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Miranda Automex III
Ever wondered what a camera would look like with the grille of a 1962 Chrysler SV1 Valiant, the Miranda Automex III is a great example. It has one of the most impressive pentaprism designs in early 35mm SLRs. In fact, the whole camera looks impressive.
The Automex series comes from a period where camera designers had a bit of freedom to experiment, and the looks of a camera were also a priority. Some of the most beautiful and innovative SLR designs were produced mid last century until an established formfactor was developed later in the century.
Miranda cameras are not one of the highly collected brands, but they do have their fans. This is partly due to a reputation of having reliability issues, and as they were not as prevalent, lack of parts. The combination of these factors does mean they are a bit of an enigma. “Miranda Curse” has been known to be uttered more than once.
Unlike other people, I managed to get a working copy on the first go, sort of. It’s a camera that did not give me any indication of any problems in use. To be fair, it actually worked well except for something I did not notice until way too late. Out in the field it is a usable and enjoyable camera.
Being a collector as well as a photographer, I could not resist buying one these. Partly as a challenge after hearing the problems other people have had with them, and then just the look of it. From an SLR point of view, it is a gorgeous camera.
I got the camera very early on last year, and used it on and off until the end of the year. It was quite enjoyable every time I took it out, but that is only one aspect of a camera. The results it produces are obviously its reason for existence. To see how I got on, and why I think I was the recipient of the curse anyway, please read on.
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While you do not see many Miranda cameras about everywhere, they were produced for a significant amount of time and the company does have a substantial history.
Miranda was originally called Orion Seikei Sangyō Y.K. (Orion Precision Products Industries Co. Ltd.) and was founded in 1947. The founders, Ogihara Akira and Ōtsuka Shintarō both studied aeronautical engineering in what was called the Imperial University of Tokyo, that was later renamed the University of Tokyo. This was during World War Two and they were about a year apart.
Ogihara Akira worked on the pulse engines for the Japanese Navy during the war while Ōtsuka Shintarō worked on the compressor of an engine for a jet fighter. At the end of the war, all research for the military was stopped in Japan. Ōtsuka went on to work on gas turbines, but soon became aware of what Ogihara was working on.
Ogihara had started using a small workshop within the former aeronautical research centre to work on camera repairs and modifications. Notably Leica mount barrels for military and older lenses. They founded Orion Seikei Sangyō Y.K. at this point, in 1947. Ogihara was very interested in astronomy, so the company was named after the Orion’s belt.
The first product of the new company was an adapter called the Coupler. It allowed for Contax and Nikon rangefinder lenses to be mounted on a Leica Thread Mount and retain use of the rangefinder coupling. These are very sought after now.
Other products produced initially and throughout the history of the company include the Focabell bellows, Mirax reflex housings and the Supreme lenses. It was not until 1954 when they produced their first camera with which they went looking for an investor. The prototype was called the Phoenix. When they were funded in 1955, the company was renamed as Orion Camera KK (Company) and the camera was released as the Miranda T. It is worth noting that it was the first Japanese SLR with a pentaprism that was available commercially.
As the main product was the Miranda, and this was quite common with the Japanese camera companies, in 1957 the company was renamed again as Miranda Camera K. K. Soon after is where things get a bit weird. Early in 1959 in a joint announcement Ricoh was to take over the distribution. This only lasted a few months and by mid-1959 sales of Miranda cameras were stopped in Japan.
They were manufactured only for export market for a few years and a very strong partnership was formed with Allied Impex in the US. By the late 1960s, Miranda was eventually wholly owned by Allied Impex. They were also the owner of the Soligor branded lens company.
In 1960 the first Automex was released, which has a coupled selenium meter and a set of new lenses, with a cam to let the camera know the aperture setting. The camera also has a double mount, where lenses with either a thread mount or bayonet mount could be used.
1963 brought the Automex II where a notable upgrade was that the available ASA range was increased from 10-400 to 10-1600.
The Automex III came in 1965 with the a major change, the selenium meter was replaced with a CdS meter and moved to the side of the camera. The area where the selenium cell used to be was left on the camera with that funky car grille looking front of the pentaprism.
Miranda operated until 1976 where they went bankrupt, with another notable camera released being the Sensorex models. Cosina reused the Miranda name in the 1980s briefly for a line of cheap cameras.
The Miranda Automex III is a 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera manufactured from 1965. It is a systems camera, which means it has components which can be changed over. For instance, the pentaprism is removable and can be replaced with a waist level finder.
The aesthetics are influenced by the previous model, the Automex II, in that where it used to have a selenium meter, there is a metal plate in front of the pentaprism. Metering is achieved through a CdS meter located to the left of the camera.
The Automex III has the Miranda dual mount where it allowes for the bayonet lenses and also M44 screw mount. Most commonly the camera was supplied with the Soligor made 5cm f/1.9 Auto. The purposely made lenses have an arm which locks into the body to match up the aperture for meter readings.
Shutter speed is controlled by the dial built around the film advance lever, with available shutter speeds from 1 second to 1000th second and Bulb. The film speed selection is also on the same dial with options from ASA 10 to 1600.
The top plate also has a frame counter under a glass circle. Also there is the signal window. At the back of the top plate is where the 1.35v mercury battery is inserted, which powers the meter.
The viewfinder has the match needle meter on the left side, otherwise there is only the focusing patch in the middle.
Being a systems cameras, there are a significant number of accessories available including bellows, macro rings, flash components etc.
I hadn’t been seeking out Miranda cameras when I came across the Automex III. Mirandas had been mentioned on the podcast I am a co-host on, (Camerosity Podcast), and about the same time it came up on one of my online searches. The Automex III is considered one of the ones most likely to work, and it was well priced, so I pulled the trigger.
Miranda cameras have a less than good reputation regarding reliability, to the point where it is sometimes referred to as the Miranda curse. I know people that have had two or three purchases before they got one that works. Luck was on my side, this one worked right away.
I threw in some Kodak Gold 200 into the camera and carried it around for bit. The meter seemed to work and was fairly accurate when I compared it to my handheld. It is a pretty nice camera to use, the controls are all in the right place and the it is pretty smooth. The operation was good and I quite enjoyed it.
One thing that did happen is that I started to notice some sort of circle in the viewfinder which moved around with the movement of the camera. I could not work out quite what it was, I originally thought part of the match needle had come loose, but everything was still where I would expect it.
When I remove the pentaprism and look a bit closer, I can see it is a small plastic screw stuck between the focusing screen and the glass above it. I have no idea where it is from, but as it does not affect operation, I leave it be. Have a look at the photo operating the camera as having a waist level finder to see it.
I got my first roll of film back from the lab and eagerly scanned it in. I was surprised to find the images seemed, well, a bit off. Glowing is the best word for it. So, I realised they must have been overexposed, so I check the shutter and the speeds. It passed; the shutter was firing to what seemed the right speed. So, I loaded it some of my go to film, Ilford HP5 Plus.
The results from this film were similar but not as severe. Probably due to being black and white film it limited the effect. It had me head scratching. I checked the camera out and still could not see what was causing it.
Using the camera continued to be nice. It is well balanced and sat around my check or over my shoulder nicely. The viewfinder is nice and uncluttered and focusing is easy to see, helped by the faster lens.
For the third roll of film I put in some Kodak Ultramax 400, convinced by this point it must be the meter which is out, even though all the tests I did showed it was fine.
I shot through this, again enjoying the camera even though I was limited to the 50mm lens I had. One of the interesting things I found shooting the Miranda is that it seems to attract quite a bit of attention. It must be all that chrome, it just looks vintage, and people seem to be attracted to it.
This roll came back with the same issue, even though I used a handheld meter this time. And then, out of the blue I found the issue. In this next photo, look closely at the lens. There is a screw missing, which is the same on the other side. This allows the front of the lens to move out a bit, only half a millimetre, which I suspect was letting in more light than expected. It would explain the over exposed look I was getting. The Miranda curse hits again!
To be fair, I got a decent number of successful photos from this camera too, which indicates when working fully it is quite a decent and likable camera. I seem to not be able to get over the loose screw in the viewfinder and the missing screws. The missing screws can be attributed to a previous owner, but again, with this camera they could have just worked their way out.
They do crop up in online sales often enough where if you really wanted a Miranda Automex III you could pick one up for a very decent price. Personally I will not be looking for another one, and while I enjoyed shooting with this one, I will always worry about the reliability.
Simon Hawkett writes: Miranda Automex III 35mm slr camera