Vest Alex and Vest Olympic

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The Vest Alex (ベスト・アレックス) is a Japanese camera taking 4×6.5cm pictures on 127 film, sold from 1936 by Misuzu Shōkai, and modified in 1937 as a dual-format camera (4×6.5cm and 3×4cm). The Vest Olympic (ベスト・オリンピック) is a rebadged version, introduced in late 1937 by Asahi Bussan. That company was soon absorbed into Riken and became Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō. After 1938 or 1939, the distribution of the cameras was gradually taken over by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō, and the Vest Olympic was sold until 1941 or 1942. The Vest Adler (ベスト・アドラー) is a name variant, sold in the early 1940s.

The actual manufacturer of the camera is unknown. It was probably some subcontractor, initially working for Misuzu Shōkai, then for Asahi Bussan and Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. It might also have been made in Asahi Bussan and Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō's own manufacturing facilities, which produced the bakelite Olympic models.

See also the 3×4cm and 4×4cm Olympic, the 24×36mm Super Olympic, the 4.5×6cm Semi Olympic and the 4×6.5cm Regal Olympic.

General description

All the models have a metal body and a silver telescopic tube supporting the lens and shutter assembly. There are ear-like tabs on each side of the tube, to grab it and pull it forward.

There is a tubular finder in the middle of the top plate. The advance knob is at the left end, as seen by the photographer. The release lever is on the shutter housing, and there is a thread to attach a cable release. The lens is focused by turning the front element.

The back is hinged to the right for film loading and locked by a latch on the left. It contains a single red window in the middle, with a pivoting black cover. The name Vest Alex, Vest Olympic or Vest Adler is embossed in the leather above the red window.

The Vest Alex

The Vest Alex was sold by Misuzu Shōkai from 1936 to 1938.

General description

The Vest Alex has an Erith–Anastigmat[1] 75mm f/6.3 fixed-focus lens, whose maker is unknown. The shutter is called Complete and gives B, 25, 50, 100 speeds. The shutter plate is marked Vest Alex at the top and COMPLETE at the bottom, with an intricate logo on the right, perhaps reading MS for Misuzu Shōkai. This might indicate that the shutter was made by Misuzu itself, or by a dependent workshop.


Minor variations are known, described in the presumed chronological order. The first version,[2] made from early 1936, has a conical advance knob and no other film flange, neither at the top right nor at the bottom. The viewfinder is black painted, and the back is opened by pulling a lever. The tripod thread is at the right end of the bottom plate, slightly offset to the front. The shutter plate has no decorative strips and has two apparent screws. The markings are directly engraved on the plate, in thin letters, perhaps by hand. The speed is selected by an index, and the scale is inscribed at the top of the shutter plate in that order: B, 25, 50, 100. The aperture scale has 6.3, 8, 10, 12, 15 positions. The first version was normally not equipped for 3×4cm exposures (see the documents below). At least one example has been observed with two lines inside the viewfinder for half-frame pictures, but these were perhaps added afterwards.[3]

The second version,[4] introduced in mid to late 1936, has metal film flanges at the top right and at the bottom corners. The tripod thread in certainly integrated inside one of these, at the bottom right. The viewfinder is now chrome plated and looks more robust. The back is opened by a sliding button instead of a lever. The markings on the shutter plate are machine-stamped instead of engraved. The letters are bolder and there are decorative strips on each side of the lens. The strips and logo are separate parts, attached to the main plate in some fashion.[5] The aperture scale has 6.3, 8, 11, 16, 22 positions.

The third version,[6] probably introduced in mid or late 1937, is similar but for a more massive advance knob, similar to that of the Vest Olympic. The camera pictured above still lacks the two red lines in the viewfinder for half-frame exposures. On the fourth version,[7] perhaps released in late 1937 or early 1938, the speeds are selected by turning the shutter rim, and the speed scale is engraved on the rim in the reverse order: 100, 50, 25, B. Cameras of the fourth version normally have the ability to take 3×4cm pictures.

Commercial life

The Vest Alex was advertised in Asahi Camera from January 1936,[8] and was featured as a new product in the February 1936 issue of the magazine, reproduced above.[9] The latter document says that the camera was due for release at the beginning of February.

The advertisements published from January to July show the first version of the camera (see above).[10] They give the price as ¥19.50 — the case costing an extra ¥4.50 — and they make no mention of 3×4cm exposures. They all show a picture of the same camera, with lens number 2023; this might plausibly indicate that the serial numbers for the Erith lens started at 2000.

The November 1936 advertisement in Asahi Camera gives the same information, but shows a newer camera of the second version, with modified back latch, viewfinder and film flanges. The camera seems to have no ability for 3×4cm exposures yet.

The camera was advertised again in the September and October 1937 issues of Asahi Camera, and in the October issue of Ars Camera, reproduced above.[11] The documents mention the ability to take 3×4cm pictures — those dated October say that the camera "now has the long awaited ability to shoot half-frame" (待望の½撮り装置付となりました). It seems that the only modifications involved were the addition of two lines in the viewfinder, indicating the field of view for 3×4cm exposures, and the supply of an appropriate exposure mask. (The rollfilm sold in Japan at the time probably had markings on the paper backing for 3×4cm exposures, allowing to use a single red window for the two formats.)

According to the same documents, the price was raised to ¥25 in September,[12] with the case still priced at ¥4.50. A V.A set of accessories, offered at ¥5 and containing a lens hood, filter and close-up attachment, was announced as a new product in September. In all three advertisements, the pictured camera has lens number 12088; it does not seem to have the additional lines in the viewfinder, and shows no obvious difference from the camera pictured in the November 1936 advertisement, perhaps because the company used an outdated photograph.

The Vest Alex was featured again in the new products column of Asahi Camera November 1937 — reproduced above — because of the introduction of 3×4cm ability.[13] The document also mentions the new set of accessories, and quotes the same prices as in the October advertisement.

The Vest Alex was advertised in Ars Camera until April 1938,[14] slightly overlapping the production of the Vest Olympic.

The Vest Olympic


The Vest Olympic is a rebadged version of the Vest Alex, released in late 1937.[15] The body is identical to that of the third or fourth version of the Vest Alex. The viewfinder always has two red lines delimiting the frame for 3×4cm exposures. (One example pictured in various recent sources has an accessory shoe added to the right of the viewfinder, which is presumably not original.)[16]

On all the cameras observed so far, the lens is a Ukas Anastigmat 75mm f/4.5 and the shutter is a Fiskus (25–150, T, B). The shutter is marked VEST OLYMPIC at the top and FISKUS at the bottom, with the AKK logo of Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō on the right, certainly indicating that it was made by that company. The speeds are selected by turning the shutter rim, engraved 25, 50, 50, 100, 150, T, B in that order. This lens and shutter equipment is identical to that of the Semi Olympic.


The Vest Olympic is briefly mentioned in an advertisement placed by Asahi Bussan in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938, published at the end of 1937.[17]

The camera appears in a catalogue by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō, dated c.1938 and reproduced above.[18] The document lists two versions, with f/4.5 or f/6.3 lens. The f/4.5 version, priced at ¥38 (case ¥5.50 extra), corresponds to the regular Vest Olympic, with Ukas Anastigmat lens and 25–150, B, T speeds. The f/6.3 version, priced at ¥29, has the same features as the Vest Alex, with an Erith (エリス) Anastigmat lens and B, 25, 50, 100 speeds. It was abandoned very soon, and has never been observed.

The price was gradually raised because of successive tax rises in wartime Japan.[19] The leaflet by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō dated c.1939, reproduced above, has the f/4.5 version only, priced at ¥40 (case ¥7 extra).[20] The camera appears for ¥42 in the official price list compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941.[21]

The Vest Olympic was advertised by Doi Shōten in the April and September 1941 issues of Asahi Camera.[22] The documents mention the Ukas Anastigmat f/4.5 lens and T, B, 25–150 shutter speeds. The price is unchanged at ¥42, with extra ¥5.70 for the case. The April advertisement makes no mention of the manufacturer, whereas the September document says that the camera was "sold by Riken Kōgaku" (理研光学発売).

The Vest Olympic still appears for ¥48 in a catalogue reportedly dated 1942,[23] this is the last known mention of the camera.

The Vest Adler

The Vest Adler is a name variant of the Vest Olympic, mainly recognized by the name embossed in the back leather. At least one example is known with an AKK Anastigmat 75mm f/4.5 and a shutter plate slightly different from that of the Vest Olympic: it has Olympic at the top in fancy letters, the AKK logo on the right, Fiskus in fancy letters and MADE IN JAPAN at the bottom.[24] The camera has also been reported with a Ukas Anastigmat 75/4.5.[25]

The Vest Adler appears in the official price list dated November 1941, where it is attributed to Riken Kōgaku.[26] No other original document is known to mention the camera.


  1. McKeown, p.692, says Efith but it is a typo or a misreading. The advertisement reads エリス (erisu).
  2. Example observed in an online auction, and examples pictured in the advertisements in Asahi Camera January 1936, p.A2, February 1936, p.A2, April 1936, p.A2, and July 1936, p.A103, and in the advertisement in Asahi Camera March 1936, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.59.
  3. Example observed in an online auction.
  4. Examples pictured in the advertisements in Asahi Camera November 1936, p.A103, September 1937, p.A2, and October 1937, p.A2, and in Ars Camera October 1937, back cover.
  5. These are absent in the example pictured in McKeown, p.692, perhaps because they have fallen off.
  6. Example pictured in this page, and example pictured in McKeown, p.692.
  7. Example pictured in this page of the AJCC and lens and shutter assembly observed for sale at a Chinese dealer.
  8. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.334, lists advertisements from March 1936 only, but the January and February 1936 issues of Asahi Camera each contain a full-page advertisement for the Vest Alex.
  9. Column in Asahi Camera February 1936, pp.328–9.
  10. Advertisements in Asahi Camera January 1936, p.A2, February 1936, p.A2, April 1936, p.A2, and July 1936, p.A103, and advertisement in Asahi Camera March 1936, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.59.
  11. Advertisements in Asahi Camera September 1937, p.A2, and October 1937, p.A2, and in Ars Camera October 1937, back cover.
  12. The advertisement in Asahi Camera September 1937, p.A2, mentions a revised price (改正定価).
  13. Column in Asahi Camera November 1937, p.821.
  14. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.334.
  15. The camera is briefly mentioned in the advertisement by Asahi Bussan in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938, pp.694–5, published at the end of 1937. Many recent sources give the release year as 1938 instead: Arimura, p.8 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, Tanaka, p.16 of the same magazine, Sugiyama, item 3042 and McKeown, p.747.
  16. This example is pictured in Sugiyama, item 3042, in Tanaka, p.16 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14, and in this page of the Ricoh official website (archived).
  17. Advertisement in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938, pp.694–5.
  18. Catalogue Olympic Products, c.1938, p.10.
  19. See Japanese prices.
  20. Leaflet Riken Kōgaku no kamera to sōgankyō, c.1939.
  21. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 2, section 5A.
  22. Advertisement in Asahi Camera April 1941, p.509, and advertisement in Asahi Camera September 1941, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.64. The latter document mistakenly gives the focal length as 50mm.
  23. Catalogue by Gold Camera Kōgyō-sho observed in an online auction.
  24. Example observed in an online auction.
  25. Example reported for sale at a dealer.
  26. "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941, type 2, section 5A.


Original documents

  • Ars Camera. Advertisement by Misuzu Shōkai in October 1937, back cover.
  • Asahi Camera February 1936. "Atarashii kikai to zairyō" (新しい機械と材料, New equipment and machinery). Pp.328–9.
  • Asahi Camera November 1937. "Atarashii kikai to zairyō" (新しい機械と材料, New equipment and machinery). P.821.
  • Asahi Camera. Advertisements by Misuzu Shōkai:
    • January 1936, p.A2;
    • February 1936, p.A2;
    • April 1936, p.A2;
    • July 1936, p.A103;
    • November 1936, p.A103;
    • September 1937, p.A2;
    • October 1937, p.A2.
  • Asahi Camera. Advertisement by Doi Shōten in April 1941, p.509.
  • Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō. Olympic Products. Catalogue published c.1938 (date not indicated). Document reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • "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. Type 2, section 5A.
  • "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku" (国産写真機の公定価格, Set prices of the Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of October 25, 1940 and setting the retail prices from December 10, 1940. Published in Asahi Camera January 1941 and reproduced in 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. Pp.108—9. Type 2, section 5A.
  • Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. Riken Kōgaku no kamera to sōgankyō (理研光学のカメラと双眼鏡, Riken Kōgaku cameras and binoculars). Leaflet published c.1939 (date not indicated). Document reproduced in this Flickr album by Rebollo_fr.
  • The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938, edited by Arthur J. Dalladay. London: Henri Greenwood & Co., Ltd. Publication date not indicated, certainly late 1937. Advertisement by Asahi Bussan on pp.694–5.

Recent sources


In English:

In Japanese:

Asahi Bussan and Riken prewar and wartime cameras (edit)
rigid or collapsible
Vest Adler | Gokoku | Semi Kinsi | Letix | Olympic | New Olympic | Regal Olympic | Semi Olympic | Super Olympic | Vest Olympic | Riken No.1 | Ricohl | Roico | Seica | Zessan
folders pseudo TLR TLR
Semi Adler | Adler III | Adler A | Adler B | Adler C | Adler Four | Adler Six | Gaica | Heil | Kinsi Chukon Ref Ricohflex | Ricohflex B