Rick Drawbridge , Sep 10, 2010; 07:52 p.m.
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.
Kowa top deck