The Konishiroku Pearl IV – often called the Konica Pearl IV – is a 6×4.5cm (645), folding, medium format (120 roll) film camera first released by Konishiroku (the company later called Konica) in December of 1958. It is one of the last and greatest folding 120 cameras produced during the Golden Age of all-metal cameras. Don’t turn your nose up at its bellows and retro look, this is a seriously good camera with a razor-sharp lens that fits easily into a small bag or coat pocket.
The resurgence of film photography led to a natural progression for many new film shooters from 35mm to medium format or 120 roll film cameras. Sadly, this burgeoning interest in medium format has also led to an explosion in the price of medium format cameras such as the Contax 645 and the Pentax 67 [our review here], placing many of them out of the reach of ordinary shooters. Fortunately, there is an alternative for those wanting to move up to medium format shooting, folding 120 cameras. From the end of WWII in 1946 until 1960 these were the predominant type of consumer cameras, so you have hundreds of choices, and many superb cameras that with a CLA can become a great daily shooter. If you want to get into medium format photography but can’t afford the crazy prices that the trendy cameras are going for, a classic 120 folding camera provides a budget-friendly alternative, and the Pearl IV is one of the best.
The History of the Konishiroku Pearl IV
The Pearl IV was released in December 1958 as a replacement for the Konishiroku Pearl III. It was the last model in a long line of cameras bearing the name “Pearl” starting in 1909. The camera had a very short lifespan and only approximately 5,000 copies were produced over a period of six months. It was advertised for just one month, being featured in the January 1959 issue of most of the major Japanese photography magazines, such as on the back cover of Shashin Kōgyō (above), and a two-page advertisement in Asahi Camera. It was distributed and advertised only in Japan, where it cost ¥22,000. However, the previous Pearl III had been selling for ¥24,000. To put that price into context, in Japan in 1959, a 30-year-old junior high school teacher would have been paid around ¥1,000 per month.
1958-59 represents a pivotal period in camera production and the beginning of the massive growth of the camera industry in Japan, which coincided with a commensurate drop in production in Germany. Up to this point “roll-film” cameras (including 120, 127, and 620 cameras) were the mainstream choice for amateur photographers. 35mm film was actually called “miniature” film, and professional photographers were still shooting 4×5 sheet film in what were often dubbed “press” cameras, such as the Speed Graphic.
Only four months after the release of the Pearl IV, in April 1959 Nikon released their ground-breaking Nikon F, and a month later Canon released its first SLR camera, the Canonflex. The creation of multiple SLR cameras, combined with the craze for slides shot on 35mm Kodachrome, meant that virtually every photography magazine around the world during 1957 through to 1959 had major features extolling the virtues of 35mm film and the cameras which shot the stuff. Folding medium format cameras quickly came to be regarded as old-fashioned and cumbersome, and by 1959 advertisements for them in camera magazines had virtually disappeared. By 1960, the production of folding cameras in Japan had ceased altogether.
120 folding cameras would be almost an extinct format until Fuji unexpectedly launched their Fujica GS645 rangefinder, a modern 120 folding camera with a plastic body in March 1983. If the GS645 had a parent it would be the Pearl IV, and although it added a light meter and weighs less, it is 15% larger and not as smooth in operation.
In the year 2000, Konica secretly planned a limited reproduction of the Pearl IV, most probably prompted by Nikon’s release of their Nikon S3 2000 special edition the same year. Sadly, despite having the perfectly preserved manufacturing drawings, Konica discovered that they lacked any assembly workers with the necessary skills to recreate the camera. The fact Konica considered this as a potential project is a testament to the quality of the Pearl IV.
- Manufacturer : Konishiroku Photo Industry Co., Ltd. (later: Konica), Yodobashi, Tokyo
- Released : December 1958
- Production amount : 5,000 over 6 months
- Film : 120 roll film
- Exposures : 16 shots 6×4.5
- Format : 64.5mm x 40mm (4×4)
- Images Size : 60 mm x 45 mm (portrait aspect) exposed area 41.5 x 56mm
- Material : Diecast aluminium and steel, leather coated
- Lens : Konishiroku Hexar 75mm f/3.5 Hexar, Tessar type, Single Coated
- Aperture : f/3.5 – f/22
- Focus : 1.1m – ∞
- Focus adjustment : interlocking type Rangefinder
- Rangefinder : Vertical image matching type
- Viewfinder : Bright-Frameline
- Focusing : Helical
- Shutter : Seikosha MXL (#00) LV scale, double-exposure prevention, MXF synch
- Shutter Speeds : B, T, 1, 1/10,1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/300, 1/400, 1/500
- Filter diameter : 30.5mm screw specially designed
- Exposure : Manual
- Light Meter : No
- Film advance : Rewind knob and automatic stop
- Frame counter : Automatic
- ASA : 50 – 800
- Self-timer : Auxiliary
- Battery : Nil
- Tripod socket : UK/USA standard
- Size L x H x W : 127 x 108 x 50mm (5” x 4 ¼” x 2”)
- Weight : 709 grams (25 ounces)
- Original Price : ¥22,000 Japanese Yen
Shooting the Konishiroku Pearl IV
Shooting a rangefinder-focusing 120 folding camera may seem a bit daunting to those bought up with digital imagery and automatic focus, but the Pearl IV brought many features that other cameras of the era did not possess. These included an automatic film advance and a big, bright viewfinder/rangefinder which makes it relatively easy to use, even for medium format beginners. With a little practice, and this article as your guide, you could easily discover the joys of medium format photography with a Pearl IV.
Viewfinder/Rangefinder: I wear glasses, and struggle with the tiny viewfinders on most cameras of this era. What drew me to getting a Pearl IV initially was reading about the big, bright viewfinder that it has. Apart from the Konishiroku Pearl IV, only two other all metal folding 120 cameras from the classic era came with big, bright frameline viewfinders, the Ensign Autorange 820 and the Takane Mine Six Super 66.
Although the finder is sometimes described as having automatic parallax correction, that is incorrect. The finder has an etched short-range mark to adjust manually for parallax, similar to the Leica M3. The viewfinder has an actual rangefinder base of 42mm and a magnification of 0.57, giving an effective base length of 24mm. Although the existing frame lines and rangefinder patch are very easy to use, I had a small, green piece of glass added while the camera was being serviced to turn it into a Green-O-Matic style system, which is far easier to focus.
Konishiroku’s Famed Hexar Lens – Konica’s Hexar lens was used on a variety of their cameras and is renowned as one of the best fixed focal length lenses in the world. The Pearl IV’s amber hard-coated 75mm f/3.5 Hexar, is a four element in three group ‘Tessar’ type, with five aperture blades and aperture stops going from f/3.5-32 in half stop clicks. As the attached images show, the lens is incredibly sharp edge to edge and produces rich vibrant colors.
“I also have a Super Ikonta A with coated Zeiss Opton Tessar 75mm 3.5 lens, and the Pearl totally outperforms the Super Ikonta A in both picture quality and ease of use.” – Robert Chojecki, Photo.Net discussion forum, Apr 27, 2006
A 75mm f/3.5 lens in 645 format equates roughly to a 45mm f/1.4 lens on a 35mm camera. A 45mm focal length (equivalent) and 1.1 metre minimum distance creates a good all-round lens, although it is compromise; not really close enough for head shot portraits, and not really wide enough for landscapes. The beauty of medium format, though, allows loads of space to crop images for tight head shots.
Film Loading – The Pearl IV uses a film loading method that will be familiar to anyone who has used a modern medium format camera. The hinged back is opened by releasing the sliding bar on the left, then the two bottom dials pop out from the body to more easily load the film and take-up spool in position. The two spring-loaded flanges inside the camera are then released before inserting the film spools. Once inserted, the two dials on the bottom are pressed back in and turned to the red marks to lock them in place. Then the back is closed and we can advance the film. The small diamond-shaped indicator on the top plate confirms that the roll film leader paper is correctly engaged and the supply spool is actually turning.
Semi-Automatic film advance – Just like its predecessor the Pearl IV uses a “semi-automatic” (auto-stop) film advance system instead of the usual red window found on most folding cameras of this era. This system was designed and manufactured by Nakagawa Kenzō and supplied to Konishiroku by his company Aram Kōgaku, at a pace of 2,000 units per month.
Compared to using a red window, or the semi-automatic systems used on other cameras, the system on the Pearl IV is intuitive, and very easy to use. The film is loaded and advanced to the “Start” line indicated by a dot on the film rails, the camera is closed, and film advanced by the winding knob until the exposure counter reaches 1. After that it operates much the same as a 35mm film camera of the era, and in my experience the frame spacing is always perfect. The system also includes a double exposure prevention mechanism, and a small indicator shows if the film has been advanced correctly, then allowing you to manually cock the shutter. After exposing frame 16, the film winding knob will turn continuously again until you’ve wound all the backing paper onto the take-up spool. There is also an internal lock, preventing accidental opening of the back before the film roll is finished.
Seikosha-MXL Shutter – Seikosha’s MXL shutter was the top-of-the-line leaf shutter produced in Japan, and equivalent to Synchro-Compur produced in Germany. First released in 1957 the shutter features five aperture leaves, an interlocked light value scale, double-exposure prevention and nine speeds, as well as Bulb Mode. The focusing helicoid has a red cover to minimize dust, and this also works as a memory aid, indicating that the lens must be set to infinity before closing the camera.
Shutter speeds did not become uniform across manufacturers until the 1960s. The Pearl IV uses the “older” style shutter speeds — so 1/10 instead of 1/15, 1/25 instead of 1/30, 1/50 instead of 1/60, 1/100 instead of 1/125; however, 1/250 and 1/500 are the same. Don’t be worried though, these minor variations in speeds should not throw off exposures. The beauty of leaf shutters is that not only are they whisper quiet, but because they are virtually vibration free you can shoot hand-held with shutter speeds as low as 1/15 second.
WARNING! once the shutter is cocked you should not change speeds up to or down from the 1/500th speed, as this can damage the shutter mechanism which has an extra spring for the top speed.
Cold Shoe & Flash Photography – The camera has a cold shoe located on the top plate which I usually use to mount my auxiliary light meter. The Pearl IV has X synchronization for electronic flash, which was only just becoming popular at this time. There is a red selector lever for M, F, and X flash synchronization located on the lower shutter, unless you plan on using a flash leave it in the X position. The flash-sync cable is attached to the brass connector on the front of the shutter.
Light Value (LV) System – Like many cameras from the late 1950s the Pearl IV uses a coupled Light Value System (LVS) scale; generally known as the Exposure Value System (EVS) in the United States. This mechanism was invented by Freidrich Deckel in Germany and released on their Synchro-Compur shutters at Photokina in Munich 1954. The system was later adopted by Alfred Gauthier and eventually throughout the camera industry. The system simplified choosing exposure settings by replacing numerous combinations of shutter speed and f-number – i.e.1/125 s at f/16 – with a single number from 2 to 18 which can be changed at the flick of a switch. This is a really useful function, and I like it, since it operates like a primitive aperture priority mechanism (this is the mode in which I prefer to shoot). Of course, the inverse can also be said – the system easily acts like a shutter-priority mode as well.
The shutter speed and aperture are cross-coupled, and work in tandem, so any change to one directly affects the other. So if you want a wider aperture for portraits, and select f/3.5 the shutter speed is automatically increased. The reverse is also the case. If, for instance, the LV lever is moved to 8 you have six shutter speeds 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25 and 1/50, and as your speed is made higher from 1 to 1/50 second, the aperture changes from 16 to 2 and shows you the optimal shutter or aperture speeds
Using the Light Value system has the advantage that, after some practice and for a certain ISO, it is easy to memorize the LV for typical situations such as sunny, cloudy, overcast, indoors and etc. Much like Sunny 16 there is a single number, a single scale to memorize and from there the aperture and speed combinations are pre-selected in the camera. With some practice with a certain ISO, you no longer need a light meter.
Shutter & Cable Release – The shutter release is on the right-hand side of the camera. It’s the square button on top of the lens door. In the normal position for a shutter button on most cameras you will instead find a threaded cable release socket which is mechanically linked to the shutter button on the door.
Tripod Mount – The camera has a regular sized tripod mount located in the middle of the bottom plate of the camera.
Selfie Stand – Sitting flush with the front of the lens door is a small metal tab which opens out to allow the camera to stand by itself on a flat surface in its horizontal orientation. This was a common feature on cameras of the era to allow selfies to be taken, but is also useful when using slower speed films, or longer exposures. As the Pearl IV has no inbuilt self-timer you need to use an auxiliary self timer which attaches to the shutter to take self-timed shots.
The Pearl IV came in a blue and white presentation box with brown leather ever-ready case with PEARL embossed on the front. Additional accessories sold separately were the Konihood with its own filters, Koniflash, and Konifliters.
Leather Case – The Pearl IV was sold with a two-part leather case, which could be turned into a half case with camera strap attachments. Because the Pearl IV does not come with strap lugs on the body if you like carrying a camera around your neck you will need to buy a case to do that. However, the vintage leather case for the Pearl IV are extremely hard to find. Another solution is to use a wrist strap or find a vintage camera neck strap with tripod mount.
Lens Hood – The Pearl IV was advertised with a metal clamp on lens hood, the Konihood, originally priced at ¥330. Chrome plated on the outside with KONIHOOD engraved, and black on the inside, it was attached to the lens via a tightening screw. The Konihood for the Pearl III is exactly the same size, but as both hoods are hard to find today, an aftermarket 30.5mm screw-in hood will work. Please remember that you must remove the lens hood before closing the camera.
Filters – The Pearl IV takes Konica’s proprietary “Konifilters” in 30.5mm thread. However, Konica produced Konifilters for a variety of their camera, and the Pearl IV took special filters that were very low profile to allow the camera to close with them still attached. The Konihood also took Push-on Y0, Y1, Y2, R1 and P1 filters originally priced at ¥260 each. You can use modern filters, but ensure you get the low-profile type so you don’t damage the camera if leaving them on. Schneider-Kreuznach produced the best low-profile filters that will fit the camera.
Flash – Konica produced a fold-up Koniflash, a fan-shaped unit taking magnesium bulbs, originally priced at ¥1,950. Luckily, the Pearl IV has electronic flash synchronization so will work with any modern electronic flash at all shutter speeds.
Pearl IV Auto-Up System – Like many folding 120 cameras of the era the Pearl IV used a 75mm lens, with a minimum focus distance of 1.1 metres. As a 75mm lens on a 645 camera equates to a 45mm lens on a 35mm camera, the Pearl IV is only capable of taking a head and shoulders shot at the minimum distance. To allow macro and close up head shots a company called PLEASANT devised the “Auto-Up” close-up attachments. They were available in two versions, priced at ¥1,930 each, the Auto-Up No.1 is suitable for portraits from 50cm – 1m, and Auto-Up No.2 for macro shots from 43-60cm. You can read more about the system here.
Firstly, the pluses which are many. Beautifully crafted, with a razor-sharp lens and whisper-quiet shutter, bright line coupled rangefinder, easy film loading, double exposure prevention and automatic film advance, all packed into one of the smallest and lightest medium format cameras that will fit in a coat pocket, or small camera bag.
Now for the negatives of the camera, which shouldn’t deter you from considering one.
- Right hand opening folding cameras are not as easy to hold on to as horizontally folding 120 cameras, unless you are left-handed. Added to this ergonomic quirk is the fact that the shutter release is not in the traditional position on the body, but a button on the folding door.
- It lacks neck-strap lugs on the body, these were on the original leather case which nowadays can be hard to find. Personally, I carry it in a cheap foam camera case when it’s in my camera bag and use a wrist strap for protection.
- Like nearly all 120 folding cameras the aperture and shutter mechanism on the front of the camera makes it a little difficult to alter with changing light.
- The LV exposure system may not be to everyone’s taste, but personally I like it and use it as a primitive aperture priority system.
- It lacks an internal light meter, but as most cameras of this period used Selenium meters that may not work or be accurate, I see this as a plus. I use a Hedeco Lime auxiliary light meter mounted in the hot shoe and find this works incredibly well.
Thinking of Buying a Pearl IV?
While the Pearl IV is an uncommon camera, 5,000 were produced, meaning that it’s not especially rare and examples are readily available on eBay. If you compare the features of the camera and what other vintage medium format camera are selling for, I think a working Pearl IV is a bargain. As with all vintage film cameras I would emphasize that you should have a CLA done before actively shooting one, and factor that into the price when buying one.
The Konica Pearl IV, Ensign Autorange 820, and the Takane Mine Six Super 66 are the only all-metal 120 folding cameras with big, bright frameline viewfinders, which are easier to use, especially for those who wear glasses. I understand that the Pearl IV is quite collectible and more expensive than other 120 folders, but there are similar cameras produced during this era which you can pick up cheaply with a bit of hunting online.
The natural alternative is to get a Pearl III, which has a smaller viewfinder but is still a beautiful camera. Other superb 120 folding cameras to look out for are the Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta series, Mamiya 6 series, Ross Ensign Selfix 16-20 Auto-Range, Takane Mine Six II-F & Mine Six Super 66, Petri RF aka Karoron RF and Karoron SII, Voigtlander Perkeo, Balda Super-Baldax, Certo Six, and Agfa Super Isolette, all of which have superb lenses and semi-automatic film advance (in some).
If you’re put off by older cameras, then the easiest choice is a Fuji GS645 Pro, which has all the features of the Pearl IV, as well as a built-in light meter, auto parallax correction, and a film advance which automatically cocks the shutter. However, it has a plastic body and the original bellows will need to be replaced.
As readers of Casual Photophile might know, I have bought, shot with, and then kept or sold a variety of rare film cameras over many years. So, despite a lot of research and online comments telling me that the Pearl IV was a great camera, there is always some trepidation when receiving a new/old camera around whether or not it will live up to my expectations. Well, the Pearl IV not only fulfilled my expectations, but it exceeded them.
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