There's Something in the Air Here

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by lou_meluso, May 13, 2009.

  1. This is a 1956 Aires 35-III fixed lens rangefinder camera. I bought this several years ago in semi-working condition. The shutter was sticky and the rangefinder didn’t work. Since I already had several good working Aires rangefinders, I stuck it in a drawer as a future project. Well, I got busy and never got around to it until a few months ago when I decided it was too nice a camera to have my lobster mitts hacking away at it so I sent it to Clarence Gass, in Mission, Kansas, for repair. I’m glad I did because it has turned into one of my most favorite shooters.
  2. Introduced in 1956, the 35-III was offered as an improvement to the 35-II by a complete body redesign that adding a rapid film advance lever, a newly designed, high speed Coral-H 45mm f/1.9 lens and an especially bright viewfinder that let you see a considerable amount of space around the frame. The idea was to design a camera suited for action photography at a mid-level price point. The camera originally sold for $99.50, plus $12.50 for the case.
  3. One of reasons this camera caught my attention was the fact I already had experience with two other Aires cameras and was familiar with the high build quality and excellent optics AND it came with several interesting documents. One was the Modern Camera Guide Series-Aires Guide by Robert Simmons (1958) and the other was a Popular Photography Reprint of an article/review on the 35-III (Jan-1957). On the back of this reprint, the Aires 35-III is heralded as Popular Photography’s 1957 “Camera of the Year”. The article declares the lens on Aires 35-III to be, “exceptionally fine, as good as any lens, of similar focal length, in existence today. Very few high-speed lenses are capable of cutting sharply at very close distances like 20 inches, and at this distance the little Coral lens draws blood. That a lens contained with a $99.50 unit can compete on equal terms with the most highly renowned optical thoroughbreds in 35mm photography today must be counted as remarkable”.
  4. Holding the Aires 35-III you are immediately surprised by its compact size yet hefty (30.1 oz) weight. Small cameras don’t fit my hands well, and full sized ones can be a pain to carry around. The size of the Aires is the perfect in-between size. The Seikosha-MX shutter offered non-LV shutter speeds from B, 1-1/500. The viewfinder is incredibly bright and shows objects/scenes at about 2/3 life-sized. The center-focusing patch is good but not a strongly delineated as some other cameras I own. This is true in my other Aires cameras as well. Still, no problems focusing in low light. In use, the viewfinder shows a strong resistance to flare. Of special note, due to the configuration of the viewfinder, the active frame area is very easy to see and focus with eyeglasses without having to grind the camera into my face/glasses to see what’s going on. Sweet.
  5. To my eye, this camera is the paragon of simple, eloquent, and effective camera design. The top deck speaks of old school simplicity and quality. The film advance lever is beautifully designed and quite beefy. My thumb loves it and it tucks neatly against the camera when not in use. The back pops open via a side latch – film loading is easy breezy. This is a classic, completely all-manual camera with no automation, no meter and no batteries.
  6. Now we get to the heart of the beast. Let’s face it; most normal lenses on quality cameras are pretty good so I try to be conservative and reserved in their assessment. That said, the Aires Coral-H 45mm f1.9 lens is not just good. It’s not excellent. It’s positively brilliant! I’m going out on a limb by saying that out of the dozen or so quality fixed lens rangefinders I own, this lens is the best of the lot. The resolution and micro contrast amazed me as I louped my negatives. While difficult to assess and appreciate on the web, the images on my prints leapt from the sheet with 3-D effect. The resolution and contrast easily match my Konica Auto S2 Hexanon 45mm f/1.8, but with much smoother OOF areas. This is, perhaps, aided by the round 10-bladed aperture. Some corner light falloff is seen at f/1.9 but clear by f/2.8. Between f/4 and f/11 it stuns with f/5.6 as the sweet spot. Better yet, it focuses down to 20 inches! Great for a close-up hound like me. It takes 43mm screw-in filters.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  7. Aires used letter designations to describe the number of elements in the design. The Coral-H has six elements in four groups with an aperture range from f/1.9 to f/16.
  8. I have two other Aires with the same fine lens, a Viscount and the very Leica M3-like 35-IIIC. Both are newer models. The Viscount is a couple of ounces lighter and offers an additional set of framing lines for a screw-in aux 80mm lens, a slightly shorter film advance throw and a rewind crank while the 35-IIIC, which weighs in about the same as the 35-III, adds a self timer. The bottom plate needs to be removed for the back to open. Both of these newer models have the Light Value feature on the shutters with five bladed apertures. Both are very good cameras but I prefer the 35-III for it’s more compact size, ten bladed aperture, no LV system and close focusing abilities.
    Compared to my two current favorites, the Konica Auto S2 and the Canon Canonet 17 GIII, the Aires 35-III is Spartan by comparison. Both are newer, lighter cameras with modern features like meters (don’t need it) and auto-exposure (don’t use it). The Konica is quite a bit larger and the Canon a bit smaller. Optically, the Aires tops them both. For a more classic, pure shooting experience in a compact fixed-lens camera, the Aires edges to the top.

    Speaking of shooting here are a few frames taken with the Aires 35-III on Fuji Superia 400 film. Exposures determined by eye.
  9. #1 Texture-Peeling Paint
  10. #2 My Dog – Coco
  11. #3 Wet Feet
  12. #4 Purple flowers
  13. #5 Three Blue Chairs – Osage Beach, Missouri
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  14. #6 Wooden Flag on a Fence - Clinton, Missouri
  15. #7 Portrait of Clarence Gass in his Shop– Mission, Kansas
  16. #8 Portrait of Sandy – Clinton, Missouri
  17. #9 Portrait of Kevin in the Cabin - Clinton, Missouri
  18. #10 Portrait of Robert, The Custodian
    I had just met Robert while browsing the stacks at the Kansas City Art Institute library. He told me he has been the custodian there for the last 31 years. What looks like lens light fall off is actually the lighting in the hall where I photographed him.
    The camera handled beautifully in all situations. It combines pure simplicity, whisper quiet operation and stunning optics into a solid, compact package. It does everything I need and nothing I don’t. It performs, with eloquence, the most important function that I need from any camera…it stays out of my way. The only real problem that I have discovered is the fact that I now have difficulty putting it down.
  19. Lovely sharp B&W pictures. Thanks for sharing. Regards, sp.
  20. Nice narrative, nice photo's and nice cameras. I had heard of Aires, but now off to you-know-where to see how many are up for sale, LOL.
  21. Excellent narrative. The way the Aires is packaged, it is a full decade ahead of my former Retina IIIc from the same era and the Retina was no slouch with regards to image quality.
    You have a knack for portraiture. Your posted examples are extremely well done. They're all excellent, but I favor the use of side lighting with Clarence and the phenomenonal shot with Kevin.
  22. Dammit Louis, now you've let another genie out of the bottle. I just passed an Aires at a Valu Village yesterday, and the price will probably triple. ;-P
  23. Great pictures Luis. Espessialy wooden flag. I like it very very much.
  24. I agree with all the other comments, it looks like a very solid and sharp shooter with not get-in-the-way-frills.
    Great review and pictures.
  25. Wow, great little rangefinder...and your portraits with it are superb. This is an excellent post. Thanks for sharing.
  26. Fantastic post Louis, very detailed and informative. Thank you. The portraits of Clarence and Kevin are masterpieces.
  27. This thread has it all. Beautiful obscure funky camera, detailed review with tech and historical context, personal impressions, and great shots. This is the kind of thing I come here for and I know it's a lot of work to put these posts together. Thanks very much Louis.
    P.S. I'm intrigued by the Pop Photo article on "Model Trains"!
  28. Great Post Louis. We're all salivating to get one. Let's see, how do I explain to the wife that I MUST HAVE another camera?
  29. Aires invented and patented a very clever design for the range-viewfinder that allows a very good bright line system with far less optics than other designs.
    Basically, one lens in the viewfinder is a positive lens to focus the bright lines. But, the coincident rangefinder image wants to go through that same lens, but it wants a negative lens in that location. So they drilled a hole in that lens, and glued a negative lens in it.
    So the viewfinder on these later Aires cameras is beatiful. Big glowing bright framelines, good eye relief, and a decent RF patch. Only negative is that the RF patch is not sharp-edged, a feature which remains unique to the Leica design.
    Aires' design would have also allowed for parallax compensation, but they never did that.
    More details and context on the rangefinder available at
    The Viscount was even cheaper, something like $65 in 1960's dollars. Still had that same excellent lens. Plus, it has that spiffy styling on the front windows. Only downside is the LVS coupling, and it's not a tight "locking" coupling, so it's not a huge nuisance.
    The finish of the castings on the inside is a bit crude. The mechanics of the rangefinder are very sinple, all glued into a very simple casting. The shutter cocking mechanisms are fragile. But they are very nice cameras.
    Aires demise probably had a lot to do with their inventments in the Penta, which was a one of many cameras designed as part of the leaf shutter SLR fad, which produced few memorable, and many profoundly unreliable and hard to repair cameras.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  30. Thanks for the feedback, guys!

    "The shutter cocking mechanisms are fragile. But they are very nice cameras."
    John- Thanks for the contribution to the thread. Although I have not had any problems with any of my Aires under pretty heavy use but, my camera tech, Clarence Gass did mention to me that the gear cog teeth have a shallower depth than some other cameras and, if jammed, it should not be forced to prevent stripping gears. It seemed common sense but it is worth mentioning. Thank you for jogging my memory.
    stephen_morris|3 likes this.
  31. Louis Meluso: Whats the story behide the wet feet foto, Very interesting :
  32. Lauren- I'm glad you like the shot. That is a group of bronze sculptures called "Standing Figures", by the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz. It is installed outside were I work-The Nelson-Atkins Museum. Coming to work one morning, the rain had just stopped and I thought the legs and feet on the wet planks looked abstract and kind of neat.
  33. Wow! Awesome looking camera and very sharp pictures. I especially liked your black and white photos. I think I just might look for one now too!
  34. Like they said.
  35. Bah!!!!
    I had just convinced myself to shell out $1500 for a new Pentax K20d and lens, because I obviously needed it. I guess I'll go spend three dollars on a roll of film instead. (Curse you!)
  36. Cool camera.

    Just out of curiosity I found an inflation converter to see what the $99.50 the camera cost in 1956 would buy today...

    And.. it came out to $778.11 for 2009 dollars.
  37. I must have forgotten to hit the confirmed button last time, so I'll say it again. Nice shots, unfamiliar camera, but one to keep an eye out for.
  38. Yikes...not a cheap camera, is it Keith? I figured it probably was expensive, it looks like a really sharp, well made camera. But I didn't think it would be over $700 in today's money!
    It's funny when old timers say "well, we used to buy such-and-such for 25 cents." My parents tell me all the time what they used to be able to buy for less than a dollar. Yeah, but when you adjust it for inflation, it was actually a lot more money than it seemed. I have a few vintage Brownie camera ads. From the mid-1900's or 1920's, I think. They advertise for the Brownie camera, and roll film. The film cost like 50 cents. I thought..."wow, that's so cheap!" But then I went to a website where they have an inflation calculator and that ended up being like $4 in today's money. So it's about the same as a 120 roll of Kodak Plus-X. It's the same thing :)
  39. Very nice write up on a sweet camera.
    I loved the photos.
  40. Wow! Excellent photos, very sharp.
  41. Man....I have GOT to get my Konica III working!
    Inspiring post...very excellent
  42. Great post Louis. I discovered Aires a few years ago thanks to Ivor Matanle's write up on their Penta SLR that John mentions.
    I did write up a post on the Viscount in 2007 and found it a very rewarding camera to use. It features the same lens as your III has here the Coral H, and I am thankful to you for posting the formula. I really like the portrait of Kevin at the shack, he looks pensive in a simple solitude. Well done. Here is my post on the Viscount:
  43. Beautiful! What black & white film did you use?
  44. Louis -- Fantastic write-up, and wonderful to see the results from your eye with that camera. Many of us see some of these older cameras in such poor condition that when a nice-working and well-kept example comes along, it is a refreshing break from the clunkers. On top of it all, it is good to see these old cameras doing the job for which they were designed. Well-done!
  45. Wow. Terrific.
    Must resist temptation to acquire more rangefinders.......
  46. I appreciate all the good comments and contributions.

    Ralf- Oh yes, I saw your post as I researched. As your delightful pictures show, and I discovered, the Coral H lens just blows me away with it's sharpness and contrast. My camera tech says they had a secret sauce in the lens coating procedure. They called it "hard amber coating". I'm not sure of the tech but it worked. My guess is that it is something akin to the Zeiss "T" coating.
    Brent- That is all color film-Fuji Superia 400
  47. wvl


    I just had to find an Aries III after reading all these posts. Fortunately I turned one up and will be the proud owner in a few days. I was a high school camera-nut in the 50's and fondly remember the great fixed lens rangefinders of the day. Maybe I'll have to retire my Canonet G III QL!
    Bill Lawlor
  48. wvl


    I just had to find an Aries III after reading all these posts. Fortunately I turned one up and will be the proud owner in a few days. I was a high school camera-nut in the 50's and fondly remember the great fixed lens rangefinders of the day. Maybe I'll have to retire my Canonet G III QL!
    Bill Lawlor
  49. Beautiful camera and photos! You have a good eye for composition Louis. Esp. like the shot of Kevin....
  50. That is all color film-Fuji Superia 400​
    Woot for Superia. I get mine for under a buck for 24 exposures. I know...I'm cheap, but it gets the job done doesn't it!
  51. Bill- You wasted no time I see. I hope you get a good one.
    There are two more in the Aires rangefinder line up that have this same lens that I'm familiar with. The 35-IIIL is identical looking to the 35-III but has the LV system and adds a rewind crank. The Aires V was their top of the line rangefinder that offered a meter and interchangable lenses. For a normal lens you had the option of the 45mm F/1.9 or a faster f/1.5 lens.
  52. Keith- It is a great film for color or B&W. I get mine, short-dated, for a buck a roll for a 36exp and have it processed (only) at Walgreens for two and change. They process it for me while I wait in about 15 minutes-It's almost as fast as digital! I like having both color and B&W options. After scanning on a Nikon CS 4000ED, most of the prints I make from the 400 speed, on my Epson R2400, are 6x8 or so sized image floated on an 8.5x11 size sheet of mostly Moab Entrada or Innova Smooth Cotton. I get very good print quality from this combo.
  53. Great camera! It looks hungry for Kodachrome!
  54. Outstanding presentation, Louis! Of course the pictures are top-notch as always with my favorite being the one of Robert. This might have just snapped me back into rangefinder-land and away from all of my 'new' SLRs...I'm going to have to find one now! Thanks for a great write-up. It's really informative to know how this camera stacks up against two legends, the Konica and the GIII.
  55. I like Sandy. She's a honey.
  56. As usual Lou, Good Job. I especially like the photo of Kevin. Nice work with the lighting.
    Keep going!
  57. wvl


    Got my III L, it will probably go to Clarence G. Meanwhile, the rewind button dropped out and I can't find it. Does anybody have a spare?
    O yeah, Thursday an Aires V with 45mm 1.9 arrives. Can't wait to see what condition it is in. Anybody have V lenses for sale?
    Bill Lawlor
  58. wvl


    Well, the III L is going back to the seller. The shutter sticks and takes 3 or 4 tries to work. It needs a CLA. Film advance is very heavy. I got a few pics with it and the lens is superb! I was going to send it to Clarence Gass for work but now I don't have to.
    Today the Aires V with45mm 1.9 lens arrived. Ebay seller expressed it to me from back east. He didn't know if "it worked". It sure does! It's almost new. Just the usual dust and grime found on old cameras, even in a case.Film advance is light, focus is easy, viewfinder is clear, rangefinder is very nice, and the original selenium cell built-in meter is accurate!! Lens is pristeen. When I removed the lens all the surfaces looked factory new. Not even a speck of dust or any scratch. Same inside the camera. I can't see any wear marks in the film compartment or pressure plate. The shutter works like new
    I put a roll thu it and will get results tomorrow. Now, where can I get the 35mm and 100mm lenses?
    Lucky Bill
  59. Sounds like the V will work out for you, Bill. Great to find one with a working meter. I have seen the lenses for sale on ebay time to time. The original hoods are very desirable and hard to find. Post a pic here or on a new thread.
  60. Hi guys, I bought an Aires Viscount in need of a repair/CLA. Can you recommend someone that really knows these cameras? I live in Washington DC metro so ideally someone local, but I don't mind shipping. Also would KEH or do this kind of job (repairing the obscure enough Visount that is:)?
  61. Anyone with normal skill in repairing manual cameras should have no problem with the Viscount. It's incredibly straightforward inside. Certainly Carol Flutot could do it very well, you would have to mail it to her on the west coast. But I'm sure Strauss in DC could do it -- but at a high price.
    As for Kodachrome, oh yeah, this begs for Kodachrome. All the family pictures my mother took of me growing up were with Kodachrome II in an Aires Viscount.
  62. Here we go, almost a year later and another reply turns up.
    I picked up an Aires 35-III on Craigslist here in Phoenix, AZ for $20. I can't even claim that I'm a rangefinder enthusiast but just looking at the pics of the camera intrigued me greatly. $20? Um yeah, I'll take it.
    Unfortunately, the shutter was sticking but cosmetically the camera was in really good condition. The shutter actually worked but not consistently. I posted another thread about this camera in regards to getting it repaired and it was recommended that I get in contact with Clarence Gass. So, the camera is currently en route to Mr. Gass for an inspection and estimation. I'm looking forward to it's return.
    So many rangefinders are popping up on craigslist around here not all are 'collectors items' but many are definitely worth looking into for the price. Just this week:
    Olympus Trip 35 - $35
    Canonet QL14 - $40
    Konica Auto S2 $150 (i guess that one's a tad pricey)
    But anyway.....yeah.
  63. I just passed an Aires at a Valu Village yesterday, and the price will probably triple.​
    I'm sure I saw one recently at an outdoor sale. I must go back this weekend!
  64. Once many years ago, I in the middle 1960's accepted a lens shootout, Aires 45mm F:1.9 coral Vs. Leica summircron 50mm F:2. A F;1.9 against a F:2, Plus -X film developed in Rodinal 40:1..... Magnification max for leitz focomat enlarger, high up easel on floor in 8x10...... Hands down the Aires won! Go figure, I knew it was sharp, BUT seriously!!!! We were all shocked, I smiled.............
  65. Aires question.....
    Good to see this thread resuscitated--especially as I have an opportunity to buy an Aires111--but it has the H-Coral 45mm f2 lens--a year or two older than the f1.9 that everyone raves about. Does anyone here know if the f2 lens is in any way inferior to its marginally sharper later brother ?
  66. I meant "marginally faster" .....

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