There is an old adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. I like to have a camera available when the mood hits to make some photographs, so it is advantageous to have something small, light and of good quality on hand. The Konica Pearl II addresses that criteria.
It is a small folding rangefinder camera that shoots 6×4.5cm frames on 120 film. While that format is the smaller side of medium format, it is a significant jump from 35mm. The best part is that it fits easily into a small bag or decent sized pocket. It also has a beautiful depth of field indicator on top.
Pearls are valued gems worn by queens, famous movies stars, aristocracy, and Marge Simpson. The 6×4.5 Konica Pearl series of cameras can be considered somewhat of gems. They are well built, and they were produced in numbers that made them accessible by many people. Similar to the gem, a pearl is quality jewellery piece but not the most expensive like diamonds, so they are more affordable. That is until you seek a Pearl IV.
The Pearl II reminds me of a few other small folding cameras, like one of my favourites, the Voigtländer Perkeo I. With the frame size reduced from 6×6 to 6×4.5cm it has allowed the Konica to include a coupled rangefinder. With a very capable lens this camera has an advantage over many folders without extra bulk.
Having a small camera is well and great, but when I shoot with a camera like this my expectations are of a quality result. To find out if the Konica Pearl II is up to the challenge, I have been using it for a few months. This includes a day out with the Pixels and Grain Collective where we worked on multiple exposure photographs.
How did the Pearl II go? Did the small size compromise the quality or is the praise which is given to it deserved? Let’s have a look at it and find out how I went.
- Voigtländer Perkeo I
- Voigtländer Bessa I – Folding it big
- Agfa Jsolette 4.5 – When J is not a J
- Fuji GS645S – Camera with a Roo Bar
Konica started off as a drug store with the name Konishi-ya Rokubei Ten (小西屋六兵衞店). In 1873 it expanded by selling photographic products. This made Konica the oldest Japanese photographic company and even pre-dates Kodak. The company went through a number of name changes and generally utilised third party manufacturers.
It was not until 1902 when a manufacturing plant was founded. This led to the release of the Cherry in 1903, a simple box camera. It was also the first Japanese camera to have a brand name. Subcontractors were still used for manufacturing until it was brought in-house in 1919.
The name of the company was changed to G.K. Konishiroku Honten in 1921. Under this name they introduced the Pearlette in 1925. This was the first mass produced Japanese camera, it is a folding camera that uses 127 film. The first Hexar lens, the lens range Konica is famous for, was introduced in 1931.
An earlier Pearl camera was available in 1933, but unlike the later ones this is a 6×9 folding camera. In 1938 the Semi Pearl 6×4.5 folding camera was released, with “Semi” indicating it is half the size of the 6×9 format.
The company then went through a few more name changes, generally with restructuring associated. In 1947 is where the name Konica was first used for branding with the company at that time called Konishiroku Photo Industry Co., Ltd. The Konica name was used on a 35mm rangefinder in that year.
The original 6×4.5cm Pearl camera was introduced in the first half of 1949. This version had an uncoupled rangefinder and it inherited the key type film advance from the Semi Pearl. It also retained the coated Hexar 75mm f/4.5 lens. Interestingly the word Semi was dropped from the name because the company did not believe the 6x9cm format would regain a dominant revival. The plans to discontinue the Baby Pearl in 1950, a 3×4 camera introduced in 1934, were probably helping drive the consolidation of the Pearl name into one camera series.
A model called the Pearl RS followed the Pearl, with a different shutter and the Kodak flash synchronisation. A cold shoe was also included on the right of the camera for accessories.
The Pearl II was released about the same time as the pearl RS, roughly 1950. The rangefinder was coupled and the focusing tab was modified to work better with the rangefinder. The depth of field scale was removed from the lens and incorporated into a zebra display on the top housing, which was also modified for the rangefinder mechanism.
While the Pearl II retained the same Hexar f/4.5 lens, in 1952 an option was made available with a Hexar f/3.5 lens. During the 1950s 35mm cameras were becoming popular, so in response Konica released the Pearl IIB in 1955, which does not have any specific engraving to differentiate it. What it does have different was a lower priced shutter, with a top speed of 1/400th second only. It does have PC flash sync though.
Later in 1955 Konica introduced the Pearl III, which includes an advantageous auto-stop film advance, avoiding over advancing. It subsequently does not require the red window at the back. The depth of field dial on the top plate has been removed and replaced with a film type reminder (the reason I prefer the Pearl II myself). Two other variants of the Pearl III were released with shutter and lens coating changes, up to 1958 when it was superseded with the Pearl IV.
The Pearl IV was the last of the line called Pearl, which if you count the Pearl plate cameras started in 1909. A major redesign, the Pearl IV was quite different to the previous models. It is a heavier camera with a larger top plate, an updated Hexar lens, and even the drawbridge door opens on the opposite side. This means the shutter release button is on right hand side rather than left handed as per the previous models.
Folding cameras by then were not as popular and production of the Pearl IV was wound down after only six months. It is rumoured only five thousand were made, which these days drives the price up considerably.
Konica itself continued with other cameras, including 35mm SLRs, and only adopted the official name of Konica Corporation in 1987. In 2003 it merged with Minolta becoming Konica Minolta which stopped camera production in 2006. Some of this transferred over to the Sony corporation. The light meter business was eventually transferred over to Kenko, along with the binoculars.
The Konica Pearl II is a medium format 6×4.5cm folding bellows rangefinder camera which shoots on 120 roll film. It was manufactured and sold in the early 1950s. Natively the camera shoots in portrait format.
To open the camera, a button on the top plate is depressed and the front opens up. It usually requires a helping hand to fully extend the struts. There is a little folded foot that allows the camera to be set on a tabletop in landscape format.
The shutter release button is on the back of the door and is triggered with the left hand forefinger. There is no remote release socket there, but there is a threaded one on the lens itself, which takes a standard screw type remote cable.
The lens on this one is a Hexar 75mm f/4.5 with apertures down to f/22. The aperture is set utilising a lever on the lens. Coating has been applied to the lens to reduce flare. The shutter is a Konirapid-S leaf shutter housed within the lens, with speeds from 1/500th second to 1 second and Bulb. Shutter speed is set through a wheel around the lens. The cocking lever is also on the lens mount.
Focus is controlled by another lever on the lens mount. It is coupled with the rangefinder, which is shown as a circle in the middle of the viewfinder. The depth of field is also displayed on the top plate with a beautiful disc zebra display. It works using the focusing distance and with aperture markings will show you the minimum and maximum in focus distances.
A Kodak flash synchronisation connection is available on the lens mount. A cold shoe is on the top plate next to the door release button on the right.
To load the film, the back is opened and an empty spool is inserted on the right hand side. The spool with the film is inserted on the left and the film is stretched across and threaded on the right.
Film is advanced using the key on the bottom of the camera and aligned using the red window. The window also has a cover to stop stray light entering. There is no double exposure safety mechanism.
Apart from the centre circle rangefinder in the viewfinder there are no other frame markings. It is in portrait format natively.
No camera strap lugs are on the cameras as it was originally sold with an ever ready case. There is a tripod mount at the bottom of the camera which can be used for a wrist strap when the camera is not mounted on a tripod.
I had been surfing online about a year ago and came across a picture of the Konica Pearl II. Something drew me to the camera, I suspect the stripped depth of field indicator on the top plate. It just makes it a very attractive camera. I looked into the other Pearl models, but I kept being drawn back to the Pearl II. That was even though the later models have extra features.
I found one described as being in really good condition, from Japan, and took the plunge. Deliveries from Japan to Australia can get here in 3-4 days and by the end of that week it was in my hands.
On holding it the first time while it was still closed, I was amazed at how small it is. I had read somewhere it is around the 500g weight, but I didn’t realise what that meant in real life. It is tiny, light and very pocketable.
I instantly put it into my rotation list and recently a few months ago I started to use it. And use it. And use it. It is such a handy little camera. I can have it in my bag and not even notice it is there. With the weather quite hot during the festive season here in Sydney, you don’t want to be carrying anything too big all the time, so it was perfect.
Using it is quite straight forward. It does take a while to get used to looking through a viewfinder which is in portrait orientation. If you shoot half frame you would be used to it though. The viewfinder is nice and bright and the round focus patch easy to see. It could be a bit bigger, but it is not small either.
Opening it up is quick, but it took me a while to stop pushing the shutter release. The door release button is where normally you would find the shutter release, and a button on the door is the shutter. This is operated with your left hand. It’s only a small gripe.
Loading film is also quite easy as it has spring holders for the spools, so there’s no pulling anything up or out, you just pressure it a little. The little window at the back is also quite easy to see, I just wish the modern backing paper was darker printed. Winding on with the key winder was really easy to use.
I used a number of films with the Pearl II. They were Cinestill 50D, Kodak Portra 160 and Ilford FP4 Plus. Without a meter on the camera I used my little handheld meter. Every roll came back well exposed. The camera just worked. The lens worked well with colour too, there doesn’t seem to be a big shift of any colours. I will qualify that with the fact I used negative film, I did not run any transparency film through it.
Folding cameras do have a reputation of not being super sharp. This camera blows that thinking out of the water. The Hexar lens on this camera is sharp, and I mean really sharp. If it was just about the lens alone, I would get this camera.
Not only is the lens sharp, the results are just the right level of contrast to separate the subject from the background. It is not a bokeh machine, it has the classical out of focus rendering.
Wide open the lens is quite sharp with only a little fall off. By f/5.6 there is no fall off. The impressive performance of this lens has me fallen for this camera, even though 6×4.5 is not a favourite format of mine.
Recently as the Pixels and Grain Collective we organised a day out to try a new concept, multi exposures without a tripod and with a focus point. I needed something which I could do multiple exposures and only advance the film when I decide to. The Pearl II was any easy decision.
This involved setting the minimum aperture of f/22, the fastest possible shutter speed of 1/500th second and shooting the same frame 10-20 times. With the slight movement handheld, the results were interesting. Some of the participants had really creative results. Mine were a bit of a mixed bag as the camera is so light, it is very hard to hold it steady multiple times, especially having to cock the shutter. I also noticed the cocking mechanism was noticeably stiffer on these settings than it was normally. One of my results is below.
The one thing I did not talk about much in this section is the depth of field indicator. It is a really handy tool, but to be honest, I appreciate the look of it more than using it. Not because it doesn’t do what it is supposed to, but because after shooting for a while you “see” what will be in focus based on the aperture. Nevertheless, I think it is a great addition to the camera.
After using the Konica Pearl II for some months, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It is not very expensive, and you get a lot for your money. Not in lots of functionality, but a really handy and capable camera, with a gun of a lens. With a coupled rangefinder to ensure more precise focusing and medium format quality, how could you go wrong?
For the Australians reading this, I leave you with a picture of Henry Lawson’s (a famous and historic poet) gravesite in Waverley Cemetery.
More information can be found about the Pearl series here in Pearl (1), II and III on Camera-wiki.org
The manual can be found at butkus.org at Pearl 120 Camera / Pearl II and Pearl III. Please leave a donation if you use this.
A blog I like to read is Peggy Marsh on Camera Go Camera and she has reviewed the successor but similar camera in Konica Pearl III.