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Semi Prince

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Japanese Semi (4.5×6)
Prewar and wartime models (edit)
folding
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Postwar models ->
Japanese SLR, TLR, pseudo TLR and stereo ->
Japanese 3×4, 4×4, 4×5, 4×6.5, 6×6 and 6×9 ->

The Semi Prince (セミプリンス) is a series of Japanese 4.5×6 folders, made by Fujimoto Shashinki Seisakusho and distributed by Fukada Shōkai from 1934 to 1939.[1] It was the first Japanese 4.5×6 camera, predating the Semi Minolta and Semi Proud.[2]

General description Edit

All the Semi Prince models are copies of the Ikonta, with the typical three-part folding struts. They have a folding optical finder, whose opening is coupled to the release of the folding bed. The film advance is at the bottom right, as seen by the photographer holding the camera horizontally. The back is hinged to the left and has two red windows. The name Semi Prince is embossed in the leather at the front and on the back, and the folding struts are engraved Semi Prince too.

Semi Prince (I) Edit

Original model Edit

The original model (1934–7) has uncovered red windows and no body release, and the back latch is covered by a leather handle.

It is said that the development of the camera was plagued by various problems, such as light leaks, and that the company had a hard time to adjust the pressure plate and the finder opening mechanism, certainly because the experience of making such a product was lacking in Japan at the time.[3]

The earliest advertisement for the Semi Prince is in the November 1934 issue of Asahi Camera,[4] where the camera is announced as "available soon" (発売迫る) with a German Laack 75/4.5 lens and a New Vario shutter (25, 50, 100, T, B). This and later advertisements, inserted by Fukada Shōkai, say that the camera was made by "Prince Camera Works", which was certainly a mere dummy name (see Camera Works). The Semi Prince is also featured in a column of the January 1935 issue of Asahi Camera.[5]

The earliest examples have an advance knob.[6] The only such example observed so far is pictured in Tanimura and has a Regulyt f/4.5 lens and a Vario shutter.[7] The knob was soon replaced by a key, shaped as a barrel, which would be replaced again by a newer key on the improved Semi Prince (see below).

The advertisement in Asahi Camera July 1935 offers the camera in five versions (with an advance key), priced at ¥89, ¥65, ¥60 and ¥55 with an f/4.5 lens and at ¥52 with an f/6.3 lens, the latter being mentioned as "newly available" (新発売).[8] The advertisement in the January 1936 issue of the same magazine gives details about these five versions:[9]

The pictures of these early advertisements show the name SEMI PRINCE embossed in capital letters in the front leather, typical of the early cameras. This was later replaced by another Semi Prince embossing, written in lowercase letters inside a hexagon.

At some times, the Pronto shutter option was replaced by two new versions with a Prontor shutter, which appear in the April 1937 advertisement in Asahi Camera:[10]

  • Schneider Isco Anastigmat f/4.5 lens, Prontor I shutter, T, B, 25–125 speeds (¥65);
  • Schneider Isco Anastigmat f/4.5 lens, Prontor II shutter, T, B, 1–175 speeds (¥75).

It is said that the Schneider lenses were imported as separate elements and were assembled in Japan.[11] This was certainly the case of the Radionar lenses, engraved N.&H. Radionar, surely because they were assembled by Neumann & Heilemann. It is unclear if this applies to the Isco as well.

Surviving examples of the original Semi Prince with the older type of advance key are known in all the above combinations, except for the Radionar f/6.3 and for the Compur shutter:

  • Radionar f/4.5, Perfect;[12]
  • Regulyt f/4.5, Vario;[13]
  • Isco f/4.5, Pronto;[14]
  • Isco f/4.5, Prontor I;[15]
  • Isco f/4.5, Prontor II.[16]

The Perfect shutters have the early type of shutter plate with a PERFECT engraving (see Perfect), and come with lenses engraved N.&H. Radionar with a serial number.

In all the cameras equipped with an Isco lens, the actual engraving is Jsco, with an old form of the capital I, and the distance scale is on the side of the lens rim. Most Isco lenses are engraved Schneider–Jsco 1:4.5 F=7.5cm, but at least one example has Jsco Anastigmat 1:4.5 F=7.5cm instead.[17] None has a serial number visible on the front rim; they perhaps have a number engraved on the rear element's rim, as found on later cameras.

Improved model Edit

The original model was replaced for a couple of months in July and August 1937 by the improved Semi Prince (改良型セミプリンス).[18] The only modification visible in the original documents is a new type of advance key, shaped as a half-moon.[19] This model is sometimes said to have a common sliding cover for the red windows,[20] but this is not mentioned in the advertisements seen so far and the surviving examples do not seem to confirm this.

Three versions of the improved Semi Prince are listed in advertisements dated July and August 1937:[21]

Actual examples of the Semi Prince are known with the newer advance key and no red window cover, presumably corresponding to the improved Semi Prince. They have been observed with the Prontor II shutter (175–1, B, T) and Isco lens, engraved Schneider–Jsco f:4.5 F=7.5cm with a silver distance scale on the side.[22] At least one example is known with a Vario shutter and a Laack Regulyt 7.5cm f/4.5 lens.[23]

At least two cameras are known with the Xenar lens and Compur-Rapid shutter; they have no body release and at least one is confirmed to have the newer type of advance key.[24]

Semi Prince II Edit

The Semi Prince II has an added body release and a common cover for the red windows, controlled by a vertically sliding lever. It was advertised from September 1937 to April 1938.[25] The September 1937 advertisement in Asahi Camera lists the same three lens and shutter combinations as for the previous model, with no mention of the price.[26] The November 1937 advertisement in the same magazine gives the following list:

In addition to the introduction of the body release, the important price rise was perhaps caused by a new excise tax levied after the outbreak of war with China.[30]

Actual examples of the Semi Prince II have been seen with all three lens and shutter combinations. Minor variations are known in the lens engraving and in the shape of the lens rim. The cameras with Compur shutter have Schneider–Jsco f:4.5 F=7.5cm lens markings and a silver distance scale on the side of the lens. On the cameras with Prontor shutter, the lens bezel is either the same or has a silver distance scale at the front, as on some examples of the Semi Prince III.

An isolated example of the Semi Prince II is known with a Lucky Anastigmat 7.5cm f/4.5 lens and a Compur shutter (T, B, 1–300).[31] However this example belongs to the Fujimoto company and has the low lens number 00184; it is probable that the lens and shutter were mounted on the camera for testing purpose and that this equipment was never sold on the Semi Prince.

Semi Prince III Edit

The Semi Prince III has a modified back latch, consisting of a long sliding bar with no leather handle, and a chrome trim line around the top and bottom plates and around the folding bed. It was advertised from May 1938 to December 1939.[32] The following lens and shutter combinations are listed in the January 1939 advertisement in Asahi Camera:[33]

  • Schneider Isco Anastigmat f/4.5 lens, Prontor I shutter, 125–25, B, T speeds (¥85);
  • Schneider Isco Anastigmat f/4.5 lens, Prontor II shutter, 175–1, B, T speeds (¥105);
  • Schneider Isco Anastigmat f/4.5 lens, Compur shutter, T, B, 1–300 speeds (¥120);
  • Schneider Xenar f/4.5 lens, Compur-Rapid shutter, T, B, 1–500 speeds (¥155).


Actual examples of the Semi Prince III have been seen with the first three combinations, but none has been observed so far with the Xenar and Compur-Rapid.[34] None of the Isco lenses has a serial number visible at the front; at least some of them are known to have a number on the rear element's rim.

Minor variations are known in the engraving and shape of the front bezel. On the cameras with Prontor and Isco, the presumably early lenses have the distance scale at the front of the rim and are engraved Schneider Jsco, other lenses have the same engraving and a new rim with the distance scale on the side, and the presumably late lenses have the newer rim and the engraving Jsco Anastigmat with no mention of Schneider. The cameras with Compur and Isco have a larger lens bezel engraved Schneider Jsco f:4.5 F=7.5cm, with a black distance scale on the side and two silver rims at the front, perhaps to accommodate a different filter size.

The Compur shutter is actually not marked as such, and merely has a plate with F.DECKEL–MÜNCHEN screwed to the top and an FD logo to the right; the usual Compur marking appears nowhere, neither under the lens focusing ring nor under the aperture scale at the bottom. The "Compur" brand was a solid sales point at the time, and this strange feature remains unexplained.

The Semi Prince was succeeded by the Semi Sport with a new lens and shutter. It is said that the name was changed because the contract between the manufacturer Fujimoto and the distributor Fukada, owner of the name "Prince", was rescinded.[35] The Semi Prince is not in the official list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941, presumably because it was no longer sold.[36]

Aftermarket conversion Edit

The Sun film stop is an auto-stop device, advertised by Yamashita Yūjirō Shōten in January 1939, and described in the page about Yamashita. The conversion was available for the Semi Prince and other similar cameras, such as the Super Ikonta, Ikonta, Nettar, Welta Perle, Semi Lyra and Semi Minolta.

Notes Edit

  1. Attribution to Fujimoto: company history of the Fujimoto official website; Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, based on an interview of Takahashi Kenzō, former CEO of Fujimoto; Lewis, p.53; Supuringu kamera de ikou, pp.78–80; Sugiyama, items 1228–32; McKeown, pp.331–2.
  2. Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, says that the Semi Minolta and Semi Proud were mentioned as "soon to follow" at the end of a column about the Semi Prince in the January 1935 issue of Asahi Camera. (Same information on pp.1–2 of Camera Collectors' News no.116).
  3. Detail of the development problems: Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, quoting Takahashi Kenzō.
  4. Advertisement reproduced in Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11.
  5. Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11.
  6. Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, quoting Takahashi Kenzō. (Same information in Tanaka, p.76 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.8.)
  7. Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11.
  8. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.90.
  9. Advertisement published in Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.90.
  10. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.90.
  11. Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, quoting Takahashi Kenzō.
  12. Examples pictured in this article, in Sugiyama, item 1230 (with a non-original accessory shoe), in McKeown, p.331, in Tanaka, p.77 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.8, in Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, and observed in online auctions.
  13. Examples pictured in Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11 (with the advance knob and the early SEMI PRINCE embossing), in Supuringu kamera de ikou, pp.78–9, in Tanaka, p.77 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.8, and observed in online auctions. The example with Vario shutter pictured in Omoide no supuringu-kamera-ten, p.15, is reported to have an Isco lens, but a serial number is visible and it probably has a Regulyt instead.
  14. Examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 1228 (with the early SEMI PRINCE embossing), and observed in online auctions.
  15. Examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 1231, in Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, and observed in online auctions.
  16. Examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 1232, in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.428, and observed in online auctions.
  17. Example with Pronto shutter observed in an online auction.
  18. Date: advertisements listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340.
  19. Compare for example the cameras pictured in Sugiyama, items 1231 (old key) and 1229 (new key, misidentified as a "Semi Prince II").
  20. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340, Tanaka, p.77 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.8.
  21. July 1937: Advertisement published in Asahi Graph (14 July 1937) reproduced in the Gochamaze website. August 1937: advertisement published in Asahi Camera reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  22. Example pictured in this page at Sakusen Ichiman-ri, and example observed in an online auction.
  23. Example observed in an online auction.
  24. Examples pictured in Sugiyama, item 1229 (with the newer key, misidentified as a "Semi Prince II"), and in Tomo ni shita kamera (with an accessory shoe added next to the viewfinder).
  25. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340.
  26. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  27. This variant is pictured in this page at Itō Sadanobu's camera collection, and has been observed in online auctions.
  28. This variant is pictured in this page at ksmt.com.
  29. This variant is pictured in this page by Ranzōsha.
  30. See Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.114, on the Prince Flex.
  31. Example pictured in Supuringu kamera de ikou, pp.78–9.
  32. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.340.
  33. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.91.
  34. Isco, Prontor I: example pictured in Tanimura, p.50 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11, and examples observed in online auctions. Isco, Prontor II: example pictured in Tanaka, p.77 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.8, and examples observed in online auctions. Isco, Compur: examples observed in online auctions.
  35. Tanimura, p.51 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.11.
  36. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku".

Bibliography Edit

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