Dai-Hyaku Seiki Novo

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Dai-Hyaku Seiki Novo

I was recovering from sorting through the Yamato smorgasbord, looking for a simple, one-off camera model.

I picked up a Novo 35 rangefinder, a lesser-known post-war Japanese camera. There is hardly anything about the camera and its siblings in print or online. I had to pick up data fragments, yet I am unsure if I got them right.

The camera is made by Dai-Hyaku Seiki, of which I could find no information. It was one of the 400 or so camera makers that flourished in post-war Japan, to wither within a short decade. The logo marking on the camera bodies appears inconsistent, so a distributor could have been involved. The company was active in the mid-1950s and promptly fell off the radar.

The Novo cameras rarely surface on eBay and randomly emerge on Buyee. eBay sellers take ‘random’ as ‘rare’ and hence expensive and offer it for several hundred dollars, while actual transactions are very down to earth; see real-world values in the table below.

The Novo cameras are run-of-the-mill Japanese rangefinder models, hardly indistinct from dozens of models offered by other short-living manufacturers of that time. It seems that the early camera makers set the path by copying German cameras, and the later manufacturers copied the successful models. It is notable that while most camera makers of the time rebranded their wares to several distributors, here, the only known reseller was the Dutch Fodor.

From the scraps of information I got, it looks as if there were six Novo models. All were made within half a decade and were very similar. It is difficult to judge which is which as the ‘Novo 35’ is brand embossed in bold, with a tiny suffix marking the specific model. It is common to see mismatched camera images/names online, but there are only a few available images are here. Furthermore, the camera variant names are frequently transposed, so ‘S2’ could become ‘2S’, which could well be the case here.

All the models share the same body and lens assembly, with a few upgrades as models evolve. The early models’ max speed was 200; later, it was up to 500. Lenses began with 3.5, later 2.8. A self-timer and a crank rewind were added midway, as was a lever winder. This is my take on the models’ evolution:

  • Novo 35, Copal, 3.5 lens, knob winder, a small 2nd finder window, seems to be identical to the Novo I S.
  • Novo 35 II A, similar to the Novo 35, Copal, 3.5 lens, knob winder, with two equally sized windows.
  • Novo 35 II S, no information was found; it could be the S2.
  • Novo 35 I S, seems to be identical to the Novo 35.
  • Novo 35 I S2, self-timer, 2,8 lens, lever winder, also sold by Fodor.
  • Novo 35 Super, self-timer, 2.8 lens, lever winder.

The camera on my bench is marked Novo 35, with no sub-model or version, so I take it as the first model. As mentioned above, the same body is shown online as Novo 35 I S, so I’ll leave it as that.

The camera body is larger and heavier than the typical compatible Japanese cameras, and the markings are clear and easy to read, making it easy to manipulate. Butkus has an online manual of a further model, but all is self-explanatory. The only odd touch is at the bottom, where you expect to find a back-release lever, is the rewind release. The body is made of cast and machined metal, with no plastic in sight.

On top are the winder knob, with an embedded frame counter that takes a pin to reset, via a hard-to-see minuscule hole; I have noticed it by the scratches around it, or else I would have missed it. A prominent chevron points to the frame sequence. A non-threaded trigger pushpin is within a knurled ring, which could be a trigger lock, it is not. The winder does not cock the lever, but it stops at each frame till the trigger is activated. The rewind knob pulls up for easy winding.

The viewer is tiny, with two unequal front windows. This was changed in later models.

The lens assembly rests on a solid breastplate as massive as knight armour. The focusing dial is closest to the body, and unlike the eight Yamato cameras I looked at earlier, it freely turns. A finger rest of a good size assists the focusing dial. Distance is marked in feet to cater to the US buyers, in this case, the half-a-million GI contingent stationed there. The front ring carries the shutter speed markings at the top and the aperture settings at the bottom. The shutter speed is selected via a dial behind it, and the f value via a lever at the bottom. A logo at the bottom of the plate is hard to decipher, and it looks as if it had changed on later models.

The shutter cocking lever is on top of the lens barrel; not sure how it was on later models.

The hinged back opens by a side latch. An integral take-off spool and two guide cogs are easy to reach, and a large pressure plate completes the innards.

Being 70 years old, the camera fully functions, although the shutter is a tad lazy. It is a badge of honour, more than can be said about other cameras of that generation, Japanese or European. Like most other camera makers in Japan, it had vanished with no traceable tracks.

For the collector, it is a rare and unique model. All that if found in working order and at a sane price.

Camdex list number 72059
Brand Novo
Model Novo 35
Manual Buktus
Value Novo 35
Novo 35 IS
Novo 35 IIa
Novo 35 S2
Novo 35 Super
Format 35mm
Introduced 1955
Country Japan
Qty made
Initial price
Type Rangefinder
Body material Metal
Mode Manual
Weight 670 gr,  Body with lens
Class average weight 620 gr,  Body with lens
ASA range Memo only
Kit lens 3.5/45
Lens make Tomioka Tri-Lusar
Filter size 25mm
Lens mount Fixed lens
Mount size N/A
Shutter Leaf
Shutter make Copal
Trigger On top
Winder Knob
Shutter_cocking Lever on lens barrel
Light meter None
Lock No
Speeds B, 1-200
Mirror N/A
Viewer Rangefinder
DOF preview No
Exposure lock No
Exposure compensation No
Shoe Cold
External sync M
Timer No
Battery, original N/A
Sync speed
Battery, replacement N/A
Battery voltage N/A
Integral flash None
More Reddit
Camera Kids
Service / repair links See camerlog.com

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