Konica SF (1967)

Design work on the Konica SF, a medium-format SLR prototype, began in the middle 1960s and trial production was completed in 1967. Had it been introduced, it would have been Japan’s first 4.5x6 SLR and the world’s first MF camera with automatic exposure. It was a highly innovative camera intended for professionals, press photographers and advanced amateurs. It is said that its intended sale price was ¥250,000.

The Konica SF shown with its three dedicated Hexanon lenses. Mounted is the 80/f2.8 standard, 
in the background is the 50/f3.5 wide-angle, and to the right is the 135/f3.5 telephoto.
Photo: Kamera Rebyu: Kurashikku Kamera Senka, No. 10, Sept. 1987, p. 81. (M)

The camera’s features were very impressive: At a time when all medium format cameras had either leaf shutters like the folders or horizontally travelling cloth shutters like the Pentacons, the Konica SF had an electronically controlled, all-metal, vertically travelling focal-plane shutter that had been commissioned from Copal. It travelled vertically over a horizontally placed 42mm x 56mm film gate with speeds going from B, 1s to 1/1000s.

The camera could use both 120 and 220 film to shoot 16 or 32 frames, respectively. Film advance took place by means of a large knob mounted on a coupling on the right side of the body. This knob could be removed and the coupling could accommodate either a film advance crank or a motor drive attachment for continuous shooting.

Picture composition on the Konica SF could be done using either a regular prism with eyepiece, a waist level finder or a magnifying loupe finder. The viewfinder showed an aperture scale and a needle indicated the aperture selected by the camera’s AE system. The Konica SF had full aperture TTL metering and shutter priority AE with an exposure range of 3 to 18 EV). All this was integrated in a camera box that took interchangeable film backs, viewfinders and, of course, lenses.

The camera came with several high-performance Hexanon lenses: A 80/f2.8 as standard lens (7 elements in 5 groups), a 50/f3.5 wide-angle and 135/f3.5 telephoto lens were produced. A further 4 lenses – an extreme wide-angle (35/f4), two medium telephotos (180/f4.5 and 250/f5.6), and a long telephoto (500/f8) – were also planned but didn’t reach the production stage.

The Konica SF had a bayonet mount that was compatible with the Hasselblad mount (a diameter of 69mm and a flange-to-film distance of 75mm). Hasselblad lenses could thus be used on the Konica SF but, as they did not have a pin to couple with the camera’s AE system, they had to be used in manual match-needle exposure mode. The Hexanons made for the Konica SF could not be used on Hasselblad cameras due to their protruding AE coupling pin.

It is thought that one of the reasons why the camera never reached full production stage was the sudden passing of the camera’s chief designer. An additional reason may have been the fact that Konica was also working on many other cameras at the time and it may have wanted to keep its efforts focused in some areas rather than others. Only two prototypes of this camera were made in the end. One was shown at the Konica-Minolta exhibition organized by the JCII Museum in 2005.

As it turned out, it was Mamyia that marketed Japan’s first 4.5x6 medium-format SLR. Even though this took place in 1975 – eight years after the Konica SF became ready for production – the Mamyia M645 lacked many of its predecessor’s advanced features and so would many other medium format SLRs for a many years. Of all Konica’s “could have beens”, this is the one I most regret not having.