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Konica III, IIIA and IIIM: Beauty and the Beast

Overview: As we all know, Konishiroku Photo Industrial Co. has always been something of a troublemaker. Its entree into the postwar market was the Konica Standard (later known as the Model I), which incorporated a Tessar-type lens into a leaf shutter and added that to a viewfinder whose clarity and brightness are still competitive today. They went on to make the I, the IL, the II series, the III and then... These are possibly the two most innovative fixed lens rangefinders of the 1950s.

*You might ask yourself why these cameras push $300 on the used market. This was a high-dollar camera. The Konica IIIA sold for $129.50 in 1958 dollars ($783.31 in 2001 dollars). The everready case was an extra $12.95 (now $78.33). The Konica III (at its reduced price due to the IIIA's intro) went for $112 then ($677.46 today).

Viewfinders: The hardest thing to get over on the Konica IIIA and IIIM is the clarity and brightness of the combined view/rangefinder and its sophistication. Both feature a warm 1:1 viewfinder field with a square spot (although Pop Photo reviewed it as having a bluish tint).

There are 50mm projected framelines which move and shrink to correct both for parallax and for shrinking field as you get closer. Frame coverage is 85% at all distances (inside the lines) and 95% at all distances (to the outside edge of the lines). The Konica IIIA was the first camera ever to have continuous field-size correction (Pop Photo, 1958). The Konica Pearl IV 6x4.5 rangefinder had a similar finder arrangement. As of 1959, the year of the IIIM, the only other camera line to have it was the Graflex Combat Graphic (basically a 70mm uber-Contax). Leica still doesn't have it, 44 years later.

The IIIM (1959) has extra lines for half-frame (more on that later). The overall range/viewfinder was lightyears ahead of the competition.

Lens/Shutter: Both cameras feature coated Hexanon 6-element lenses based on the Zeiss Planar.

• The IIIa domestic model (Japan and post exchanges) comes with either a 48mm f/2 Hexanon in a Seikosha MXL shutter (35.5mm filter thread) and the EVS system. The Japanese home version has distances in meters; the PX (marked with an (E)xport (P)ermitted marking in the shoe) has feet.

Beauty - the Konica IIIA EP model with 48/2.


• The IIIa export model (U.S.) has a 50mm f/1.8 Hexanon (43mm filter thread) in a larger Seikosha MXL shutter.

Konica IIIA with 50/1.8 Hexanon

• The IIIM model has the 50/1.8 Hexanon from from the IIIA\. Early models had the same shutter as the IIIA; others have a Copal MXV (with just a numerical readout).

Of the two lenses, the 48mm is more compact (by 9mm total diameter), but its shutter is difficult to repair and has no available parts (the big failure part is the plate that connects to the shutter release). The 50/1.8 is sharper, and its shutter is easier to have fixed. All shutters synch at any speed from 1-1/500 sec and do both M and X. Why they have "V" and "L" modes is beyond me, since the self-timer is in the body of the camera.

Rangefinder and limitations: The rangefinder has about 50mm of base length, more than enough for the fixed 48mm or 50mm lenses these cameras came from. It is a coincident type. The rangefinder is activated by a pin in the lens helicoid. It is a very stable rangefinder system that is very hard to get out of adjustment.

Interesting design features: Both the IIIA and the IIIM feature a front, dual-stroke trigger wind which looks a lot like the Zeiss Tenax II (1930s model). This method of winding prevents left-eyed shooters from poking themselves in the eye. It also lets you shoot and wind without taking your eye from the finder. The rewind lever folds into the side of the finder, much like that on the Autoreflex (original verson). This was a very controversial feature when the camera came out.

The IIIM has a special half-frame mask. When inserted, it automatically switches the camera for half-frame operation, and you only wind once per shot. The catch is that if you don't buy a camera with this part, you will never find one (at least not for less than the price of the IIIM). Due to the angle of view, you end up with the equivalent of a 75mm f/1.8 lens for that half-frame.

The IIIM also has a flip-up, coupled selenium meter. Coupled meters were very rare back in the 1950s, and this was probably one of the first. The meter readout sits where a self-timer normally would. The IIIM meter was the first-ever coupled meter with FRE (functional resistance element) technology, i.e., solid-state exposure calculation. The IIIM does it with carbon electronic resistors, rather than the mechanical couplings used on other match-needle meters.

That &#$@! EV lock. You first impulse with the EV system is to go cracy. Relax. If your IIIA (50/1.8) or IIIM has an EV lock (or if someone hasn't disengaged it over the last 44 years), you can independently adjust the aperture by holding the left side of the ev ring back (toward you). To keep aperture steady and change shutter, push both sides back and turn. To shuttle between available shutter/aperture combinations (all equalling the same exposure), just turn the EV ring.

Odd design limitations: The camera has a hinged back. To open it, you turn a ring on the bottom (like on a Canon RF). But then, instead of pulling down a lever on the side that opens, you push the ring up. This is a very secure system, but if you forget to turn the ring back around, you can have the back pop open suddenly. Also, the accessory shoe is pretty far to the right - probably designed to keep the flash away from the lens axis. You don't need a separate finder with this camera, so don't lose any sleep over it.

In Operation: It is very, very difficult to find any fixed-lens rangefinder that is as fluid in use and as easy to corral as these two are.

Taken with 48mm f/2 lens

Balance/feel: These are both about the size of an M2 and quite heavy, although they feel much smaller due to their thinner body dimension (no need to accommodate a huge Leica-type shutter). Balance is a little back heavy, and the feel is... solid and precise, as if machined from solid brass.

What did the critics say in 1958 about the IIIA? "Both Hexanon lenses rank amoung the very finest lenses available today and exhibit the quality of high-grade [read, Leica and Contax] interchangeable optics which cost more than the Konica camera complete with carrying case... Ruggedly precise, extremely well-made body. The smoothness of all operating parts, the strength and accuracy of the hinged camera back and pressure plate system, and the excellent internal baffling have all been incorporated into this new model... one of the finest 35s we have ever encountered" — Pop Photo "What's New" review, 1958.

Bottom Line: Buy them!