Konica C35 FD / Konica Auto S3 Review

2000 1125 Eric Charles Jones

When I picked up a broken and beaten Konica Auto S3 for a few coins over a decade ago, I had no idea the little treasure I possessed. The light meter was busted, the film advance indicator was inoperable, the leatherette was withering away, and the body had more dents and dings than a 1974 Ford Pinto. With the aid of some electrical tape, a shoddy soldering job and the replacement of light seals, I managed to coax the previously dead instrument back to life. The only part of the camera that I didn’t have to Frankenstein was the lens, which was in great condition. After putting just a few rolls of film through it, I knew I’d found a fantastic companion and a worthy compact rangefinder to own.

When my Auto S3 succumbed to the inevitable and eventually died its second death, I decided to purchase a Konica C35 FD, the Japanese domestic market version of the Auto S3. The Konica Auto S3 and Konica C35 FD are essentially the same camera. Their differences are only cosmetic. The Auto S3 was available only in black with the distance scale on the lens barrel displayed in feet and in meters. The Konica C35 FD came in both silver and in black with the distance scale only represented in meters. Currently, The Konica C35 FD is more widely available within Japan (where I live) ranging in price between $100-$200. A mint copy will demand more. The Auto S3 is rarer, and commands slightly higher prices. But like many great film cameras their prices are inching upward.

The Konica C35 FD debuted in Japan in 1973 and was targeted at casual shooters who wanted a convenient and compact rangefinder capable of making outstanding images, but also wanted a camera which wouldn’t blow a major hole in their bank accounts. The C35 FD was the top of the line in Konica’s C35 series of cameras. Its counterpart, the Auto S3 cost $199.92. Adjusted for inflation that’s $1,172.14 in 2020. Not cheap, but far cheaper compared to the Leica CL, which also debuted that same year. A Leica CL body paired with a 40mm, f/2 Summicron lens would put you back around $525 or $3,174.38 in 2020. Then as now, a Leica will put a hurtin’ on your wallet.

Specifications of the Konica C35 FD

    • Lens – 38mm f/1.8 six-element Hexanon; 49mm filter thread
    • Focusing – Manual; Coupled rangefinder; Baseline 12mm
    • Minimum Focus Distance – 0.9m (3ft)
    • Exposure Systems – Shutter-priority automatic
    • Metering – CdS (Cadmium Sulphide) light meter; Film speeds 15-30 DIN (25-800 ASA)
    • Shutter – Copal seven-speed leaf shutter; 1/8 – 1/500th of a second, plus Bulb mode
    • Flash – Flash synch at all shutter speeds (1/8 – 1/500) through PC socket
    • Viewfinder – Bright line finder with needle indication of aperture visible on right hand side of viewfinder, Auto Flashmatic system indicator in viewfinder
    • Additional Features – Lever wind, double-exposure prevention, resetting frame counter, self-timer
    • Dimensions – Width 112mm (4.4 inches) x Height 75mm (2.9 inches) x Depth 60mm (2.3 inches)
    • Weight – 410g (14.4 oz)

 

The Konica Auto S3 (left) and C35 FD (right).

Style, build and use of the Konica C35 FD

The first thing to notice about the camera is its size and weight. It is light and compact and can easily fit into the hands or into a large sized jacket pocket. You will never hear anyone bemoan hauling it around after a day of shooting. The camera body is simple and basic, made of aluminum. Unfortunately, it is prone to being dented. You don’t want to make the mistake of dropping this camera.

Its operation is uncomplicated and Spartan. The majority of its controls are on the lens barrel. The shutter speed (⅛ second to 1/500 second), the ASA/DIN (ISO) film speed settings (25-800), the GN (guide number) settings (7m-56m), the bulb setting and focusing tab are all accessible there. The focusing throw is very short and smooth, which enables fast focusing.

The film advance lever and shutter release button do not feel as confident or secure as other cameras I’ve used but they get the job done faultlessly. The shutter is very quiet and almost stealthy.  Exposure lock is engaged by pressing the shutter release button halfway.

The viewfinder is bright and the information presented within is straightforward. Being a shutter priority camera, the meter needle moves up and down along the various f-stops (f/1.8 to f/16) displayed on the right side of the viewfinder. Over-exposure and under-exposure indicators are clearly highlighted in red.

The light meter is very accurate. I ran a roll of slide film through the camera and it exposed the film perfectly. It is not a TTL meter. However, the light meter is placed right above the lens within the lens barrel.  This is useful if you decide to use color or ND filters. The filter thread is 49mm.

I normally shoot in aperture priority or in manual mode, so I initially found it strange that this diminutive machine was a shutter priority camera. But I adjusted, and eventually conformed to letting the camera do the work. I could focus more on composition and documenting the world around me. More than any other camera, it has made its way into my bag on a daily basis because of its accessibility, size, and simplicity. I can just concentrate on the act of taking pictures.

If you’ve researched the Konica Auto S3 then you have most likely come across the often-quoted article from Modern Photography from the 1970s in other reviews. The lens compares favorably with Leica lenses in its resolution and quality. I could not find the original article with its charts and formal lab test. I will say that it passed my unscientific eye test. The lens is damn good. The fast, fixed 38mm f/1.8 six-element Hexanon lens produces sharp and contrasty images. It creates accurate colors that render slightly cool. Image quality is excellent in the center with no real discernible softness on the edges throughout the aperture settings. I could not see any major chromatic aberrations, a real testament to a lens which is nearly fifty years old. The 38mm focal length took a bit to getting used to. I personally like to shoot wider for street and tighter for portraits. The 38mm focal length is a good compromise between the two.

Konica’s Daylight/Synchro Flash System

One of the major selling points of the camera when it debuted was its ability to effectively balance ambient light and flash. Konica called it their Daylight/Synchro Flash system. This is activated when placing a flash into the hot shoe. This decouples the meter from automatically controlling the aperture on the camera. A second green synchro mark appears in the viewfinder.  This mark shows the flash exposure level based on the film speed setting, the focusing distance from the subject, and the flash’s guide number. By adjusting the shutter speed, you can balance the ambient exposure with the on-camera flash. When the meter needle overlaps the green synchro mark you have perfect exposure. No other rangefinder was capable of this ingenious and effective feature at that time. In practice, it’s a lot simpler than it sounds. Trust me.

Konica’s advertisement states that any flash will do, but Konica’s X-14 and X-20 flashes are best suited due to their compact size. Unfortunately, they are nearly impossible to find these days. You can also utilize the small HX-14 that was made specifically for the Konica Hexar, but it’s pricey. There are third-party alternatives out there as well, if you are so inclined.

Limited Aperture Control Hack

Placing a hot shoe cover or a flash unit turned off within the hot shoe triggers a metal pin that activates Konica’s Daylight/Synchro Flash system. As always, you have control of the camera’s shutter speeds. The meter still reads the ambient light but it no longer directly controls the aperture. You can set the aperture manually by manipulating the GN ring and focusing tab. However, it does not allow for unrestricted aperture control, and so it is limited in its effective use.  I personally do not bother with it.

Batteries for the Konica C35 FD

The Konica C35 FD was designed to use the now defunct mercury PX675 which produced 1.35 volts. But don’t worry – today there are a few options to power our little image maker. You can use the modern SR44 battery, but since these output 1.5 volts there’s a possibility that the increased voltage will skew your light meter’s accuracy. Another option is to use the Weincell MRB675 zinc/air battery. This will give the proper steady voltage of 1.35. However, they are relatively expensive and usually last just a few months. A permanent solution which some utilize is to introduce resistance into the camera’s electrical system by wiring in a diode to stop down the voltage of the SR44 battery. Finally, and this is the route that I took, is to use the smaller LR41 battery (outputting 1.5 volts) paired with a battery adapter that reduces the voltage to 1.35.

Konica Auto-Up 3 Adapter

The camera’s closest focusing distance is around one meter (3 feet). A rare accessory that I managed to acquire (good luck finding one) was the Auto-Up 3. a close focusing lens that attaches to the front of the lens. It allows the camera to focus as close as 1.6 feet. In use, I did not notice any apparent fall off in image quality. It’s a great accessory, and one that allows me to realize shots that I would not be able to make with this camera otherwise.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Konica C35 FD is excellent. Is it a perfect camera? I’m not sure that exists. I’d appreciate a more robust, dent-resistant body. There’s no on/off switch, which means that when the light meter is not covered by the lens cap and exposed to light it continues to draw power from the battery. The battery compartment cover is made of soft plastic instead of metal.  If one is not careful it’s easy to strip away the plastic notch on the battery cover over time. But these issues are minor and do not take away from the shooting experience.

But the C35 FD continues to impress me with its compact size, its simple operation, its silent shutter, its quick manual focusing, its uncomplicated Daylight/Synchro Flash system, and of course its outstanding lens. I have learned to become wholly Zen with my little friend. Accepting it for what it does so well, instead of forever focusing on what it is not and what it never claimed to be. If you can do the same, then you may find that the Konica C35 FD is a little companion that will rarely leave your side as you document your journey through life.

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Eric Charles Jones

Eric was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio where he developed a fascination for photography early in life exploring his father’s dark room. He is drawn to images that tell a story or capture the beauty in the mundane. These days Eric is living in Japan searching for his place of personal Zen and for that elusive decisive moment.

All stories by:Eric Charles Jones
11 comments
  • anonymousphotographer January 6, 2021 at 10:29 am

    Nice review! I purchased a C35FD from Japan (in BLACK no less!) and an Auto S3 on eBay about 6 months ago. I shot one roll with the C35FD and was so impressed with the sharpness of the lens that I sent both to Greg Weber in Nebraska for an overhaul. He did a fantastic job, and when I asked him about an internal circuit change for the AutoS3, this was his reply: “The S3 is one of the few Konica cameras where the circuitry does not lend it’s self to an easy change but still can be done.”
    Thanks for this review!

  • Have had many fixed lens rangefinders from all the brands, but settled on the Auto S3 and sold all the others. Excellent review and pics!

  • Andrew in Austin, Texas January 6, 2021 at 3:10 pm

    Love the night scene images. Kudos. Also, it is nice to have the Auto Up – which allows for some fill the frame portraiture.

    Let me say that I’ve always been impressed with Konica’s Hexanon lenses on their fixed-lens 35mm cameras – but by 1973 the build quality showed some cost cutting. Of course, condition is everything. I am sure that there are examples which were either well cared for or have seen very light use. After heavy use, the one Auto S3 that I handled had some pretty wobbly controls.

    My surviving fixed-lens 35mm rangefinder from Japan is an Olympus 35 RC – which is more of a premium Trip 35 rather than a better spec’d Konica Auto S3. In its favor – it still works as it was designed to do.

    My other fixed-lens 35mm RF- that has a touch of class to its build – is an older Voigtlander Vitomatic IIa with the f/2 Ultron. It may be dated, but it has a great 1:1 viewfinder and the 50mm f/2 is a great lens.

    • Great review and great pics.
      I am more with this last comment from Texas 😉
      I have this camera, too.
      From all my cameras, this one has : very good lens, great view finder for this kind of RF.
      But this is not my favorite RF with fixed lens, which are : the Minolta Hi-Matic 7Sii, which has a better lens from my point of view, and a manual mode which is perfect if matter does not work which it is easy according to the age of those cameras, but finder is small, … and the Cannonet with the f/1.7 which is a great lens, the finder is v very good, and the build too, I prefer those 2 cameras for manual mode and better lens rendering, and the Minolta is smaller, so if I do n to want to carry one of my Leica, they are the options.
      I have bought the Konica to compare, the lens is very good, but does not have so many character, and only automatic mode, for these cameras, I prefer to play the safe manual mode for reliability. All are quiet and do the job well, I have never try the Olympus and the Yashica, which seems to be the same class. My point is all these cameras have nice lens which have not to be impressed by Leica lens. These cameras are a good option to enjoy RF shooting with pretty good lens, If I have to advice one, of course the Canon Cannonet because they are very good, they are plenty. Now the prices of all these cameras are higher.
      I do not know how to do with my Konica I nearly do not use 😉

      • Thanks! I have heard good things about the Minolta Hi-Matic 7SII.

      • Eric: I have the Konica, Minolta and the Canon cameras you mention. My go to FLRF is the Konica for the magic in its lens. The Minolta comes second and the Canon a distant third. The finder alone makes the Konica a standout by comparison. The glued element finder in the Minolta is tiny, fogs internally, cannot be easily cleaned and features prominent barrel distortion. The finder in the Canon is similarly compromised and adds tiny, fiddly control rings on the barrel. The Canon’s lens is rather soft in my opinion. The Canon’s primary virtue is it’s robust build quality that was clearly superior to every other FLRF of the day. A beautifully made camera.

    • Thanks! I too wish the body was a bit more robust. And the Auto up is a nice accessory to have if you can find one at a reasonable price.

      • Unfortunately the weight chase detracts from robustness. The Konica Auto S3 tipped the scales at 410 grams; the Canon Canonet G-III QL17 that was the most robust of the compact FLRF’s was fully 210 grams HEAVIER at 620 grams. If you’re troubled by the plastic battery cap in the Auto S3: the earlier Konica C35 had an aluminum battery cap that fits the Auto S3. You can scoop one of those up for a song and the C35 was available in both silver and black.

  • Kevin Eyewanders April 28, 2021 at 11:24 pm

    I came to this glorious little thing almost by accident a number of years ago when I was given my late grandmother’s C35 EF. I thought it was cute and plastic so I put it aside for nearly a year for that reason. When I finally shot a couple rolls with it (or rather my wife shot it mostly while I was shooting another “more worthy” camera on a summer week trip) and looked at the frames for the first time I was astounded. I was shocked at how good they were. From that moment on I dove into Konica and the C35 FD was one of the first stops (as well as a number Autoreflex SLRs that I now adore) and it’s stayed close to my day bag ever since. I too was a aperture-priority or manual shooter, finding it odd with shutter-priority at first…. but honestly I’ve come to prefer it for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. Sufficeth to say this tiny wonder and so many other Konicas are overlooked gold.

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Eric Charles Jones

Eric was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio where he developed a fascination for photography early in life exploring his father’s dark room. He is drawn to images that tell a story or capture the beauty in the mundane. These days Eric is living in Japan searching for his place of personal Zen and for that elusive decisive moment.

All stories by:Eric Charles Jones