See also the Alta cameras by Reichenbach, Morey and Will.
The Alta was a successor of the Chiyotax IIIF, previously made by Reise. After the production of the Chiyotax was stopped, perhaps because Reise lost support from its distributor Chiyoda Shōkai, the company's manager and a team of workers were hired by Misuzu Kōgaku Kōgyō and continued the production of the camera as the Alta. (The Misuzu Kōgaku Kōgyō company was unrelated to the trading company Misuzu Shōkai, despite what is sometimes said.)
The Alta has the same basic body as the Chiyotax, copied on the early Leica screw mount models. The top plate is attached by six apparent screws. The position of the controls — advance knob, exposure counter, release button, rewind lever, speed dial and rewind knob — is the same as on the Leica, and the shape of the parts is similar to that of the Chiyotax. The advance knob contains a film reminder at the top, with COLOR, ASA 20 EXP. and ASA 36 EXP. positions, different from that found at the same place on the late Chiyotax IIIF. The release button has an off-centered dot, offering visual control of the film advance, a feature which is absent from the Chiyotax.
The viewfinder and rangefinder housing is also patterned after the Leica. The two eyepieces are somewhat distant, as on the Leica IIIa and unlike the IIIb. The viewfinder has 0.5× magnification, and the rangefinder has 1.5× magnification, giving an effective base length of 47mm. The rangefinder eyepiece has a diopter correction lever, again similar to that of the Chiyotax. The rangefinder is coupled until 3.5ft, and the close focusing distance of 1.5ft available on the dedicated Altanon lenses is not coupled.
The viewfinder housing is engraved Alta and Misuzu Kogaku Kogyo Co., Ltd., together with a serial number and a mark indicating the position of the film plane. On some examples, the film plane indication is engraved too far to the rear, making it unusable (see below).
|From Asahi Camera September 1957. (Image rights)|
The film is loaded through the bottom plate, the same system as on the Leica. The plate is retained by a key on the left side, with O and S indications (presumably for Open and Shut), and is engraved Japan. The tripod thread is on the opposite side, to the photographer's right. There are strap lugs attached on either side of the body. There are two PC sockets on the front face for X and FP flash synchronization, an improvement on the Chiyotax which has a single FP synch post. FP synchronization is provided by the top contact, and works at all speeds from 1/25 upwards; X synchronization is by the bottom contact, and works at 1/25 and lower.
The camera has a Leica screw mount, and a horizontally running focal-plane shutter. The main speed dial has the following positions: B, 30—1 or 25–1, 50, 75, 100, 200, 500 — these are not the same as on the Chiyotax. Most cameras have a dot on the top plate, next to the main speed dial, allowing to set the fast speed before winding. The slow speed dial is on the front of the camera, with T, 1, 2, 4, 8, 25 positions.
The dimensions are 142.5×69×73mm and the weight is 700g, certainly including the Altanon 5cm f/2 lens.
|Announce in Asahi Camera September 1957. (Image rights)|
The Alta was announced in Japanese magazines dated September and October 1957. At the time, other Japanese Leica copy makers were introducing advanced models, breaking from the original bottom loading Leica design, including radical redesigns such as the Canon VT, Tanack SD or Melcon II. In that context, the Alta was viewed as extremely backward, and this was only partially compensated by its low price.
The September 1957 column in Asahi Camera says that the maker Misuzu Kōgaku Kōgyō was already known for its Altair bright screens, and that the Alta was the cheapest available Leica copy. It gives the following prices: ¥21,000 body only, ¥27,500 with an f/3.5 lens or ¥35,000 with an f/2 lens. (In this document, the lenses are called Altair, perhaps by mistake.) The picture is not very good, and shows a camera with an f/2 lens.
The article in the October 1957 issue of Camera to Cine gives the Altanon lens name and higher prices: ¥26,500 body only, ¥32,000 with the f/3.5 lens and ¥40,000 with the f/2 lens, case included. These prices are found in that document only, and are perhaps wrong. Two pictures are provided, showing the camera with the f/2 and f/3.5 lenses.
The camera was also briefly advertised in the April to June 1958 issues of Nihon Camera. The June advertisement, placed by Misuzu Kōgaku Kōgyō, lists the camera as the "Alta 35" (the name is given in Roman letters only). It only mentions the Altanon 5cm f/2 lens, and gives the price as ¥35,000 again, including the leather case.
The camera was finally featured in the 1959 camera annual by Nihon Camera, published in late 1958. This is the last known document mentioning the camera. It says that the Alta was released in February 1957, certainly by mistake. It still lists the f/3.5 and f/2 lenses, at the unchanged price of ¥21,000 and ¥35,000, but the mention of the f/3.5 option is perhaps based on outdated data.
All known examples of the Alta have a six-digit body number in the 700xxx range. The sequence certainly started at 700001: one of the pictures in the October 1957 issue of Camera to Cine cited above seems to show a serial number in the 70000x range. The sequence runs into the 7006xx range, indicating a total production of little more than 600 units.
At least one early camera (in the 7000xx range) is known with 30—1 position on the main speed dial, and presumably 1/30 on the slow speed dial. The later examples have 25–1 instead, and present some variation in the position of the engravings on the top cover. The film plane indicator is correctly positioned up to the beginning of the 7002xx range, then again from the end of the 7004xx range. The markings are offset to the rear in the middle of the production run, perhaps because the setting of the engraving machine went wrong at the factory.
|Misuzu Kogaku Alta35, Altanon f2 / 5cm lens|
Images by yalluflex. (Image rights)
The camera was announced with a 5cm f/3.5 Tessar-type lens or a 5cm f/2 Sonnar-type lens. These lenses were called Altair in the September 1957 column in Asahi Camera cited above, perhaps by mistake, and Altanon afterwards.
Altanon 5cm f/3.5
The Altanon 5cm f/3.5 has four elements in three groups, in a collapsible mount inspired by the Leitz Elmar 5cm f/3.5. It looks extremely similar to the Lena-Q.C and Reise-Q.C 5cm f/3.5 made for the Chiyoca and Chiyotax. The only difference is the focusing scale graduated to 1.5ft, after one full turn, and the Misuzu Kogaku and ALTANON markings.
The only available picture of the Altanon f/3.5 lens is that in Camera to Cine, showing an example with serial number 120001, presumably the first produced, mounted on the Alta no.70000x. (This indicates that the lenses had "Altanon" markings from the start, and that the "Altair" name was never actually applied.) It seems that no other example of the f/3.5 lens has surfaced, and it is not known if it was actually sold.
Altanon 5cm f/2
The Altanon 5cm f/2 has six elements in three groups. The focus ring has two rows of fine mills and is driven by a tab, presumably with an infinity lock. It is engraved in feet from ∞ to 1.5ft, though the rangefinder coupling only works from 3.5ft, as said above. The aperture ring has another row of mills, and goes from 2 to 16.
The front bezel is engraved Misuzu Kogaku and either ALTANON or ALTANON H.C. The finish is either all chrome or black and chrome. The black examples have a chrome aperture ring, base mount and focus tab, and have slightly different engravings on the aperture scale. Only the chrome version is pictured in the original documents cited above; the black version is known from actual examples only.
The lens barrel is essentially identical to that of the Tanar H.C. 5cm f/2 introduced in mid 1955 for the Tanack IV-S, which also has 1.5ft minimum distance. On that basis, it is usually said that all the Altanon f/2 were supplied by Tanaka Kōgaku. (Tanaka and Reise, maker of the Alta's predecessor, were both created by former employees of Kōgaku Seiki, and had earlier connections, see e.g. the Chiyoca for the police.)
However first-hand testimonies collected by Hagiya Takeshi say that only the first lenses were supplied by Tanaka Kōgaku, whereas later ones were made by Misuzu Kōgaku itself, on a design by Koseki Banri (小関万里).
The chrome Altanon lenses with H.C. marking are exactly identical to the Tanar H.C., and certainly correspond to those directly supplied by Tanaka. They have five-digit numbers in the 17xxx range, either with no letter prefix or with a "T" prefix, likely for Tanaka. At the time of the Alta, Tanaka had already switched to the black version of the Tanar, and the supply of chrome lenses for the Alta was perhaps a way to clear the stocks.
The chrome Altanon lenses with no H.C. marking have a six-digit number in the 1700xx range, with a "Y" prefix. They show minor differences in the barrel: the two milled rows around the focus ring are thinner, and the dots on the aperture scale are apparently replaced by small dashes. The "Y" prefix might correspond to some subcontractor, and these lenses might be intermediate between the original Tanaka series and the later Misuzu lenses.
The black Altanon lenses have an "M" prefix in front of the serial number, and may correspond to the lenses made by Misuzu. Those with H.C. marking have a five-digit number in the 17xxx range, and the plain Altanon have a six-digit number in the 170xxx range. The aperture scale has small dashes instead of dots, but the rest of the barrel is extremely similar to that of the black Tanar — parts or whole barrels may have been supplied by Tanaka until the end.
Bower microscope camera
The Bower is a version for use on a microscope. It has no shutter and no viewfinder, and is only used to transport the film. The body is otherwise similar to that of the Alta, with the same advance and rewind knobs, rewind unlock lever and release button — the latter is presumably there to unlock the film transport mechanism after each exposure. The top and bottom plates are all black, and the name Bower is engraved above.
- The name appears as Alta on the camera body, and as "Alta 35" in the advertisement in Nihon Camera June 1958 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.222.
- Hagiya, reproduced in Mabuchi, from first-hand testimonies of people related to the Misuzu Kōgaku company. The information on Reise and Misuzu found in earlier documents is only speculative.
- See Misuzu Kōgaku Kōgyō.
- Column in the 1959 camera annual by Nihon Camera, reproduced in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.38.
- Details of the flash synchronization are given in the column in the 1959 camera annual by Nihon Camera, reproduced in Awano, p.4 of Camera Collectors' News no.38. FP and X synchronization are also mentioned in the article in Camera to Cine October 1957, reproduced in Awano, p.3 of the same magazine. Other sources say M and X instead, probably inaccurately: column in Asahi Camera September 1957, p.195, reproduced in Awano, p.3 of the same magazine, and advertisement in Nihon Camera June 1958, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.222.
- This feature is visible on most cameras, but is absent on body no.700243, pictured in Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.38.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.378.
- Awano, p.57 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.37.
- Column in Asahi Camera September 1957, p.195, reproduced in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.38: ライトスクリーン[フレネルレンズ]"アルタイル"のメーカーである、東京の三鈴光学工業.
- Column in Asahi Camera September 1957, p.195, reproduced in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.38: この種カメラとしては、もっとも安い値段である.
- Article in Camera to Cine October 1957, reproduced in Awano, p.4 of Camera Collectors' News no.38.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.378.
- Advertisement in Nihon Camera June 1958, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.222.
- Awano, p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.38, says that the Alta is not listed in the previous 1958 camera annual by Nihon Camera, published in late December 1957, and is convinced that the release date mentioned in the 1959 issue is a mistake.
- Examples pictured in HPR, p.127, in Sugiyama, item 3093 (serial number not visible), in Awano, Camera Collectors' News no.38, in Takahashi, p.18 of Camera Collectors' News no.41, in the Christies auction catalogues listed below, and observed in online auctions.
- sn 70632 seen in a Yahoo Japan auction (March 2013).
- Example pictured in this page at Innovative Cameras.
- The transition is detailed in Hashimoto and Awano, p.18 of Camera Collectors' News no.41.
- This is suggested by Awano, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.38 and p.18 of Camera Collectors' News no.41.
- Column in Asahi Camera September 1957, p.195, reproduced in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.38.
- Picture in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.38, comparing the chrome and black versions.
- Hagiya, reproduced in Mabuchi.
- "T" prefix: lens pictured in Awano, front cover and p.1 of Camera Collectors' News no.38. No prefix: lenses observed in online auctions.
- "Y" prefix: lens sold in lot no.181 of the August 31, 1995 sale by Christies, and lens pictured in this page at Innovative Cameras.
- Lenses pictured in HPR, p.127, in Sugiyama, item 3093, in Awano, p.3 of Camera Collectors' News no.38, in this page of the AJCC, sold in lot no.29 of the June 8, 1995 sale by Christies, and observed in an online auction.
- Pont / Princelle, p.190, says that the Chicago store was managed by Saul Bower, whereas HPR, p.128, only mentions "a Chicago scientific equipment dealer".
- Asahi Camera September 1957. "Shinseihin memo" (新製品, New Products Memo). P.195.
- Asahi Camera (アサヒカメラ) editorial staff. Shōwa 10–40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10–40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935–1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7. Item 1117.
- Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Aruta 35" (アルタ35, Alta 35). In Camera Collectors' News no.38 (August 1980). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. (The picture on the front cover is reversed.)
- Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Kokusan Barunakku-gata kamera: Aruta 35" (国産バルナック型カメラ・アルタ35, Japanese Leica-type cameras: Alta 35). In Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.37, March 1996. No ISBN number. Leica Book '96 (ライカブック'96). P.57.
- Christies auction catalogues:
- Leica, Nikon and Canon, Leica copies and 35mm cameras, June 8, 1995, lot no.29.
- Cameras and Optical Toys, August 31, 1995, lot no.181.
- Hashimoto Tetsuo (橋本徹夫), and answer by Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Aruta 35 no firumu ichi māku". In Camera Collectors' News no.41 (November 1980). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. P.18.
- HPR. Leica Copies. London: Classic Collection Publications, 1994. ISBN 1-874485-05-4. Pp.126–8.
- Mabuchi, Sam. "In search of the missing Altair camera". In The PHSC E-mail, vol.6–10, supplement to Photographic Canadiana, Feb. 2007, pp.4–5. Also published in Camera Shopper no.173, Mar. 2007, pp.11–2. (This article contains a partial reproduction of an article by Hagiya Takeshi [萩谷剛] in an unspecified issue of Kurashikku Kamera Senka.)
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). Pp.691–2.
- Pont, P.-H., and Princelle, J.-L. 300 Leica Copies. Neuilly: Fotosaga, 1990. ISBN 2-906840-03-3. Pp.190 and 194–5. (The drawing of the Alta does not show the synch posts, and shows a slow speed dial to 1/20 instead of 1/25, for an unknown reason.)
- Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Item 3093.
- Alta among copies of the Leica III at Massimo Bertacchi's Innovative Cameras
- Bower microscope camera at the Leitz collection and optical museum