This page is aimed at providing some basic information on collecting the camera equipment and ephemera of Asahi Optical Company (AOC) and Pentax Corporation. In general, this homepage is targeted towards persons that enjoy the older AOC equipment. While I am not going to specifically avoid discussions on the later bayonet mount equipment, my interest in collecting Pentax stops at about the end of the Pentax KM, KX, K2, and K2DMD series of cameras. Persons that are interested in the newer bayonet models and detailed discussions on technique and use should visit the official homepage of Pentax. It is an absolutely wonderful forum for newer Pentax equipment and should be on your list of recreational sites.
Collections of AOC cameras can generally be grouped into categories based upon the model line, construction, and functional operation. While many collectors mix and match their interests, the following categories give a little structure to the task of organizing a collection.
Asahiflex Series Cameras: 1952-1957. The Asahiflex line of cameras represents the first AOC cameras. These cameras were the first Japanese single-lens-reflex (SLR) 35mm models produced. The Asahiflex has a waist level viewer and an interchangeable mount that accepts lenses with a 37mm screw thread diameter. Asahiflex cameras are uncommon to rare in availability. The Asahiflex line is represented by four models (Asahiflex I, Ia, IIB, and IIA), and several renamed versions sold through the Sears, Roebuck and Company. In addition, collectors can hunt for some uncommon variations created in the standard production line by AOC. The Asahiflex camera line also has associated with it six lenses made by AOC, and, several accessories such as extension tubes, bellows, and such. Persons interested in obtaining the most detailed information to date on these cameras should obtain a copy of the book: Asahiflex and the Pre-1959 Asahi Pentax Cameras; A guide to identification and collection; by Frederick C. Sherfy. See book ordering information.
Asahi Pentax Series Cameras: From 1957 until 1959, AOC produced their three initial penta-prism models: the Asahi Pentax, Asahi Pentax S, and Asahi Pentax K. All three of the models are easily identified by the slow speed dial on the front left (facing) of the camera body. The Asahi Pentax has no model designation engraved, while the Pentax S and Pentax K have their model designation on the top plate below the serial number. These camera have the standard 42mm universal screw mount, and, have associated with them a fairly substantial lens and accessory line. The Asahi Pentax cameras are rare to uncommon in availability. Persons interested in obtaining the most detailed information to date on these cameras should obtain a copy of the book: Asahiflex and the Pre-1959 Asahi Pentax Cameras; A guide to identification and collection; by Frederick C. Sherfy. See book ordering information.
H/S Series Cameras: The H/S series cameras are those models that were introduced after the initial three penta-prism Pentax line, and before the Spotmatic series, generally falling in the time period of 1959 to 1965. The series includes, chronologically, the S2, S1, S3, S1a, Sv, the North American labeled versions: H2, H1, H3, H1a, and H3v, and several other odd variations such as the Super S2, Asahiflex H2, and Penta Asahiflex H2. The H/S series cameras do not have an internal metering system, and except for the unusual variations, are generally very available to collectors at trade shows.
The Spotmatic Series: The Spotmatic Series is a fine line of cameras that generally spans the time period of 1963 to 1975. The Spotmatic made through the lens metering popular, and, according to some, was the most popular camera until the Canon AE-1. In any event, this series contains some of the best examples of AOC technology and success. Included in this series are the original Spotmatic, the SP, SP1000, SP500, SL (no meter), Spotmatic F, Electro-Spotmatic, ES, ESII, as well as variations based upon finish and special uses. There is a multitude of lenses and accessories for the collector.
Bayonet Mount AOC Cameras: Most collectors feel that the bayonet mount systems mark the end of collectibility and the beginning of "user" equipment. However, I have met and corresponded with collectors of the everything from the LX system on down. The bayonet mount Pentax cameras can be subdivided into several collection areas. In general, I would characterize them as follows: K-Series cameras (KX, KM, K2, K2DMD, K1000); M-Series cameras (MG, MV, MX, ME, ME-F, ME Super, etc); A-Series cameras (Program Plus, Super Program, P3, P5, etc); and Auto-Focus cameras (SF-1 through PZ-1). Of course, there are always discussions as to where the LX, as well as other models, fit. In any event, the aforementioned groupings allow collectors to focus on specific areas with more well defined goals. As a personal note, I have always found the initial K-Series bayonet mount models an interesting collecting area. I particularly enjoy the black bodied KM, KX, K2, and K2DMD models. While not rare, these cameras are difficult to locate in top condition.
AOC related literature comes in many forms. There are books, product brochures, magazine articles, product reviews, catalogs, collector guides, and official corporate publications. Compared to some collectible camera lines, however, AOC information could be considered somewhat limited. The following is a listing of many of the identified pieces that will help in the planning of a collection of AOC cameras. This review generally pertains only to literature published in the English language and primarily in the United States. This review does not contain all of the literature available on the collector's market. Rather, this listing is best described as a primer for individuals that wish to gain a deeper understanding of the types, function, and history of the various early AOC cameras.
The earliest book identified in my review to present information on the Pentax cameras was published in 1960 by Burt Murphy. The book, titled Heiland Pentax Guide Including Asahi Pentax, was primarily an introduction to the model H2 and presents information on the Asahiflex and Asahi Pentax cameras. In 1962, Robert Fuhring authored Pentax and Single-Lens-Reflex Photography. The book was revised several times to finally include up to the Spotmatic. Perhaps as a predecessor to his later comprehensive Pentax review, Joseph Cooper authored the Pentax Pocket Companion in 1962 and provided revisions as late as 1967. In 1966, Herbert Keppler authored the Asahi Pentax Way containing details in models, lenses, and techniques. Revised at least until 1980 (11th edition), Kepplers book is a good reference for any library on AOC.
In 1975, Cooper released a detailed review of the Spotmatic series of cameras with technical information on the lenses and accessories. The book is called the Pentax Manual, and also comes in a binder format and is a must for Pentax screw mount collectors and users. A surprisingly detailed little book came out in 1977 called the Honeywell Pentax Guide. Authored by W.D. Emanuel, this guide provides a fairly good description of the Asahi Pentax, S, and K models. In 1980, Fred Swartz provided The Pentax Guide; a book on the early bayonet models and into the M-series cameras that also contained information on historical aspects of AOC. The latest book to provide historical information on the full range of cameras is by Danilo Cecchi. Cecchi's 1990 book, Asahi Pentax and Pentax SLR 35mm Cameras 1952-1989, provides a wealth of information on historical aspects of AOC and on the models up to the autofocus SF10 (SF7).
Magazines provide the best information on the introduction, advertising and sales of the early AOC cameras. Information and advertising can be found in photo magazines for the public from early 1955 until today. I will not be able to list all such references, but have instead provided a listing of the early pieces that may prove to be more difficult to locate. Modern and Popular Photography magazines appeared to consistently contain the most information on the early AOC models, although information was also available in magazines such as Camera 35, U.S. Camera, and the Photo Trade News. The following list contains a selection of some of the most interesting early advertisements and articles on early AOC cameras.
Popular Photography Magazine. Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. N.Y.
Modern Photography Magazine. Photography Publishing Corp., N.Y.
One of the most comprehensive historical and general account of the early AOC models was published in this magazine in the May, June, and August 1988 issues. The author, W. L. Fadner, provided a detailed review of the early models and compares them to other cameras being developed at the time. This series of articles should be in every collector's library. The series consists of additional articles outlining Pentax cameras through the program models.
Collector's guides generally provide for the technical identification of the different models of cameras produced by AOC. They also may provide some of the historical aspects and pricing. To date, the some guides that deal with the early AOC cameras are Lea's Register of 35mm SLR Cameras, McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras, and the Evolution of the Japanese Camera.
Catalogs provide a tremendous amount of information on camera accessories and prices. Asahiflex and Asahi Pentax cameras were carried in many catalogs distributed by individual stores. As with the information on magazines, I am providing references to the earliest catalogs because they tend to be the most difficult to locate and obtain. The best catalogs for reviewing prices of the cameras, lenses and accessories are the Sears Roebuck Company general merchandise and Camera Specialty Catalogs of approximately 1955 to 1960. Burke & James, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois distributed catalogs from 1959 to at least 1963 containing the early models and accessories.
Very little information has been formally distributed by AOC on their history and the development of the early models. In general, the literature distributed by AOC fell into two groups; AOC equipment literature, and Pentax Club Magazines. AOC instruction manuals and brochures are good sources for listings of equipment, photographs, and technical data. In addition, The corporate sponsored magazine (Pentax Life in the United States) was published as part of an owners club program and in 1989 and 1990 contained a historical account of the development of AOC and the various camera models. The Pentax Life publication was discontinued in 1992.
There are other publications that the diligent hunter can locate. There are numerous smaller magazine references, other guides containing Japanese photo industry information, and books on later Pentax models. Finally, every once in a while, some kind sole writes a complementary article on the well known Spotmatic. While reviewing such literature is sometimes very revealing, the list of reading sources listed above is aimed at getting started at understanding the earlier AOC models.
Clubs and organizations specifically dedicated to Pentax are rare. In general, you will find Pentax collectors within each club that is loosely organized to cover all photographic areas. Pentax Corporation use to support a publication and club related materials, however, that club ended several years ago. Now, Pentax has a homepage that provides information on products, some history, and supports a discussion group. I can't encourage you enough to visit the homepage, join in the discussion group, and, support the fine product line.
One of the best way to locate interesting Pentax collectibles is to join a local camera club. In local clubs, you will find collectors and users of all types of cameras. It is not so much that such people will have items that interest you, it is that when they get you know what you are looking for, they become a nice network.
At this time, I am aware of only one club dedicated solely to Pentax. The club is located in Italy, and is administered by my friend; Dario Bonazza. Dario puts out a nice publication on a quarterly basis called "Spotmatic", and, it includes and English supplement. The club is generally $30.00 (U.S. dollars) per year, and, there is an option for purchasing just the magazine. Dario recently had a PENTAX DAY meeting in Italy where collectors from all over attended. To find out more about joining the club write:
Asahi Optical Historical Club
Via Badiali, 138
As discussed above, current publications with information on collecting Pentax cameras come from a variety of sources. In the book category, historical information on the full range of cameras is provided by Danilo Cecchi. Cecchi's 1990 book, Asahi Pentax and Pentax SLR35mm Cameras 1952-1989, provides a wealth of information on historical aspects of AOC and on the models up to the autofocus SF10 (SF7). This book is generally available from major photography book dealers. For those persons interested in detailed information on the very early AOC cameras, the book titled: Asahiflex and the Pre-1959 Asahi Pentax Cameras by Frederick C. Sherfy is also available. Another source of information is the collector price guide area. As far as price guides go, the best if the Mckeowns Guide to Antique and Classic cameras. This guide is also available from major book dealers.
As with most collecting areas, finding the desired pieces can be a major task. Good places to hunt include local camera shops, flea markets, thrift shops, and part time dealers in photographica. Also, other local collectors can sometimes provide a piece or two. From time to time I look around on the Internet for interesting AOC items. Included on this homepage are some places I like to visit....give them a try.
As far as printed material, the two best places to go are CameraShopper and Shutterbug. CameraShopper is geared specifically for the photographic collector and user, while Shutterbug is more aligned with the professional market. Personally, I find the CameraShopper more useful for finding interesting AOC pieces at a good price. If price is no object, also look in Shutterbug.