The Konica SIII, introduced in 1963, is a classic fixed-lens rangefinder of its time; arguably, even the classic fixed-lens rangefinder of its time. The 47/1.9 Hexanon is not quite as legendary as the earlier 48/2, but it is probably at least as good, which is to say, it is one of the finest lenses ever mounted on a fixed-lens rangefinder. The shutter is a Copal SVE speeded 1-1/500 + B, with separate controls for X/M synch (electronic/bulb) and a self-timer with a little yellow button (unmarked, and very slow and sticky on my camera). Like all old Copals, it is astonishingly reliable. When I dug the camera out of retirement, prior to giving it away, the shutter was hesitant (chrr ... rrr ... rrr) at 1/15 second and below, but by the time I had finished this piece, the slow speeds were slow but no longer hesitant. More exercise would probably restore the shutter to full functionality.
The lens focuses down to 3 feet, 0.9 metres, via a handy focusing tab moving through about 60 degrees: a typical example of 'quick' Japanese focusing as compared with the rather longer focus travel of German cameras of the day. The rangefinder base is frankly short at about 35mm (about the same as a modern Voigtländer Bessa) and the magnification is about 0.7x, or a little bigger; maybe even 0.75x, so the effective base length is about 25mm. This is just about adequate at full aperture and minimum focus, and more than adequate for other distances and apertures. Parallax compensation is interesting, and typically Konica. The upper and outer framelines move, while the inner and lower frame lines do not. This compensates remarkably well for both parallax and the effective reduction in the field of view. The vivid orange-yellow frame lines are bright and clear; as is the somewhat soft-edged rangefinder patch.
There is a tiny, hard-to-read depth of field scale on the camera body; the focusing index is at about two o'clock when viewed from the front of the camera. Although it is reasonably easily seen (if you can read the tiny numbers) from the top, the designer seems to have assumed that most people would simply rely on the rangefinder and experience when it came to focus and depth of field: this is not an ideal camera for zone or hyperfocal focusing.
There is a built in selenium-cell meter - no battery dependency here - coupled to both the aperture ring (even-spaced to f/16, with no detents) and the shutter ring. Film speed (ASA and DIN) is set via a lever moving in a slot on the bottom of the lens, from ASA 10/DIN 11 (the speed of the original Kodachrome, remember) to ASA 800/DIN 30 (the speed of Ilford HPS, the fastest film of the era). As well as reading out in the viewfinder (you need to position your eye fairly carefully), the needle can also be seen in a little window in the top of the camera, so you can set the meter without raising the camera to your eye. When the needle is centred in the 'V' cutout, the exposure is correct. At least, it is if the meter is still working, which is by no means always the case after nearly half a century. Mine is pretty good, if a little jerky, out of doors, but tends to run out of interest at interior room lighting levels. A non-functioning meter does not, of course, affect the rest of the operation of the camera, which is always set manually at all speeds and apertures.
Overall, it is a solid machine some 145 x 88 x 70mm between flats (5-3/4 x 3-1/2 x 2-3/4 inches): the highest point is the (admirably smooth, properly threaded) shutter release and the widest points are defined by the two strap lugs. It weighs about 810g, 28.5 oz, and apart from the meter it is photography stripped to the basics. Its only features other than those already mentioned are as follows:
On the top deck, there's a folding, pull-up rewind crank that doubles as a back release (pull upwards a bit harder), an accessory shoe and a skimpy but comfortable wind on lever with about a 15 degree stand-off and a 140 degree throw. On the front there's a PC synch socket, and on the bottom, a 1/4 inch tripod socket on the lens axis and a rewind release button. It is well enough made that it does not rely on foam light seals, except perhaps at the hinge end of the back, where there is a nasty, sticky mess in the camera in question, though I have to admit I've never had a problem with light leaks.
Which of course brings us to the real question: what's it like to use?
In a word, excellent. The controls are smooth and intuitive; the results, very good indeed. It's the sort of camera you can cheerfully use instead of your Leica if, for example, you are in a rough part of town where you are worried about having your camera stolen or smashed. When I first got it, I used it fairly extensively, and I was well impressed.
The last time I used it much, though, was when Kodak released their last infra-red slide film: a good few years now. Why? Well, simply because I prefer Leicas, and in particular, I prefer 35mm lenses to 50mm or even 47mm. I've kept it because it's not worth enough to sell, and there might be a time when I decided I needed it. As that time hasn't turned up in a decade or more, I decided to give it away.
One last question, though: what is it worth today, given that it was about £50 new, which with inflation adjustment is more like £750? Well, in the early 21st century, I'd not be surprised to see it in a charity shop, car boot sale or the like for something between £5/$5/5€ and £35/$35/35€, and although I could make a strong case for its being worth more than even the upper limit, purely as a picture taking machine, I don't think I'd pay that much myself.
In perfect condition in a camera store it might be priced at £50/$50/50€ or more, but I doubt it would find many takers: it's no great beauty (unlike its predecessor, the IIIA) and the specification is pedestrian. All that distinguishes it from its innumerable competitors of the same era is that it is better made than most (far better made than many) and delivers better results than almost any other. The value of mine is reduced by a name and number (perhaps a US social security number) crudely scratched on the bottom, and by a couple of dents and dings: this is a real 'user-grade' camera. I bought it for (as far as I recall) $25 or so at a California camera fair some 20-25 years ago.
So, all in all, although I'll be sorry to see it go, the sorrow will be outweighed by the fact that it is going to someone who will probably use it and appreciate it, and by the knowledge he'll be making a contribution to a breast cancer charity: both his wife and mine have suffered from that. And maybe one day he'll pass it along under the same proviso.
Notre Dame de Paris
Kodak E-6 infra-red film, yellow 2x filter.
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© 2010 Roger W. Hicks