The Rise and Fall of Asahi Pentax: Pre – Spotmatic History


I remember the first time I heard of
Asahi Pentax so you don’t know me my name is noe I’m a photographer living in Seoul
South Korea and I like Pentax and you know I have a whole collection of Pentax
lenses I have some videos about that but when I first met my wife I was a
photographer and at the time I was just a very casual shooter and I remember she
had Pentax K-01 and she had a Takumar I don’t remember which focal
length exactly but I remember being very intrigued just by the name – TaKumar like
wow that’s a really cool name so I started looking into it and that’s how I
started learning more about Pentax and I got my first Pentax SLR the k1000 over
the years I started buying more and more Takumar more lenses some m42 some Pentax K
got some Pentax bodies like the queue a couple more Pentax SLRs Like the LX the ME Super, the Q
and I just one day decided I had too many bodies too many lenses it’s time to
declutter so I sold many of them off I kept the lenses and I kept the k1000 and
anyways that’s kind of my world when it comes to Pentax I’m really intrigued by
a camera histories and anything related to photography so today I want to talk
to you about the rise and fall of the Pentaxian Empire now it’s a lot it’s a
lot of history it’s a lot of dates a lot of names it’s a lot of information so if
I get some things wrong please don’t crucify me all right the last thing I
need is for the Pentax forums to come after me for screwing up some letter in
the Pentax names of the camera or something just a disclaimer I can’t
talk about every single camera because it’s a lot of cameras and a lot of
lenses so I’m just gonna talk about the ones I remember and like some that I
think are like a big deal anyways the year is 1919 it’s November we’re in
Tokyo and we have Kumau Kujiwara he’s from a family of five brothers they’re
all like artists painters very artsy people you’ve probably heard of his
brother Takuma Kajiwara he’s a famous American
photographer actually he’s not American at all he he grew up in Japan but he
moved to America and he became a very famous portrait photographer like he was
even friends with a George Eastman of Kodak and he’d take like celebrity
portraits he did like photography clubs in Japan I believe and anyways very
artsy family they obviously had the funds and Kumau Kujiwara had a passion
for photography I assume because nobody jumps into the photography business if
they’re not interested right and so he founded the Asahi optical company of
course it was just called Asahi back then Asahi not Asaii Asahi, Asahi means
Sun Morning Sun light you know morning sunlight anyways they founded this
company in Toshima which is one of the suburbs in Tokyo Japan and it initially
started by producing spectacles or lenses there’s actually a picture
floating around online the firsts the first thing they ever produced in the
factory was a like a metal barrel with like just a piece of glass and on the
metal barrel it says Takuma I guess based on his brother right who is
actually famous just a quick note later on we’re going
to talk about the Takumar lenses super Takumar I prefer to call him Takuma
because those lenses were based on his brother and the Japanese Way of saying
his name is Takuma but I guess they just sounds more Western we say Ta Kumar with
the R right so uh just just little note in there it’s also interesting to note
that this company though was founded in 1919 it didn’t actually produce his
first camera to like thirty two laters you know like after World War two and
all that stuff so now you think that’s like a very interesting piece of trivia
anyways I’m not very good with like the actual dates so I’m just gonna say later
in the 20s they started producing cine lenses like not Cine lenses as you
know today that kind of lenses for cine projectors and eventually they started
working with Molta which is like a precursor to Minolta and they started
making lenses for like a one of those folding cameras caught the Arcadia now
later in this kind of history lesson we’re gonna talk a lot about difference
I want to say coops because many different Japanese companies or like
Korean companies just Asian companies in general they do a lot of collaborations
with each other so much that there’s even been cases where people accuse
Pentax of just rebranding Tokina lenses as Pentax or Takina rebranded as Pentax
letters as their own and the truth of the matter is that these companies are
all very close knit like a community and they are ask each other like hey we
need these parts can you produce them or hey we need help producing this for this
class or whatever so this whole camera history stuff gets really convoluted
with all these different camera companies helping each other and
producing lenses for each other and outsourcing work so I just wanted to
like put that out there you know for people to understand we’re now in the
thirties they get another gig collabing with
Konishiroku which you might know as Konica and at the time they’re producing
like single lenses and a stigmatic lenses for the Pearl and Pearlette
cameras so times progressing they’re getting kind of better and better at
optics eventually the Japanese government is going to take notice of
this so the years 1937 here is where Imperial Japan starts starts to take
over the neighboring countries right we start with the rape of Nanjing right
China it was like or also the Nanjing Massacre there’s different names for it
but so the Japanese government seized control of many different companies
electronics optics pretty much every factory in Tokyo and in Japan they
forced Asahi to creates optical elements like serving tools I think I heard that
Asahi was more focused for creating things for the Japanese for the Japanese
Imperial Air Force and Nikon had to produce more things for like the Navy
like periscopes I talked about the Japanese submarine story in my Top Gun
video oh and of course Top Gun also had to produce things for the Japanese
Imperial Army I guess when you’re born with a free spirit of an artist and you
don’t want to be creating weapons of war or even tools to help it
so Kumau decided to create a second company like a spin-off Asahi Optical
Co. in 1938 I believe and well you can guess what happened the Japanese
government also took that company and kind of forced them to do the same
things fast-forward and we’re now near the end
of World War 2 Japan got kind of greedy
joined the Axis powers they made a mistake when they bombed us and then we
returned the favor by bombing them to smithereens rights we had these Tokyo
bombing runs and unfortunately one of the bombs fell on the Asahi optical
factory killing I’m gonna say like the majority of the workers they’re
destroying lots of materials and the machines needed for creating glass we
also lost a ton of documents and like history related to Asahi optical these
were documents from the Taisho era and the wartime Showa era basically talking
about the dealings of the company prototypes and pretty much imagine all
the technology they amassed during this time just destroyed in one bombing right
and also all the precision instruments destroyed all of your workers or most of
the workers dead so it was a pretty grim time for Asahi during the world war two
after the war the American forces occupied Japan and Japanese companies
couldn’t I can almost say they couldn’t really exists they had to get permission
from from the government to start producing things and Pentax was one of
the lucky ones that they got permission to produce products but Japanese
companies could not produce products for four years locally they could only
produce products for for exporting you know which is good because that brings
money much-needed money to rebuild the country so it’s interesting to note that
during this time there’s actually quite a few lenses out there that actually
said they’ll actually say made in Occupied Japan and I just think that’s
pretty cool like I don’t have one myself I am somewhat of a collector and I’m
trying to tone down the gas but I think if you have one of those may
in Occupied Japan please let me know because I was like super cool anyways
that’s just something else camera people think is cool but back to the history
lesson during this time parts were scarce and machinery was not available
all the Japanese camera companies had to rely on each other and build parts for
each other kind of help each other get back on their feet and Pentax to started
a building for all these other different companies particularly Chiyoda Kogaku
which is okay you had motor you have Chiyoda now later on in the future you
can have minute right so this evolution of that company we can make a video
about that later and Konishiroku Shashin Kogyo which as you already know is
Konica they also started making been up with binoculars and not to be confused
to the Russian set of lenses but these were also called the Jupiter Jupiter
binoculars I’m sure you can find these pictures online I wish I could post them
but I don’t want to get like copyright strike from YouTube because YouTube’s
really in it for the coffee copyright strikes these days since it was so hard
to come across parts and most of the workers were like killed or dead and
they really didn’t have too much machinery but but they had a quota to
meet for I’m just gonna call them Konica Minolta because they’re not Konica
Minolta yet but like it’s just easier to say them so they had a quota to meet for
these companies right and they didn’t have the labor or the machinery so what
they did they created lens elements for the micro cameras and they would polish
him and they would quote him during the daytime in their newish Asahi Factory
but since they had to work on the double they would take the lenses to the
President’s House at night where they will use balsam to glue the elements
together and the president at the time was
Saburo Matsumoto cool guy thanks for bringing Pentax back from the
ashes right let’s jump to around the 1950s now at the time pretty much
Japanese companies Russian companies every company imaginable was copying
Leica and like Contax cameras right range finders were the thing and mr.
Matsumoto didn’t actually like that like he wanted to do his own thing right he
was a visionary a man ahead of his time and eventually that time caught up good
for him but he wanted to create something different and he actually
wanted to go ahead and make like the first Japanese made SLR camera we’re
gonna get into a later it’s called the Asahiflex but I really want to tell you
the story of how that came to be there anyways instead of just copying the
Rolleiflex and the Leica rangefinders he wanted to create a new prototype an
SLR camera from for Japanese so he started looking for help
so Matsumoto was the president of Asahi I think he had a friend called Ryohei
suzuki which used to work for Konica w where the company before
Konica was Konishiroku mr. Suzuki used to make lenses for the company so it was
like a optical designer so he got on board mr. Suzuki introduced
Matsumoto to Nobuyuki Yoshida which also used to work for then Konoshiroku but he was
more of a designer for camera bodies right but he’s never actually worked as
a he never actually like built an SLR he’d only really worked with like range
finders so he was kind of hesitant to join Asahi optical instead he just
joined the team for building the camera like he just
didn’t want to become part of the company yet but eventually he will and
if I butchered the names or the dates or something please forgive me you know but
like I’m really I’m really a 1:1 kind one show kind of guy you know and
there’s only so much I can remember now remember this was post-war Japan and
they didn’t really have a lot of things to work with like they didn’t decree
really import stuff especially from Germany cuz like Germany was pretty much
closed off because of the occupation you know but in 1935 Matsumoto had a camera
made in Dresden I believe it was called the Reflex-Korelle 7.5cm f2.8 lens like he knew there were more modern SLR cameras from Japan
like the kine-exakta or the contacts s but like unfortunately he couldn’t
really get ahold of him so they really only had this one camera to base their
designs off of and it was pretty old design because it was already this
camera was from like 1935 and it somehow miraculously survived the war so you can
imagine how dingy and beat-up it must have been right let’s fast-forward to
the 50s and Asahi actually became the first camera company to have a Japanese
made SLR camera like I’m not saying they made the first SLR that’s that’s
completely wrong I’m saying they made the first Japanese made SLR camera I
believe the first prototype SLR camera actually goes to the Russians with “sport”
and Germans also had like the Ihagee Ihagee exakta but remember there’s
really you can’t really get these cameras into Japan so they had to they
kind of had to work with what they had you know and against all odds they
managed to make the Asahi flex now since they didn’t really since this was like a
first-of-its-kind camera it said that every
part-2 menu wasn’t even manufactured it was pretty much made by hand and one of
the drawbacks of this camera was that uh when you took a picture the blackout
from from the mirror going up was actually too long so it was like as long
as you kept your finger on the shutter the lens stayed up if you were shooting
at higher speeds maybe it wouldn’t matter so much but if you were shooting
at lower speeds the length the mirror would just go black the view would just
go black you know it’s like you have to wait onto the mirror to go down and for
anyone who shoots a solarz you know that if if it goes black you can’t really see
what’s going on so that was like a big problem with that camera and that was
that wasn’t the only problem with the Asahiflex because since this was such a
new and innovative camera like at the time everybody was making like a copies
they were all aboard the rangefinder train and here comes the SLR and nobody
wants to touch it or sell it and they had a really hard time finding like a
distributor for these Asahi flex cameras it also had in Asahi Kogaku
5cm 3.5 lens and it was very similar to the
like like the Leica Elmer like it was supposed to be like a test our design
lens and I’ve always wanted one of these but like like a lot of these old lenses
are like collector items now so the prices just keep going up can’t really
justify buying them but if you have one consider yourself lucky because you know
what back then a lot of these lenses were kind of like like a copies since
after the war all of Germany’s patents got put out into the world and that’s
kind of the reason why Japan Russia and all the other companies were making
copies of Leica and contax and Zeiss because all of these patents were just
put out there and not only the cameras but also the lenses here we have the
introduction of the Asahi Kogaku Takuma lenses and you know them as Takumar I call them takuma because those lenses are based on Takuma Kajiwara
which was the brother of the founder and I did say he was like a very famous
photographer but I believe he left he left the states after the Great
Depression but he was named like one of the top ten photographers in America at
some time so he’s like a very accomplished photographer so it’s it’s
no wonder that these lenses were named Takuma as a kind of famous brother right anyways there was this
company that finally agreed to sell and distribute Hattori Tokeiten K.K that’s
actually you might know it nowadays as a modern Seiko like the one that makes the
watches and they were able to distribute these cameras and I might be wrong but I
believe that the Asahi flex was sold in the States by Sears and it went under
the name Tower like uh I might be wrong on that one if someone in the comments
could correct me like Who am I kidding like I don’t need to say someone to
correct me because someone’s always gonna find a mistake and try to correct
you right so but if I am wrong please let me know because this is something I
would like to know more about but unfortunately I can’t find that much
information online not too many people are interested in Pentax you know but I
am and you know what the Asahiflex did have its own problems for one the viewer
was too dark you know like back then like the takumar lenses the ones that
came out back then actually had like this preset system very similar to like
what the Russians have because when you look to the finder it was just too dark
and combined with screen lockouts
like if the screen turned black when you take the picture every low shutter speed
and then also on top of that I heard that many cameras actually got returned
because the flash sync was off and people said that okay here’s a rumor but
some people said that they just threw away those old cameras that were
returned but I think that’s in so many since it was such a scarce time they
just kind of redid those cameras legs we just open them up and fix them up and
sort on the input I don’t actually know this is just like pure speculation just
the rumor mill you know anyways that’s the first asahiflex there are something
else going on during this time that I forgot to mention but then now worry
like in the Korean War there’s lots of eyes on Korea lots of soldiers
that’s a journalist trying to cover and many of them are in Japan and you have
all these companies all around them producing cameras and lenses so here is
where the world starts to wanna see the world but this were like Americans get a
hold of like they’re Japanese goodies you know like all these cameras being
sold and you could say any business starts to boom here right anyways with
all this attention going on around 57 Asahi Asahi decides that they need like
some kind of new name I don’t really know why maybe because they want to
appeal to the West much more and at the time Zeiss Ikon or Ikon I never really
know how to say that name but Zeiss East VEB of germany they actually had a many
names that they had trademarked for like for production like one example is one
example is pentacon they also had penticon Pentaflex and Pentax so that’s
actually where the name Pentax came from they bought it from Zeiss
people often say either they bought it from Zeiss or it’s a combination of like
pentaprism and contacts the reality is it’s both you know like for example
Penta con actually comes from Pentagon and contacts or that’s actually how the
name came to be Pentax and I think that’s like a very interesting piece of
trivia for anyone who is interested it’s also interesting to note and I think I
might be wrong but East Germany was like the first makers of Pentaprisms for
SLRs so that’s a little bit more trivia because I a lot of this camera company
history is like very convoluted but it’s also very rich and interesting and I
just wish more photographers were interested in this kind of thing as much
as I am you know but anyways back to Japan back in Japan pentaprism were
actually very hard to make they had to be made by hand and Matsumoto had a son
it was Tohru Matsumoto which was the son of Subaru and he actually went to the
states to study he took some courses at MIT I don’t know which courses exactly
but I’m pretty sure it has to be something related to optics and anyways
when he came back to Japan he actually invented a way to mass produce these
pentaprism x’ and that actually helped Asahi basically take off like that was
one of the things that helped them upscale in production like being able to
make these pentaprism much cheaply and quickly to keep up with a demand for the
cameras they were making let’s talk about the pre so let’s talk about the
pre Spotmatic cameras because they are kind of contributed a little bit into
finally making the Spotmatic that we are no and most of us love but some of
stones but anyways yes not s1 I believe the I think the s1 actually came after
the s3 I’m not really sure on the nomenclature of these names but I’m
gonna go ahead and call it the s and someone can tell me if I’m wrong cuz I
probably am anyways you got the I’m gonna go ahead and call it the Pentax s
I think something like that but I this camera was important because when Pentax
was able to standardize the shutter speeds on their cameras you know cuz
like before like all the shutter speeds were kind of all over the place and this
was something that the other camera companies actually adopted as well I
could also be wrong with that but I think that’s the importance of this
camera that the shutter speeds were standardized the s2 the pre spot Matic –
I’ma call it that that one actually introduced the little red dot on Pentax
cameras like the film cameras if you own a film camera from Pentax you know that
whenever you cock the lever and your film is ready to shoot a little red dot
appears that’s to let you know that your cameras caught and as for the s3 I think
they were able to I think that was the first time Pentax was able to actually
reach a speed of one one thousandth of a second for their shutter speed and I
think that was like the key winning point for that camera so around this
time you also got the first auto Takumar or lenses I think I explained earlier
how before the first Takumars had like a preset aperture system similar to the
Russian system which is actually very hard to explain if you don’t have one of
these preset aperture ring lenses it’s really hard for me to try to explain the
way they work but now you had the r Auto Takumars like before if you try to take a
picture you had to focus first and then you would set your aperture and
yeah that was that was kind of a pain but now you had these like Auto Takumars in which you could basically in which you would basically take your
picture and when you took the picture the aperture closed to where it’s
supposed to that’s a it’s quite a nice thing yeah anyways now we’re getting to
like the spot manicures and this is where things kind of get a little
convoluted for me as well because it’s kind of hard for me to still find
information on this but basically before the spotmatic you had to have like an
external light meter or Pentax actually had like a little light mirror that you
would place on top of the camera and on top a little prism and then came the
Spotmatic now the Spotmatic when it was showcased it was supposed to use spot
metering that’s where the named spotmatic came from but uh actually when it
was released its it had a way down metering but when the spotMatic was
actually released it had average top-down metering and I would like to go
into the different kinds of meetings but I think I’ll leave that for another
video but here’s like a very interesting story because okay Pentax was the first
company to invent through the lens metering right because you know I just
previously said how before you need to have an external kind of metering like
external light meter or on the camera but this was the first time but this was
the first time where a camera could actually use light metering in the
camera Pentax invented it when and they I guess you can say they showcased its
but the first camera company to actually release a camera
with through the lens metering was top con because uh there was a okay this
gets confusing right so Pentax invalid invented through the lens metering with
their prototype but then top con releases their camera first so they get
the world’s first through the lens metering even though Pentax invented it
and then Pentax releases the Spotmatic right so I think that was not cool even
though I like Topcon you know and it’s also interesting to know because here’s
another little story you might not know but the Spotmatic originally was meant
to use a spot metering maybe I should make that video on the meetings okay so
spot metering is your light meter points at some point in your frame like a for
example you ever a shirt but the problem was Pentax thought that people should
say this nicely honor I think Pentax thought people were too stupid to figure
out spot metering or it was not easy enough for people for example if you
pointed it I like someone’s white shirt the picture would come out too dark
because the camera was trying to make up for that white shirt so they they
changed it to stop down metering and later in the future they did a center
weight muting but I thought that was a very interesting story and even though
they changed it from spot metering to stop down metering the name spotMatic
still stuck because you know I guess it was just really catchy for them you know
spotMatic and now we’re in the sixties right and they have the spotMatic they
also had a slogan the slogan and went something like just hold a Pentax
because I guess they thought if you held a Pentax in your hands you were just
going to know how awesome and high-quality these cameras were so that
was like their whole marketing right there like they really wanted to market
Pentax as kind of a easy to you whose camera right and that’s actually
kind of the beginning of their downfall but we’re gonna get that in the second
video I think we can end it here with the Spotmatic if I make some mistakes
I’m sure you’re going to let me know just remember I’m just one guy and
everything I do I do because I love and I especially love Pentax cameras and
especially the super Takumar lenses and I can’t wait until we start talking about
things like SMC coatings the whole Ricoh Hoya Fiasco’s and and yeah you know
Pentax is still around even if it got taken out of the RICOH name so yeah let
me know how I did sorry for butchering the names and there’s a part two coming
so don’t start complaining yet until you see that anyways how’s your own

Comments 10

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  • Well done!

  • don't sweat those dinosaurs at pentax forums… they banned me for advocating for a mirrorless k1000, which would sell like hotcakes.

  • Nice story.
    Could be a tiny shorter
    And only one tiny glitch 😉
    3:30 You: Nobody jumps into photography business if they are not interested …
    Well Sony did last decennium, they are only in for the money hehehehehehehehe

  • Awesome, I'll make some coffee. Nice and long too, I like details.

  • Sad to see where is Pentax now… they have some savoir-faire, but didn’t see the market as it is… and when you can hear the ceo saying that DSLR will come back, I am not very confident on their future. 😕

  • #25 : Noealz , met dedicated PENTAXIAN's in VIETNAM Saigon in fact 5 years ago. Great shops and great enthusiasm.
    I collect many TAKUMAR lenses. 50 1.4. Was my first. The favorite is the 75mm 1.8, need a bright 35mm have the 35 3.5.
    Takumar are simple robust reliable and the 50mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.8 are killer.
    Love the 20mm , 24 and 28mm too.
    28mm 3.5 has a great spread.

  • Noealz, your doing great. Great story teller … Good. Like good old Japanese lenses with 10 to 16 blade apertures.
    Beautiful work. Enjoyed TOPCON info.
    Looking at those now. 5cm F2 and the 58 mm 1.4..beautiful glass.

  • Oh I use a 200mm Takumar in deep forests. Beautiful leaf shadow capture.
    Yes…interesting time 1960's in Asia ..
    Why use Vintage TAKUMAR ..to shoot vintage new images..in … Asia.

  • Well done! , Awesome, I have learn so much new info.

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