Mamiya Pistol

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The Mamiya Pistol (マミヤピストル) or Fast-action camera (速写カメラ) is a pistol-shaped half-frame camera made by Mamiya in 1954, for the Japanese police.


Research on pistol-shaped cameras started in Japan in the late 1940s, certainly instigated by the police forces.[1] The intended use was to catch photographic evidence of criminal behaviour in the act. The first such cameras were the Gemmy and the Seiki 16 pistol camera, both made around 1950, and the Doryu 1, completed in 1952.

The demand from the police forces was made more pressing after the "bloody May Day incident" (血のメーデー事件), a clash between Tokyo protesters and policemen on May Day 1952, where two people were killed and more than 740 were injured.[2] It is said that various policemen were injured while taking photographs of the protesters: with their eye on the viewfinder they could not see their opponents.[3] As a result, the Japanese police wanted a camera which would be easy to aim without raising it to the eye, and a pistol-shaped camera was considered ideal because the policemen are supposedly good at gun handling.[3] (Unlike what is sometimes said, the device was not intended for training shooting, even if some police departments might have used it for that purpose.)

It is said that the device was invented at the Osaka police headquarters, but they probably only drew the general concept.[4] The camera's actual development took place at the Mamiya company, whose chief designer at the time was Miyabe Hajimu (宮部甫).[5] The device was officially named "Fast-action camera" [速写カメラ] or "Fast-action camera (pistol shaped)" [速写カメラ(拳銃型)] — it seems that the name "Mamiya Pistol" is a later invention.[6] According to the specifications, it does not have a viewfinder, and has a simple exposure control, consisting of a single number scale (see below). It competed with the Doryu 2-16 by the Doryu company, which failed to meet the police specifications.[7]

The development took half a year. As of April 20, 1954, the Osaka police headquarters had received thirty units for experiment.[4] During the trials, some concern was raised that the object would be confused with a true pistol, frightening the subjects with unpredictable results,[8] and causing stone throwers to target the photographers.[4] It is said that additional chrome finish was consequently applied (certainly on the lens barrel, see below).[9] The first units were ready just in time for May Day 1954, but they saw no action on that day.[3] As of July 1954, the camera was said to be part of the inventory of the police headquarters in all the Japanese prefectures.[3] Some sources say that a total of 250 or 300 units were made, but this is unconfirmed.[10] It is said that many were scrapped after some years.[11] Actual examples are known with serial numbers in the 10x, 10xx and 11xx range, consistent with the production reports.


The camera is shaped as a pistol, with a handgrip and a trigger. The lens is placed at the front end, at the gun nozzle. Most of the camera is black, except for the two side plates, the trigger and usually the lens barrel. A single picture, in this page at Ron Herron's website, is known to show a black barrel, certainly on an early prototype (see above). There is a single strap lug at the bottom, under the handgrip. The camera has Mamiya's SM logo on the left side plate, and a five-pointed logo on the rear, immediately above the serial number.

The left-hand side plate is removable for film loading, and is locked by a latch at the rear. The camera takes 35mm perforated film in standard cassettes.[12] The exposure size is 18×24mm, maybe for the first time on a Japanese camera.

The right-hand side plate is fixed and has the advance and rewind controls. The film is advanced by a lever on the rear, running vertically along the edge of the side plate. The shutter is cocked in the same movement. The user can actuate this lever with the thumb, so that successive pictures can be taken with a single hand. An exposure counter is visible in a crescent-shaped window next to the take-up spool axis. The rewind unlock button is on the axis centre, concealed in a slot to prevent unwanted activation. The rewind knob itself is on the same side, on the supply spool axis. Closer to the lens, there is a small window showing a red or white dot, indicating if the camera is ready to shoot or not.

The shutter, from 1/50 to 1/150, is released by the trigger. The lens is a no-name 50/5.6, giving a slight telephoto effect.[13] The fixed focus is set so that subjects are sharp from 3 to 20m at minimum aperture.[3] The diaphragm has only two blades, forming a square hole. The aperture and shutter settings are controlled by a single ring around the lens barrel, graduated from 1 to 6. This is an early form of programmed exposure, where the light level is input by hand, instead of by an exposure meter. (On actual use by the police forces, the exposure number was decided before the mission, according to the predicted weather or other factors.)[3] The position of the ring translates into actual exposure settings as follows:[14]

position speed aperture
1 1/50 5.6
2 1/100 5.6
3 1/150 5.6
4 1/150 8
5 1/150 11
6 1/150 16


  1. An article in Shashin Kōgyō March 1955 states that the Doryu company started to develop pistol-shaped cameras in 1949, with official support of the concerned authorities (see Doryu 1 and Doryu 2-16).
  2. See the Japanese Wikipedia page on the incident.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Column in Asahi Camera July 1954, reproduced in Watanabe, p.17 of Camera Collectors' News no.31.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Column in Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin April 20, 1954, reproduced in Watanabe, p.17 of Camera Collectors' News no.31.
  5. Miyabe Hajimu: Inoue, p.136 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.35.
  6. The column in Asahi Camera July 1954, reproduced in Watanabe, p.17 of Camera Collectors' News no.31, says that the official name was "Fast-action camera". Inoue, p.136 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.35, says that the original instruction sheet is inscribed the same. Awano, p.17 of the same magazine, says that the original box is inscribed 速写カメラ(拳銃型), which translates as "Fast-action camera (pistol shaped)". The name "Mamiya Pistol" only appeared later, after the device attracted the interest of camera collectors.
  7. Watanabe, p.15 of Camera Collectors' News no.31. See also Doryu 2-16.
  8. Inoue, p.136 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.35.
  9. Inoue, p.136 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.35. The Column in Asahi Camera July 1954, reproduced in Watanabe, p.17 of Camera Collectors' News no.31, shows a camera with chrome lens barrel.
  10. McKeown, p.648, says 250. Sugiyama, item 3401, says "about 300".
  11. Sugiyama, item 3401.
  12. Standard cassettes: Watanabe, p.16 of Camera Collectors' News no.31.
  13. The lens is called Sekor 45/5.6 in McKeown, p.648, and Sugiyama, item 3401, but the column in Asahi Camera July 1954, reproduced in Watanabe, p.17 of Camera Collectors' News no.31, says 50/5.6, and the name "Sekor" appears nowhere on the camera itself.
  14. Watabe, p.16 of Camera Collectors' News no.31.



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