The Minion (ミニヨン) is a series of Japanese folding cameras taking 4×5cm pictures on 127 film, made by Tōkyō Kōgaku (the maker of the Topcon cameras) between 1938 and 1943 and again after the war. The main designer of the Minion was Otagi Michifusa.
The company later used the name Minion again for 35mm cameras; see Minion 35.
The Minion models are horizontal folders, with straight diagonal struts and a folding optical finder. None has a body release. The 127 film paper backing is not marked for the unusual 4×5cm format, and all the Minion variants have an exposure counter, manual or automatic. (Ten exposures can be taken per roll.) Film is loaded through the top plate, opened by a button on the right of the top plate. It is thus possible to load a roll of film with the camera standing in its case. At least for some models, Tōkyō Kōgaku supplied a card to make this operation easier, with loading instructions printed on one face and a depth-of-field table on the other. The front leather is faintly embossed Minion on some examples but not all (no pattern has been identified).
The Minion I and II
The Minion I and II have a Toko 6cm f/3.5 triplet lens made by Tōkyō Kōgaku and a Licht shutter made by Seikōsha, giving T, B, 25, 50, 100 speeds and equipped with a self-timer. The shutter plate is marked LICHT at the top and SEIKOSHA at the bottom. The back has a single red window, protected by a vertically sliding cover, to set the first exposure, and an exposure table written in Japanese and attached by four screws.
Modern sources do not agree on the distinguishing features of models I and II, and the original documents observed so far do not clearly describe them. It seems that the modifications were introduced gradually rather than all at once, and this makes the evolution of the camera quite difficult to follow.
The main change that occurred during the production is the adoption of auto-stop film advance, which seems to have been simultaneous with the introduction of a chrome finish version.
Manual film advance
The first manual variant was released in Spring 1938. It was featured in the new products column of the June 1938 issue of Asahi Camera and was advertised in the same magazine from April of the same year. There is no automatic stop advance. A small housing at the left end of the top plate contains a manual exposure counter, visible through a hole in the top. The first exposure is set via the red window and the film is advanced by manually turning the knob until the next number is displayed. This advance system is obviously not very reliable. The front part of the viewfinder is engraved Minion and folds above the rear part. In the April 1938 advertisement, the camera is touted as having a new feeling, a new size (presumably negative size) and new lens (新しい感じ 新しいサイズ 新しいレンズ). The advertiser is named as Tōkyō Kōgaku Kikai. In May and June, Hattori Tokei-ten Shashinki-bu is named as the distributor, a price of ¥58 is specified, and the lens is described as fast (明るい) rather than new, the light weight of 320g is touted, as is the ability to change films while the camera is still in its ever-ready case. A single surviving example is known so far, pictured in Antonetto and Russo and in Fujishima. Its focal length is engraved 6,0cm instead of 6cm as found on all the later cameras.
The second manual variant has a newer viewfinder: the rear part folds above the front part and it is spring loaded with a release button situated on the right. This variant may have been introduced in 1939: the Minion was featured again in the new products column of the May 1939 issue of Asahi Camera and was advertised in the same magazine from April 1939 after a ten-month interruption. This variant is pictured in the advertisement in Asahi Camera September 1939, where the Minion is offered for ¥70, in black finish only. The finder is described as "Newton type", and a circular depression is visible in the rear folding part. A surviving example is pictured in this page at Cam's. Its back exposure table is black and its red window cover has no marking. Another example is pictured in Sugiyama as a "Minion II".
Automatic film advance
The auto-stop feature was probably added at the end of 1939: a variant equipped with this feature appeared in the new products column of the November 1939 issue of Asahi Camera and was advertised in the same magazine from October 1939.
The first auto-stop variant has the exposure counter disc on top of the small housing on the left of the top plate and a small button at the rear to unlock the film advance. No other modification is visible: the finder is still of the Newton type, has the same circular depression to the rear and still has its release button to the right. An example is pictured as a "black Minion I" in this page of the Topcon Club website.
The second auto-stop variant has a thicker focusing ring sporting bigger numbers; it seems that the folding struts were slightly reinforced at about the same time. An example in chrome finish is pictured in this page at Asacame.
This variant is pictured in chrome finish in the November 1939 advertisement in Asahi Camera. The camera was available in black finish for ¥83 and in chrome finish for ¥93. Another advertisement dated December 1939 shows an older picture of the first auto-stop variant in black finish, and gives the same list of features and prices. Both advertisements simply say Chrome Minion and Black Minion, not "Minion II".
The third auto-stop variant has the finder's release button moved to the front. The finder at first remained the Newton type, with a circular depression in the rear folding part instead of the square frame of the later Galilean finder. This model has a white exposure table and the Tōkyō Kōgaku logo on the red window cover; these features of the back probably applies to the previous auto-stop variants as well, but no description or picture has yet been found to confirm or refute this. An example is pictured as a "black Minion II" in this page of the Topcon Club website, and another is pictured as a "Minion I" in Sugiyama. This variant is also pictured in the instruction manual reproduced in Nekosan's website.
|Minion, fourth auto-stop variant, chrome finish, Toko 6cm f/3.5 lens no.49290, Licht shutter.|
Pictures by eBayer tbcam. (Image rights)
The fourth auto-stop variant has a Galilean viewfinder, only recognizable by the square frame in the rear folding part, holding an additional optical element. This is the most common one and is pictured in McKeown, in Antonetto and Russo and in various websites linked below.
The Minion is listed in the official price list compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941, in four versions called "Black Minion I", "Black Minion II", "Chrome Minion I" and "Chrome Minion II" with no further detail. The price was set at ¥92 for all four versions. A similar price list dated November 1941 mentions the "Black Minion II", "Chrome Minion II" and Chrome Minion III" (see below).
The Minion appears in the April 1943 government inquiry on camera production. It is mentioned as made by Tōkyō Kōgaku and distributed by Hattori. Three versions are listed: the "Black Minion II" and "Chrome Minion II", with the Toko 60/3.5 three-element lens by Tōkyō Kōgaku and the Licht shutter by Seikōsha, and the "Chrome Minion III" described below. In the wartime period, advertisements are reported until mid-1943.
An advertisement dated February 1944 shows a drawing of the third or fourth auto-stop variant, and still mentions the finder as "Newton type", perhaps by mistake. Two versions are listed: the "Black Minion II", for ¥115.26, and the "Chrome Minion II", for ¥121.81, both with the Toko lens and Licht shutter.
It is said that some examples of the Minion II were assembled in 1945 from old stocks of parts. The price of the Minion II was set on 17 June 1946 by the Japanese Ministry of Finance, to ¥1,100.
One very late example is known with a modified back, forming the fifth auto-stop variant: the exposure table is absent, and the cover for the red window is rotated 90° and slides to the left. This feature might be typical of the postwar period, when an exposure table written in Japanese was not attractive for potential US buyers.
The Minion III
The Minion III differs by the back, lens and shutter type. The lens is a four-element Simlar 6cm f/3.5 by Tōkyō Kōgaku and the shutter is a Seikosha-Rapid giving T, B, 1–500 speeds. The aperture scale is at the bottom of the shutter housing. The speed rim is engraved SEIKOSHA-RAPID and the shutter plate is marked TOKYO OPT. CO. at the top on the examples observed. The only back picture observed so far shows the newer back with no exposure table and a rotated red window cover.
|Column in Photo Art December 1949, with a picture of the Minion III. (Image rights)|
Most modern sources say that the Minion III was released after World War II, but a "Chrome Minion III" was already mentioned in the November 1941 official price list cited above, and the camera was described in the April 1943 inquiry, with the Simlar and Seikosha-Rapid. The wartime examples certainly do not have the TOKYO OPT. CO. marking because the company would not have spelt its name in English at the time, and it is not known if they have the modified back or not. No example of a wartime Minion III has been observed so far, and it is not certain that the model was actually sold during that period.
After the war, it seems that the Minion III was commercially available from about 1946, and its price was set to ¥1,800 on 17 June 1946. It simply appears as the "Minion" in an article on Japanese cameras in the December 1949 issue of Photo Art. This late document possibly lists discontinued models as well; it gives the price category as "¥5,000 to ¥10,000" (this was after a period of high inflation in Japan).
Two actual examples have been observed with no flash synchronization; another is known with a PC synch socket at the top of the shutter casing, but this is certainly not original. All the lens numbers known so far are in the 210xxx range.
- Fujishima, p.89 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.4.
- See this page of Nekosan's website for a reproduction of this card.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.341.
- Asahi Camera April 1938, p.A38.
- Asahi Camera May 1938, p.A40, and June 1938, p.A38. The advertisements in the May and June issues are identical; the single illustration within all three of these advertisements is identical.
- Antonetto and Russo, p.24; the same picture is in Fujishima, p.89 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.4.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.341, does not distinguish between the two first variants, calling both of them "Minion".
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96.
- Sugiyama, item 1178.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.341, calls the camera "Minion II".
- Advertisement reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.96.
- Advertisement on p.1 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin, December 15, 1939, reproduced on p.35 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku.
- Sugiyama, item 1177.
- McKeown, p.924, Antonetto and Russo, p.25.
- "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 2, section 7.
- "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941, type 2, section 7; type 3, section 7B.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 175–7.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 175 and 177, lens item K6, shutter item 12-V-4.
- Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.341.
- Advertisement on the second cover of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin, February 15, 1944, reproduced on p.64 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku.
- Antonetto and Russo, p.25.
- See full reference in the page on Japanese prices. The same information is found in Lewis, p.60.
- Example observed in an online auction, with lens no.52673.
- The release date is given as 1946 in Antonetto and Russo, p.26, in Sugiyama, item 1355 (where the camera is wrongly called "Minion II"), and in this page of the Topcon Club website, whereas it is given as 1945 in this other page of the Topcon Club website. The Minion III shown in Omoide no supuringu-kamera-ten, p.28, is misidentified as a "Minion II (Chrome)" and dated 1939.
- "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941, type 3, section 7.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), item 176, lens item K2, shutter item 18-R-8.
- See full reference in the page on Japanese prices.
- Photo Art December 1949, pp.36–7.
- No synchronization: example pictured in Sugiyama, item 1355, lens no.210032, and example pictured in this page of Nekosan's website, lens no.210915. PC synch connector: example pictured in Antonetto and Russo, p.26 and in Omoide no supuringu-kamera-ten, p.28, lens no.210971.
- This includes the camera pictured in Photo Art December 1949, p.36, with lens no.210469.
- Asahi Camera. Advertisements in April 1938, p.A38; May 1938, p.A40; June 1938, p.A38.
- Asahi Camera. "Atarashii kikai to zairyō" (新しい機械と材料, New equipment and machinery), June 1938, pp.914–5. (The Minion appears on p.914.)
- "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 7; type 3, section 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 175–7.
- "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 7.
- Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin (日本写真興業通信). Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku (百号ごと十回の記録, Ten records, every hundred issues). Tokyo: Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin Sha (日本写真興業通信社), 1967. No ISBN number. Advertisements on p.35, corresponding to p.1 of the December 15, 1939 issue, and on p.64, corresponding to the second cover of the February 15, 1944 issue.
- Photo Art December 1949. "Ōru kokusan kamera" (オール国産カメラ, All of Japanese cameras). Pp.34–41.
- Antonetto, M. and Russo, C. Topcon Story. Lugano: Nassa Watch Gallery, 1997. ISBN 88-87161-00-3. Pp.23–7.
- 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. Items 267–8.
- Fujishima Kōichi (藤島広一). "Meiki no sekkeisha" (名機の設計者, Designers of famous cameras). Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.4, March 1984. No ISBN number. Meiki no keifu (名機の系譜, special issue on famous camera families). Pp.86–90.
- Lewis, Gordon, ed. The History of the Japanese Camera. Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography & Film, 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1 (paper), ISBN 0-935398-16-3 (hard). Pp.55 and 60.
- 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). P.924.
- Omoide no supuringu-kamera-ten (思い出のスプリングカメラ展, Exhibition of beloved self-erecting cameras). Tokyo: JCII Camera Museum, 1992. (Exhibition catalogue, no ISBN number.) P.28.
- Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Items 1177–8 and 1355.
- Minion at Nekosan's website, with the following sub-pages:
- Related pages at the Topcon Club website:
- Related pages at Asacame:
- Minion at Cam's
- Minion's use at the 44 Club
- Minion in the Zeppan Tōsan photo site (incorporating this photograph). If the link does not work, go to the Zeppan Tōsan photo site, follow the link marked "武器庫" in the page menu, and then the link marked "東京光学 ミニヨンＩＩ" in the "next" menu