Various Japanese companies manufactured aerial cameras. Most were made for the Japanese military forces before and during World War II. Further cameras, such as the Konica Type G, were made after 1945 for Japan's Self-Defense Forces or for other countries.
Handheld reconnaissance cameras Edit
Nedinsco type Edit
The first aerial camera used by the Japanese air forces in some quantity was the Nedinsco FK I. (Nedinsco was a Dutch branch of Carl Zeiss, and "FK" perhaps means Fliegerkamera.) It was adopted by the Japanese Army as the 25cm Aerial Camera (二十五糎航空写真機), named after its 25cm focal length. It was also used by the Navy as the Handheld Aerial Camera 25cm (手持式航空写真機二五糎).
The Nedinsco camera was later produced in Japan by Rokuoh-sha, perhaps after an official license was bought or as an unauthorized copy. Cameras made in the 1930s have a Hexar Ser.1 25cm f/4.5 lens. They were mostly retired from use when the Pacific War broke out.
The camera takes 13×18cm film plates. The rigid body is made of wood, with a characteristic octagonal front section, covered by a cap. There is a built-in grip on the left and a separate wooden handle on the right.
The focal-plane shutter is a separate unit, which can be slid out of the body for maintenance or repair. It has vertically travelling curtains, and the range of speeds is 1/90, 1/180, 1/375 and 1/750.
The aperture is set by an index at the top of the camera, in front of the identification plate, with f/4.5, f/6.3 and f/9 positions. There is an articulated mechanism placed around the lens, holding two filters controlled by external knobs on either side of the body.
The Handheld Aerial Camera 25cm F-8 type (手持式航空写真機25cm F-8型) was made for the Japanese Navy by Rokuoh-sha, later Konishiroku. The camera was essentially copied on the American Fairchild F-8, and original Fairchild cameras were used by the Japanese Navy as well.
Recent Japanese sources say that the camera was made from 1924 (or 1925) to 1938. However, a report from the U.S. Naval Technical Mission to Japan, written in December 1945, gives detailed production figures for the Konishiroku F-8 in the 1941–1945 period, summarized in the following table:
It is plausible that the F-8 type replaced the Nedinsco type as the standard hand-held camera in 13×18cm format for the Navy, and it seems reasonable to assume that the first examples were made in the mid to late 1930s.
The F-8 type takes 13×18cm exposures. The 1945 American report says that the early examples were taking six glass plates within a magazine, but the camera was modified to use rollfilm "early in the war". All the surviving examples known so far take 18cm wide film rolls. The rolls were normally 3.7m long, allowing for 25 frames, but double-length 7.5m rolls were manufactured in 1943 and 1944.
The camera body is made of metal. The shutter is of the focal-plane type, with 1/60, 1/100, 1/160, 1/200, 1/300 and 1/400 speeds. When rotated, the right handle advances the film, winds the shutter and advances the exposure counter in a single movement. There is a folding frame finder at the top, of which variations are known.
If we accept the 1924 or 1925 release date given by some Japanese sources (see above), the early examples made until the early 1930s certainly had an imported German lens. The examples found today normally have a Hexar Ser.1 25cm f/4.5 (same as mounted on the Nedinsco type), sometimes with abbreviated markings Hexar.1 4.5 25.
Surviving examples have been observed in two main variants. The first variant has a large black identification plate, with the camera's official name in Japanese characters (手持手持式航空寫眞機25cm F-8型), a serial number, the year and month of manufacture, and the words Tokyo (東京) and Rokuoh-sha (六櫻社). There is a small housing on the left side, behind the left handle. There is no control lever above the camera, and the aperture is perhaps directly controlled by turning a ring around the lens. Finally, there are four screw threads at the front of the main body, probably provided to attach the camera to a fixed aircraft mount. The December 1945 American report says that attempts were made to use the F-8 type as a vertical camera, and about 25 mounts were produced for the C6N Saiun (Myrt) reconnaissance plane, but the trials were not satisfactory and the camera was only used hand-held.
The second variant is presumably later. It has a small white plate with Rokuoh-sha or Konishiroku's logo (the character roku 六 inside a stylized cherry blossom) and a serial number. Two levers are visible at the top, in front of the frame finder. The front lever controls the aperture and has three positions: 4.5, 6.3 and 9. The second lever was used to compensate for proper focus with infra-red film. The small housing on the left side and the four screw threads at the front are no longer present.
Army Type 96 Small Aerial Camera Edit
To be done.
The Type 99 Handheld Aerial Camera (15cm) (九九式航空写真機十五糎) was produced for the Japanese Navy by Rokuoh-sha (and later Konishiroku) and by Fuji (presumably Fuji Shashin Film or one of its subsidiaries).
As was usual practice with the Japanese military ordnance of the time, the name "type 99" stands for year 2599 in the Japanese imperial calendar, i.e. 1939. A recent Japanese source says that the introduction of the camera was plagued with reliability problems, and it only went in full service around 1943. This is partly confirmed by the Rokuoh-sha and Konishiroku production figures for the 1941–1945 period, quoted in the 1945 American report already cited above:
The total production was surely higher, if one takes into account the cameras made by Fuji.
The camera has a folding frame finder at the top, and wooden handles on both sides of the body. The shutter is of the focal-plane type, with horizontally running curtains. It normally gives 1/75, 1/150, 1/250 and 1/400 speeds, selected by a wheel at the top. (The American report mentions 1/25 to 1/500 speeds, perhaps by mistake.) The main release has the shape of a trigger, actioned by the right index. The film is advanced and the shutter is wound by turning the right-hand handle by 90 degrees twice. The camera has an automatic exposure counter, either at the top left or to the right of the viewfinder. The back is fully removable and is locked by two keys, with open (開) and close (閉) indications.
It is said that two versions were made, one for aerial use only and the other for both aerial and terrestrial use. The American report mentions two variants distinguished by the lens maximal aperture, either f/3.5 or f/4.5, saying that the latter was more common. Variations have been observed in the surviving camera bodies, but no clear pattern has been identified.
At least one surviving camera is known to have a Hexar Ser.1B 15cm f/4.5. The lens is attached to the camera by four screws and has three prongs at the front for filter attachment. The aperture is controlled by a large ring at the front of the outer lens cone, connected to the lens diaphragm via a lever.
Army Type 99 Ultra Small Aerial Camera (GSK-99) Edit
The Army Type 99 Ultra Small Aerial Camera (GSK-99) was introduced in 1939. Unlike the standard Navy Type 99 and Army Type 100 models, the GSK-99 had interchangeable roll holder backs for 120 film. The camera has a wind up mechanism that triggered both film advance and cocked the shutter, allowing for rapid shooting of up to six images. In total, ten 6×6 images can be fit on a 120 roll of film. In total, about 3,000 units may have been built by Tōkyō Kōgaku and Konishiroku. The Tōkyō Kogaku-built GSK-99 was equipped with a fixed focus 75mm f/3.5 Simlar lens, while the Konishiroku-built GSK-99 was fitted with a fixed focus 75mm f/3.5 Hexar lens, set in a Compur-type Seikosha shutter.
At least some SK-100 cameras were also produced by Chiyoda Kōgaku (predecessor of Minolta) or by Katsura Seisakusho. Some sources insist in attributing the SK-100 to Chiyoda altogether, but it rather seems that the camera was developed by Konishiroku, drawing on its longer experience of aerial cameras, and that the other manufacturers played a secondary role.
The SK-100 takes fourty 11.5×16cm pictures on special rollfilm, 18cm wide and 6m long. The camera is much larger than the GSK-99 — its dimensions are 38×29×35cm, and it weighs 6.9kg. There is a built-in focal-plane shutter, giving 1/200, 1/300 and 1/400 speeds.
The camera has a folding frame finder at the top, and large handles on both sides of the body. There is a retractable bubble level, for vertical photography. The main release is a trigger, falling under the right-hand index.
The shutter is of the focal-plane type, with vertically running curtains. It gives 1/200, 1/300 and 1/400 speeds, set by a small button placed at the bottom right of the camera. On some cameras, the selected speed is displayed in a small window on the rear, behind this button, with the indication 露出速度 ("exposure speed"). The slit between the two shutter curtains has a fixed width, and the speed button actually modifies the tension of the main springs. It is said that the slit is constantly open, and that a light shield is raised behind the lens after each exposure, in order not to fog the film.
The camera's back is removable for film loading. The supply spool is inserted at the bottom, and the film runs from bottom to top. There is a glass plate inside the exposure chamber, behind the shutter curtains, to improve the film flatness. The film is advanced and the shutter is wound by turning a large knob on the right. The frame number is displayed on the rear, behind the knob, sometimes with the indication 撮影枚數 ("frame number").
There is an electrical connector on the side of the front barrel, to supply electrical power to two heating resistors built inside the camera, to prevent freezing at high altitude.
| Army Type 100 Small Aerial Camera (SK-100), with Hexar Ser.IIA 20cm f/3.5 no.4203.|
The other lenses are Simlar 180.2mm and 179.5mm f/4.5, Tele-Hexar and Boen Rokkor 40cm f/5.6.
Picture by eBayer Hbpartner. (Image rights)
The SK-100 takes interchangeable lenses via a large bayonet mount with three lugs. The most common standard lens is the Konishiroku Hexar Ser.IIA 20cm f/3.5; other known standard lenses are the Rokkor 20cm f/4.5 by Chiyoda Kōgaku, the Simlar 180mm f/4.5 by Tōkyō Kōgaku (engraved with the exact focal length, i.e. 179.5mm or 180.2mm), and the Zuiko 200mm f/4.5 by Takachiho. Konishiroku and Chiyoda Kōgaku also made 40cm f/5.6 telephoto lenses for the camera, respectively called Tele-Hexar and Boen Rokkor. (Various sources mention a Rokkor 50cm f/5.6 instead of the 40cm f/5.6, but this is perhaps a confusion.)
| Tele-Hexar 40cm f/5.6 lens no.4046 and Boen Rokkor 40cm f/5.6 no.78, for SK-100.|
Pictures by eBayer Hbpartner. (Image rights)
All the lenses for the SK-100 have three prongs at the front, to attach a filter. Various filter types exist; all are engraved SK 100 on the rim.
Konica Type G Aerial Camera Edit
To be done.
Miscellaneous imported cameras Edit
The Japanese first imported Nedinsco FK I hand-held aerial cameras, described above, and later Fairchild F-8 and K-8, which were used in some quantity before switching to locally produced copies. It is also said that a few Fairchild K-14 bought from the U.S. were used at night with aluminium-magnesium flare bombs. A few Rb75 and Rb50 mapping cameras were also bought to Germany, but they were deemed too large for use in Japanese aircraft.
Fixed reconnaissance cameras Edit
The Fixed Aerial Camera K-8 type (固定式航空写真機K-8型) was made for the Japanese Navy by Rokuoh-sha, later Konishiroku. It was a copy of the Fairchild K-8, of which some examples were bought before the outbreak of the Pacific War. The production figures for the 1941–1945 period were as follows:
|Ordered with 50cm lens||_||30||100||500||600||1230|
|Delivered with 50cm lens||_||0||108||378||89||575|
|Ordered with 25cm lens||10||10||25||383||480||908|
|Delivered with 25cm lens||10||10||15||202||79||316|
The camera takes 18×24cm pictures on film rolls 24cm wide and 24m long, allowing for 100 exposures and loaded in interchangeable magazine backs. It is equipped with a leaf shutter. The camera is remotely controlled and needs 12V electrical power supply.
The camera was available in two main versions, differing by the lens unit. One has a 50cm f/5 lens (presumably a Hexar) and 1/50 to 1/100 speeds, for vertical pictures taken at altitudes from 20,000 to 30,000 feet. The other has a Perigon 25cm f/4.5 and 1/50 to 1/150 speeds, for use at altitudes from 13,000 to 23,000 feet. (The name Perigon certainly indicates that this is a wide field lens.) Both versions were used in the C6N Saiun (Myrt) reconnaissance plane. A special mount grouping together three 25cm K-8 at vertical and oblique angles was tested but apparently not operationally used.
The complete 50cm K-8 set consists of the main camera with lens unit and film magazine, two spare magazines, two intervalometers, an optical sight and a repair kit. Various outfits are pictured in the 1945 American report cited above, and a 25cm K-8 with Perigon lens and airframe mount is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Army No.1 Automatic Aerial Camera 25cm Edit
To be done.
Army New Type Automatic Aerial Camera Edit
To be done.
Machine-gun training cameras Edit
Machine-gun training cameras are shaped as a machine gun, and are used to train the gunners. Rokuoh-sha made various such cameras from the mid-1920s onwards, and Tōkyō Kōgaku made at least one model in the late 1930s.
This machine-gun camera was ordered in May 1925 by Yamada Kōgorō (山田幸五郎) of the Japanese Navy, was produced from 1926 under the supervision of Mōri Hirō (毛利広雄), and delivered from 1927. It was inspired by the Hythe gun camera made by Thornton-Pickard in Great-Britain from 1915, itself based on the Lewis machine gun. The Japanese copy was initially equipped with Wollensak or Zeiss Tessar lenses. It is said that it was produced until 1942, certainly switching to Japanese lenses at some point.
The camera takes 120 size rollfilm, and reportedly makes 4×4.5cm exposures, with target rings superimposed on the image. The time is recorded on the rest of the 6×6cm frame via a secondary lens on the side, taking pictures of a watch dial placed under the front bead. The camera has no sequential firing ability, and the frames are advanced by a spring motor one by one. The gun camera normally has a drum magazine at the top, only used to enhance the similarity with the Lewis machine gun.
Army Revolving Target-checking Camera Edit
The Revolving Target-checking Camera (廻転式射撃鑑査写真機) was a similar camera made by Rokuoh-sha for the Army. (In the name, the word "revolving" either refers to the drum magazine mounted at the top or to the fact that the camera was mounted on a turret.) The camera was also called "Hythe type" (ハイス型), after the original Hythe gun camera of which it was a copy.
This model was perhaps released around 1926, at the same time as the Type 15 for the Navy. The image size is 4.5×6cm on 120 film, and there is no time recording device. It is said that the early cameras have Wollensak or Zeiss Tessar lenses. Later ones have an Optor 28.5cm f/11 lens.
The same camera was also made by Tōkyō Kōgaku, which supplied 605 units to the Japanese Army. The version made by this company is called "Model 17" in some recent sources, but this is perhaps a confusion with the serial number of a surviving camera. One source mentions a 387.5mm f/11 fixed-focus lens, but the focal length is perhaps wrong.
The Type 89 Moving-image Machine-gun Camera (八九式活動写真銃) was an all new model by Rokuoh-sha. It is said that four experimental cameras were made in 1929. (In the name, "Type 89" stands for year 2589 in the Japanese mythological calendar, i.e. 1929.) That early version perhaps had imported lenses. The improved Type 89 Moving-image Machine-gun Camera Kai (八九式活動写真銃改) or "Kai 1" (改一) followed in 1931 with Hexar lenses. The final version was the Kai 2 (改二), serial produced from 1933 to about 1944. The camera was used by the Navy, as indicated by the anchor usually stamped on the nameplate.
The camera takes 18×24mm pictures on 35mm cine film loaded in 2.5m strips. It is driven by a spring motor, and can take sequences at 10 frames per second. The taking lens is a Hexar Ser.1 7.5cm f/4.5, and the firing time is recorded via a Hexar Ser.1 4cm f/4.5 auxiliary lens aimed at a stop watch dial. The optical sight, handgrip and attachment lugs are removable, and minor variations may exist.