The Curious Kowa

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Sep 10, 2010.

  1. I'll have to come clean; I really like Kowa cameras. This one's the Kowa H, born in 1963.
  2. Now isn't that a pretty camera? Very clean lines, excellent finish, good clear lens with a well-recessed front element, good strong bottom winder, dinky little original accessory shoe...what more could one want? For those of you unfamiliar with the Kowa range of SLR's, it would come with a few surprises. In the first place, though it's a Single Lens Reflex camera, it has a leaf shutter rather than the usual focal plane. Many manufacturers played around with this concept, including Topcon, Zeiss, Voigtlander and even Nikon, but Kowa stuck with the concept and developed it through a very well-built range of SLRs.

    The problems associated with leaf shutter SLRs dwell mainly in the complexity of the exposure cycle itself. Because, during the exposure cycle the film could be twice exposed to light, a "Film Door" is required in addition to the usual mirror movements (see detail pic below). The complex exposure cycle runs thus:

    The shutter blades close
    The aperture closes to selected size
    The mirror swings up
    The film door swings up
    The shutter opens, stays open for the selected time, and closes.
    The film door swings down
    The mirror swings down
    The aperture opens to full aperture
    The shutter blades open

    Complicated, huh? Ask any repairman...The expense and challenges of constructing such a complex mechanism proved too much for most manufactures, but Kowa came as close as any to perfecting the system, and I have severals Kowas, still working perfectly. However, when they stop, they stop; I know of no-one who would dare delve into the innards.

    The Kowa H has a place in history; it was advertised as "The World's First 35mm Single Lens Reflex Electric Eye Camera", which it was. In auto mode the camera operates in a sort of Progam AE, selecting from fixed combinations of apertures and speeds based on advice from the large Selenium Cell in the front of the pentaprism. The meter on the top deck tells you which combination is in force. It's all so deceptively simple, but considering that all this complex machinery is controlled by a simple selenium cell, I have to state my admiration. If one wishes, one can use any manual combination of stops and speeds, while the meter continues to tell the user what it considers to be sensible. And the system works very well; I shot about half of my test film on auto and the rest by Sunny 16, and it would be hard to tell from the negs which was which. Though the camera could be a little smarter than me...

    It's a simple camera to use, with a very snappy bottom wind, quick focusing aided by split image in a ground-glass circle, and a swinging pointer in the viewfinder to indicate that the lighting conditions are within the exposure range. The lens is fixed, but supplementary wide-angle and telephoto attachments were available. Most Kowa lenses were very good, and this 48mm f/2.8 is no exception, being a Tessar pattern of four elements in three groups, nicely coated. The shutter is a Seikosha GLA providing speeds of 1/30th to 1/300th plus B. The camera is a joy to use, the only facility I miss being a stop-down button. I loaded the camera with a Fuji Superia 200 and worked my way through it over the course of a week, and found the negatives to be well-exposed and very sharp. Here are a few samples; the scans being the usual Frontier Frontier consumer grade.

  3. Outstandingly sharp images!
  4. That is one wild bunch of pictures. Well done.
  5. Great pictures. Odd ball, but impressive camera! Thanks very much for reporting on this one.
    Did this one have the usual flash-sync abilities of other leaf shutters?
    There was, of course, an East German leaf shutter SLR -- the Pentina, which according to all reports is even more shunned by camera repair people than your Kowa. Mine, alas, but not surprisingly, is not working, so no future posts on this one.
  6. Wonderful images, Rick. I have never had much success with old leaf-shutter SLRs, so it's great to see someone having fun with one!
  7. Rick, you bring out the best qualities in that camera. You did great work with it.
  8. You have upped the ante with the pictures this time, especially like the wind break. Having a working Kowa is a rare treat indeed, my SE only shoots at maximum aperture, close it down even by 1 stop....and it well...stops.
  9. Fantastic pics, Rick! I have a trio of Kowas, an SeR, an SeTr and an SeTr2, with all lenses except the 100mm (28, 35, 50, 135 and 200). To me, they're not that complicated to work on; I had to rebuild the SeTr. I will say that Rick Oleson's Tech Notes CD was indispensible to successful repair, though. And JDM -- the flash does sync at all speeds. That light trap is loud, though!
  10. Like the Curios Shop, very much; nice perspective. Kowa lenses lenses seem to be highly priced. They made some lenses even for the Exakta VX series. Thanks for the post. sp.
  11. Thanks for your responses!
    Donnie, that's a marvelous collection of Kowas. I must attempt a repair of two on a couple of examples I have, as they suffer the same problem with sluggish and erratic film doors. What would we do without Rick Oleson! Thanks JDM, I've never seen a Pentina in the flesh. It looks as if it should produce music, in stereo...And thanks Rob, Starvy, SP, Tony, David and Mark for your kind comments.
  12. Nice looking camera, Rick. The styling of the Kowa was way ahead of its time. Your "Wind-
    break" is absolutely stunning.
    I've never had my hands on a Kowa but I just finished putting together an Aires Penta 35
    SLR which has the Seikosha SLV between the lens shutter and it was amazing to see how
    Aires was able to simplify the design.
  13. Marvelous photos Rick! Thanks for keeping up the Kowa faith. My first Kowa was the Kalloflex- which out performs my Rolleiflex 3.5e. I then picked up a 6MM and I was also stunned. Last sping I had Ross Yerkes service a SeTr2 for me but I have yet to really put some film through it. So once I get the yard mowed, the weeds picked, and the dog doo bagged, maybe I can sneak away with my smallest Kowa.
  14. Any idea what Kowa meant by "The World's First 35mm Single Lens Reflex Electric Eye Camera"?

    The Contarex Bullseye dates from about 1958. The Kodak Retina Reflex was introduced in 1957.

  15. Wow, what excellent photos, Rick! These are all very nice and amazingly sharp. I especially like "Chapel 002" with its wonderful lines and sharp edges. The lens really captured great detail in this one. "Lollies" is bright with superb color and "Volleyboard" is a really cool shot. I also enjoyed the extensive narrative and history of the camera. Kowas are a brand I have no experience with, but look forward to becoming acquainted with. Thanks for another outstanding post!
  16. I had an H once. The only Kowa that ever worked. Sorry I sold it actually. But my fascination is the accessory shoe. How does that attach?
  17. Rick, indeed a clean looking camera. I like the unusual shutter speed and ASA display. That looks to be a real unusual shoe, not to say anything about the wind lever. With my fixed-lens RFs the quietness of the leaf shutters are really nice, but in this case, with the noisy film gate, the only advantage is of the higher flash-sync speed.
    I like the pattern on the Volleyboard, and the Windbreak image as well.
  18. Rick,
    You have really outdone yourself with the pictures included with this post. It just goes to show that whatever camera you choose, it can deliver if you can.
    Now to the camera. What a nice looking camera. As you know during that time period manufactures were kluging all sort of meters to their cameras. Some designs worked better that others. The Kowa designers did a very good job of incorporating the meter without ruining the design.
    I found a test in the Feb. 1964 Modern Photography. They seem to be quite taken with it. The thing I remember about Kowa is that you could buy them for $69.50. This was quite a bargain. I'll see if I can find an ad.
  19. Rod, you're right; the clean lines of the Kowa H do put it ahead of many of it's contemporaries in my eyes, and I still find it an attractive camera, today. Sounds as if we have another Aires fan on the forum! Thanks Tim, and it's great to see another member who appreciates Kowa quality.
    Andy, you've picked the right one again; "Volleyboard" is my favourite pic from the series...Thanks for the comments. Marc R., so far as I know neither the Retina nor the Bullseye had an AE function, but were match-needle metering; please correct me if I'm wrong! "Electric Eye" seems to have been jargon-of-the-day for an automated function.
    Tom, the accessory shoe just attaches to a threaded socket in the side of the camera by means of the knurled knob visible in the photographs. One has to remove the shoe to rewind the film, a minor hindrance. You're right Shash, there are no real advantages over a focal-plane shutter other than the synch speeds, and with the additional components the shutter reaction is quite slow, but not particularly noisy..
    Thanks, Marc B, and a really interesting ad. I'm gratified that the reviewers and I agree on the major points!
  20. Great job, Rick. You do have a way of getting the best out of cameras that are often forgotten. Interesting, isn't it, that leaf shutter SLR's were often designed to sell at lower prices than focal plane (with all-speed sync as additional selling point), but now they may cost more to repair. Well, it will take more than that to scare away the resourceful participants of this forum that often bring back cameras from the grave.
    Great shots, BTW.
  21. An attractive, simple camera...with AE no less. Love the clean top deck. Outstanding images! They pop right off the screen. Quite the 3-D effect.
  22. You do these cameras justice.. Another excellent and interesting post. I'd lie to "see" some of the others in this series.
    I really liked all you images and you mix em up with color and B&W. Excellent work as always Rick!! Oh and Yeahh for Rick Oleson from me too!
  23. Super series, I just loved all the images, especially curios and the volley board. Well done Rick and thanks for posting.
  24. Thanks for your kind words Mike, Louis, Chuck, Les, and Ralf. A little appreciation certainly adds to the satisfaction I derive from playing with these old cameras. With a camera as docile as this Kowa, nice pictures come naturally.
  25. Gee, I didn't know the Kaowas had such a fan base. If I come across my Dads Kowa SE, I'll list it in the classifieds.
  26. Very nice, but I know what you mean about being hard to work on. I have the opened shutter of a Lordomat C35 on my desk at the moment; I'm staring at it, sort of willing it to work, which seems to be about as effective as my more hands-on attempts at repairing the d- thing. And I don't have to deal with a mirror-lift mechanism.
  27. Kowa is well known in the ophthalmic field for their photo instruments. I am not surprised at the sharpness of the lens.
  28. Rick -
    Chapel 1-2 and windbreak really attest to the image quality these terrific optics produced, brilliant job. A friend, (hobbiest,) is hooked on his 120 Kowa with a few lenses, I'm totally impressed with the work he turns out, rivals about all of the best.
    He echoes your sentiments, wonderful system, but when they do get pranged they do it with style. Thanks for the great post and photos.
  29. I should have known.
    What a nicely written write-up on my Kowa H.
    It's Rick Drawbridge.
    Last night I couldn't sleep, worked on 3 cameras at about 1 or 2 AM. With some fidgeting inside, I was able to get the Kowa H to flap its mechanism (don't know what it's called). Shutter was stuck, now it isn't. And the selenium meter seems to be working just fine.
    This old Kowa H is going to Wrigley Field on Sunday to watch the Cubs beat the Cardinals.
    Thanks for your articles Rick.
  30. Nice to see someone visiting an old thread, Richard, and congratulations on your success with the repairs. I still have a couple of Kowas that need some serious fidgeting; the cycle of events with the mechanism seems to get out of step and I just don't know how to get things back into sequence. Fidgeting required, obviously...I hope the "H" performs at the game, and you could always post a few pics...
  31. Rick,
    My trip to Wrigley Field with my Kowa H wasn't a total disaster. The Cubs beat the Cardinals in the 10th inning home run by Rizzo. But the photo results were disappointing.
    1) As I tried to take a photo in the 3rd inning, the shutter failed to work.
    2) Desperate to take a photo, I popped the camera and tossed in some film (perhaps expired).
    3) A few innings later I felt the back of the camera pop open a bit in my hands. I closed it and kept shooting.
    Only 3 photos came out adequately with some cropping. Most were disappointing. Here are the best, with cropping.
    My full blog post is at Kowa H review. I hope it's OK to link to my website from .
    Thanks as always for your great write-ups.

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