Japanese Semi (4.5×6)
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For the Primoflex and Primo Jr TLR cameras, see Tōkyō Kōgaku.

The Primo (プリモ) is a Japanese 4.5×6 folding camera made by Daiichi Kikō and distributed by Ōsawa in the first half of the 1940s.


The Primo has a horizontal folding body, unusual for a 4.5×6 format camera. The shape of the folding struts is inspired from the Balda folders. The folding optical finder is in the middle of the top plate, there is a body release to the right — as seen by the photographer — and a button to the left which simultaneously opens the finder and the folding bed.

The advance knob is at the left end and has an arrow to indicate the winding direction. The back is hinged to the right and has a single red window at the top right, protected by a horizontally sliding cover. There are strap lugs at both ends of the top plate, spring-mounted film retaining flanges at the bottom and a screw thread in the middle of the bottom plate. The name PRIMO is embossed in capital letters in the folding bed leather.

The shutter is a Rapid-Presto (T, B, 1–500) made by Kinshō.[1] The front plate is inscribed PRIMO at the top and RAPID–PRESTO under the lens. There is sometimes an additional RAPID–PRESTO engraving at the bottom of the rim.

The lens is a three-element Oscar Anastigmat 75/4.5 or 75/3.5 with front-cell focusing, made by Ōki.[2]

Advertisements and other documents[]

The official list of set prices compiled in October 1940 and published in January 1941 has the "Semi Primo I" for ¥121 and the "Semi Primo II" for ¥160, with no further detail.[3] The same two models are also in a similar price list dated November 1941.[4]

In a December 1942 advertisement in Asahi Graph, the two versions are described as the Primo I (プリモⅠ型) with f/4.5 lens (¥136) and Primo II (プリモⅡ型) with f/3.5 lens (¥160).[5][6] The May 1943 advertisement in Hōdō Shashin lists the same versions at a higher price (¥157.5 and ¥184.94).[7] Both documents mention the manufacturer Daiichi Kikō and the distributor Ōsawa Shōkai.

The two models are also listed in the April 1943 government inquiry on Japanese camera production.[8]

The January 1944 advertisement in Shashin Kagaku, reproduced above, has the same two versions.[9] For some reason, the price is the same as in the advertisement dated December 1942. The distributor is mentioned as Ōsawa Sangyō, new name of Ōsawa Shōkai.

In all the advertisements, the camera was touted as "the smallest of the 4.5×6" (セミ判で一番小さい), with an "ideal horizontal construction" (理想的横位置), and the advertising picture is the same, showing a camera in chrome finish.

Actual examples[]

Most observed examples of the Primo have chrome body edges and a chrome viewfinder. However at least one example of the Primo II is known in black finish: it has black painted body edges and a black viewfinder front frame.[10]

Two different types of advance knob are known. The presumably earlier[11] type has a flat top;[12] the other type has a slightly different shape with a grooved top,[13] the same as in the advertising picture.

Other minor variations are noticed in the lens and shutter: the lens bezel is either black or silver (at least on the f/3.5), and the RAPID–PRESTO marking on the shutter rim is intermittently absent. Serial numbers for the Oscar Anastigmat lens are known in the 2xxx to 5xxx range.

One isolated example of the camera has been observed with a Rieze-Anastigmat 7.5cm f/4.5 lens and a New Torio shutter (T, B, 5–200).[14] This lens and shutter assembly is probably not original, and was probably taken from a Semi Leotax.


  1. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), shutter item 18-R-4.
  2. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), lens items Lb28 and Lc7. The maker's name is not mentioned for the f/3.5 lens but the attribution to Ōki is likely.
  3. "Kokusan shashinki no kōtei kakaku", type 3, sections 6B and 7B.
  4. "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941, type 3, sections 6B and 7B.
  5. Advertisement in Asahi Graph, 23 December 1942, reproduced at Gochamaze.
  6. Sugiyama, items 1225–6, and McKeown, p.239, mistakenly say that the model I is black and the model II is chrome.
  7. Advertisement in Hōdō Shashin May 1943, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.90.
  8. "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), items 33–4.
  9. Advertisement in Shashin Kagaku January 1944, p.2.
  10. Example pictured in Sugiyama, item 1225.
  11. Chronology inferred from the lens numbers.
  12. Examples pictured in McKeown, p.239, and in this page at Japan Family Camera.
  13. Examples pictured in Sugiyama, items 1225–6, and observed in online auctions.
  14. Example observed in an online auction.


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 6B and 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 33–4.
  • "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 6B and 7B.
  • Shashin Kagaku January 1944. Advertisement by Ōsawa Sangyō on p.2.

Recent sources[]


In Japanese: