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„The poor man’s Leica“ in Japan

written by Leif Johansen .

The Japanese camera producers from the 1930ies watched carefully German camera engeneering and often made copies (technical or in design) –  mostly of the Leica but also of the Contax, especially after the war. Nikon looked similar to the Contax but had a normal focal plane shutter, working horizontally.

Some of the producers made also models with leafshutter on the housing and with interchangeable lenses. It could happen that a small firm made a camera but never got so far that they made other than standard lenses . Many firms existed for only a short time. The leafshutter cameras with interchangeable lenses were no success. Japanese firms  prefered Leicacopies (focal shutter) and Rolleicopies (6×6 TLR). until they started the focal plane shutter SLR production by copying Exakta and Praktica. These three types were exported successfully to many countries  and especially with SLR, they became technical  leading and drove the German camera industry out of business.

It is difficult in Europa to find Japanese cameras made before the offensive export started. The following description was collected using details and pictures from the following publications:

  • Steimers Fotoliste,
  • „The Collecor’s Guide to Japanese Cameras“.
  • Camera Wicki.
Producer Camera Year comments Photo
Look Model A 1948 No other types of interchangeable lenses made
Nitto Elega 35 1952 Leica kopi 2 versions, fixed lens (?), special shutter – perhaps it should not be here.
Topcon (*) 35A 1953
Topcon 35B 1955 same as 35 A but with rangefinder ingen billede
Royal 35S 1955 Disagreement about interchangeable lens, most sources confirm
Minolta Super A 1957
Minolta A2 LTD 1958 Disagreement in sources No picture
Aires 35V 1958
Kowa Kallo 140 1958
Olympus Ace 1958
Olympus Ace E 1959
Ricoh 999 1960 see Ansco Anscomark M very alike
Ansco Anscomark M 1960 similar to Ricoh 999, export USA


(*) Topcon 35 A started with fixed lens  (Steimer)