Japanese night camera

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The Japanese night camera is a special military camera for night photography, made in Japan in the late 1930s or early 1940s. The camera is known from a single surviving example, which was perhaps the only prototype built.[1]


The camera has a huge Simlar 13cm f/1 lens by Tōkyō Kōgaku, in a fixed all-black barrel. On the surviving camera, the lens has serial number 1; it is not known if other examples were made. The barrel is surrounded by a massive aperture ring, graduated from f/1 to f/8. The name Simlar 1:1 f=13cm Tokyo Kogaku K.K. Nr.1 is engraved on periphery.[2]

The camera body is dwarfed by the huge lens. It was apparently made of a modified Miroflex shutter unit.[3] It consists of a box containing a focal-plane shutter (T, 5–2000) and taking 6.5×9cm plate holders or a ground glass holder.[2] There is a tubular viewfinder attached at the end of a long arm at the top left — as seen by the photographer. The shutter is wound by a knob on the right-hand side. There is a smaller knob at the bottom right, with two positions (1 and 2), setting the tension of the shutter curtains. The outer portion of the main knob is lifted to select the actual speed, by varying the slit width. Each position of the main knob corresponds to two possible speeds, depending on the shutter tension: from 1/30 to 1/2000 on position "1" and from T and 1/5 to 1/150 on position "2". The release button is at the front of the body, on the right-hand side.

The camera's dimensions are about 165×140×159mm, and the weight is 4,108g.[4]


Research on night photography lenses started in Japan in the late 1930s. It is said that the Yokosuka Naval Air Technical Arsenal (海軍空技廠, Kaigun Kūgishō) started to develop a 150mm f/1.5 lens, but the project did not succeed.[5]

The 13cm f/1 night camera was reportedly made at the time of the so-called Nomonhan incident in 1939, to photograph Soviet tanks at the border of Manchuria.[6] The photographs were reportedly taken from watchtowers in the moonlight.[6]

The surviving camera has been kept by the Konica company, and was rediscovered in 1998.[7] This might indicate that the camera was assembled by Konishiroku from a lens supplied by Tōkyō Kōgaku, but nothing is known for sure. The lens itself was developed by Tomita Ryōji (富田良治).[8]

Tōkyō Kōgaku later made other high-aperture lenses, including a Simlar-F 180mm f/1.5, used for night aerial photography assisted with magnesium flash bombs, and a Simlar 50mm f/0.7.


  1. Example pictured in Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49, pp.82–3.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pictures and specifications in Shirasawa, pp.55–6, and in Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49, pp.82–3.
  3. Shirasawa, p.55, and Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49, p.82.
  4. Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49, p.83. The dimensions are given as "165×140×59mm", but the third dimension is clearly wrong, and is certainly 159mm.
  5. Shirasawa, p.54.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49, p.83.
  7. Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.49, p.82.
  8. Shirasawa, p.54, quoting the book Nihon no kōgaku kōgyō-shi.