Japan's first SLR: Asahiflex

The four different versions of Japans first SLR camera, the Asahiflex. Although no other model name than Asahiflex was written on them, they were called I, Ia, IIb and IIa. The differences between them will be explained below.

Asahi Optical Co. was founded in 1919, producing optical elements and lenses. In the late 40s they decided to build up a camera production, and a prototype SLR was ready in 1951. The Asahiflex (Later called 1) entered the marked in 1952 as the first Japanese SLR camera.

Its later brother, the Asahiflex II b of 1954, is famous for introducing the worlds first commercially successful Instant Return Mirror camera.

1952: Asahiflex I:

Asahiflex I was introduced late 1951, and for sale from '52. . Here is a model I, with a single flash contact on the front wall. The next model, the Ia, had two contacts, otherwise looking like the first one. (Except for the leatherette being improved.) When receiving the model 1 I was really surprised. I had expected the viewer to be black after exposure, knowing that the first IRM came with the model II b, but that was not so. Even the first Asahiflex featured a rapid return mirror, or trigger related mirror, to be more precise. It was the same system that Rectaflex used on all their cameras, or even somewhat improved: when pressing the shutter release button, the subject can be seen clearly through the finder until exposure. It is not gradually going black, as on other cameras with the same system. After exposure, the mirror follows the movement of the trigger, falling into place as the trigger goes up, as on Rectaflex and others. Size: 147x73(98)x48 mm. Weight: 506 g. Sn:27294. Lens is the Asahi Kogaku Takumar 50/3,5 with sn. 28398.

1953: Asahiflex Ia:

The second Asahiflex, the Ia, was introduced one year after the first, featuring a second flash contact as the most visible change. But there were others. This is a very late sample with sn. 43753. Standard lens is still Asahi Kogaku Takumar 50/3,5, seen here with a yellow filter. Sn.45445.
Differenses from model I (lower) to Ia: Somewhat bolder types on arrows and, more important, shutter times changed from 500-200-100-60-40-30-20 + B on model I, to 500-200-100-50-25 + B on Ia.

1954: Asahiflex IIb:

The Asahiflex II b first of all introduced the famous Instant Return Mirror, thus removing the major obstacle for the SLR cameras to fully conquer the market. The one shown here is a very early sample with hardly any visible changes from the Ia, except the letters F and X by the flash contacts.
As shown here, the first IIb samples did not show the new design that was going to follow the later ones, but were identical to the Ia from this angle.
At this stage, with sn. 52117, the new design was visible. Let us look at the differences from early II b to the typical IIb. The older design under, the newer II b 52117 above. From the left: 1: lug for straps was turned 90 degrees. 2: arrow on rewind knob in bold type 3: AOCO logo smaller, less bold type 4: filled triangles instead of arrows 5: design on shutter time dial changed 6: flash sync X in red added 7: arrow on winder in bold type 8: to follow on next photos: The Asahi Opt Co stamped onto the leatherette on the back wall was removed.
From Asahiflex 1 to first edition of IIb: With Asahi Opt Co on the lower right.
From second edition of IIb: Removed.
The standard lens from model I through IIb was the Asahi Kogaku Takumar 50/3,5. Seen here with sn. 52972.
Here is the case for the Asahiflex with Takumar 50/3,5 lens.

1955: Asahiflex IIa:

The last Asahiflex was also the best, introducing the long shutter time dial on right front wall and the high quality lens Takumar 58/2,4. With this model, Asahi was ready for the next step, the Penta Prism SLR!
Except for the long shutter time knob on the front wall, the external differences between the IIb and the IIa were minimal: the filled triangles to mark the actual shutter time and frame counter made open.
A closer look at the IIa shows most of all the difference between the earlier lens (below) and the new Takumar 58/2,4.

1956: Latest modifications:

There were later modifications of both IIb and IIa models, and they were both produced until the Asahi Pentax was introduced. The last versions had some minor changes to the layout on the numbers on the time setting dial. The last IIb came in a IIa body with a blinded hole where the slow speed dial would be on the a-model. That happened around sn. 75000. (Between 727xx and 753xx.) I have had some questions about these last models. It shure isn't easy to tell which model you have when neither of them have I or II, a or b written on them!

And the very last IIa? It came with 42x1 Contax/Praktica-mount! (Later to be called Pentax-mount.)

The new, bigger lens needed a new case with a wider front.

Asahi of 1957: Ready for the Pentax!

With the success of and experience from the Asahiflex line from 1951 through 1956, Asahi was prepared for the next step, the penta prism slr. They would soon take a leading role in the development of this new world, inspiring millions of people around the world to seek an easier and better way of photographing! And Pentax would be the new name.

Baard-Einar 29.11.2020 13:32

It might be worth to mention that the Ia, IIa and IIb also were found in the US under Tower 23 and Tower 24 names.

Bosse 30.11.2020 12:21

By the way, there was also the Tower 22. Strange, as the lowest nr. came on the last model. (According to Cecchi, eBay and Camera-Wiki). Yes, worth mentioning.

Bosse 30.11.2020 10:03

Looking again I see that didn't mention it. Thank you!

Baard-Einar 29.11.2020 13:28

Hi Bosse,
There is very little evidence to support that the m42 versions were made by Asahi Opt. Company but more evidence that these were made by resellers.

Bosse 30.11.2020 12:03

Sorry, pro et contra would be the better phrase here,as I ask for evidences and sources on both sides,not necessarily conclusions. That is for everyone to draw.

Bosse 30.11.2020 09:58

What are the evidences pro aut contra? Where are the sources?

bosse 24.10.2020 18:11

Looks like the latest modification of the IIb, a IIa house with blinded hole. Some of the latest even had 42mm mount. I will mention those in my text.Thanks!

Donald DiNaro 24.10.2020 15:36

My Asahiflex no. 77171 lla has Unfilled arrows, llb shutter dial w/ NO red X, lla w/ no slow speeds, just a patch. Came with a 58mm /2.4 takumar.

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Nyeste kommentarer

02.11 | 16:32

Thank you! I should have said around 500000. Also remember that sometimes a top plate was broken and had to replace it with a spare one numbered differently.

01.11 | 20:18

I think your SN indications for the S1 may be a little off. I just picked up a chrome one with SN 527384.

09.08 | 09:58

I do not know that model code. Please check for model name.

08.08 | 20:58

Hi I have a Konica Minolta code 3739740 please advise if there are film strips available for this camera? I'd appreciate the help. Thank you