The Auto Terra (オートテラ) is a Japanese 35mm folder with a coupled rangefinder and a spring motor device, made by Teraoka Seikōjo in the mid-1950s. It was the first of a line of Terra or Tera spring-driven cameras, and was the only one to have a folding body. It was also the first Japanese camera to have a spring motor. Its successors the Auto Terra II and Super are treated in a separate article.
The Auto Terra is a horizontal folder, unlike most other 35mm folding cameras. It has a prismatic body with sharp edges. The lens and shutter assembly is mounted on a square front standard and the folding bed is supported by flat struts on both sides, shaped as on the Ikonta 35 or Contessa 35. They insure a precise positioning of the front standard, a feature which was emphasized in some rowadvertisements, saying that the front standard is parallel to the film plane with only 10 micrometre tolerance.
The double spring motor is contained below the wind knob, at the top right as seen by the photographer. One full turn of the knob gives enough spring force to advance six or seven exposures. A mechanism on the sprocket shaft ensures that the film is advanced one exposure at the time. There is a governor under the taking spool, insuring that the film is not wound too fast and does not strip its perforations. There is an exposure counter next to the wind knob; one source says that it is automatically reset to zero, but a wheel is visible at the back of the top plate, which might be a manual reset control.
The main release and the spring motor release are at the front of the camera, one above the other: the shutter is tripped by the middle finger, then the spring motor is actuated by the index to wind the film. The shutter is manually cocked by a lever, and a third movement is thus needed before the camera is ready to shoot again. This obviously detracts much from the appeal of the spring motor. One source reports that the Auto Terra can take seven exposures in three seconds, but this certainly needs some practice and good coordination on the part of the photographer. The Auto Terra is said to have both double exposure prevention and voluntary double exposure ability, perhaps by manually actuating the release lever on the shutter casing itself.
The viewfinder and coupled rangefinder have a separate eyepiece; they are contained in a casing above the middle of the top plate, which has an AUTO Terra engraving and an accessory shoe above. The viewfinder window is in the middle and the two rangefinder windows are on either side, with the rangefinder eyepiece on the right. The viewfinder has 0.7× magnification and the rangefinder has 1.0× magnification and 40mm base. The rewind knob is at the top left and contains a film reminder. The rewind unlock lever is on the back and has A and R indications. It both disengages the spring tension for rewind and lowers an internal shaft inside the rewind knob, effectively coupling it to the film magazine. The rewind knob is not engaged into the film magazine during normal operation (in the A position), in order not to slow down the spring advance, and allowing the film to be loaded and unloaded without pulling the knob.
The back is hinged to the right. There are strap lugs on both sides of the body. The camera is 140mm long and 78mm high, its depth is 85mm open and 40mm closed, and its weight is 680g.
The lens is a Plover 4.4cm f/2.8, engraved Terra Tokyo Plover. It is said to have five elements in three groups, with a Xenotar-type formula. It has been suggested that the lenses of the Auto Terra were made by Taisei Kōgaku, the predecessor of Tamron. The focusing system is peculiar: the advertisements mention a "flat cam" device, supposed to prevent backlash, and one source says that there is no helicoid and that this helped to reduce the camera thickness when closed. The details are not fully understood, and neither are those of the rangefinder coupling. There is a thin ring behind the shutter, just before the front standard, with a distance scale and a small tab. Some examples have depth-of-field indications above the front standard, facing the distance scale. The aperture is set by an index placed just in front of this ring, moving along a scale placed above the shutter casing.
The shutter is either a Seikosha-Rapid or a Seikosha-MX, giving B, 1–500 speeds. The Rapid has a thread for a cable release and the MX has an M/F/X selector. Both have a PC synch post. As said above, the shutter is manually cocked by a lever placed on the casing itself.
The Auto Terra was presented to the press on May 11, 1955, according to Shirai Tatsuo's notebook. It was first featured in Japanese camera magazines dated July 1955, and was advertised from August 1955 to November 1956. The November 1955 advertisement in Asahi Camera gives the price of ¥29,500, and the January 1956 advertisement in the same magazine gives twelve "patent pending" numbers: 6826, 23961, 26675, 26676, 41134, 41135, 42903, 43270, 43271 and 43272.
An internal document of the Teraoka company reportedly says that the original Auto Terra was sold from November 1954 to April 1957; this might cover the whole production period from the first prototypes to the last examples, but certainly not the effective sales to the general public.
Despite the long advertising period, it seems that very few cameras were made and that the model did not reach proper serial production: all the examples observed have a lens number in the 500xx range, from 50001 to 50030, and no two of them are exactly the same.
The earliest example is presented in Sugiyama and seems to have lens no.50001. It has a round exposure counter window, placed above the top plate at the rear. The folding bed is opened by a flat button, and its edges are chrome finished, as are the surroundings of the two release buttons and part of the bed struts. The front standard is silver and has no depth-of-field indications. The shutter is a Seikosha-Rapid, and the release lever on the shutter casing is directly tripped by a cam going through the front standard. No aperture scale is visible, perhaps because it is missing.
The example pictured in the November 1955 advertisement in Asahi Camera has lens no.50010. It has a high knob instead of the exposure counter window, which is perhaps an external exposure counter. The bed edges and bed struts are chrome finished, as on the previous example. The folding bed is opened by a round button and the surrounding of the release buttons is black, as on all subsequent examples. The front standard is black too, except for a small part above which is perhaps an added depth-of-field scale. The shutter is the same Seikosha-Rapid with the same coupling cam, and a silver aperture scale is visible above.
A very small picture of a similar example is displayed in the official website of the Teraoka company. The details of the exposure counter are not visible in the picture. The back latch perhaps has a button or lever in the middle, and its leatherette covering is made of two parts.
Next comes the example pictured in the January 1956 advertisement in Asahi Camera, with an unknown lens number. It has a crescent-shaped exposure counter window next to the wind knob, at a middle position. The folding bed, bed struts and surrounding of the release buttons are black. The front standard is again silver, and has depth-of-field indications directly engraved at the top. The shutter assembly is the same as on the previous example.
The examples with lens no.50016 and no.50022 come next, and are very similar. The former was sold at an online auction in Dec. 2008; the latter is rather well known and was displayed in a JCII exhibition. It is the same as the previous example except for its Seikosha-MX shutter, with M/F/X selector. The shutter is rotated about 60 degrees to the right, and the speed index is not upright. The release lever has moved accordingly, and a small metal plate has been added as a linkage to the release cam that goes through the front standard.
The last known example has lens no.50030 and is the property of Teraoka. It is similar to the one with lens no.50022 and has the slanted shutter casing but the shutter plate and speed ring are modified so as to stand upright. The back latch consists of a long sliding bar, and it is covered by a single leatherette strip, as was perhaps already the case on the previous example.
The known variations are summarized in the following table:
|Camera||Exposure counter||Folding bed||Front standard||Release buttons||Back latch||Shutter|
|Opening button||Edges and struts||Colour||Depth-of-field scale|
|Lens no.50001||round window,
|flat||chrome||silver||none||flat, chrome cups||(?)||Seikosha-Rapid,|
direct release connection
|Lens no.50010||knob (?),
|round||as above||black||separate||rounded, black cups||(?)||as above|
|Teraoka website||(?)||as above||as above||black||separate||as above||round button in the middle||as above|
|Jan. 1956 advert||crescent-shaped window,
|as above||black struts
(edges not visible)
|silver||engraved||as above||(?)||as above|
|Lens no.50016 and 50022||as above||as above||black||as above||as above||as above||sliding bar||Seikosha-MX,|
indirect release connection,
slanted speed index
|Lens no.50030||as above||as above||as above||as above||as above||as above||as above||Seikosha-MX,|
indirect release connection,
upright speed index
- Advertisement dated November 1955 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149.
- Sugiyama, items 3785–6, says "six or seven"; Lewis, p.91, says six; Shirai, p.117, says seven. The advertisements reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149, say nothing about this.
- Shirai, pp.120–1.
- Shirai, p.121.
- Shirai, p.117.
- Shirai, p.122, says that the Seikosha-Rapid and MX shutters were not equipped for back setting. This did not prevent the Arco company from providing a self-cocking mechanism for the contemporary Arco 35 Automat with Seikosha-MX.
- Shirai, p.122.
- Advertisement dated January 1956 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149.
- Shirai, p.117.
- Shirai, pp.123–4.
- Dimensions and weight: Shirai, p.117.
- Shirai, p.117.
- Iida Tetsu no renzu-tan (vol.6) (archived).
- Backlash: advertisement dated November 1955 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149. Thickness: Shirai, p.123.
- Shirai, pp.122–3, describes the flat cam mechanism and shows a drawing but various things are unexplained.
- Shirai, p.119.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.355.
- Advertisements reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149.
- Shirai, p.119, says that the document gives these dates as the sales period, but this is certainly wrong. The official company history also gives 1954 as the release year.
- Sugiyama, item 3785, where it is called "Auto Terra I (Prototype)" and it is said that less than fifty were made. The latter remark is misleading: it does not apply to item 3785 only but to the original Auto Terra as a whole (items 3785–6).
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149.
- Official company history.
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.149.
- Example sold at Yahoo Japan.
- Example pictured in this page of the JCII, in Omoide no supuringu-kamera-ten, p.27, and in Lewis, p.91.
- Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 3786, and in Shirai, pp.117–24.
- 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 611.
- Lewis, Gordon, ed. The History of the Japanese Camera. Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography & Film, 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1 (paper), 0-935398-16-3 (hard). P.91.
- 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). P.916.
- Omoide no supuringu-kamera-ten (思い出のスプリングカメラ展, Exhibition of beloved self-erecting cameras). Tokyo: JCII Camera Museum, 1992. (Exhibition catalogue, no ISBN number.) P.27.
- Shirai Tatsuo (白井達男). "Auto Terra I" (オートテラⅠ型). Pp.117–26 of Maboroshi no kamera o otte (幻のカメラを追って, Pursuing phantom cameras). Gendai Kamera Shinsho (現代カメラ新書). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1982. ISBN 4-257-08077-9. (First published in Kamera Rebyū / Camera Review. no.13, September 1980.)
- 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. Items 3785–6.