Tag Archives: rolleiflex

Ginza Classics

Text and images by Barry Kawa for Japan Exposures

At most train stations in Tokyo, there are still film stores that can develop a roll of film in 45 minutes or less, so you can stop back and pick up your pictures on the way through, and enjoy looking at them on your train ride home. In the Japanese photography magazines, many articles are still devoted to film cameras each issue, although digital camera coverage is starting to pull way ahead. (There are even some dedicated magazines catering only to digital shooters.) Nonetheless most of the camera store ads in the front or back pages still list a huge selection of used film cameras and lenses for sale. These are now referred to as “classic” cameras.

Used camera shops like Sankyo Camera Co. [ map ], in the heart of the Ginza, Tokyo’s prestigious shopping district, located just off the famed 4-chome intersection, still offer shelves of Canon and Nikon rangefinder cameras and lenses for sale to film camera junkies like myself. In a store that is a throwback 20 years into the past, there aren’t any digital cameras for sale here.

At lunchtime, I have just enough time to walk up to Sankyo to see what’s new on their shelves since my last visit. Since I’m there, I can’t pass up the chance to stop by three other adjacent camera stores in this four-corner area of the Ginza that is a landmark for film camera buffs. My weekly “fix”.

There are actually two Sankyo camera stores within a half block, one specializing in Nikon and Canon rangefinders as well as other Japanese camera models, and another shop specializing in Leica cameras, although the window has a nice eye candy collection of Rollei 35mm, Rolleiflexes and Rolleicords for sale.

Across the busy street, there’s a Miyama Shokai Nikon branch store [ map ] that sells new and used cameras, mostly Nikon, but also enough used medium-format, rangefinder and other gear to take a look at. And just a few doors down is Katsumido [ map ], the ultimate store for Leica collectors who want everything in mint condition — and have the credit line to pay for it. This store also has a changing collection of highly priced and highly desirable cameras and lenses of all types in the window, with everything in near-mint condition.

I’m also not going to be able to afford any of those line of Leica M3s or M2s on display. They know it, and I know it.”

But the stop I enjoy the most is at the Sankyo Camera store with all the Nikon and Canon rangefinder gear, managed by Hiroatsu “Hero” Akizawa (call him Hero-san). At most Tokyo camera stores, the language barrier is difficult. There’s also the snobbery factor, as in stores like Katsumido, where the staff is aloof, and I’m too self-conscious to even ask a question, knowing that they are going to have to find somebody to talk to me in English, if there is anyone.

I’m also not going to be able to afford any of those line of Leica M3s or M2s on display, starting from 200,000 yen (about $2,200) and up. They know it, and I know it. So, I nonchalantly make my way over to the display case where cheap Nikon, Canon and Sigma auto-focus lenses are for sale, kept apart from the Leicas.

When I stop by Sankyo Camera, however, I’m greeted by Hero-san with a smile and in English. It’s the same relationship I first had with the now-closed Ohba Camera, which was located about a 10-minute walk from the Ginza near Shimbashi Station [Now a standing sushi bar — Ed.].

Sankyo Camera
The rangefinder section at Sankyo Camera

The store manager at Ohba was friendly, spoke English, and since I was a good customer, always gave me a discount. If I brought back something I had bought there, he would always give me at least 80 percent in trade. That kind of service instills customer loyalty, since in most of the Tokyo used camera shops I’ve visited, I’ve been offered pennies on the dollar on my trade-in gear.

When Ohba was closing last April, one of the clerks asked me, “What are you going to do now?” They would see me stop by at lunch and sometimes after work, on my way to the station, to see what they had got in. When they closed, I went through withdrawal pains. Sankyo has stepped in to help ease the pain. The store has treated me well, offering me good trade-in prices, and usually knocking a little off the price of anything I’m interested in buying as well.

My first time there, I brought in some Nikon binoculars I wasn’t using, an old Nikon P camera and some Canon lenses to trade, Hero-san looked, and then grabbed a calculator to show me what he was offering. The price was very, very fair. Since that time, I’ve been a regular customer, wandering in off the street each week to see what’s in the display cases.

Prices are not cheap, and bargain hunters in the States still can get better buys on eBay or through their local Craigslist site, although the condition can be a craps shoot. But at Sankyo, there are good buys to be had on cameras and lenses that are impossible to find in the States, and usually in excellent condition.

One glorious day, there was an Olympus XA4 macro model, no strap, but I turned it over, and there was the extremely rare quartz date back on it. The price? 8,000 yen, or about $70. “I’ll take it,” I said. Hero-san smiled and nodded. I also traded in a Canon rangefinder cameras and some lenses one time for a Canon 7SZ with a 50mm 0.95mm lens, in fair condition, but a steal at under 90,000 yen (about $800).

Happiness is finding a mint black Canon lens case for your 35mm F2 for a 100-yen coin.”

Other days, there have been cameras like a rare, heavily used black Canon P (gone the next day, when I couldn’t get it out of my mind and went back for a second look), and lenses like the Avenon 21mm and 28mm models don’t stay on the shelves very long. Sometimes, in front of the store, there are boxes filled with old lens cases and camera cases, selling for 100 yen (about a buck). Although I feel like a homeless person foraging through a garbage can, I still can’t resist jumping in.

Sankyo Camera
“Most Japanese like the Nikon”

Happiness is finding a mint black Canon lens case for your 35mm F2 for a 100-yen coin, which I embarrassingly hand over to Hero-san, my “purchase” for the day. But these days, business is slow at Sankyo, Hero-san says. On this Saturday, there’s a steady stream of customers looking, but few are buying. “Now, it is very slow, slow, slow,” Hero-san says. The reason? Of course, it’s digital cameras. Hero-san says it’s understandable, with how easy it is to use a digital camera. In the future, is there hope for stores like Sankyo to survive? A resurgence in film cameras?

“Sometimes, the person wants to do the shutter timing, aperture… maybe, I hope,” he laughs. Looking around at all the shelves of Canon and Nikon rangefinder cameras, I marvel at the selection, and ask Hero-san where they are from. Surprisingly, Hero-san has attended many camera shows in the United States, buying cameras and returning them to the country where they were made, to sell to collectors. He said the Pasadena show in particular, is a good place for them to buy rangefinder cameras and lenses in great condition.

“The weather is good, dry, the condition is better than in Japan,” Hero-san says. “In Japan the weather is very wet – sometimes the lens gets mold, the shutter time gets very long – not so good.” So, Japanese collectors are drawn to stores like Sankyo Camera, to buy the cameras that were exported to the U.S. back when the exchange rate was at 360 yen to a dollar.

Hero-san said Nikon cameras and lenses, particularly Nikon Tokyo Olympic models, are his store’s best sellers. Although the store has a display case full of Canon rangefinder cameras and lenses, the Nikons outsell the Canons. “Canon (prices) are going a little down,” he says.

Hero-san points to all the Nikon collectible books, and says this interest has helped fuel the collector market. “Most Japanese like the Nikon, I think,” he says. “Then, also, the Nikon mechanical system is better than the Canon – Canon changes their mount, very quickly – and the old ones are very hard to use.” Himself, he still likes the Nikon F camera. He was born in 1946, (“after the Second World War,” he laughs) so he always wanted the Nikon F when he was in high school, but it was too expensive. So, he started off with a Pentax camera, then later got his Nikon F. I compliment Hero-san on his store’s friendly customer service, and generous trade-in offers. “Ah, so,” Hero-san laughs. “If it is quick to sell, I buy.”

In this digital world, leave it to the nostalgic Japanese to keep a flickering candle lit for the world of film cameras.


Barry KawaBarry Kawa was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Clearfield, Utah. He has worked as a reporter, bureau chief and editor at the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Times of Gainesville (Ga.), Charlotte Observer, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dallas Morning News before moving to Japan in 2001 with his wife, Yumiko. He now works at a Japanese newspaper, and has become an avid camera enthusiast and collector.    

Camera of generations

Text and images by Barry Kawa for Japan Exposures

Recently, a young Japanese woman brought in an old shiny camera to my office, a curious look on her face. It was her grandfather’s 1950s Konica IIA, a rangefinder. She said her grandmother had wanted her to have it, an old antique that her grandfather, who had passed away recently, had loved using.

The young woman told me that she had taken the Konica to a camera shop, where they had charged her 30,000 yen (about $270) to do a CLA on it. But the young employee at the counter who returned it to her told her he didn’t know how to load film into the camera or use it. I told her that the camera was not worth that much, being an obscure Japanese brand, and she paid more than what it was worth. I admired the 1950s styling, always a sucker for an old chrome rangefinder camera. I asked her if she wanted to sell it. ‘’Oh, no, it was my grandfather’s camera. I will never sell it,” she said. So, I looked up the camera instructions on the Internet, put some film in, and showed her how to set the aperture and shutter speed. Without a meter in it, I printed her out the “sunny F16” rule, and told her to go have fun with the camera. It’s what her grandfather would have wanted.

It was his father’s camera, and he had too many good memories of family pictures being taken with it.”

Then, another co-worker, a Japanese gentlemen who collects antique tin toys, brought in a Pentax S2 with the standard 55mm F2 lens, sold in the Japanese market, to show me. He asked me if I knew how it worked. When I looked at the viewfinder, I couldn’t see anything, even after checking to make sure all the lens caps were off. When I took off the lens, I noticed there was no prism! I took the camera to Ohba Camera, and they estimated it would cost about 10,000 yen to repair it. I told my friend at the office he should just toss the camera, that it had no value, and I knew he would never use it, even if he got it repaired. But he said he couldn’t do that, it was his father’s camera, and he had too many good memories of family pictures being taken with it.

Even though space is very limited in Japanese homes and apartments, most Japanese seem to pass their cameras down to the next generation. In the United States, looking at various local classifieds sites, Craigslist, Internet camera ads, eBay ads, I’m always struck by how many sellers say the camera was their father’s or grandfather’s camera. Since moving to Japan, I’ve myself benefited by my wife’s family passing down their cameras to me. We moved to Tokyo in 2001, and I became interested in photography. I had worked at many newspapers in the United States as a reporter, and then a bureau chief and editor. I had worked alongside many of the finest newspaper photographers, so I had never had the need to pick up a camera myself. In Japan, however, most journalists have to take their own photos, so it was a skill I needed to acquire.

My wife’s grandfather, a retired architect, had spent his lifetime shooting photos, mostly landscapes around Japan, and family photos. Now in his 90s, shakier of both hand and feet, he can only shoot with a Pentax Espio 115, a point-and-shoot film camera. He lamented the loss of control over his photos, but the convenience of that lightweight plastic body and zoom lens was more important. One night, my wife told me, ‘’Ojii-san (grandfather) wants to give you his camera.’’ She didn’t know what kind, so I was hopeful. Would it be a Leica, or maybe an old Nikon F? Camera Generation In the moment when he handed me the funny box-looking camera, I smiled. It was an early 1950s Rolleiflex, with a Tessar 75mm F 3.5 lens. Never having used a medium-format camera, I had to look up the manual on the Internet. My wife said he had bought it in the mid-1950s when his friend needed to sell it. Ojii-san asked his wife if he could buy it, since even at that time, the purchase of a used Rolleiflex with the leather case and all accessories cost them almost half their savings. It turned out to be a wise investment, back in the days when a good camera was a finely made instrument that would last a lifetime and — as we now see — even longer. In all his photo albums, I see that old Rolleiflex around his neck at family gatherings and visits to hot springs spas. At their small apartment in Tokyo, one storage room is completely filled with albums on the shelves. He still keeps a photo album year by year, his best photos enlarged and cut to fit spaces.

Now it was me who said that, of course, I would never part with it; it holds too many sentimental memories for my wife’s family.”

Then, another night, my wife told me again, ‘’Ojii-san wants to give you another camera.’’ This time, it turned out to be a Minolta X-600, a model I had never heard of. From doing some searching it turned out this model was a rare one, only made for one year, 1983, and sold only in Japan. My wife’s grandfather had bought it to use in his architectural work. Later, he would travel with his wife on the group tours the Japanese are famous for, with that camera and a Minolta 35-105mm F 3.5-4.5 lens, to take some of the most beautiful landscape photos in Japan and around the world imaginable.

I posted on one Internet site asking about the value of an X-600, out of curiosity and the possibility of finding another one in Japan, and someone immediately sent me an e-mail wanting to buy that old camera. Now it was me that told the requester that I, of course, would never part with it; it holds too many sentimental memories for my wife’s family. I tried the Minolta X-600, even getting a 45mm F2 Minolta Rokkor for portability. It’s a fun camera to use, focus is manual, but there are confirmation dots that light up to tell you the subject is in focus. I mulled just outfitting that Minolta X-600 with the best lenses and making it my sole camera, but my friend at Ohba Camera in Tokyo laughed, and told me that only old men still use and collect Minolta cameras.

In brand conscious Japan, I knew that I would end up eventually carrying a Leica. So, the X-600 went into permanent “retirement.” Since then, my wife’s father also gave me his old camera: a Minolta 7000 and two Sigma zoom lenses. I thanked him, and took the camera, which he seemed pleased was going to someone who would use it and take care of it. I also found the old Minolta 7000 enjoyable to use, fast and responsive. Like the X-600 and Rolleiflex, they are all going into my dry cabinet. Since my wife and I have no children, I’ll pass them down to my nieces some day, with all my wife’s grandfather’s photo albums. Hopefully, they’ll gain that same love of film photography and appreciation for their ancestors and family that these old cameras have given me. For in Japan, there is a reason why family treasures such as these are never sold.


Barry KawaBarry Kawa was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up in Clearfield, Utah. He has worked as a reporter, bureau chief and editor at the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Times of Gainesville (Ga.), Charlotte Observer, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dallas Morning News before moving to Japan in 2001 with his wife, Yumiko. He now works at a Japanese newspaper, and has become an avid camera enthusiast and collector.