Japanese Semi (4.5×6)
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The Semi Minolta III is a Japanese 4.5×6 folding camera, made by Chiyoda Kōgaku (the predecessor of Minolta) and released in 1946. It was the first camera sold by Chiyoda Kōgaku after the war, and was an evolution of the Semi Minolta II. Its body is similar to the late Semi Minolta II but it has a more modern finish with auto-stop film advance and an exposure counter.

General description[]

The die cast body, diagonal struts and folding bed are identical to the late Semi Minolta II. The back is identical too; it is hinged to the left and locked by a sliding bar on the right, as seen by the photographer. There is a red window at the bottom, protected by a vertically sliding cover, and only needed to set the first exposure. The bottom side is different, with no advance key, a small knob at each end and a centred tripod socket.

The main changes with respect to the Semi Minolta II are concentrated on the top side. There is a chrome finished top plate, with a small step in the middle. The advance knob is at the right end, and is engraved to indicate the winding direction. The folding bed opening button is on the same side. The right half of the top plate is slightly thicker because of the automatic film advance mechanism underneath. It has a small hole showing the exposure counter disc, and a small button at the rear, used to reset the exposure counter. The left half of the top plate has the folding optical finder, the shutter release above the front door hinge, and an accessory shoe at the left end.

The shutter of the Semi Minolta III is a Konan-Rapid or S-Konan-Rapid (B, 1–500), with five blades,[1] made by Chiyoda Kōgaku itself. It is set by a lever at the top left — as seen from the front. The markings on the front plate and speed ring evolved throughout the production.

The lens is a Rokkor 75mm f/3.5 on most cameras, replaced by a Promar.SII 75mm f/3.5 on the late IIIC. The aperture scale is at the top of the shutter casing, and the diaphragm is controlled by a small index.

The Semi Minolta III(A)[]

The original version, made from 1946 to 1950, is retrospectively called "Semi Minolta IIIA" because of the IIIB and IIIC, but at the time it was only called "New Semi Minolta" or "Semi Minolta III" (see below).

Distinguishing features[]

The original version is distinguished from the IIIB by the absence of flash synchronization (unless the feature was added by an independent repairer). The accessory shoe is used only to attach a rangefinder or angle finder, though it seems that the company was making no such accessory at the period. The III(A) also has double exposure prevention, via an internal linkage between the body release and the film advance mechanism, and therefore lacks the advance unlock button visible at the front of the top plate on the later IIIC.

Commercial life[]

Production of the Semi Minolta III reportedly started in mid-1946; later official sources specify a month comprised between April and August.[2] The camera was first advertised in the September 1946 issue of Ars Camera,[3] and was featured in the January 1947 issue of the magazine, reproduced above.[1] The text of the announcement says that the company had developed a glass-melting facility during the war, and designed the new four-element Rokkor lens using home-made glass. It also mentions lens coating, which was an all new feature in Japan at the time.

Early advertisements in the same magazine are reproduced below, from December 1946 to December 1947.[4] Most mention the Konan-Rapid and Rokkor combination. All these documents give the name "New Semi Minolta" (新型のセミ・ミノルタ), and show drawings instead of pictures of the camera. By contrast, the February 1948 advertisement in Ars Camera gives the name "Semi Minolta III" (セミ・ミノルタⅢ型), and contains an actual picture of an early camera with no cable release thread.[5]

In 1947, 170 units of the Semi Minolta III were sent to Johannesburg in South Africa; these were the first Japanese cameras exported after World War II.[6] In 1948, 200 cameras were dispatched to Willoughby's (New York City) and 60 other to Hawaii and further destinations.[7]

Pictures of an early III(A) with no cable release thread still appear in the advertisements placed by the distributor Asanuma Shōkai in the November 1949 and January 1950 issues of Asahi Camera, reproduced below.[8] (These pictures were perhaps outdated at the time.)

Variations on actual examples[]

Early variant[]

The early variant has no cable release thread in the shutter button, and has two arrows engraved above the advance knob.

Among these cameras, the earliest examples have natural leather covering, with the name Minolta embossed at the front in straight lowercase characters. Their shutter plate has separate crescent-shaped plates screwed at the front: the top one reads KōNAN–CHIYOKO and the bottom one has an extra aperture scale, for a second diaphragm index. The shutter rim is engraved KŌNAN–RAPID, and the lens bezel has CHIYOKŌ OSAKA ROKKOR 1:3.5 f=75mm in white characters on a black background. The lowest serial numbers observed so far are no.64 and 65; other cameras have Rokkor lenses with three-digit serial numbers in the 10x range.[9]

The natural leather covering was soon substituted by artificial leatherette, with a slanted Minolta embossing inside a hexagonal frame. The shutter plate was modified at about the same time, now consisting of a single part inscribed KONAN–RAPID at the top and CHIYOKO at the bottom, with no extra aperture scale. The inscription on the shutter rim remained the same.

After some time, the inscription on the lens bezel was modified, becoming Chiyokō Osaka ROKKOR 1:3.5 f=75mm Nr xxxx around lens no.3000.

Middle variant[]

The middle variant has a single stylized arrow on the advance knob, introduced around body no.3000. The words MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN are sometimes engraved around the tripod socket — certainly on the cameras made for export.

The lens marking was modified again between lens no.7000 and 8000, the Nr prefix becoming No. The markings on the shutter plate were altered too, with macrons appearing on the top and bottom KōNAN–RAPID and CHIYOKō inscriptions. At about the same time, the black spring placed inside the accessory shoe was replaced by a similar silver part.

Late variant[]

The late variant has a thread for a cable release inside the release button, introduced around body no.10xxx. Some examples from that period have a engraving in katakana script on the advance knob: シーピーオー inside a diamond,[10] meaning that the cameras were bought by the Central Purchasing Office (CPO) and sold to U.S. personnel stationed in Japan.

The last examples have a plain black shutter plate, lacking the silver stripes on both sides of the lens. It is inscribed KONAN RAPID at the top, with a white arrow between both words, and CHIYOKO at the bottom, with no macron. At about the same time, the macron on the speed ring was abandoned too, and the marking simply became KONAN–RAPID.

Lens equipment[]

The Rokkor 75mm f/3.5 was among the first lenses made by Chiyoda for civilian use, preceded by various Rokkor military lenses for aerial cameras. (Prior to that, it seems that the company was already making civilian lenses in the Sakai plant, perhaps the Minolta Anastigmat Nippon or Minolta Nippon viewing lens of the 1937 Minoltaflex.) The Rokkor lens of the Semi Minolta III was also the first coated lens sold in Japan.[11]

Several sources say that the Semi Minolta III(A) was also sold with Promar or Zuiko 75/3.5 lenses.[12] This equipment is not mentioned in the official historical accounts published by the company.[13] No original document has been found to support this, and no surviving Semi Minolta III(A) has been observed so far with a Promar or Zuiko. It is possible that leftover Promar 75mm f/3.5 lenses originally intended for the Auto Semi Minolta were mounted on a few Semi Minolta III at the very beginning, either as a stopgap measure while the new lens was not yet available in quantities, or for comparative tests. It is equally possible that a confusion was made, perhaps with Promar.SII lenses mounted on the late Semi Minolta IIIC (see below), and that these lenses were never mounted on the III(A).

The Semi Minolta IIIB[]

The Semi Minolta IIIB adds a synch pin for magnesium flash units, on the side of the shutter. Chiyoda Kōgaku was selling a Minolta Flash Model U (ミノルタ同調発光器U型) to go with this model and the Minolta 35. The accessory shoe of the IIIB is attached by four screws instead of two, certainly as a reinforcement to attach the flash unit instead of the lighter accessories mounted on the unsynchronized III(A).

An article in the December 1949 issue of Photo Art, reproduced above, already mentions flash synchronization on the Semi Minolta III, but does not specify a model name.[14] The IIIB was mentioned in Japanese advertisements from March to November 1950.[15][16] For example, the May 1950 advertisement in Ars Camera features the Minolta Flash Model U, and mentions the distributors Asanuma Shōkai and Misuzu Shōkai.[17] The IIIB is still mentioned in an article in Photo Art January 1951, quoting the price as ¥8,850,[18] but the IIIC was already available at the time (see below).

The IIIB only exists with the Rokkor 75mm f/3.5, engraved Chiyokō Osaka ROKKOR 1:3.5 f=75mm No.xxxxx. Body numbers are known in the 18xxx to 21xxx range, and lens numbers in the 25xxx to 28xxx range.[19]

The regular examples, as those pictured in this page, have the same shutter markings as described for the very late III(A), with a black front plate. The camera pictured above has a peculiar embossing at the front, with a rectangular frame instead of the usual hexagon. Some cameras made during that period, such as no.18157 pictured in this page, still have the MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN marking on the tripod socket.

Late examples have a white shutter plate, marked KONAN-RAPID and CHIYOKO with no macrons. The speed rim is engraved S-KONAN-RAPID at the bottom. The "S" prefix presumably means Synchronized, but the shutter is probably identical to the synchronized Konan-Rapid with black front plate mounted on previous examples of the IIIB. The transition from black face to white face occurred at some point in the 20xxx range of body numbers. One isolated camera has been observed with an ASA synch connector at the top of the shutter housing, but this equipment is probably not original.[20]

The Semi Minolta IIIC[]

The Semi Minolta IIIC is distinguished by the absence of double exposure prevention.[21] (Some sources say that the IIIC is distinguished by the switch to a white shutter plate,[22] but this is a mistake, and some examples of the IIIB already have this feature.) As a consequence, the IIIC has a small lever protruding from the front of the top plate, under the bed opening button, used to unlock film advance between two exposures. This lever was made necessary by the removal of the double exposure prevention linkage between the shutter release and the advance mechanism.[23] The purpose of this retrogression was probably to cut costs. Of course this kind of change was not mentioned in the advertisements.[24]

All the Semi Minolta IIIC have the same S-Konan-Rapid shutter as on the IIIB, though the aperture scale at the top of the shutter casing is normally silver instead of black. (The example pictured above is the only IIIC observed so far with a black aperture scale.) The synch connector is the same as on the IIIB; the accessory flash unit offered with the IIIC was reportedly called Model Ub.[25]

The Semi Minolta IIIC was sold for a short period. The first pictures showing a IIIC seem to appear in the October 1950 issue of Asahi Camera, in an advertisement by Asanuma Shōkai (reproduced on the right) that gives no specific detail on the camera.[26] The next issue of the magazine has an article on the usage of the Semi Minolta, giving the model name "IIIC" and showing a picture of the modified top housing with advance unlock lever.[27] The camera was featured in further advertisements in January and February 1951,[28] before it was superseded by the Semi Minolta P.

The early examples of the IIIC have the Rokkor 75mm f/3.5 lens, as on the previous models. For these cameras, body numbers are known or reported in the 24xxx to 28xxx range. The camera pictured in the November 1950 issue of Asahi Camera has a serial number in the 27xxx range; its lens equipment is unknown.[29]

Later cameras have a Promar.SII 75mm f/3.5,[30] engraved Chiyoko Promar.SII 1:3.5 f=75mm No.xxxxx on the front bezel. This lens is identical to that later supplied on the Semi Minolta P. Body numbers for that variant are known in the 28xxx to 30xxx range (up to 30526), and serial numbers for the Promar.SII lens are in the 50xxx to 53xxx range.[31]

An article by Tanimura in Camera Collectors' News mentions a rumour saying that some late Semi Minolta III were equipped with "Prontor" shutters; these were reportedly mixed with the cameras with Konan-Rapid and had a modified body release (perhaps only the linkage cam was altered).[32] None of these cameras has ever surfaced, and no picture is known. It is likely that these "Prontor" were not the genuine German shutter named that way, but Japanese copies of the same, perhaps the Konan-Flicker later mounted on the Semi Minolta P.

Total production[]

Serial numbers for the Semi Minolta III and for the Rokkor 75mm f/3.5 lens certainly started at 1 — this is quite exceptional for Japanese products of the period.[33] The sequence of numbers seems to run without any significant gap. Total production is estimated at more than 30,000 units, of which c.18,000 are III(A), c.4,000 are IIIB and c.8,500 are IIIC. Almost all these cameras have a Rokkor lens, except for little more than 3,000 cameras made at the end of the production run, which have a Promar.SII.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Five blades: column in Ars Camera January 1947, p.26.
  2. 35-nen no ayumi, p.69, says April. — 45-nen no ayumi, p.24, says June — Minolta 50-nen no ayumi, p.8, says August.
  3. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.368. The September 1946 advertisement is perhaps that reproduced in 45-nen no ayumi, p.25, and in Scheibel, p.33.
  4. Advertisements in Ars Camera December 1946, p.19; January 1947, p.27; February 1947, p.42; March 1947, p.35; April 1947, p.19; October 1947, p.11; December 1947, p.11.
  5. Advertisement in Ars Camera February 1948, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.193.
  6. 35-nen no ayumi, p.69.
  7. 45-nen no ayumi, p.24 (specifies August); Minolta 50-nen no ayumi, p.8.
  8. Advertisements in Asahi Camera November 1949, p.149, and January 1950, p.111.
  9. Examples observed in online auctions.
  10. Examples pictured in McKeown, p.672, in this page at Minorhouse, and observed in online auctions.
  11. Taniguchi, p.277 of Shashin Kōgyō no.77; 45-nen no ayumi, p.24; Tanimura, p.22 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12; Francesch, p.29. This is also implied by the column in Ars Camera January 1947, p.26, and the advertisement on p.27 of the same issue, which describe the coated lens as an unusual feature.
  12. Francesch, p.82; Tanimura, p.22 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12; Supuringu kamera de ikō, p.77.
  13. Taniguchi, p.277 of Shashin Kōgyō no.77; chronology on p.295 of the same issue; 35-nen no ayumi; 45-nen no ayumi; Minolta 50-nen no ayumi.
  14. Column in Photo Art December 1949, pp.36–7.
  15. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.368.
  16. The IIIB is dated November 1947 and the IIIC is dated December 1948 in Minolta 50-nen no ayumi, p.65, but this is surely a mistake. Years 1947 and 1948 for the IIIB and IIIC are repeated in Francesch, p.83, and McKeown, p.672.
  17. Advertisement in Ars Camera May 1950, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.194. See also the advertisement in Kohga Gekkan September 1950, reproduced in Hagiya, p.10 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.12.
  18. Column in Photo Art January 1951, p.36.
  19. Examples pictured in this page and observed in online auctions.
  20. Example observed in an online auction.
  21. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.368.
  22. Francesch, p.83; McKeown, p.672.
  23. Lewis, p.63, says that the IIIC is improved by the addition of an auto-stop advance lever, while it is the reverse: it is the loss of double exposure prevention that makes the lever necessary.
  24. For example the advertisement in Asahi Camera January 1951, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.194.
  25. Francesch, p.83.
  26. Advertisements in Asahi Camera October 1950, p.2, and December 1950, p.2.
  27. Uchimura, supplemental pp.23–4 of Asahi Camera November 1950.
  28. Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.368.
  29. Picture in Asahi Camera November 1950, supplemental p.25, reproduced here by Rebollo_fr.
  30. This version is overlooked in various sources, for example Francesch, p.83.
  31. Example pictured in this article, example pictured in this page of the AJCC, and examples observed in online auctions.
  32. Tanimura, p.2 of Camera Collectors' News no.131: III型の末期にプロンター付が少数、コーナンラピッドにまじって出ているようです。シャッターのレリーズの部分変更のためボデーの一部を改造してあるそうです。
  33. Body numbers 64 and 65 are known to exist, and lens number 1 is written in a drawing of the lens and shutter placed in an advertisement dating c.1946, reproduced in 45-nen no ayumi, p.25, and in Scheibel, p.33.


Original documents[]

  • Ars Camera January 1947. "Mēkā ni kiku: Kokusan kamera no genjō. — Shingata 'Semi Minoruta': Saihassoku no Chiyoda Kōgaku." (メーカーに訊く・国産カメラの現状・新型「セミ・ミノルタ」・再発足の千代田光学, Asking the makers: Current state of Japanese cameras. The new "Semi Minolta", a fresh start for Chiyoda Kōgaku.) P.26.
  • Ars Camera. Advertisements by Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō:
    • December 1946, p.19;
    • January 1947, p.27;
    • February 1947, p.42;
    • March 1947, p.35;
    • April 1947, p.19;
    • October 1947, p.11;
    • December 1947, p.11.
  • Asahi Camera. Advertisements by Asanuma Shōkai:
    • November 1949, p.149;
    • January 1950, p.111;
    • October 1950, p.2;
    • December 1950, p.2.
  • Photo Art December 1949. "Ōru kokusan kamera" (オール国産カメラ, All of Japanese cameras). Pp.34–41.
  • Photo Art May 1950. "Kokusan kamera" (国産カメラ, Japanese cameras). Pp.42–7. (The article merely contains a picture of the Semi Minolta III.)
  • Photo Art no.20, January 1951. "Kokusan kamera no kentō" (国産カメラの検討, Inquiry on Japanese cameras). Pp.36–40.
  • Uchimura Kōichi (内村皓一). "Semi Minoruta no tsukaikata" (セミ・ミノルタの使い方). In Asahi Camera November 1950, supplemental pp.23–4.

Early historical accounts[]

  • Minolta Camera. 35-nen no ayumi (三十五年のあゆみ, 35-year history). November 1963. Pp.38 and 69.
  • Minolta Camera. 45-nen no ayumi (45年のあゆみ, 45-year history). October 1973. Pp.24–5 and 89.
  • Minolta Camera. Minolta 50-nen no ayumi (Minolta・50年のあゆみ, Minolta 50-year history). November 1978. Pp.8 and 65.
  • Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958). "Hensen kamera ichiran-pyō" (変遷カメラ一らん表, Table of camera evolution.) P.295. (This is a chronology of Minolta cameras from the Nifcarette onwards. This document is reproduced in this Flickr page by Rebollo_fr.)
  • Taniguchi Masao (谷口匡男), from the commercial department (営業部) of Chiyoda Kōgaku Seikō. "Minoruta kamera no sakujitsu, konnichi" (ミノルタ・カメラの昨日、今日, Minolta cameras, yesterday and today). In Shashin Kōgyō no.77 (September 1958). Pp.275–9.

Recent sources[]


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