel, p.25.
  7. The fifty-year history Minolta 50-nen no ayumi, p.65, says September 1937, but the month is unconfirmed.
  8. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.341.
  9. Tashima Gizō, interviewed by Saeki Kakugorō on p.77 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12, says November 1937, but Awano, p.7 of the same magazine, specifies that the show was inaugurated on December 12, 1937.
  10. Advertisement reproduced in Tanimura, p.15 of Camera Collectors' News no.118. This is the earliest advertisement listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.341.
  11. The release price is quoted as ¥290 in Minolta 50-nen no ayumi, p.65, and as ¥310 in Scheibel, p.25, and Francesch, pp.24 and 79. These correspond to prices asked for the Auto Press Minolta at a later date.
  12. July 1938 catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai, p.5.
  13. July 1938 price list by Asanuma Shōkai, p.4.
  14. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96.
  15. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 8, section 5.
  16. Catalogue Shashinki to zairyō by Asanuma Shōkai, dated October 1941, p.14, reproduced in this page.
  17. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), item 184.
  18. Numbers are known from 23565 to 27153.
  19. The example pictured in Kamera no ayumi, p.58, owned by the Pentax Gallery, has a synch post added under the lens and a Cherry flashgun (not an originally accessory).
  20. On this camera, the adaptation of the #0-size Compur shutter is not seamless and it is almost certain that the equipment is not original.
  21. Mukogawa plant: Awano, p.7 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12. Monthly production: Tashima Gizō, interviewed by Saeki Kakugorō on p.78 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  22. July 1938 price list by Asanuma Shōkai, p.4, reproduced in this page (does not mention the lens cap); January 1940 advertisement in Shashin Shinpō reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96 (does not mention the lens cap); October 1941 catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai, p.14, reproduced in this page.
  23. 1938 prices: July 1938 price list by Asanuma Shōkai, p.4, reproduced in this page. 1940 prices: advertisement in Shashin Shinpō January 1940 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96. 1941 prices: October 1941 catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai, p.14, reproduced in this page.
  24. July 1938 price list by Asanuma Shōkai, p.4, reproduced in this page.
  25. Examples pictured in this page, in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.12, and in Eimukku 735 Minolta, p.127.
  26. Ever-ready case visible in lot no.650 of Westlicht Photographica Auction no.10.
  27. Original boxes visible in Eimukku 735 Minolta, p.127.

Bibliography Edit

Original documents Edit

  • Asanuma Shōkai. Cameras — All other apparatus and materials — 1938. Catalogue dated July 1938, p.5, and corresponding price list, p.4. Documents partly reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • Asanuma Shōkai. Shashinki to zairyō (写真機と材料, Cameras and supplies). Catalogue dated October 1941, p.14. Document partly reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" (国産写真機ノ現状調査, Inquiry into Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of April 1943. Reproduced in Supuringu kamera de ikou: Zen 69 kishu no shōkai to tsukaikata (スプリングカメラでいこう: 全69機種の紹介と使い方, Let's try spring cameras: Presentation and use of 69 machines). Tokyo: Shashinkogyo Syuppan-sha, 2004. ISBN 4-87956-072-3. Pp.180–7. Item 184.
  • "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku" (国産写真機の公定価格, Set prices of the Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of October 25, 1940 and setting the retail prices from December 10, 1940. Published in Asahi Camera January 1941 and reproduced in Shōwa 10—40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10〜40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935—1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7. Pp.108—9. Type 5, section 9.

Older historical accounts Edit

  • Minolta Camera. Minolta 50-nen no ayumi (Minolta・50年のあゆみ, Minolta 50-year history). November 1978. Pp.6 and 65.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958). "Hensen kamera ichiran-pyō" (変遷カメラ一らん表, Table of camera evolution.) P.295. (This is a chronology of Minolta cameras from the Nifcarette onwards. This document is reproduced in this Flickr page by Rebollo_fr.)
  • Taniguchi Masao (谷口匡男), from the commercial department (営業部) of Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō. "Minoruta kamera no sakujitsu, konnichi" (ミノルタ・カメラの昨日、今日, Minolta cameras, yesterday and today). In Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958). Pp.275–9.

Collectors' sources Edit

Links Edit

In English:

In Japanese:

In French :

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