image by yalluflex (Image rights)
The Condor is a Japanese 35mm rangefinder series, made by the company Condor Camera between 1957 and 1959. The Rafuray and Avigo are less expensive rebadged versions, only equipped with a viewfinder.
Description of the original model
The original model of the Condor is a close copy of the Nikon S2, at least in its external aspect. Its internals are quite different from the Nikon S2 and less refined: the lens is fixed and it is mounted in a leaf shutter. Both are mounted on a focusing helical, controlled by a small tab and turned 1/6 turn, with depth-of-field indications engraved on the lens barrel.
The lens is a Delta 4.5cm f/2.8 made of five elements in three groups. It is engraved CONDOR A.C. DELTA, with "A.C." in red presumably standing for Amber Coating, a feature mentioned in the advertisements.
The shutter is a Rectus-MX leaf shutter giving B, 1–500 speeds, with a self-timer and dual M/X synchronization via a PC post, made by Fuji Seimitsu. The speed and aperture are selected by two rings around the lens barrel. There are RECTUS-MX engravings on the front rim and on the side of the aperture scale. The original lens cap is engraved Condor.
The viewfinder is of the bright frame type, with 0.9× magnification. The coupled rangefinder is integrated with the viewfinder in a single eyepiece, and has a 60mm base.
In itself, these characteristics are not bad for a model coming from what was apparently a very small company. But the rest of the description is more problematic and reveals intentional copying of even small details. Seen from the front, the camera is made to look exactly like the Nikon S2, except for a Condor engraving.
The top plate in particular is a replica of the S2's, with the same characteristic step just to the right of the viewfinder window. From a distance, the most visible difference is that the shutter release is moved forward compared with the S2's.
There is a rewind crank on the left end, surrounded by a black film reminder dial where the S2 has a synch selector. There is a pin in front of the accessory shoe to look like the S2's synch post. Because the camera has a leaf shutter, there is no speed selector above the top plate but an exposure counter occupies the same place, with a black dial extremely similar to the exposure counter dial of the S2. At the right end of the top plate, the advance lever is again a close copy.
The top plate is engraved with the serial number and a triangular Delte logo reminiscent, as you can guess, of Nippon Kōgaku's logo.
|Condor Camera Condor 35
Images by yalluflex. (Image rights)
Controversy around the copying
The obvious copying by Condor of the Nikon S2 raised an immediate controversy in the Japanese public, a sign that times were changing and that shamelessly copying another maker's model was no longer an accepted practice.
We should keep in mind that the Nikon S2 itself was happily mixing design elements copied from the prewar Contax II and postwar Contax IIa. This was used by Condor Camera for its own defence: in a column of Asahi Camera dated June 1957, the company said that the Contax had been taken as a model and that the Condor was being developed for three years (implying that the first prototypes were thus made before the S2 publicly appeared).
The company also gave as an excuse the fact that, being a small company, it had no designer and was forced to get inspiration from the models of other makers. Indeed the earlier Doris 4.5×6 folder already showed some design similarity with the Pearl, while the prewar Lester, Victor and Condor folders were exact copies of the German Baldax.
It seems that the company was even accused of dismantling a Nikon S2 to duplicate the die cast body, to which the company answered that it had paid hard money to have the die-casting moulds specially made for the Condor.
The original Condor was followed by at least three other rangefinder models, about which little is known.
The Condor 2S, offered in mid-1958 for ¥16,800, supposedly looks very similar to the original one, except for the front of the lens barrel that is black instead of chrome. (however, only a small, poor quality picture is given in the cited source). A Condor with a black front to the lens barrel, but no badges identifying it as a 2S was sold at Westlicht in 2012; another was offered which is clearly badged as a 2S, and has a chrome-plated front to the lens, casting doubt on this detail as an identifying feature.
The Condor V2, offered in spring 1959 for ¥16,800, has a revised shape with a black lens barrel and an additional window to provide light for the bright frame finder. There is a round logo on the front plate, under the release button, and a nameplate attached to the front leather. No detailed picture has been observed but the logo and nameplate look similar to those described below for the Condor IIIS. It is said that the V2 has a Delta 45/1.9 six-element lens and a Rectus-MXV shutter. (Again the only picture observed is small and of bad quality.)
The Condor IIIS, offered in mid-1959 for ¥12,500, is a revised version of the 2S, with a different lens and a flat top plate looking less like the Nikon S2. The front plate is exactly the same as on the original Condor. A black and gold nameplate is attached to the front leather, marked Condor IIIS at the top and SANYO KōGAKU-KIKAI CO., LTD. at the bottom. There is a round red logo on the front plate, with a big "S" and a small "K", certainly the logo of the Sanyo company. The lens is the same Condor A.C. Delta 4.5cm f/2.8 as on the original Condor, and the camera has a black lens cap engraved Condor in white.
Rafuray and Avigo
|Avigo no.19889, Condor A.C. Delta 4.5cm f/3.5 lens no.18036.
Pictures courtesy of Garry Orman. (Image rights)
|Rangefinder window covered by the nameplate
image by Geoff Harrisson (Image rights)
The Rafuray and Avigo are viewfinder only models, based on the Condor IIIS. The rangefinder window is simply covered by the corresponding RAFURAY or AVIGO nameplate, written in clear capital letters against a black background. The nameplate of the Avigo has a round logo, reading AV in black on a red background. The name AVIGO or RAFURAY is repeated above the camera. The body serial number is engraved on the left of the accessory shoe, and there is a red marking just behind, indicating the position of the film plane.
The words S.K.K. MADE IN JAPAN are inscribed on the bottom plate, either behind the rewind unlock button or towards the front. The initials S.K.K. might correspond to the company Sanyo Kōgaku Kikai already mentioned above.
The lens barrel is black except for the chrome speed ring. The lens is a Delta 4.5cm f/3.5, with the same engraving style as the f/2.8 lens of the original Condor. The shutter is a Ceres (B, 25–300), synchronized for flash via a PC socket at the bottom speeds; its name CERES is inscribed on the right side, in white over the black barrel.
These inexpensive versions were perhaps made to sell the remaining unsold examples of the Condor. It seems likely that the Rafuray and Avigo brands were owned by distributors. (Magnesium flash units, have been observed with the Avigo brand and the same AV logo as the Avigo camera.)
|Rafuray no.18151, Condor A.C. Delta 4.5cm f/3.5 lens no.18722, Ceres shutter (B, 25–300).
Pictures courtesy of eBayer toyresell. (Image rights)
- Dates of the advertisements mentioned in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.388.
- The above desciption is based on detailed pictures of an example sold in an online auction, on the advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.248, and on the Asahi Camera column reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.251.
- This is illustrated for example by a column published in the June 1957 issue of Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.251.
- Column of the June 1957 issue of Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.251.
- Advertisement published by Hayashi Shōkai in the June 1958 issue of Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.249.
- Condor, serial no. 11854, perhaps a 2S, and with black-fronted lens, sold at the 21st Westlicht Photographica Auction, on 23 May 2012.
- Condor 2S, serial no. 13711, and with chrome-plated front to the lens tube, offered at the 22nd Westlicht auction, on 24 November 2012.
- Advertisement published by Hayashi Shōkai in the March 1959 issue of Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.250. Lens and shutter: Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.388.
- Advertisement published by Hayashi Shōkai in the October 1959 issue of Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.251. An example is pictured in this page of Nekosan's website (archived), and another has been observed in an online auction.
- The Rafuray is pictured in McKeown, p.211. The Avigo has been observed for sale at an Australian dealer.
- McKeown, p.211, wrongly mentions a Rectus-MX shutter (B, 1–500) and a Delta 45/2.8 lens for the Rafuray.
- Flash units observed in online auctions.
- 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. Items 1301–4.
- 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.211.
- Condor (perhaps a model IIIS) in a page about wannabe cameras at Nekosan's website (archived), the camera is compared with a Nikon S2
- Avigo article and pictures by Geoff Harrisson