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The Auto Keef (オートキーフ) is a Japanese coupled-rangefinder camera taking 4×4cm pictures on 127 film. It was made from late 1940 or early 1941 by Kokusaku Seikō and was advertised until 1945 and again in 1946–7.

See also the Semi Keef.

General description[]

The Auto Keef has a rigid body and a telescopic tube supporting the lens and shutter assembly. This telescopic tube is mounted on a focusing helical, coupled to the rangefinder by a pinion. The range- and viewfinder is combined in a single eyepiece and is contained under a top housing. The square viewfinder window is in the middle. The camera has auto-stop film advance, a necessary feature because the paper backing of 127 film is not marked for 4×4cm exposures.

Early documents and prototype model[]

The official list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941, already has a "Keef I" (¥77) and "Keef II" (¥125).[1] They are listed among 3×4 and 4×4 cameras but no further detail is given; they might correspond to the Auto Keef but it is unconfirmed.

The Auto Keef was advertised from June 1941 in Asahi Camera.[2] The September advertisement says that the camera would be "available soon" (近日発売) and has a picture of what is certainly a prototype model.[3] The advance knob is on the right and the round rangefinder window is on the left (as seen by the photographer holding the camera). It seems that the name KEEF is engraved above the rangefinder. There is no accessory shoe and the position of the exposure counter is unclear. The rangefinder coupling pinion is on the right (same convention) and it is apparent and not hidden under a housing.

The release button is placed atop a large housing protruding on the right (same convention) of the shutter casing. The lens offered in the advertisement is a K.O.L. Keef 60/2.8 and the shutter gives 1–500 pictures. The advertisement wears the name of the maker and the name of the distributor Kadunder Shōkai.

Description of the production model[]

The production model has a reversed configuration: the advance knob is on the left and the rangefinder window is on the right. There is an accessory shoe on the left of the viewfinder and the exposure counter window is at the right end of the top housing. There is a sliding button at the back of the top cover on the right, probably used to reset the exposure counter, and another button behind the advance knob, probably used to unlock film advance. The name Auto KEEF is engraved above the range- and viewfinder. The rangefinder coupling mechanism is protected under a tortuous plate but there are variations in the cover of the coupling pinion (see below). There is a screwed cover at the right of the viewfinder eyepiece, certainly used to adjust the rangefinder mechanism.

The back is removable together with the bottom plate for film loading. It is locked by two flat knobs with O and L indications (for Open and Lock), and contains a single red window to set the position for the first exposure, protected by a horizontally sliding cover engraved with the serial number.[4] (These features of the back were probably already there on the prototype model.)

The shutter release is mounted on a small casing attached to the shutter assembly. This casing also sports the same KEEF logo. This casing moves together with the shutter when the telescopic tube is extended and this is not a real body release, even if it was advertised as thus.

Wartime documents[]

The camera pictured in the October 1941 advertisement in Asahi Camera is very similar to the production model.[5] It is perhaps a late prototype or an early production example: it seems that the cover of the coupling pinion supports a rotating distance scale, with an index next to it, and the shutter plate is plain silver. No actual example has been observed in that configuration. The camera is again mentioned as "available soon", and no price is given. Two versions are listed:

  • Auto Keef I, K.O.L. Keef 60/3.5 lens, 1–200 speeds;
  • Auto Keef II, K.O.L. Keef 60/2.8 lens, 1–500 speeds.

The names of two distributors are mentioned: Kadunder Shōkai and Hattori Tokei-ten.

A similar picture appears in an advertisement dated February 1942, where the Auto Keef I was priced at ¥222.[6]

Advertisements dated September 1942, January and March 1943 offered the Auto Keef I for ¥223 and the Auto Keef II for ¥264.[7] The price was quite hefty, the Auto Keef II costing nearly as much as the Auto Semi Minolta. In the pictures, the coupling pinion cover has the KEEF logo engraved and a PAT. P. marking (for "Patents Pending") under the rangefinder window; all the examples actually observed have a similar configuration. The shutter plate is marked KOKU SAKU at the top and probably KEEF at the bottom, but it is unsure which version is illustrated. All these advertisements mention the same two distributors Kadunder and Hattori.

The Auto Keef is mentioned in the April 1943 government inquiry on Japanese camera production.[8] This document says that the camera was made by Tōa Kokusaku Seikō and distributed by Kadunder. The lens is the three-element K.O.L. Keef 60/3.5 and the shutter is said to give T, B, 1–300 speeds.

An advertisement by Sanwa Shōkai dated November–December 1944 offered the model I only, priced at ¥307 with the K.O.L. Keef 60/3.5 lens and T, B, 1–200 speeds.[9] The camera was advertised at least until February 1945, a very late date. (The maker was probably a state-owned factory and it was maybe not submitted to the same restrictions as other companies.)

Postwar advertisements[]

The Auto Keef was advertised again in 1946 and 1947, reportedly with the K.O.L. Keef 60/3.5 lens and Kokusaku shutter (T, B, 1–300).[10] The advertisements in the January to July 1946 issues of Ars Camera were placed by the company Sanwa Shōkai.[11] It is very unlikely that the Auto Keef was still manufactured at that date, and Sanwa was probably selling remaining stocks. The last advertisement is reportedly dated February 1947.[12]

Variations in actual examples[]

Most observed examples of the Auto Keef have the K.O.L. Keef 6cm f/3.5 and a shutter giving 300–1, B, T speeds.[13] The shutter plate is marked KOKUSAKU at the top and KEEF at the bottom.

One example reportedly has a Toko 50mm f/3.5 lens by Tōkyō Kōgaku (the focal length is dubious).[14] The shutter has T, B, 1–250 speeds and is reported as a Keef II, but the picture of the camera shows the name PATENT MARS engraved at the base of the speed rim. The Patent Mars shutter was made by the company Mars and mounted on some other Japanese cameras.[15]

Another example is reported with a Toko 60mm f/3.5 lens by Tōkyō Kōgaku and a Keef Koku-Saku shutter.[16]


  1. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 1, sections 7 and 10.
  2. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.335.
  3. Advertisement published in Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.65.
  4. See the pictures of [ this Westlicht Auction catalogue, some part is missing on this particular example. Other pictures have been observed at a Japanese dealer's website, apparently showing no red window cover at all, perhaps because the whole part was missing.
  5. Advertisement in Asahi Camera October 1941, reproduced in Nakamura, p.32 of Camera Collectors' News no.171.
  6. Advertisement published in Asahi Camera, visible in this page of Xylocopal's photolog.
  7. September 1942 and January 1943: advertisements published in Asahi Graph, reproduced in the Gochamaze website. March 1943: advertisement published in Hōdō Shashin, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.65.
  8. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), item 148.
  9. Advertisement in Shashin Kagaku November–December 1944, reproduced in Awano, p.10 of Camera Collectors' News no.274.
  10. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.350.
  11. Advertisements in Ars Camera January to July 1946, reproduced in this page (there was no issue dated June). The February advertisement is also reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.132 and in Awano, p.4 of Camera Collectors' News no.275.
  12. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.350.
  13. Example pictured both in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.14 and Lewis, p.58; example pictured in Sugiyama, item 3025; example pictured in this page of the AJCC; lot no.706 of Westlicht Auction no.11; example observed for sale at a Japanese dealer's website.
  14. Charles Leski Auction no.191, lot 140. Reported body no.2961, reported lens no.52679.
  15. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), shutter item 18-U-12.
  16. Charles Leski Auction no.249, lot 21 and Auction no.270, lot 9. Reported body no.2234, reported lens no.51828.


Original documents[]

  • Ars Camera. Advertisements by Sanwa Shōkai:
    • January 1946, second cover;
    • February 1946, third cover;
    • March 1946, third cover;
    • April 1946, third cover;
    • May 1946, third cover;
    • July 1946, third cover.
  • "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. Item 148.
  • "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 1, sections 7 and 10.

Recent sources[]


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