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Japanese 3×4 and 4×4 pseudo TLR

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Japanese pseudo TLR (edit)
Prewar and wartime models
4.5×6 Hansa Rollette Ref | Roll Light Ref | Union Ref
4×4 Pilot Ref (4×4)
3×4 Alma Baby Ref | Baby Ref | Baby Roll Ref | Chukon Ref | Clover Baby Ref | Mario Ref | Pilot Ref | Prince Baby Ref | Truth
Postwar models
6×6 Cometflex | Dox New Six | Elliotte | Flex-O-Cord | Honestflex | Koniken | Mikono Flex C | Oplen Junior | Palma Brilliant | Rionflex | Rosko Brilliant | Topflex | Vesterflex
4.5×6 Binox | Maruso Refe
4×4 Herlight
Japanese true TLR ->
Japanese 6×6, 4.5×6, 3×4 and 4×4, 4×5 and 4×6.5 ->

This page deals with the prewar and wartime cameras. See also the Herlight 4×4cm pseudo TLR made in 1947 by Ōfuna.

Concept and description Edit

A number of pseudo TLR cameras taking 3×4cm pictures on 127 film were sold between 1937 and 1943 by Japanese companies. Their shape imitates a twin lens reflex but the finder is nothing more than a big brilliant finder, and they are fixed-focus.

The company Hagi Kōgyō Bōeki is confirmed to have manufactured the first such model, called Clover Baby Ref and released in 1937, and the last one, called Alma Baby Ref and advertised until 1943.[1] It is probable that all the other cameras were also produced in the same factory.

On all the models, the body is made of black bakelite. The film is advanced by a knob on the right hand side. The film advance is controlled by two red windows in the back, placed one above the other, with the probable exception of the 4×4 model of the Pilot Ref. The right hand side plate is pulled out for film loading and is locked by a button on the left hand side. This side plate also supports the advance knob, engraved with an arrow indicating the winding direction. All the models have a 50/6.3 lens and B, 25, 50, 75, 100 shutter speeds unless noted.

There is a variety of names, but they can be arranged in three groups. Inside a group, the various models seem to differ only by the nameplate, attached by two screws and easily interchanged, and by the lens and shutter markings. In the following, the models are described in alphabetical order inside a group.

First group Edit

The cameras of the first group have a plain silver viewing hood. The whole side plate is removable and there are no strap lugs. The advance knob has three knurled rows and is attached by a screw visible in the middle.

The Clover Baby Ref Edit

The Clover Baby Ref (クロバーベビーレフ) was advertised from August to October 1937 and featured in the new products column of Asahi Camera in November.[2] The company name that appears in the August 1937 advertisement[3] is Hagi Kōgyō Bōeki, mentioned as the "maker and distributor" (製造発売元). The cost was ¥18.50. The camera was still mentioned in the official list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941, for ¥19.[4]

The camera has a Clover Baby Ref nameplate, the lens is reported as an Argus Anastigmat and the shutter plate is engraved ARGUS in capital letters. (This lens and shutter equipment is similar to the Prince Baby Ref and Alma Baby Ref.) One surviving example is pictured in Sugiyama,[5] and another in this page at Asacame.

The Prince Baby Ref Edit

The Prince Baby Ref (プリンスベビーレフ) was advertised in 1939 and 1940.[6] It appears for ¥21 in advertisements dated October 1939,[7] April, May[8] and August[9] 1940 in Asahi Camera. The camera was also listed for ¥19 in the January 1941 official price list.[10]

The company name that appears in the advertisements is the distributor Fukada Shōkai. In some sources, the camera is attributed to "Prince Camera Works";[11] but this was not the name of any actual company, only a dummy name used for promotional purpose (see Camera Works).

The Prince Baby Ref has an Argus lens and shutter, like the Clover Baby Ref and Alma Baby Ref. It is identical to the Clover Baby Ref but for the Prince Baby Ref nameplate. One surviving example is pictured in Sugiyama.[12]

Second group Edit

The second group is the most numerous. The cameras have a black viewing hood with an X-shaped rib. The top part of the side plate is fixed and there are strap lugs on both sides of the body. The advance knob has two knurled rows and no visible screw, except on the Baby Roll Ref which has other small differences.

The Alma Baby Ref Edit

The Alma Baby Ref (アルマベビーレフ) was listed in the January 1941 official price list for ¥19.[13] It was advertised in 1942 and 1943.[14] The company name that appears in an advertisement dated May 1943[15] is Banno Bōeki, which was only the distributor.[16] The price at the time was ¥23.50. The Alma Baby Ref was also listed in the "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras") of early 1943. This document says that the camera, lens and shutter were made by Hagi.[17] This perhaps indicates that it was the case of all the other models.

The Alma Baby Ref has an Argus lens and shutter, like the Clover Baby Ref and Prince Baby Ref. The nameplate is only inscribed Alma. One surviving example is pictured in Sugiyama.[18]

The Baby Ref Edit

The Baby Ref (ベビーレフ)[19] appears in a leaflet dating aroung 1937[20] where it is presented together with the Union Ref as an affordable reflex camera. No company name is indicated, and the price was ¥15. The camera was still listed for ¥19 in the January 1941 official price list.[21]

The Baby Ref has no nameplate. The lens is advertised as a Clear Anastigmat. The shutter plate is optimistically marked Perfection at the top and Durable at the bottom, with a KS logo on the left. It is thus identical to the Mario Ref and Pilot Ref, except for the absence of a nameplate. One surviving example is pictured in Sugiyama, where it is called "Mario Ref (Without Name)",[22] and another is pictured in this page at Asacame.

The Chukon Ref Edit

The Chukon Ref (チューコンレフ)[23] was sold by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō (today Ricoh). It appears for ¥20 (case included) in advertisements dated February and May 1939,[24] and in the contemporary leaflet by Riken reproduced on the right.[25] It was also featured in the new products column of Asahi Camera in August 1939,[26] and was still listed for ¥19 in the January 1941 official price list.[27]

The lens is written CHUKON ANASTIGMAT and the shutter plate is marked Chukon Ref at the top and R.K.K. at the bottom (for Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō). Various surviving examples are known.[28]

The Mario Ref Edit

The Mario Ref (マリオレフ) appears in Sugiyama and in an exhibition catalogue of the JCII.[29] (It has not been observed in any original document so far.) The nameplate reads MARIO REF, the lens is a Clear Anastigmat 50/6.3 and the shutter plate is marked Perfection at the top and Durable at the bottom, with a KS logo on the left. The only difference with the Baby Ref and the Pilot Ref is the nameplate. The sources attribute the camera to Tachibana Shōkai, for an unknown reason.[29]

The Pilot Ref 3×4 and 4×4 Edit

The Pilot Ref (パイロットレフ) exists in two models. The 3×4 model was advertised between 1938 and 1942, and the 4×4 model was added in 1941 and 1942.[30] The camera was distributed by Tachibana Shōkai.[31] It curiously does not appear in the January 1941 official price list.[32]

It seems that the advertising pictures observed so far only display the 3×4 model, and no example of the 4×4 model has been seen. There are two nameplate variants for the 3×4 camera, one is marked Pilott Ref in lowercase letters (with two "t") and the other is marked PILOT REF in uppercase letters (normal orthography). In the advertisements, the lens is called Clear Anastigmat and the shutter plate is written Perfection at the top and Durable at the bottom, with a KS logo on the left, like the Baby Ref and Mario Ref.

The October 1938 advertisement in Asahi Camera lists the 3×4 model for ¥18 (case ¥3.50 extra), mentions the Perfection shutter and B, 25, 50, 75, 100 speeds, and shows a picture with the Pilott Ref nameplate.[33] A December 1939 advertisement shows the same picture, gives the same price of ¥18, but with extra ¥5 for the case, and mentions 25, 50, 75, B, T shutter speeds.[34] The January 1941 advertisement in Asahi Camera has a different picture with the PILOT REF nameplate, gives the price as ¥23 (case included) and lists the same shutter speeds.[35] The September 1941 advertisement in the same magazine has the same picture but quotes B, 25, 50, 75, 100 speeds again; it lists the 3×4 model for ¥16 (case ¥4.60) and the 4×4 model for ¥19 (case ¥5.70).[36] The February 1942 advertisement in Shashin Bunka has the older 1938 picture with the Pilott Ref nameplate and omits 1/50 speed, surely by mistake; the prices are ¥18.95 for the 3×4 model (case ¥5.51) and ¥22.50 for the 4×4 (case ¥6.76).[37]

Various surviving examples have been observed with the Pilott Ref nameplate. One has the Clear Anastigmat lens and Perfection Durable shutter, s in the advertisements described above.[38] At least two others have different lens and shutter markings.[39] Their shutter has 1/70 instead of 1/75 setting and is marked Rapid at the top and Shutter at the bottom, with an N.S logo in a circle on the right. They have a Simpu Anastigmat 50mm f/6.3 lens. (The "Simpu" lens name is also found on the Semi-Tex 4.5×6 folder.)

The Truth Edit

The Truth is known from a single example,[40] and has not been observed in any original document. The name Truth is embossed on the bakelite body, where the nameplate normally resides. The camera has the same Perfection shutter and Clear Anastigmat f/6.3 lens as the Mario Ref.

The Baby Roll Ref Edit

The Baby Roll Ref has the same body as the cameras of the second group, from which it differs by details only. It appears in Sugiyama and McKeown, where it is attributed to Yuzawa Mfg. Co. (probably a translation of Yuzawa Seisakusho, 湯沢製作所).[41]

The advance knob has three knurled rows and a visible screw in the middle. The viewing hood is slightly different, with a larger central part. The shutter speeds are B, 25, 50, 100: unlike most other models, there is no 1/75 setting. Other minor differences are visible in the sideplate locking button.

Two variations are known. One is pictured in Sugiyama and McKeown. The name Baby Roll Ref is inscribed in cursive style on the viewing hood and on the black nameplate. There is a logo on the upper part of the nameplate, consisting of the letter Y inside a circle, perhaps for Yuzawa. The sideplate locking button is placed on the photographer's left, as on the other models, but it is surrounded by a small metal plate. The shutter plate is marked Special Shutter at the top and Baby Roll Ref at the bottom, and the Y logo is repeated on its right. The lens is reported as a Soft Anastigmat 50/6.3, a name that probably faithfully describes its picture-taking abilities.[42]

The other is pictured in Sugiyama only. The name BABY ROLL REF is inscribed in capital letters on the silver nameplate, from which the Y logo is absent. No marking is visible on the viewing hood. The sideplate locking button is placed on the photographer's right, in the middle of the removable sideplate itself. The shutter plate is black and chrome, it is inscribed STRAIGHT at the top and B.R.R. at the bottom (obviously for Baby Roll Ref), with the Y logo on the right. The lens is again reported as a Soft Anastigmat 50/6.3.[43]

The Baby Roll Ref has been reported with a leather case embossed "Bebi Ref".[44]

Notes Edit

  1. Manufacturer of the Clover Baby Ref: the August 1937 advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.69, gives Hagi as the maker and distributor (製造発売元). Manufacturer of the Alma Baby Ref: "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), item 194.
  2. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.336.
  3. Advertisement published in Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.69.
  4. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, section 1.
  5. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 4032. The attribution to "Ogi Industrial Works" is surely a typo for Hagi.
  6. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340.
  7. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  8. Advertisements in Asahi Camera April 1940, p.A56, and May 1940, p.A29. That dated April is reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.80.
  9. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.80.
  10. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, section 1.
  11. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, item 231, and Sugiyama, item 4063.
  12. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 4063.
  13. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, section 1.
  14. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.334.
  15. Advertisement published in Hōdō Shashin, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.59.
  16. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, item 15, attributes the Alma Baby Ref to Miyoshi Kōgaku, like the other Alma cameras, but this is a mistake. Sugiyama, item 4018, attributes the camera to the distributor Banno.
  17. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), item 194, lens item Jd4, shutter item 18-V-12.
  18. Sugiyama, item 4018.
  19. It is not entirely clear if the name "Baby Ref" is indeed the camera's brand name, or just a generic name for that sort of cameras.
  20. Undated leaflet for the Victory, Semi Dymos, Reex, Baby Ref, Union Ref and Baby Chrome, published by an unknown company.
  21. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, section 1.
  22. Sugiyama, item 4053.
  23. The name Chūkon can be written 忠魂 and then it means "faithful spirit", sometimes in the sense of "loyal dead" or "war dead". Riken used such weird "patriotic" names during the war.
  24. February 1939: Advertisement in Sunday Mainichi (26 February 1939), reproduced in Gochamaze. May 1939: advertisement in Shinkō Graph, reproduced in Tanaka, p.9 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
  25. Leaflet Riken Kōgaku no kamera to sōgankyō, c.1939.
  26. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.337.
  27. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, section 1.
  28. See for example the examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 4031, and in "Senzen no rikō kamera – hoi", p.22 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14. Another example has been observed for sale at a dealer.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Sugiyama, item 4052, Watakushi no ni-gan-refu kamera-ten, p.25.
  30. Dates: advertisements listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.338–9.
  31. Advertisements reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.83. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, items 175–6, attributes the camera to Tachibana; again this does not mean much for this camera.
  32. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, section 1.
  33. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.83.
  34. Advertisement on p.11 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin, December 15, 1939, reproduced on p.45 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku.
  35. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.83.
  36. Advertisement in Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.83.
  37. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.83.
  38. Example observed in an online auction.
  39. Example sold as lot no.44 in the 30 September 2006 auction by Auction Team Köln, and example observed in an online auction.
  40. Example observed in an online auction.
  41. Sugiyama, items 4065–6, McKeown, p.1032.
  42. Sugiyama, item 4065, McKeown, p.1032.
  43. Sugiyama, item 4066.
  44. This marking was reported in an online auction, but no picture was available to confirm it.

Bibliography Edit

Original documents Edit

Recent sources Edit

Links Edit

In English:

In Japanese:


Asahi Bussan and Riken prewar and wartime cameras (edit)
rigid or collapsible
Vest Adler | Gokoku | Semi Kinsi | Letix | Olympic | New Olympic | Regal Olympic | Semi Olympic | Super Olympic | Vest Olympic | Riken No.1 | Ricohl | Roico | Seica | Zessan
folders pseudo TLR TLR
Semi Adler | Adler III | Adler A | Adler B | Adler C | Adler Four | Adler Six | Gaica | Heil | Kinsi Chukon Ref Ricohflex | Ricohflex B

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