|Konilette I, early variant with Konix shutter|
image by Mark Dalzell (Image rights)
The Konilette is a Bakelite-bodied, horizontal folding camera, first introduced by Konishiroku in 1953. It uses unperforated 35 mm film in special cassettes. Because of the lack of perforations, the image frame is 30x36mm, somewhat larger and squarer than the Leica standard 35mm format. Twelve pictures can be taken on a roll. The film is advanced with a winding knob, with a mechanical frame counter incorporated. The film transport release button (on the back of the top housing) must be pressed before winding on each frame; this is also the rewind release. The camera was supplied with a supplementary thin metal mask for the film chamber, in case it was desired to mask the film for the 24x36mm format and to enable use of standard perforated 35mm film (loaded by the user into special reloadable film cartridges that were sold separately). Except for the earliest model, in the viewfinder there are blue tinted areas that indicate what will be cropped when using the mask to produce images in the smaller format
Winding the film does not charge the camera's shutter. That is done separately with a small lever on the upper lefthand side of the shutter. A similar lever on the upper righthand side is the shutter release. All Konilette models also can be fitted with a cable release, in a socket adjacent to the shutter release lever.
All models are simply labelled "Konilette" on top. However, there are at least three distinct models recognized and that were marketed as such with Konishiroku advertising, literature and packaging.
The original Konilette model of 1953 (now usually referred to as "Konilette I") is quite distinctive with a blue-green (teal) plastic top cover and saw at least two variants. Both are fitted with a coated 50 mm f/4.5 Konitor lens, while the earliest uses a Konix leaf shutter with speeds 1/25 - 1/200 second, plus 'B', offering f-stops f/4.5 - f/22, and synchronised with an ASA style bayonet contact. The later variant of the Konilette I uses the same lens, but in a Copal leaf shutter of the same specification except that it has an f-stop range f/4.5 - f/16 and a PC socket flash connector.
The frame counters are slightly different too. The early variant's counter is only labelled with frames 0, 5 and 10. All other frames are indicated only by small hash marks. On the later variant (and all subsequent models), every individual film frame is labelled: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and so-on up to 12.
The lens on some, but not all copies of the early variant are labelled "Konitor" and "Konishiroku" on the trim ring. The later variant's lens is generally only labelled "Konitor" (and this is carried over to the Konilette II model).
image by Dirk HR Spennemann (Image rights)
Konilette II of 1955 or 56 is very similar, but easy to distinguish with a matte chrome metal top housing instead of the blue-grey (teal) plastic housing of the first model. It has the same lens and Copal shutter as the latter variant of the first model.
Konilette IIM of about 1957 has an uncoupled selenium lightmeter built into the top housing.  The camera's matte chrome top cover is a bit taller to accomodate the meter and from the front the black frame and sensor panel of the meter are quite obvious. On top there is a meter needle display along with a dial that serves ASA 23 through 200. Since the meter is uncoupled, the recommended f-stop then needs to be set manually at the shutter.
This model also is upgraded with a 55 mm f/3.5 Konitor lens, and uses a slighlty more refined Copal leaf shutter than the earlier models, with the same specifications except that it now features an f-stop range of f/3.5 to f/22. The lens is painted black, with white painted and etched chrome labelling, where the earlier models were chrome with black painted labelling. The lens on this model is once again labelled both "Konitor" and "Konishiroku".
The film wind and rewind knobs on the IIM are larger than the earlier models, as well as partially decorated with black paint over the chrome. The frame counter, which was external on the earlier models, is now incorporated into the winding knob, with the frame count displayed in a small, round window.
Konilette commonalities and minor differences
All three models share some design cues with the post-WWII, 120 format, folding Pearl models from roughly the same time period, and all the Konilette models use the same basic chassis that's designed so that the metal trimmed, Bakelite folding bed, when fully unfolded, allows the camera to sit stable and level on a table. There is a small, chrome knob recessed into the top edge (when closed) of the folding bed, that operates a latch holding the camera closed. Press it to open the camera, then swing the bed downward until the two chrome struts are fully straight and locked in place. One may need to gently lift in the middle of the strut to bring it to the fully locked, shooting position. The lens should position itself precisely. To close, gently press both the chrome struts in the middle with your thumbs, the bed should begin lifting upward, while the lens/shutter assembly may need to be gently tilted a little, then should retract into the camera body as the bed more fully closes. Be careful not to mis-fold the bellows and close the bed until it's latched securely.
The film door is kept secure with a chromed keeper on the righthand end of the camera, that is slid downward to allow the door to be opened. The door is completely removeable to allow for easy film loading. Be careful not to drop it. Also the door should open and close easily and precisely, it should not be necessary to force it. With age Bakelite - such as makes up the bulk of the body of all these models - may become more brittle and might be broken relatively easily.
Exposure settings are done with dials or levers on the leaf shutter assembly. The f-stops have no detents and there should be no problem making a fractional setting in between the full stops. Care should be taken with the shutter speeds, however, that only the full speed indicated is set, despite the lack of detents here, too. For accurate shutter speeds, avoid fractional speeds set in between the indications. Since a leaf shutter is used, flash and flash bulb sync is possible at all shutter speeds (except B).
None of the folding Konilette models have serial numbers on the body or shutter. The only serial numbers to be found are on the lenses. On the I and II models, the serial number is on the front of the lens, on the chrome finishing ring. On the IIM, the serial number is found on the distance scale, which is engraved on the edge of the lens.
The models with the f4.5 lenses can be fitted with an 18mm filter and a very small, accessory slip-on lens hood. The IIM with it's f/3.5 lens uses 24mm filters and a slightly larger, but still small lens hood. The accessory lens hoods were provided with a tan, leather case that could be secured to the camera strap, for convenient storage.
All models have a "cold shoe" on top to mount a small flash or bulb holder. They all also have a tripod mounting socket on the bottom.
All models were supplied with a tan, leather everready case. The case for the IIM is slightly taller to accomodate the increased height of the camera, due to the meter. The cases for the other models appear identical. A matching leather strap is affixed to the everready case for ease of carrying. There is no provision to attach a strap directly to the camera itself.
There have been reports of some models marked "Konilett" (omitting the second "e"), but this has not been substantiated.
There also have been some reports of a "Konilette III", but this also is unsubstantiated.
|Column on the Konilette in Shashin Kōgyō (写真工業), January 1955.|
Scan by rebollo_fr (Image rights)
- 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). p543.
- User's manual at Mike Butkus' Orphan Cameras.
- Konilette (I) listed in a page of the All Japan Classic Camera Club (AJCC) website.
- Konilette II at the AJCC website.
- Konilette IIM at the AJCC website.
- 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 518 and 1267–9.
- 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). Pp.83–4.
- 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 3316–8.