This page traces the history of a Japanese company which took many different names from Motodori to Condor Camera.
The company's first records are advertisements dated 1937, showing the name Motodori Shashin Kikai Kōgyō-sho (本鳥写真機械工業所). The company was based in Tokyo, Ikebukuro (東京・池袋) and made Baldax copies called Semi Lester and later Victor.
In 1938, the name "Victor Camera Works" (ビクターカメラ・ウオークス) was used in advertisements, together with the address of a postal box. This English-sounding name was probably used for commercial and advertising purposes only, like most other prewar names ending in "Camera Works", and it was certainly not the name of any actual company (see Camera Works).
In 1939, the Semi Victor and Victor Six and their successors the Semi Condor and Condor Six were advertised by a company called Nissan Kōgaku Kōgyōsha, with a different address. Its name sounds like a manufacturing company but the nature of its relationship with Motodori is unknown.
In 1940 and 1941, the name "Condor Camera Works", written in Roman letters, was used in the advertisements, together with the same postal box address as before. This was certainly a dummy name again. The production of the Condor line continued until at least 1942.
The government inquiry listing Japanese camera production as of April 1943 mentions the companies Motodori Kōgaku Kikai Kōgyō-sho (本鳥光学機械工業所) and Tokiwa Kōgaku at the same address: Toshima-ku Ikebukuro 1–606 in Tokyo (東京市豊島区池袋１の606). Tokiwa Kōgaku appears in some advertisements dated 1942 and 1943 as the maker of the Zeitax II and III, mentioning the same address. The company was obvious closely connected to Motodori, but the exact nature of their relationship is unknown.
The company appeared again in the early 1950s as Tōkyō Seiki K.K. (東京精機㈱), based in Tokiwadai (Tokyo). It made the Semi Rocket 4.5×6 folder in 1951 and 1952, as well as its Convex shutters and Perfa lenses. The company also made the New Rocket subminiature camera at an unknown date, aping the New Midget. The latter camera sometimes displays the company name "Rocket Camera Co., Ltd.", which might be a dummy name, perpetuating the tradition inaugurated with "Victor Camera Works" or "Condor Camera Works", or might be the name of the importer of the camera into the United States.
From 1952, the company made another 4.5×6 folder called Doris, essentially a viewfinder-only version of the Semi Rocket. It is said that this name comes from a Mr Motodori (本鳥): "Dori's camera", thus "Doris". The original name Motodori Shashin Kikai Kōgyō-sho strongly suggests that this Mr Motodori was the founder of the company. (Between 1939 and 1943, two 3×4 cameras called Doris and Baby Doris were distributed by Fukada Shōkai. It seems that the Baby Doris was made by Shinkō, and it is not known if they were related with the postwar camera.)
In 1957, the company had changed its name again to Condor Camera K.K. (コンドルカメラ株式会社), using the Condor name again. The address was still the same. It made a 35mm rangefinder camera called Condor, externally a close copy of the Nikon S2. The internals of the two cameras are very different: the Condor has a leaf-shutter and a fixed lens while the Nikon has a focal plane shutter and a bayonet mount. It seems that this camera soon caused a controversy with Nippon Kōgaku and that the company was forced to alter the design, that became the Condor 2S, V2 and IIIS.
The Condor IIIS and perhaps the V2 have a nameplate marked Sanyo Kōgaku-Kikai Co., Ltd. It is not known if Condor Camera was bought by this company or if it voluntarily changed its name once more. It is not known either if this Sanyo is related to the well-known company Sanyō Denki (三洋電気). An 8mm movie camera called Azomax Model 8A displays the same logo and company name, it was perhaps one of the last products of the company.
The last reference found to the Condor is dated 1959, and it seems that the remaining stocks were cleared under retailer brands such as Avigo or Rafuray.
- Semi Lester (1937)
- Victor and Semi Victor
- Semi Condor and New Semi Condor
- Semi Rocket
- Doris, Doris-P, Doris II and Doris IA
The attribution of the Zeitax is unsure.
The Centre Six was perhaps made by another unrelated Nissan Kōgaku company.
The attribution of these two models is unsure:
The Victor Vest might have been made by Motodori.
- Advertisements dated 1937, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, pp.84 (Victor) and 104 (Semi Lester). See also the advertisement for the Semi Lester reproduced in the Gochamaze website (archived).
- Advertisement dated June 1938 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.85. The address was Tōkyō, Toshima office, PO box n°2 (東京豊島局私書函第2號).
- Advertisements dated 1939 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, pp.73 (Condor folders) and 84 (Victor folders).
- Advertisements dated 1940 and 1941 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.72.
- Advertisements listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, pp.336–7, run until October 1942.
- "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras").
- Advertisement dated September 1942 formerly reproduced in the Gochamaze website (archived), and advertisement dated February 1943 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.73.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 23–4, lens items Lb24 and Lb25.
- Column in Asahi Camera February 1951, p.104: 戦前、コンドルカメラを出していた製造元（現在東京精機）.
- The exact address was Tōkyō-to Itabashi-ku Tokiwadai 1–16 (東京都板橋区常盤台1の16). Source: advertisements dated July and November 1952 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.153.
- Attribution of the Convex shutters and Perfa lenses: erratum in Asahi Camera March 1951, p.104.
- New Rocket: attribution confirmed by the inscriptions on the example pictured in McKeown, p.844.
- Niimi, p.92.
- Source: advertisements dated May and October 1955 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.153.
- Advertisement dated 1957, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi.
- The brand names Delta and Deller used on the lenses and shutters also remind the ones used by the company before the war on the Condor folders (デルター lens name).
- See this page at Eyescoffee.com.
- Asahi Camera February 1951. "Shinseihin memo" (新製品メモ, New products memo). P.104.
- 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.
- "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō" (カメラの公定価格官報発表, Official announcement of the set prices of the cameras), November 1941. Extract of a table listing Japanese camera production and setting the retail prices, reproduced in "Bebī Semi Fāsuto 'Kore ha bebī wo nanotta semi-ki da'" (ベビーセミファースト"これはベビーを名乗ったセミ機だ", Baby Semi First, 'this is a Semi camera called Baby'), an article by Furukawa Yasuo (古川保男) in Camera Collectors' News no. 277 (July 2000). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. P. 27.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" (国産写真機ノ現状調査, Inquiry into Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of April 1943. Reproduced in Supuringu kamera de ikou: Zen 69 kishu no shōkai to tsukaikata (スプリングカメラでいこう: 全69機種の紹介と使い方, Let's try spring cameras: Presentation and use of 69 machines). Tokyo: Shashinkogyo Syuppan-sha, 2004. ISBN 4-87956-072-3. Pp.180–7.
- 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). Pp.211, 250, 738, 803, 844, 927–8.
- Niimi Kahee (新見嘉兵衛). Kamera-mei no gogen sanpo (カメラ名の語源散歩, Strolls in the etymology of camera names). 2nd ed. Tokyo: Shashin Kōgyō Shuppansha, 2002. ISBN 4-87956-060-X