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Updated 12/03/10

The Casual Collector


And you thought Rodney Dangerfield got no respect!


























What is this masked camera? Cosina manufactured bodies have worn names from Argus to Zeiss through the years.


     Do you recognize this camera? It has worn various disguises, used many aliases and had more facelifts than Phyllis Diller. You've seen it around tourist traps and dangling from the shoulder of Photo 101 students. 
     Through the years it has worn the names Canon, Miranda, Nikon, Olympus, Ricoh, Vivitar, Voigtlander, Yashica and, finally, Zeiss, though it was manufactured by none of them. Who is this impostor, this poseur, this camera of many faces? It is Cosina. A camera that in another millennium got less respect than even Rodney Dangerfield. How long has this gone on? How did it finally earn some respect?


     For poor Cosina, the disrespect goes back to their early days of SLR manufacture. Based on your author's fading memories of 30 plus years ago, one of Cosina's first forays in the U.S.  was in the form of the Argus STL-1000. Argus was proud of their latest import. It featured TTL light metering, accepted widely available screw mount lenses and had a fancy metal shutter with high speed flash sync. Well, the reviewer in Camera 35 magazine likened it to that big, black, bakelite brick, the Argus C3. No respect!


Unmasked! Cosina CT 1 Super wears unmarked Pentax 50/2.

     Cosina tried moving up market by naming the camera Exakta Twin TL. GAWD! A Japanese Exakta? Still no respect. They tried a private label, Cavalier M S ?? something. Even less respect! Eventually the good folks from Ponder & Best took the Cosina under their wing, smoothed off the sharp corners and named the camera Vivitar. Finally, a modicum of respect. But not much!
    We zoom ahead about a decade. Screw mounts are out, little cameras are in. The "when you're number eight, you try harder" folks at Cosina are there with a small and light K-mount camera. (Up from number 12 as Petri, Miranda and Topcon left the business!) They get the Cosina name on the radar screen, but still sell most of their cameras under other labels.
     We zoom ahead another decade (plus or minus) and the big camera makers can't bail out of manual focus camera manufacturing fast enough. However... they still feel the need to serve the market. One by one, they trek to Nagano. Cosina products become the Canon T-60, Nikon FM-10, Olympus OM-2000, Ricoh KR-5-Super-2, and Yashica FX ? something! A U.K. importer has the nerve to exhume the Miranda name and glue it onto the little Cosina. "Respect? We don't need no respect" the Cosinians said as they hauled another truckload of yen off to the bank.

I've got you under my skin! Cosina reflex is basis for Voigtlander rangefinder.

     Well, we all want at least a little respect. I am told that inside Cosina is a man named Kobayashi. In an increasingly digital, auto-focus world, Kobayashi was going to build respect the old fashioned way. With glass, brass and aluminum, springs, levers and gears. 
     We "camera cognoscenti" chuckled at his nerve in usurping the Voigtlander name for his little, lobotomized reflex with Leica screw mount. But we marveled at the results from his 15mm and 25mm lenses. It was just Cosina doing what they had always done, building a good product at a very reasonable price.
     A year later, a stab at greatness. The little, lobotomized reflex grew a range-viewfinder and it was good. More lenses appeared, fast and aspheric and so good they began appearing on Shhhsh, don't tell! Leicas!

Similarities are apparent from the top...

     There were still a few whiners who looked at the camera and said, "ugh, it's PLASTIC"! The Cosinians went back to work and brought forth metal and "M" mounts and more lenses. They successfully re-attached the little reflex's mirror and prism and produced even more lenses! Cosina was producing greatness that we mere mortals could afford. Finally, we were giving Cosina R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

     Today (February, 2004) we wait impatiently for more. We latch onto every rumor and speculate without tiring. What will the next product be? Cosina has earned our respect. What's next? AWE?   

     I hope you've enjoyed this little fable. It just flowed from my fingertips one cold February evening. 

Update: March , 2004; Epson R-D1 digital RF is introduced. It is based on components of the Voigtlander Bessa. 

Rollei markets the Rollei 35 RF, a dressed up Bessa R2.

Carl Zeiss jumps into the game with the Zeiss Ikon 35mm RF with "M" mount manufactured by none other than Cosina!.

Cosina  web site. Read about it here if you read Japanese! Pictures if you don't.

...Obvious from the bottom.

     Put me at the top of the list for not having much respect for Cosina in the past. The few, early, Argus and Vivitar cameras that I've handled were simple, large and loud. To be fair, other Copal Square shutter equipped cameras tend to share the large and loud traits. 

     At one time there was an English language Cosina web site that had a brief timeline of the company's history. They began making lenses in the 1960s, then diversified into compact and movie cameras.  They produced their first SLR about 1969. I doubt that any other manufacturer in the field has produced goods under as many names!

     The earliest U.S. model that I know of is the Argus STL 1000. It is distinguished by having the shutter dial on front of the camera, like the Ricoh Singlex TLS. The Argus/Cosina STL 1000 that followed had the shutter dial moved to the top plate. The most sought after early Cosina is probably the Exakta Twin TL.  Least known is, likely, the Cavalier MSTL. I believe it was a house label for the Peerless/Willoughby chain. The Exakta and Cavalier had the front mounted shutter dial. The Cosina branded camera was named Hi-Lite and a few found their way to the US in the hands of GIs returning from S.E. Asia.

     The Vivitar branded Cosinas were given alpha-numeric designations such as 220-SL, 420-SL, 650-SL and so on. Features varied, the higher numbers having more. The cameras were often sold in kits that included a normal lens and another Vivitar lens. The most coveted of the Vivitars seems to be the 650. It provides automatic exposure with any, single pin, M-42 lens. Pressure on the shutter release stops down the lens, the meter reads light at the stopped down aperture and an electronically controlled Copal Square shutter sets the proper shutter speed! A clever system that was also used by Chinon.

     The compact, K-mount, Cosina CT-1 and its' variants inherited the simplicity and loudness of their screw mount ancestors. In their favor, they are an inexpensive and reliable tool for capturing the moment. Cosina's willingness to build to specification and to price brought an impressive list of clients to the door.

     About the end of the 20th century, Cosina licensed the Voigtlander trademark from its' German owner. The name was applied to a modified version of their little, mechanical reflex. Gutted might be a more appropriate term, as the entire mirror-prism assembly was removed. In its' place,  a simple metal plate that mounted a traditional Leica screw thread flange. The lenses made to mount to that little, light tight box with a shutter, are what earned respect for Cosina. A 15mm wide angle of excellent performance that could be sold for hundreds of dollars instead of thousands! A more moderate but no less spectacular 25mm was offered too. Three products set a ball rolling. We "Camera Cognoscenti" wait impatiently to see where it will roll next!



    This is a medical adaptation of the CT1 Super, and yes, another name!  90mm macro lens focuses continuously to life-size. Power for ringlight is in the winder-like housing. The CT1 Super doesn't have a PC outlet, so flash sync is via hot-shoe adapter. Cover over shutter speed dial locks speed at 1/125th and is removable. MS-1 model designation was also used by U.K. market "Miranda".

     Stephen Shortridge picked up this little beauty for an absurdly small sum from the infamous auction site and sent the photo. He reports that all of the accessories are removable and the camera can be used normally with K-mount lenses. Start pestering your dentist for his bulky old film camera today!

     Another variation on the theme! Australian based Hanimex was a distributor of "bargain priced" photo goods in the US. Their name appeared on Praktica and Chinon screw mount SLRs. It appears they switched to Cosina with the "K" mount craze. The "Ham&Eggs" DR-1 appears to be an early CT-1 clone. There's no "action grip" at the right front and the shutter only goes to 1/1000th, vs. 1/2000th for later models.

      Hanimex is another "Can't Get No Respect" photo company. They tried buying it in the 1980s when they purchased Ponder & Best and changed their name to Vivitar Corporation.