This man had a dream
to produce one of the
worlds most popular cameras for the common people. That man was Mr. Saburo
It was 1932 and his company was already manufacturing high quality
optics and lenses for other Japanese manufacturers including Molta (later known as
Minolta) and also Konishi for their famous little vest pocket camera, the Pearlette (they
became Konica). Still, Mr. Matsumoto wanted to produce not only the fine optical lenses,
but the camera as well.
Matsumoto had highly admired the German cameras quality and their
excellent craftsmanship. Already he had noticed Canon had already taken that step in using
the Leica and their Leitz Elmar lenses high-grade quality as the example by producing a
similar rangefinder of high quality, but of 100% Japanese manufacture. Nippon Kogaku
(Nikon) used the beautiful Zeiss Contax as their basis for their own rangefinder, but at a
much later date. But still, Mr. Matsumoto wanted to go one step further; not only to
produce the complete camera, but a reflex camera at that! He wanted to do it the Japanese
way; smaller, more compact and yet still keeping the high quality that everyone associated
with German cameras.
It was now the late 1930s and Matsumoto was becoming more and
more despondent, especially when most of his production was for the military, making
optics for weapons. This was due to the fact that the government had been taken over by
the military power. But during these times Matsumoto managed to buy a small factory plant
just northwest of Tokyo where he was manufacturing lenses for commercial cameras. It was
at this time in 1938 that he changed the firms name to Asahi Optical Company. Soon
after, WWII broke out and so his dream had to be shelved for the time being.
When the conflict was over, Mr.Matsumoto then had to make and supply
lenses for the occupying powers. Until 1948, he managed to successfully make and sell the
beautiful compact binoculars named Jupiter of which were highly thought of in both style,
compactness and in the excellent quality optics, which were coated. Due to this success,
Asahi Opt. Co. was now producing 100% consumer optics. This put Mr. Matsumoto in a
position to dust-off his dream and, with the help of his two chief design engineers, got
to work burning the midnight oil. They managed to produce the first prototype during the
period of November 1949, finishing it in early 1950. In typical Japanese fashion they had
made a fully working prototype by the end of 1951! Quite a feat in itself, and there was
born the beginning of a famous era. With many worlds firsts and innovations to
proudly display in the A.O.C. boardroom, it ushered in a new age of quality, affordable
Mr. Saburo Matsumotos dream reflex camera was inspired by his own
personal camera, which he purchased in 1935 and greatly admired. It was the Dresden
manufactured Reflex-Korelle with the equally world-renowned lens, the Zeiss Tessar. This 2
¼" square medium format camera used roll film with a reflex returnable mirror system
using a focal plane shutter mechanism. The standard lens at that time was the Tessar 8cm
(80mm) at f/2.8 (!) and shutter speeds were operated using two dials (this system A.O.C.
successfully incorporated up to the Pentax K model). The main dial had speeds from 1/25
sec to 1/500 sec but for timed exposures you had to set the dial to B. The slow speed dial
was 1/10 sec to down 2 seconds.
The wind-on knob had a neat little fold down lever, which was next to
the film counter window on the left of the top plate. When using the waist level finder
the camera fits comfortably into the palm of your right hand and you could then easily
operate the shutter lever with your thumb. For using the telephoto lenses and for fast
action there is a sports finder frame that you just lift into position. This
model was produced from 1935 and was upgraded on only a few models with the added extras
as slower speeds and a self-timer.
So from this 2 ¼" square heavyweight from Dresden, Germany
(weighing 1,700 grams at 142mm x 98mm x 95mm) came forth the amazing little, light, and
loveable Asahiflex from Tokyo, Japan.