So I was thinking about a new camera with a fast lens option and remembering that rangefinder cameras with leaf shutters are nice. Not a whole lot of options in that arena. I also enjoy the true odd-balls of photographic history. For example, my Mamiya Magazine 35 collection is lots of fun...rare, weird, and good IQ without much money invested.
Admittedly, the Kallo is sort of big and heavy...kinda like the Minolta HiMatic 7S (that was a slick camera in black). I also had the Aires 35V many years ago- it too was big and heavy - but had great image quality if sort of odd ergonomics… The appeal of the Kowa for me is the fast f1.4 lens, the clean design, and the interesting history/rarity. So, after much hunting and researching I found one online and bought it.
The camera arrived on October 10th. It was pretty exciting to open the box from Tokyo! The camera was wrapped well and looks good at first
- It IS heavy and pretty big - comparing online with available dimensions it is roughly the same size as a Leica M2 (closest competition), a bit taller but a bit shorter in length. Seems heavier but I haven’t confirmed with a good comparison - like, maybe, an M2 with the Summilux 50mm.
- Seems well-made - sort of like the early Japanese SLRs but not nearly as nice as the M2/3. A relatively step-up from the contemporary fixed-lens offerings of this vintage.
- The viewfinder has a nice design - the brightline projected frames are always visible (50 and 85mm) and are sort-of an orange color. Apparently it is also parallax-correcting! The RF patch is a fuzzy square (sort of like the Canon 7) but dim on my example. The viewfinder and rangefinder assembly is a little loose in my example and some separation is visible in the glass - but it seems accurate and entirely usable.
- The leaf-shutter mechanism is accurate but sort of loud for a design of its type - a loud “ping” sound. Hopefully it will be quieter in operation! The shutter/aperture controls are pretty cool - there are tabs on either side...pushing the left tab in gently and THEN rotating it unlocks it from the EV system. Otherwise the two tabs change both together. Sort of like another take on the Retina method, but evolved!
- Lens and aperture look good! This is an interchangeable lens system but since I only have the 50mm f1.4, I’m not gonna mess with taking it on and off. The focus is in meters - not my favorite - but this makes sense with a camera that was likely only sold in Japan. Focus is a little stiff on my example but OK.
- The MXV setting to the left side of the lens is set to M and won’t move. I believe that’s flash and self timer setting - so I’m NOT messing with it.
- The advance lever is on the top where it should be- pretty smooth but a LONG throw - clear around to the front with no ratcheting - Oh well. I like the frame counter in the lever. The shutter release is happier with a soft release. The film speed is on the top - looks good!
- The rewind system is BIG and on the bottom. It is well-designed and robust and sits nicely flush when not in use. The rewind button doesn’t just unlock the spindle, it pops out the lever!
- Tripod mount is in the middle-also sort of SLR-like and in addition to the rewind system is probably why this camera is a little taller than the M2.
Let’s put some film in it and give a go!