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The Heliostar (ヘリオスター) lenses are found on various Japanese cameras of the late 1920s and early 1930s. They do not appear on Western cameras, and it seems that the trademark was used in Japan only.

The full engraving is M. Steinheil München Heliostar on the early lenses, replaced by Heliostar Anastigmat München with no indication of the company on later lenses.[1] (In the marking, the word "Heliostar" is easily mistaken for Hellostar.)


At first glance, the early engraving seems to indicate that the Heliostar lenses originated from the German company Steinheil. However some details are strange, notably the "M. Steinheil" writing, which is found nowhere else and does not correspond to the initials of any known member of the Steinheil family.[2] The engraving style does not correspond to that of contemporary Steinheil lenses either, and the serial numbers do not seem to belong to the same sequence.

The above points give almost compelling evidence that the engraving of the lens bezel did not take place at Steinheil but in Japan. This might suggest that the lenses were locally assembled from imported elements. (At a later date in the mid-1930s, the Japanese company Neumann & Heilemann assembled Radionar lenses from loose elements supplied by Schneider.)

The removal at some point of the prestigious Steinheil name is quite surprising. It might suggest that the initial use of the name was unauthorized: the non standard "M. Steinheil" was perhaps a mere trademark usurpation, and even the continuous use of the place name "München" was perhaps deceiving. Another plausible reason for dropping the name would be a switch in the supplier of the lens elements or lens units.

The only absolute certainty is that the individual lens elements were manufactured in the West. It is widely reported that the manufacturing of complex camera lenses did not occur in Japan until Konishiroku released the Hexar in 1931 (see the corresponding page). If another Japanese company had developed a purely national Anastigmat lens in that early period, it would not have faked a German origin with a "München" marking.

The Heliostar lenses were frequently mounted on cameras made by Molta (predecessor of Minolta). The original Minolta strut-folder by the same company have an Actiplan Anastigmat München 105mm f/4.5 lens, whose origin might be the same as that of the Heliostar. This lens was in turn replaced by an Actiplan Anastigmat Nippon with similar features.

List of cameras equipped

This list is incomplete, and not all the versions have a Heliostar lens:[3]

Enlarging lenses

The Heliostar Anastigmat München f/6.3 was also sold as an enlarging lens. Heliostar 75mm f/6.3[4] and 105mm f/6.3[5] were notably supplied on CH enlargers sold by Misuzu Shōkai c.1936. The 105mm f/6.3 was still listed in an Asanuma Shōkai catalogue as late as October 1941, for ¥33.43.[6] All the examples found so far have 105mm focal length.[7]

Lens numbers

It seems that the same sequence of serial numbers is shared by the Heliostar, Actiplan, Coronar 105mm (on the Happy) and Promar 105mm (on the Auto Press Minolta). That sequence starts around 73xxx with the earliest Heliostar, and goes up to 108xxx with the last Promar. The common numbering might suggest that all these lenses were assembled by Asahi Kōgaku, but it is no definitive proof because the numbering was perhaps decided by a distributor company acting as a third party — for example Asanuma Shōkai, distributor of the Minolta cameras.

The few M. Steinheil München Heliostar are found at the very beginning, in the 73xxx range. For the Heliostar Anastigmat München, serial numbers are known from 74xxx onwards. Until the 81xxx range, these lenses are frequently mounted on cameras made by Minolta's predecessors, or on Weha cameras by Yamamoto Shashinki-ten, and the sequence runs in parallel to that of the Actiplan Anastigmat München of the original Minolta. The Coronar Anastigmat Nippon 105mm f/4.5 of the Happy appears in the 82xxx range, and all the successive Heliostar lenses are found on cameras unrelated to Minolta. The numbers are fewer and farther between, and the last one known so far is 96185, pictured in this page.


  1. The early marking is visible in this page at Asacame.
  2. The history of Steinheil in Wilkinson and Glanfield's Lens collector's vade mecum mentions Karl August, Hugo Adolf, Eduard and Rudolf as the main members of the Steinheil family who founded and ruled the company.
  3. Heliostar lenses have been observed on actual examples of the cameras, unless noticed. The sources are indicated in the page on the corresponding camera.
  4. Column in Asahi Camera October 1936, p.686.
  5. Example observed in an online auction on a CH enlarger.
  6. Catalogue by Asanuma Shōkai dated October 1941, p.16.
  7. Examples pictured in this article in Takasaki Motohiro's website, and observed in an online auction.


  • Asahi Camera October 1936. "Atarashii kikai to zairyō" (新しい機械と材料, New equipment and machinery). Pp.685–6. (Mentions a Heliostar lens on the CH Popular enlarger.)
  • Asanuma Shōkai. Shashinki to zairyō (写真機と材料, Cameras and supplies). Catalogue dated October 1941. Pp.7 and 9. Document partly reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • Kamera no mekanizumu sono I: "Hai! Chīzu" Shunkan o torae-tsuzukeru shattā-ten (カメラのメカニズム・そのⅠ・「ハイ!チーズ」瞬間をとらえ続けるシャッター展, Camera mechanism, part 1 "Cheese!" Exhibition of instant taking shutters). Tokyo: JCII Camera Museum, 2002. (Exhibition catalogue, no ISBN number) P.21. (Has a picture of a Heliostar 105mm f/4.5 lens in a Lidex shutter.)
  • Wilkinson, M. and Glanfield, C. A lens collector's vade mecum. Version 07/05/2001. Distributed as a CD or PDF file.
  • Yazawa Seiichirō (矢沢征一郎). "Shashin renzu hattatsu-shi dai-12-kai: Kokusan renzu no rekishi (zenpen)" (写真レンズ発達史第12回・国産レンズの歴史[前編], History of the development of photographic lenses no.12: History of the Japanese lenses [first part]). In Camera Collectors' News no.56 (February 1982). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. Pp.11–6. (Shows a picture of a Heliostar lens.)


In Japanese: