It’s been a few weeks since I retrieved my Konica III from BP-ES where it’s sticky shutter was repaired and rangefinder calibrated. I’m carrying the III with me daily, slowly working my way through a few rolls of Tri-X as I come across interesting scenes in my life.
I have only owned one other Konica product, a totally busted Autoreflex TC that I used to practice repair on. Konica, as a brand, has never appealed to me much. In my mind, they always came off as a second-tier camera manufacturer despite having a few fabled products like the 40mm Hexanon 1.8, the Hexar AF rangefinder, the original Autoreflex SLR that can switch between full and half frame 35mm and the ubiquitous but good C35 budget rangefinder. Their later association with Minolta, another, what I consider, less than glamorous camera-maker only helped to solidify my disinterest in Konica.
My viewpoint began to shift one fateful day last March. A friend and coworker dropped by my home with a backpack full of vintage cameras that he’d gathered over the years. When I saw the Konica III there on my living room table, I was immediately drawn to how handsome and small a camera it is. I was astonished by its density when I picked it up. I looked at the lens, expecting to see some slow f3.5 disappointment that is common with 1950’s German cameras, but again, the Konica III surprised me with its zippy 48mm f2! And have a look at that sizable distance between the rangefinder windows that hints at a healthy base length for accurate focusing of that fast prime lens! The final surprise, of course, was that I was holding a Konica body with excitement.
The layout and shape of the body have that no-nonsense manly austerity of a Leica M but with, dare I say, smarter, sharper lines. A brightly chromed round screw head punctuates the lens plate like a proud beauty mark. The self-timer is situated just millimeters away from the lens plate and screams “Warning! Close tolerances inside!” The classic black pebble grain leatherette on my copy is absolutely immaculate; perfectly trimmed, fitted and after over half a century is still so tightly adhered to the brass body that it looks like it could have been sprayed on like paint. The frame counter is attractive and easy to read while echoing the circle of the rewind knob. The rewind knob is thick and nicely milled with both a matte finish atop and sheen on the knurls. A beefy rewind crank extends from the knob, feeling unbreakable even under speed, driven by the greatest of excitement to reload.
Attention to detail is just phenomenal folks. What brand camera is this thing again? What?! And it’s Japanese?!
Okay, so the film advance lever is a little Lost In Spacey and the vertical cover over the film door locking mechanism could have been sculpted into the body more elegantly, but overall, I find the Konica III to be a strikingly handsome little machine. And if you’re not smitten with the look of it, pick it up. The sheer heft of it will break your heart. Crush it in fact. Under the III’s serious weight!
So let’s stop talking about cosmetics and talk about how it works!
A few quirks that even a seasoned classic camera shooter may miss upon picking up the camera the first time:
—The film advance is a double stroke; meaning you have to wind the advance lever twice in order to fully charge the shutter and advance the film. The only noteworthy camera I know that works this way are some of the early Leica M’s. There, a more positive association for Konica!
—The shutter release button, as it turns out, actually contains a miniature soft shutter release screwed tightly into it. All the greatest camera-makers leave their shutter releases with their threaded sockets wide open for accessories or just debris. Konica was classy enough to fill this socket on the III with a tiny, well-machined mini soft shutter release button. I was amazed the first time that I unscrewed what appeared to be a permanently fixed piece of the camera.
—A really clever film door release latch. Most D-ring film door releases simply pull up and rotate to unlock the film door. But Konica could not stop there. In addition to pulling the D-ring up and rotating it, you must then press the D-ring back down in order to press a release button. Pretty much every other camera I’ve handled has either a D-ring OR a release button but not both. It’s a pretty fast, secure, clever and elegant way of doing things.
The Konica III is a 35mm fixed lens rangefinder camera sans light meter but it is equipped with an early autoexposure mechanism that uses an EV or Exposure Value system like a Hasselblad. The aperture and shutter speed rings are coupled in such a way that the aperture can always be selected independently of the shutter speed but the shutter speed, as adjusted, changes the aperture with it. It sounds complicated and annoying but is actually a nice way to bracket your depth of field. Only thing I don’t like is that I can’t adjust the aperture by feel, the camera must be tilted back toward me so I can see the bottom of the lens, then adjust it. Between this and the double stroke advance, you’re not going to win any speed contests with the III.
If you want a meter, the Voigtlander VC or VC II will slip into the III’s accessory shoe nicely but is a tad close to the shutter release button. The coupled exposure settings make the III a great Sunny 16 camera though. Why? Sunny 16 dictates that we use f16 in broad daylight. Well, newsflash, most 35mm size lenses aren’t great performers at f16 due to diffraction. So if you are burning 100 ISO and set your III to 1/100th of a second and f16, this puts you at EV 15. To reduce your DoF and squeeze some more beauty out of your lens, simply max your shutter out at 1/500th and the III automatically opens up to f5.6 like a shutter priority mode. No need to do the math. Very cool.
Now let’s talk about focus. The focus ring is completely smooth and finished in a complimentary matt black enamel with a contrasting engraved, white paint-filled hyper- focal distance scale. A sort of milled ball protrudes from the focus ring similar to smaller Leica lenses for adjusting focus. As with the rest of the camera, the control is solid and instills confidence. Focus damping on my copy has a good amount of drag to it but moves smoothly. There is a bit more drag moving towards 3 feet than towards infinity but in practice, this hasn’t bothered me and may simply be a characteristic of my particular copy.
The rangefinder focusing patch itself is a bit quirky. Rather than being an off-color rectangle in the center of the frame, the viewfinder is clear AND the patch is clear, but there is a blurry violet border around the clear RF patch. This border doesn’t move but you do see a split image within the patch. It’s reminiscent of the effect of putting a spot of tape on the front of something like an Olympus XA to increase RF contrast on an aged/cloudy RF. The violet border is a rectangle, slightly larger than the RF patch, printed on the beamsplitter. I don’t recall any other rangefinders that work this way but it works just fine. It’s accurate and not unpleasant to look through but not spectacular.
The viewfinder is large enough and not squinty but not exceptionally bright and is prone to reflections and flaring as much as any cheaper combined rangefinder/viewfinder. The violet border probably combats potential white-out issues from flaring as I haven’t come across any situations where white-out occurred. I’d say that the quality of the rangefinder in terms of brightness, enjoyment, and accuracy is about on par with something like a Minolta 7s, a Kodak Retina, Yashica Minister or a Canonet. The Konica’s RF is nicer than an Argus C3, Olympus XA or a Barnack Leica (I love them but you know what I mean!). It’s not quite up to an Olympus 35, Voigtlander Bessa or of course a Leica M.
So here are some shots from my first roll. Note that the 48mm f2 Hexanon lens is as sharp as the one would expect of any popular 50/2. That slightly wider angle adds a little more perspective that I really like. Not as dramatic, of course as a 45 or 35mm but just a HINT of barrel distortion at close distances which worked really nicely in this automotive shot. By the way, there’s no parallax correction but as you can see, the lens and finder are situated such that at about 4 feet away, I had no problem perfectly centering this old Pontiac.
The Hexanon 48/2 appears to be single coated, as was the norm in the 50’s. It’s contrasty enough in bright sun but in this example of a low but contrasty lighting situation at full aperture, we can see some of that dreamy character that is also common of single coated optics.
Shooting stopped down in bright sun with Tri-X of course yields rich contrast and high resolution.
I underexposed this shot a bit so it came out with more tonality
And this was from a more overcast day. Plenty of detail here at a middle focusing distance and middle aperture.
Good stuff! Time to load another roll! Thanks for reading!