Japanese Semi (4.5×6)
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The Baby Semi First is a Japanese 4.5×6 folding camera, made by Kuribayashi[1] from 1937 and distributed by Minagawa Shōten. It was sold as a more compact alternative to the Semi First made by the same company.

General description[]

The Baby Semi First is a copy of the German Baldax 4.5×6 folder. Two versions of the 4.5×6 Baldax exist, a large one for #0 size shutters and a small one for #00 size shutters, and the Baby Semi First is a copy of the latter.

On all the models, the viewfinder is in the middle of the top plate, with the folding bed release to the right — as seen by the photographer holding the camera horizontally. The advance knob is at the bottom right and the back is hinged to the left.

Folding finder models[]

General description[]

The Baby Semi First was released in mid 1937.[2] The first models have a folding optical finder, with the front part folding over the rear one. The body edges have a bright finish, first nickel-plated, then chrome-plated.

Commercial documents mention three models: the basic Baby Semi First I, the Baby Semi First II with an additional brilliant finder on the lens standard, and the Baby Semi First III with body release, introduced in early 1938.[3]

The camera gradually evolved, and four variants can be distinguished, mainly recognized by features of the back and red windows. These variants theoretically apply to all the models, but the model I is by far the most common, and only ONE example of the model III has been observed.

Rare: Baby Semi First Model lll above owned by: Eastwestphoto Nr25108 First Anastigmat 7.5cm F:4.5 with Wester Model-1 first shutter T,B, 1-200th F: stops F:4.5~32. Shutter release on body top deck Left of Newtonian pop up viewfinder. Eight blade aperture, three shutter blades red window lower right. Sliding bar lock door.Embossed three strut support system. Katakana writing inside case. see photo

Early documents[]

The models I and II were featured in the new products column of the July 1937 issue of Asahi Camera.[4] The August 1937 advertisement in the same magazine lists the two cameras with a three-element Toko 7.5cm f/4.5 lens, made by Tōkyō Kōgaku, and a Licht shutter (T, B, 25–100, self-timer), made by Seikōsha.[5] It gives the price of ¥49.50 for the model I and ¥53 for the model II.

First variant[]

The examples of the first variant have two red windows near the top of the back, protected by covers retracted by a common lever. The back latch is covered by a leather handle, and the back is opened by a button placed behind the latch cover. The name Semi First is embossed in cursive style in the front leather, and the brand FIRST is also embossed in capital letters in the leather of the folding bed.

An advertisement dated September 1937 emphasized prominent features of the First folders,[6] among which were the patented brilliant finder of the Baby Semi First II and the patented red window covers.

This variant has the early type of Licht shutter, with the release lever attached to the front by a screw. The shutter plate is inscribed LICHT at the top and SEIKOSHA at the bottom with an SKS logo on the right. The T, B, 100, 50, 25 speed settings are written in that order on the shutter plate itself, and are selected by an index placed above.

Examples of the first variant are known with Toko lenses numbered in the 30xxx and 31xxx range, for the model I and model II.[7]

Intermediate documents[]

The April 1938 advertisement in Asahi Camera shows the Baby Semi First III, along with the First Six III and Semi First III.[8] The camera is offered with a Toko f/4.5 lens and a New Licht shutter (新型リヒト) for ¥62. On the New Licht, the speeds are set by turning the rim, and the speed settings are engraved on the rim itself in the 25, 50, 100, B, T order. The release lever is now attached behind the turning rim, and the front plate is slightly redesigned with no SKS logo. The picture in the April 1938 document clearly shows the body release and New Licht shutter. However, none of the New Licht observed so far have a linkage on the back for a body release,[9] and the pictured combination is quite mysterious.

The January 1939 advertisement in the same magazine lists the models I and II, offered with the (New) Licht and a choice of two lenses (the model III is absent):[10]

  • Baby Semi First I, Toko f/4.5 lens (¥65);
  • Baby Semi First II, Toko f/4.5 lens (¥69);
  • Baby Semi First I, First f/4.5 lens (¥60);
  • Baby Semi First II, First f/4.5 lens (¥64).

The First f/4.5 was certainly a three-element lens made by Tokiwa Kōgaku (at least this was the case at a later date).[11]

In the June and July 1939 advertisements in Asahi Camera, the same options are repeated for the models I and II, at slightly different prices, and the model III is listed at ¥100 with a First f/4.5 lens and a Wester I shutter (T, B, 1–200) by Nishida.[12] This shutter is necessarily in #00 size, because a larger model would not fit on the Baby Semi First. Nishida's offering in #00 size was called Northter from about 1940, but this document seems to indicate that it was introduced in mid-1939 as the Wester, using the same brand name as the larger #0 size shutters. (It is equally possible that there is a mistake in the advertisements, and that the shutter was actually a Northter.)

Later variants[]

The second variant has different covers for the red windows: the patented device of the first variant was substituted by vertically sliding independent covers, which were integrated more smoothly in the back. This modification was perhaps simultaneous with the introduction of the New Licht in early 1938. Examples of the second variant (both model I and model II) are known with the New Licht and Toko lenses numbered in the 32xxx and 33xxx range.[13] The transition between nickel and chrome plating occurred during that period.

At a later point, the two red windows located at the top of the back were replaced by a single one located at the bottom, protected by a vertically sliding cover. The embossing at the front became Baby–SEMI at about the same time. The third variant has the single red window but retains the older type of back latch. These features are found on at least one example of the model I, pictured above, with First f/4.5 lens.

The fourth variant has a newer type of back latch, consisting of a long sliding bar with no handle. At least one example is known, pictured in Sugiyama.[14]

Later documents[]

The list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941 mentions a "Baby Semi First I" (¥80), a "Baby Semi First II" (¥121), a "Baby Semi First III" (¥160) and a "III Baby Semi First" (¥121), with no further detail.[15] (The distinction between the latter two models is unexplained.) In the same document, the "BB Baby Semi First I" (see below) is strangely listed for ¥80, whereas it is supposed to be a more expensive version of the Baby Semi First.[16]

A similar price list dated November 1941 mentions the same four models as well as a plain "Baby Semi First", a "Baby Semi First IV" and a "III Baby Semi First I".[17] These listings are quite incoherent and the actual meaning of the model numbers is not known; it is not even certain if the models I, II and III are the same as before or have different features.

Tubular finder model[]

The Baby Semi First with tubular finder certainly appeared in the early 1940s, and replaced the previous models. The distinction between models I, II and III was probably dropped by the time. The new finder is similar to that of the late Semi First, copied from the finder of the Welta Perle, Weltax and Garant models released around 1938.

On the cameras with tubular finder, the body edges and viewfinder assembly are either chrome-plated or black-painted. The chrome finders have parallax compensation, controlled by a small sliding button on the right of the finder's base and similar to the Welta units. The black finders have no such device and certainly correspond to cheaper models. It is sometimes said that the black finish was adopted because of a shortage of materials,[18] but the chrome finish was perhaps offered as a more expensive alternative until the end.[19]

The Baby Semi First mentioned in the April 1943 government inquiry listing Japanese camera production certainly corresponds to the model with tubular finder. Two versions are listed: the usual one with a First f/4.5 lens and a Licht shutter and another one with a First f/3.5 three-element lens by Tokiwa Kōgaku and a Hit-Rapid shutter (T, B, 1–500) made by the same company.[20]

The Baby Semi First with tubular finder has always been observed with a Licht shutter, and none has a body release or an additional brilliant finder. Actual examples are known with the following combinations:

  • chrome trim, Toko f/4.5 lens;[21]
  • chrome trim, Rotte Anastigmat f/4.5 lens;[22]
  • chrome trim, First Anastigmat f/4.5 lens;[23]
  • black trim, Toko f/4.5 lens;[24]
  • black trim, First Anastigmat f/4.5 lens.[25]

It is probable that the Rotte f/4.5 lens has three elements and was made by Tokiwa Kōgaku, as the Rotte f/3.5.[26]

BB Baby Semi First[]

The BB Baby Semi First has the same dual finders as the late BB Semi First and the BB Semi Rotte, with an eye-level finder on the left and a brilliant finder on the right, grouped in an L-shaped housing. It also has a body release on the left of the finder unit. The name B.B. BABY SEMI FIRST is inscribed above the eye-level finder.

As said above, the BB Baby Semi First was already mentioned in late 1940 in the official price list.[27] Two versions are listed in the April 1943 government inquiry:[28]

  • "BB Baby Semi First I", First 75/4.5 lens, Vic II shutter (T, B, 25–150) by Miyoshi;
  • "BB Baby Semi First II", First 75/4.5 lens, Rotte shutter (T, B, 1–200) by Kuribayashi itself.

Only one example of the camera has been observed so far, pictured in Baird and in McKeown.[29] It corresponds to the BB Baby Semi First II, with a First Anastigmat 7.5cm f/4.5 lens[30] and a Rotte Model-1 shutter giving 200–1, B, T speeds. The speed settings are inscribed on the shutter plate in that order. The shutter plate also has ROTTE MODEL–1 at the top and ROTTE at the bottom, with waveline drawings on both sides.[31]


  1. The attribution to Kuribayashi is confirmed by the "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 8–11.
  2. The earliest advertisement listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.339, is dated June 1937.
  3. The earliest advertisement listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.339, is dated January 1938.
  4. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.339.
  5. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.87.
  6. Advertisement published in Asahi Camera, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.86. See also the undated advertisement reproduced in Baird, p.68, which gives a similar list.
  7. Examples pictured in this page at Japan Family Camera (model II), and observed in online auctions.
  8. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.87.
  9. See for example the pictures in this page at
  10. Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.88, and in Furukawa, p.22 of Camera Collectors' News no.277.
  11. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), lens item Lc2.
  12. June 1939 advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.87; July 1939 advertisement reproduced in Furukawa, p.23 of Camera Collectors' News no.277. In the June advertisement, the prices for the models I and II are higher with the First lens than with the Toko, the reverse of the usual situation; this mistake was corrected in July.
  13. Examples observed in online auctions.
  14. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 1054, and in Furukawa, pp.19–20 of Camera Collectors' News no.277 (the camera is certainly the same).
  15. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 3, sections 3B, 6B and 7B.
  16. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 3, section 3B.
  17. "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941, type 3, sections 3B, 5B, 6A, 6B, 7B.
  18. Baird, p.75.
  19. See the specific mention of "black finish" for a version of the Semi First listed in the government inquiry of early 1943.
  20. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 10–1, lens items Lb18 and Lc2, shutter items 12-V-4 and 18-R-1.
  21. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 1056.
  22. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 1055.
  23. Example pictured in Tanaka, p.78 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.8.
  24. Example pictured in Baird, pp.84–5 and in McKeown, p.576, and example observed in an online auction.
  25. Example pictured in this page at, and example observed in an online auction.
  26. Rotte f/3.5: "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), lens item Lb21.
  27. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 3, section 3B.
  28. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 8–9, lens item Lc2, shutter items 18-P-5 and 18-V-5.
  29. Baird, pp.86–7, McKeown, p.577.
  30. The lens is reported as a First f/3.5 in Baird, p.87, but the picture shows f/4.5 maximal aperture.
  31. A similar shutter has been observed on examples of the Semi Rotte and BB Semi Rotte.


Original documents[]

  • "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 3, sections 3B, 5B, 6A, 6B, 7B.
  • "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. Items 8–11.
  • "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 3, sections 3B, 6B, 7B.

Recent sources[]


In Japanese:

Kuribayashi prewar and wartime cameras (edit)
rollfilm folders
Eagle | Speed Pocket | First Roll | First Center | Semi First | First Six | Baby Semi First | Semi Rotte | Hokoku | Mizuho
plate folders rigid SLR TLR unknown
Mikuni | First | First Etui | Kokka | Romax | Tokiwa Molby Speed Reflex First Reflex Baby First