Konica Auto S3 (1973)

The Konica Auto S3 is often thought of as one of the greatest little Japanese compact rangefinders. Its lens, the key element of any camera, is a Hexanon 38mm f1.8 that Modern Photography magazine (in its May 1975 issue) qualified as one of the best semi wide-angles of this speed they had ever tested. These tests produced 64 to 82 lpm at the center at all apertures. This lens produces beautiful colors, a good contrast that is rich in detail, and a very pleasing bokeh. It would have benefited from a light shade like that of the Konica Auto 2 however, as its frontal element is highly exposed to incident light. 


Photo: Eric Xi. Reproduced with permission

All indications in the viewfinder of the Konica Auto S3 are very clear. This viewfinder is equipped with well-lit frame-lines, with a scale of apertures selected by the camera’s automatic exposure system, and with under and over exposure warnings. Parallax correction takes place thanks to a index located in the upper left corner of the viewfinder, while the frame itself doesn’t move. The rangefinder field is very bright and has good contrast, which makes focusing very easy.

The CdS cell of the meter is mounted above the frontal lens on the lens barrel. Automatic exposure takes place by shutter priority. There is no manual mode, and the only possibility to override the auto-exposure system is by manipulating the film speed selector (from 25 to 800 ISO) or by using the exposure lock feature. The Konica Auto S3 is one of the few compact rangefinders to offer this latter option.

One of the most innovative characteristics of the Konica Auto S3 is its unique and highly sophisticated flash management system. Mounting a flash on the hot-shoe couples the automatic exposure system to the focusing ring. After setting the guide number (GN) to the value corresponding to the flash in use, the camera will choose an aperture as a function of this value and the distance between the camera and the subject: goodbye to endless calculations! In addition, the Konica Auto S3 has a ingenious system that takes ambient light into account during flash exposures. With a flash in place, a little green flag moves up and down on the aperture scale in the viewfinder during focusing. Once the focusing is set, it is enough to move the shutter speed ring on the lens barrel until the meter needle coincides with the little green flag to get just the right amount of fill flash.

The Konica Auto S3 has a very quiet mechanical shutter with flash synchronization at all speeds (from 1/8s to 1/500 + B). As this shutter is a mechanical one, the camera continues to function without batteries, but only at full aperture (f1.8).

This not all that common camera is highly sought after and, thus, doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth its price. Thanks to its lens, its quiet shutter and its very small dimensions, the Konica Auto S3 is a very discreet street shooting camera.